“War is what happens when language fails” (Atwood). The failure of language can be perceived in many ways. Most people might think that it means that the two parties weren’t able to come to a peaceful compromise. However, according to Humanist M. J. Hardman, language fails way before the two parties even have a chance to meet. In the article “Language and War”, Hardman identifies the problem of people obliviously using violent language and metaphors in everyday rhetoric and how the use of such metaphors makes violence seem appropriate.
She supports her assertion by pointing out specific metaphors in the English language that convey a sense of violence. The author’s purpose is to encourage people to observe and change the way they speak in order to create a more peaceful society and change their perception in language so that peaceful metaphors become regarded as powerful, taking away the need for violent ones. She writes in a critically didactic tone for the Humanist audience.
Account of An Argument: Language and War Essay Example
A good example of the violent metaphors that Hardman writes about can be located in a collection of poems called Winter’s Light, written by Martha Kinkade. Winter’s Light is a book that includes very personal poems about the author’s troubled life. Writing these poems was a way to come to terms with the unpleasant events in her life and escape the emotional trauma that consumed her. In this book, Kinkade uses exaggerated violent metaphors frequently in order to generate a response from her audience.
Each one seems to have a clear purpose, and whether or not they contribute to a sense of appropriateness for violence is up for discussion. This essay will explore Hardman’s assertions while referencing the poems “Miscarriage” and “Skinning” and explain how Kinkade’s poems complicate and extend Hardman’s argument. Hardman wishes to eliminate violent metaphors from non-violent means of discourse in order to prevent the appropriateness of violence.
If we were to eliminate violence in language altogether, or “discuss violence with violent linguistic constructs to make such violence clearly visible, that such violence may be perceived as such and, hopefully, reduced”, then we are limiting ourselves artistically (Hardman). Poetry is an art form, and those who read it, understand it, and gain from it an understanding of the difference between becoming numb to the idea of violence and expressing someone’s thoughts and emotions through violent metaphors. Kinkade’s use of violent metaphors is not meant to generate a tolerance of violence.
In fact, it is quite opposite—the violent metaphors are used to generate a disgusted and/or sympathetic response. In the poem “Miscarriage”, Kinkade tells a story of the struggle leading up to her sister’s miscarriage as well as the miscarriage itself. She uses multiple types of rhetorical strategies in the poem including violent metaphors, “the weight silenced/ and suffocated us like a deadly gas” (Kinkade ln 8-9). The fact that she feels “suffocated” makes the reader feel sympathetic towards the author because she is being exposed to such violent emotional trauma.
To an educated reader, the metaphor is harmless, and only amplifies the amount of sympathy felt for the author. Not only are these metaphors violent but they are also quite graphic, “Without tears, I watched, as an ice cream/ bucket sloshed purple-red clots fished/ from the toilet” (Kinkade ln 12-14). Just like the previous metaphor, this metaphor has a purpose to generate a specific response. The fact that it is so graphic surprises the reader and actually makes them stop breathing, which is an underlying theme in this poem.
She uses words like “lung”, “suffocated”, and “quickness of breath” and she uses the shock factor of the graphic metaphor in order to control the reader’s breathing. These metaphors are not “seeds of violence” that are “planted” on an “all-day every-day level”; these metaphors have artistic meaning (Hardman). If the reader understands that and perceives the metaphors as such, then the lines between understanding an author and creating appropriateness for violence won’t be blurred.
Hardman explained how the use of violent metaphors has created an appropriateness of violence, however, what if violence in one’s life has fostered the use of violent metaphors? “Skinning” is by far the most graphic and most violent poem in Kinkade’s book. This poem is about her inner thoughts on how she would exact revenge on a pedophile that molested a little girl that she knew. “How easy it is to insert the blade/ into an anus slicing past the genitals/ forming a red trail toward the throat” (Kinkade ln 4-6). The whole reason Kindkade wrote this piece was to heal
from this traumatic experience that she had been through. It was her past experience and her exposure to violence that fostered this violent outpour of emotions. Not only does it seem that violent metaphors create appropriateness for violence, but violence itself creates appropriateness for violent metaphors. It seems to be a vicious cycle that extends Hardman’s argument, only strengthening the need to change our perception on metaphors. Depending on how you perceive Kinkade’s poems, her book seems to both complicate and extend Hardman’s argument. Perception is the most important characteristic in her article.
She is asking people to completely change the way we perceive our language and change the way we speak so that others may not perceive our thoughts and ideas as violent. She believes that in doing so; violence will become less appropriate. However, one can argue that the violence itself is causing appropriateness for violent metaphors. But if we can perceive the metaphors as they are intended, whether it is an every-day metaphor or poetry, appropriateness for violence will not escalate. Then we won’t perceive the metaphors to be so violent after all. Works Cited