14th December 2003 | Draft
Varieties of the "Unsaid"
in sustaining psycho-social community
- / -
The following sections explore various threads relating to the "unsaid" that might be usefully interwoven.
The term is frequently applied in evaluating an address by a politician -- and most notably in relation to any justification for the war on terrorism (for example, E J Dionne's commentary, President's speech on Iraq left too much unsaid: Little candor about who will pay. Concord Monitor, 10 September 2003).
The term may be used with reference to a highly asymmetric relationship between political factions or governments, such as the assumption of the equality of the largest and smaller member states of the United Nations.
With respect to the major UNCED Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992, one critique was expressed under the heading of the Unsaid Summit. To what extent are intergovernmental initiatives systematically undermined by the unpublicized creation of bodies like the secret "Brussels group" of governments (Belgium, Germany, Italy, UK, USA) in 1971, with the objective of limiting the effectiveness of the UN environment conference that created UNEP (New Scientist, 5 January 2002) (more)?
There is an extensive literature on the "implicit assumptions" associated with international relations (see K.M. Fierke. Links Across the Abyss: Language and Logic in International Relations. International Studies Quarterly, 46, 3, September 2002 Thinking About Thinking. Center for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency 1999 ). Implicit assumptions undergird the different ways in which peace is conceptualized, and these assumptions impact on the effectiveness of various strategies developed for realizing peace [more].
Iver B. Neumann (The Double Arrival of Russia in International Society International Studies Association, New Orleans 2002) has explored the role of the "implicit" in relation to the corps diplomatique:
The "unsaid" is often articulated in the political sphere in terms of "silence":
A useful discussion of the "unsaid" within the context of the French political system -- and with implications for global governance -- is provided in relation to the accusations against Dominque Strauss-Kahn. Director of the International Monetary Fund and potential French presidential candidate (Angelique Christakis, France questions itself over Dominique Strauss-Kahn's 'open secret', The Guardian, 17 May 2011):
There is also a case for recognizing the extent to which relations within the international system are based on patterns of agreement and understanding -- the "giving of one's word". Reneging on such agreements, and derogating from treaties, may be seen as a form of "unsaying" of what has been said and agreed. The "unsaid" may then be seen as the result of the increasing practice of governments, notably the USA, to set aside international treaty provisions.
A related phenomenon of "unspeak" -- a mode of speech that "persuades by stealth" -- has been documented by Steven Poole (Unspeak, 2006), notably as a means whereby government its policy behind its language:
Aspects of the "unsaid", as experienced by many in social and political relations, have been usefully characterized by Johan Galtung under the term structural violence -- an unacknowledged form of violence that harms through social structures that produce poverty, death and enormous suffering. Structural violence may be political, repressive, economic and exploitative, it occurs when the social order directly or indirectly causes human suffering and death. [more | more]. It is the causing of harm by inflexibility and rigidity of the rules of the structure in dealing with difference -- without any given perpetrator, by the holding do rules that do not allow for differences [more]. For Susan James (Structural violence: the invisible violence in our communities, 2001) structural violence differs from the other types of violence in that power relations within structural violence are less visible and exist in various forms infused in the existing social hierarchies. For Robert Gilman (Structural Violence Can we find genuine peace in a world with inequitable distribution of wealth among nations?, 1983) its essence lies in the "the ease with which we acquiesce in injustice -- the way we all too easily look in the other direction and disclaim "response ability."
With respect to politicized issues, for example, Dave Duffy (Something unsaid about Timothy McVeigh's execution, 1998) writes:
The notion in some countries, especially the USA, of the "silent majority" may reflect an unexpressed aspect of public opinion. The voices of women may often be seen as smothered behind a wall of silence, even in industrialized countries (see Sandra Buckley Broken Silence: Voices of Japanese Feminism. 1997). A culture of silence at work, whereby conflicts are effectively silenced, can prove highly destructive to the organization (see The trouble with silence at work. Christian Science Monitor, 14 October 2003; In business, silence is not golden. Harvard Business Review, 3 September 2003).
