5.03.2011

Towards a Middle Voice

Generally, I am quite enamored of the English language. It enjoys such a range of sounds and modes of expression, from the Romantic softness of herbaceous to the angularity of the Germanic finger. The French avoid consonants with a strange vigor: Va t'en faire enculer — which is deeply perverse in both meaning and tone but still lacks the satisfaction of a good ol' English Fuck you you fucking dickbag!

But English can be frustrating, as well. We have these subjects — I, we, you, he, it — who must do things — run, fuck, love, kiss — often to other things — him, it, her, them. As Nietzsche argues in "On the Genealogy of Morals," this posits a doer behind the deed, an actor who is distinct from his actions. He uses lightning as one example. To say that lightning strikes is to suggest that there is such a thing as lighting that doesn't strike — which is absurd. Lighting is that which strikes. (For Nietzsche, the invention of this doer behind the deed — the invention of this human subject — was perpetrated by the slaves (read: Jews) as a way to hold the noble and strong morally responsible for being noble and strong. The basis or morality, then, is subjectivity.)

English has a hard time speaking the deed, articulating the event. We can speak actively — I love you — or passively: I am loved. But it's difficult to speak in a way that is neither active nor passive, that is both active and passive: loving. Which is to say, it's difficult to speak with the world because either we're doing things to it or things are being done to us.

Rumor has it that ancient Greek has a voice that is neither active nor passive called the middle voice. I can't vouch for the veracity of this because I tried learning Greek one summer — 10 hours a day, 7 days a weeks, 12 weeks — but only lasted three days before I began weeping uncontrollably. I'm not kidding.

French likes to use the reflexive quite a bit — Je m'appelle (I call myself), Je m'assieds (I sit myself down). Reflexivity is not the passive voice but it is an odd construction that creates a circuit of subject and object wherein the subject is doer and done — but still not the need.

We do this in English, sometimes. One of my favorite expressions is: "I'm enjoying myself." What a beautiful sentiment! What a perfect circuit!

But, again, this is not the middle voice in which the moon moons (please, no Heidegger) or even better: just, mooning.

This lack of a structural middle voice doesn't mean we can't write and speak in this middle voice. It just means we need to work a lot harder. It means we have to make words do things, rupture their referential function and introduce their performative function. When done right, subjects, verbs, and objects give way to the very action of lightning, of mooning, of Danieling.

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