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Toni Morrison’s The Nobel Lecture in Literature is about the real value of language. It turns attention to the importance of language in modern society and the power that people have over the language they speak. What becomes clear right after reading the lecture is that Morrison is more focused on presenting the political use of language, rather than its use in daily life. This is especially evident from her utilizing the concept ‘statist language’ under which she means the language of the state and its political use. Toni Morrison’s attitude towards the statist language as the dead one presents her vision of higher politics and expresses an idea that language is degraded because of political censorship.
To begin with, Morrison treats statist language as dead because, for her, it has lost its primary purpose due to political usage. What is the primary purpose of language? For Morrison, this purpose is serving people for she presents language “partly as a system, partly as a living thing over which one has control” (Morrison 61). This presentation of language as a living thing points at its mortality and the dependence of its future on human responsibility: “If it is alive, you can still kill it” (Morrison 60). According to Morrison, a dead language, such as the one used in politics, is unable to fulfill its function and can only “maintain the free range of its own narcotic narcissism, its own exclusively and dominance” (Morrison 61). Thus, political use of language deprives it of primary purpose and kills it.
Such a view on the political use of language presents Morrison’s vision of higher politics. Without writing a single word about modern politics, the author expresses her negative attitude towards it. Not only has the government deprived the language of its primary purpose, it changed it forever and modified it, making it unable to develop: “Unreceptive to interrogation, it cannot form or tolerate new ideas, shape other thoughts, tell another story, fill baffling silences” (Morrison 61). The government is presented as a murderer of language that disused it and killed it by fiat.
Lastly, this murder of language took place because of political censorship that made the language empty. The government’s control over the language has resulted in its degradation with time because numerous restrictions have been placed on it. The whole anger for what the political censorship has done with language is expressed by Morrison’s prediction of how the language is going to develop further under the limits of censorship; she states that, in addition to the censored language that the society speaks now, there will be “more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like pate-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words … arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness” (Morrison 62). Therefore, ‘statist language’ is the one modified by the government owing to political censorship.
In conclusion, Toni Morrison vividly presents the picture of how politics may change the life of the society. In the case of her lecture, politics affected the heart of the society, its language, and killed it with political censorship. In this way, Morrison’s concept of ‘statist language’ reflects her attitude towards politics and shows how exactly this politics contributed to the degradation of language.
Morrison, Tony. The Nobel Lecture Literature. Pp. 60-65.