Perhaps the most problematic forms of the "unsaid" arise from the fundamental arrogance with which some people, groups, nations or cultures view themselves as inherently and unquestionably superior to others -- as übermensch of some kind -- notably from a genetic, spiritual, or aesthetic perspective. Under the guise of human equality this cannot be "said", but this innate arrogance is a prime determining factor in social relations. This was the case with Nazi Germany, it remains the case for those peoples who consider themselves specially chosen by God (as repeatedly articulated by Johan Galtung). Any challenge to this is immediately conflated with a direct attack on their human rights -- to be resisted violently. Thus even the nature of this dynamic is absorbed into the zone of the "unsaid". Such attitudes underlie the persistence of the class system, notably governing selection of marriage partners. They underlie relations between government representatives and those of nongovernmental bodies. They ensure the marginalization of certain peoples such as the gypsies, indigenous groups, and the Ainu.
The challenge of the "unsaid" in relation to security lies in how to prove or disprove any assertion or claim in a context of secrecy and deniable culpability (see Mapping the Network of Terror, 2002). How, for example, is it to be proven whether a sequence of events (such as the following) is the responsibility of an independent "terrorist group" such as "al-Qaida"? There is a demonstrated willingness of governments to act through subterfuge in defiance of international law (as conceded by Richard Perle with regard to Iraq, or in the case of the Anglo-French Suez invasion) to the point of planning for the loss of life of their own citizens (as in the proposal by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff for Operation Northwoods to engage in activities such as assassination, hijacking airplanes, blowing up ships, orchestrating violent terrorism in cities of the USA -- in order to pin the blame on opponents). In such a context, who could demonstrate that the following sequence had not been masterminded by a (rogue) security agency of a government whose strategic interests would be protected or advanced by focusing attention on such events (and away from other situations)?:
In this context the nature of the shadowy "al-Qaida" itself becomes the "unsaid". As with any bogeyman, maintaining its shadowy, menacing nature in the eyes of public opinion may serve both its adherents and those whose position is reinforced by fear-mongering. Substantive proof cannot be credibly supplied -- only devastating bombs whose purpose can be variously interpreted, irrespective of the specific false "claims" of responsibility (typical of many crimes). Even professionals in the intelligence community may be confused by the shadowy quality of the evidence on offer and may mistakenly infer the existence of "missing links" to complete the desired chain of evidence (see also Groupthink: the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale: missing the link between "freedom fighters" and "terrorists", 2002)
The status of the "unsaid" has also been admirably illustrated by US Defense Secretary, Donald Rumsfeld (DoD News, 12 February 2002):
This much-cited remark has been reviewed in the light of its inadvertent wisdom (see Philip Stephens. The unwitting wisdom of Rumsfeld's unknowns. Financial Times, 12 December 2003). Whilst acknowledging that "The chaos in Iraq testifies to what happens when politicians substitute hubris for intelligent thought" he acknowledges the merits of Rumsfeld's statement: "Sometimes we can be certain about things; sometimes we know the direction to take but are aware of gaps in our knowledge; and sometimes we just stumble around in the dark". According to Stephens, compounding Rumsfeld's error in ignoring his own advice, his unstated error is his assumption that the present can be readily projected into the future.
John Ralston Saul (The Unconscious Civilization, 1995) provides a classic example:
Democratic countries pride themselves on their legal systems and consider that any miscarriages of justice are merely unfortunate exceptions. The systemic defects pass unnoticed -- except by those difectly exposed to them -- and are not a matter of public debate. The extent to which this situation has gone unacknowledged in an industrialized country such as the UK, for example, has been usefully and extensively analyzed by Nick Davies (How a judge's death in country garden exposed fatal flaws in system, Guardian, 13 December 2003):
The prevailing situation in many other countries falls within the zone of the "unsaid". In the same period the unacknowledged pattern of treatment accorded prisoners in the UK by prison officers was the subject of a further report by Vikram Dodd (Brutality of prison officers exposed, Guardian, 11 December 2003):
In many respects, psychoanalysis is primarily concerned with the "unsaid" and the silences of discourse (for example, H Levitt. The unsaid in the narrative: Understanding silences in psychotherapy. 1997). As noted by Alfred Margulies (Commentary on Poland's "The Analyst's Witnessing And Otherness". Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 48/1)
The secret quality of the preoccupations of psychoanalysis are reflected in interesting ways in the institutional secrecy of its origins, as explored by Paulo Soroka. (The said and the unsaid: Secret structures and ideology in psychoanalytic institutions. Revista Brasileira de Psicanalise, 5, 2001, 4), notably its "Secret Committee".
