Monday, March 22, 2010

Lit Crit: Pidgin by Lisa Kanae

Pidgin (...with added logorrhea).

Lisa Kanae uses typography, delineation, size, orientation, and language to visually manifest the conditions of imperialistic oppression and the visceral response of the less powerful. Using both the specific language and its visual representation, Kanae and her graphic designer, Kristin Kaleinani Gonzales, show how a people create an identity and how an oppressive system uses that identity and its lingua franca against those same people. In this example the language of the oppressed has naïve elegance and simplicity that transcends cultures, and which deliberately contrasts with the officious voice of inflexible, crushing authority.

All the elements of this essay can be examined for context, and each element evolves in the same fashion, but in the interest of limiting the scope and length of my paper, I am only going to analysis the ‘voice of authority,’ predominantly using it’s typographic presentation.

The first four paragraph depictions of the ‘voice of authority’ utilize a very quiet, traditional thin-serif font with a condensed x-height and extended ascenders to express a formal command structure and to establish the implied lineage of authority, sotto voce. Footnotes and bibliographic references (without supporting substantiation) enhance the presumption of authority. In each instance the text remains clinical, analyzing the presumed pathology of the inferred speech.

Upon the fifth instance of the authoritorial voice, four paragraphs are utilized on one page and the size of the font is randomly and dramatically increased with bolding elements added, in response to ‘pidgin’ questions regarding the authority’s validity. The visual inference is of desperation and the loss of control. At this point the text directly refers to the Creole dialect for the first time, differentiating it from a speech pathology to a locally responsive language. This passage directly attacks ‘pidgin’ as a substandard and subservient language. The social construct of ‘masters’ and ‘servile population’ are also introduced as social-intellectual elements of the dialogue.

The sixth depiction of the authoritorial voice has been knocked sideways and is crisscrossed with lines as though negated and boxed in, indicating a fast approaching limit to its power. The text devolves into racist demagoguery: “the speech of ‘inferior beings’ and adds yet another bibliographic reference in a desperate attempt to reestablish it’s primacy. (We saw a similar response last night to Health Care Reform where members of the Tea-Bag branch of the Republican Party reverted to hate-speech and name-calling when confronting imminent defeat.) The facing page was left blank as though the authoritorial voice was momentarily speechless.

The seventh and eighth depictions of the authoritorial voice are withdrawn intellectual responses with a palpable sense of defeat as the graphic depiction reverts to its original quiet, restrained form. The text in the seventh paragraph again implies, but does not directly state, that the Creole language is pathological or ‘lazy,’ with limited capabilities of understanding, but the sense is we are seeing the ‘last hurrah’ as it were, of a resigned and dying intellect and power.

The final two authoritorial voiced elements sum up the struggle. The last but one examines the social implications of language and the supremacy of an evolved aggregate language, which now represents the new authority. The final passage, “I am one voice out of that one million," while in the same serif type used by the now deposed ‘master-class’, is loud and proud.

The new, traditional ‘voice of authority’ speaks for and from the formerly oppressed class.


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