[-empyre-] Post #2: Data enunciation and Other subjectivities

Johanna Drucker drucker at gseis.ucla.edu
Tue Jul 19 01:30:56 AEST 2016

Here is the second post. Post #2 Data enunciation and Other subjectivities
Who “speaks” a data visualization? And who is “spoken” by it? The syntax of those questions is meant to trip the reader for a moment, remind us of the linguistic analysis of enunciation. Any utterance, in any circumstance, is a speech act, embedded in an action between speakers that positions them in relation to each other. A speaking subject and a spoken subject are inscribed in language acts. Theories of enunciation are tracked back to Ferdinand de Saussure (where they are implicit), Mikhail Bakhtin, Russian Formalism in its linguistic and narratological analyses, and come forward through the work of Emile Benveniste (where the enunciating and enunciated subject are clearly defined). Taken up across a wide range of theoretical discourses, theories of enunciation are intimately linked to considerations of subject formation—the constitution of the “I” as “self” in contrast to an “other” providing an illusion of wholeness. Constructions of the “other” are an integral feature of power relations across cultural, gender, class, ethnic, and species differences. The analysis of enunciative systems became an integral part of film studies, and feminist film studies, in work by Kaja Silverman, Laura Mulvey, the Camera Obscura editors and authors, figures in Screen, and other publications of the 1970s and 1980s in which aesthetic artifacts (visual, literary, cinematic, theatrical, anthropological, institutional etc.) were subject to critical analysis as power systems, not just representational expressions. The reading list in this area is long, the body of literature rich and replete, the participants distinguished and still current, touching on nearly every aspect of structuralist, post-structuralist, deconstructivist theory across feminist (and non-feminist) practices. Theories of enunciation and subject formation are at the heart of queer theory, post-colonial theory, ecological and species theory—all of which are attuned to the ways symbolic systems embed, express, and enact power relations through acts of “othering” in enunciation.

But where is the critical analysis of data and its visualization as an enunciative system? How can we understand the power relations of the “speech acts” of a graphical expression that positions its “speaker” as neutral, omnipotent, its mode as declarative, and its flat surface presentation as a statement without apparent authorship. Data presentations express themselves as if they were outside of an enunciative system. We know this is not only not the case, but that the more an expression passes itself off as natural, the more clearly it is cultural—hegemonic, ideological, and rhetorically positioned to conceal the power relations it enacts. 

I wonder what others think about the connections between theories of enunciation and graphical expressions of data, knowledge, and information?
(See Maurizio Lazzarato, “Mikhail Bahktin’s Theory of Utterance,” http://www.generation-online.org/p/fp_lazzarato6.htm and John Phillips, “Who is the Subject of Enunciation?” https://courses.nus.edu.sg/course/elljwp/enunciation.htm for two recent start points; for those interested in fundamentals, Kaja Silverman, The Subject of Semiotics, 1983, Rosalind Coward and John Ellis, Language and Materialism, 1977)
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