For L A Kirshner (The concept of the self in psychoanalytic theory and its philosophical foundations. Journal of the American Psychoanalytical Assocation, 39, 1991, 181):
The "unsaid" may also be understood from the perspective of depth psychology as the "shadow". This is the archetypal scapegoat present in everyone -- that unacknowledgedf part of the psyche normally the focus of blame or attack when the individual feels it necessary to vindicate some action or behaviour. It is not normally recognized as part of the self and thus the blame or attack is usually received by someone else who has sparked off the disquieting view of the shadow. It is postulated that the inability to accept that the "enemy" is in fact one's own lower nature is the cause of all bias, discrimination and conflict. Acknowledgement of the collective shadow might well prevent nationalistic or racialistic over-reactions to atrocities and barbarism which effectively are merely responding in kind. By accepting that everyone, as a human being, holds within a collective responsibility for every development may well be the key to the next stage in human evolution
Recalling Donald Rumsfeld's insight (above), psychotherapist R. D. Laing (Knots, 1970) made a strong point about the experience of the "unsaid" in the form of a much-cited poem which included the lines:
The notion of the "unsaid" may be applied to relationships, especially those that stretch the conventions of a particular society. Thus it may apply to cases where people have a romantic "understanding" that is not expressed in words. This may also apply in the case of homosexual relationships (for example, in Duy Nguyen's play Things Unsaid). Sensitive issues may be avoided for years. Silence of one form of another may undermine relationships (see Silence about sexual problems can hurt relationships, 1999) or be significant in defining a relationship (see Arad Nir. Relationships as commitment devices: Strategic silence, 2002). It is a major issue in relationship to undisclosed domestic violence [more]. Silence may then itself be a form of abuse according to Paul Brandis (Silence: Is It Abuse?).
Studies of communication have established that a very significant proportion of meaning is conveyed non-verbally, notably through body language (for example John Bittleston: What's left unsaid: Body language says a lot about a person if you know how to read it properly. 4 July 2003).
The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski distinguished phatic communication from ideational communication, although their respective success may be mutually dependent. Phatic communication makes use of conventional messages (notably at the beginning and the end of a conversation) to establish rapport and community. This may include hugging, kissing, shaking hands, bowing, smiling, making eye contact, and facing one another. Cliches may be used to exchange pleasantries -- having essentially lost their content they take on new relational meanings. In such communication, what is important is not what is said. (see V Zegarac, 1998, 1999).
At a particular moment in group processes, something may best be left unsaid knowing that later it will be said. In group creativity processes, if an idea is criticized too early it will be suppressed and often all new ideas will become unmentionable. Although the criticism may be valid -- the idea may be worth pursuing for a while before it is criticized.
By leaving things unsaid or unseen in art the hearer or viewer must construct their own reality creating a richness far beyond what the artist could do. The process of artistic creativity is often accompanied by a marked reluctance to discuss or show the work before its completion.
(a) Poetry: The "unsaid" features in a number of titles of poems (for example, Dana Gioia, Beverly Bremers and Rick Paul, Emily Guenther, Michaelette L. Romano). For Louise Glück (Disruption, Hesitation, Silence, In: Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry, 1994) aesthetics is rooted in a sense of a work of art as provocatively unfinished. Poets including Rilke, Berryman, Oppen and Eliot can then be understood as practitioners of "not saying," of leaving out so as to suggest:
The "unsaid" has a special relationship to what is "said" through a poem. There is a sense in which significance remains unexpressed or "unsaid" until it can be expressed aesthetically in poetic form. It then "makes no sense" and remains "unsaid" until it rhymes within an appropriate metric. The higher orders of significance-- or wisdom -- appears to call for aesthetic expression and require it for successful communication. Rather than rhyme, the emphasis may be on respecting a particular metric (as in haiku) to render it memorable. In this sense the unmemorable effectively remains "unsaid".
In this context it is intriguing how socio-political reality is made and unmade by rhyme. The challenge is most readily seen in the use of rap as a form of coherent expression emerging from the slums of the most industrialized country. Political protest is frequently articulated through rhyming slogans, chants and song -- as was the case with Vietnam, and now with Iraq. War chants have a long tradition. The political will is in this sense unexpressed -- "unsaid" -- until it takes rhyming form.
Given the importance of this form to cultural identity in the case of epic poems (Ramayana, Mahabarata, Odyssey, Edda, Nibelungenlied, La Divina Commedia, Kalevala, etc), it is surprising how fundamentally unaesthetic are the major strategic constructions of modern civilization: political manifestos, constitutions of nations, charters of intergovernmental organizations, universal declarations, and global plans of action. It is no wonder that statements such as the Earth Summit's Agenda 21 do not engender the political will to change. The intentionality they seek to express remains effectively "unsaid". It can be argued that until political action can be articulated through rhyme and metre it will remain incoherent, unmemorable and ineffectual (see Structuring Mnemonic Encoding of Development Plans and Ethical Charters using Musical Leitmotivs, 2001; also Knowledge Gardening through Music: patterns of coherence for future African management as an alternative to Project Logic, 2000).
In the light of this claim, it might be useful to explore questionable cases where some attempt has been made towards coopting aesthetic expression to articulate values and a sense of direction: political parties, communist regimes, national socialist regimes (notably Goebbels), and other national movements. Poems have been used at the inauguration of some US presidents: Robert Frost (The Gift Outright) at the 1961 inauguration of John Kennedy; Maya Angelou (The Rock Cries Out To Us Today) at the inauguration of Bill Clinton in 1993; Miller Williams (Of History and Hope) at Clinton's 1997 inaugural. What remains "unsaid" in these cases might be contrasted with what is "said" at events such as the Eisteddfod Genedlaethol Frenhinol Cymru (Royal National Eisteddfod of Wales) [more] with its explicit druidic traditions [more] -- and the socio-political significance that carries.
Such ceremonies are valued when they are aesthetically "magical". But they may also be understood as modern echoes of traditional magical operations. They are in part designed to "cast a spell" -- now known in its most degraded form in the commercial advertising jingle. Inauguration, or explication, of a pattern of action through a manifesto, declaration or legal constitution can be understood as the grounding "Word" articulating a new reality -- but as such it is also a "spell", a "making", and a drive to action. In this sense, the "unsaid" is both the strategic intent and potential, which has not yet been given appropriate form -- as well as any form which has effectively been displaced or "unmade". In some cultures, such as that of the Australian Aborigines, psycho-social reality is "sung" into being and sustained through such "song". But it can also be "unsung" and "unmade". Historically recent efforts by colonial powers and their religions to suppress systematically the traditional modes of aesthetic expression can be seen as efforts to "unmake" traditional cultures and collective identities. They were forbidden from singing their songs.
Individual identity can also be understood as driven to self-expression -- to "make a statement", or to "say" something. Unless that expression has an aesthetic dimension (style, look, etc), the identity may be felt to be unexpressed, unstated, inadequate and "unsaid". It is in this context that character assassination and identity theft can be usefully explored. Whilst personalities may be "built up" and heroes may indeed be "sung", the reputation and integrity of others may be destroyed, "unsung" and "unsaid". They then have no "song".
These aesthetic considerations raise the question of the nature of the higher order of meaning or identity with which they are associated. What is the additional meaning carried by rhyme? Is it an articulation of the semantic links -- the systemic pathways -- that constitute Gregory Bateson's famous "pattern that connects"? This can be explored in relation to the Chinese classical poem the Tao Te Ching (see also Hyperspace Clues to the Psychology of the Pattern that Connects in the light of the 81 Tao Te Ching Insights, 2003). Are rhymes effectively a fundamental feature of patterns of identity in a psycho-cultural pattern language? It would appear that their quality of resonance and aesthetic "goodness of fit" are vital to psycho-social architecture. What then if they are unexpressed -- "unsaid"?
(b) Literature: Massimo Lollini (Literature and Testimony in Gramsci's Letters from Prison: The question of Subjectivity) argues that:
A critique (In Custody of the Unsaid) of Anita Desai's novel In Custody, suggests that the "unsaid" functions to create meaning in the otherwise meaningless life of her character. By setting up a more concrete binary of meaning and the meaningless, the "unsaid" forces the reader to reevaluate the purpose of communication in an individual context.
(c) Visual arts: The role of the unstated is particularly evident in the use of shadow effects in Japanese interior decoration. Louise Glück also suggests of the "unsaid":
(d) Media: The term "unsaid" is used as a name for a popular musical group and for a film.
The "unsaid" in philosophy takes the form of presuppositions, namely whatever hides behind the statements of philosophers or their methods. The greatest "unsaid" is perhaps that in philosophy reason accounts for everything. And yet never is will mentioned as trainable in decision making, although it is the will that makes decisions, not reason. Also "unsaid" is that reason reduces complex situations into veridical ones (of the simplistic form: yes/no, good/bad, true/false, etc.). Also unrecognized is the extent to which human faculties such as remembering and imagining have been systematically suppressed in the educated Westerner, and variously distorted in others through the colonialism of the English language ( see Antonio de Nicolas. Habits of Mind: An Introduction to Clinical Philosophy, 2000).
Daniel Fidel Ferrer (Martin Heidegger and the new other beginning (Anfang), 2003) comments on the thinking of one philosopher who has been very attentive to the nature of the "unsaid":
Clifton D. Healy (Deconstruction: Derrida, Theology, and John of the Cross, 1994) argues that:
In a remarkable study of silence, Ulrich Schmitz (Eloquent silence, 1994) states:
An interesting analysis of philosophical presuppositions is that of W T Jones (The Romantic Syndrome; toward a new methodology in cultural anthropology and the history of ideas. 1961) who explores the unstated pre-logical biases that determine the direction and structure of debate -- before anything is said (see summary in Axes of Bias in Inter-cultural Dialogue, 1993)
Institutionalized research is almost entitrely dependent on the "unsaid" in that explicit reference can seldom be made to the conceptual implications of the rationale of the ideologies through which research funding is approved. Some disciplines have embodied the mindset of their funding sources to a degree which isolates their discourse from those not dependent on such funding.
Increasingly comissioned research may have built into it the "unsaid" requirement of producing the results desired by the sponsor as reinforcement to their ideology and strategy.
(a) Non-dit (French): The "non-dit" is a commonly used French term applied both in the arts (for example, Stefan Pollan. How to Say the Non-dit; Disclosing World in Neo-Realist Film. 1999), personal relations, but especially in political and strategic analysis (for example, Stéphane Rozès. Le non-dit de la question sociale, 2003; Alberto B Mariantoni, et al. Le non-dit du conflit israélo-arabe: les clés cachées du problème, 1997; or Abderahmane Hadj Nacer on the origin of capital).
With respect to the strong position taken by Chirac and Schröder on Iraq against the USA, the Nouvel Observateur (L'Irak: la semaine du bras de fer, 13 février 2003) speaks, for example, of the explosive nature of the "non-dit":
Jérome Frenkiel (La politique du non-dit. 2002) argues:
Céline Gaudin (L'Eloge du Vide) of the Institut d'Etudes Politiques, argues with respect to the Japanese understanding of emptiness:
Edmund Pascual (Le pragmatique de l'échange diplomatique. International Conference on Language and Diplomacy, Malta, 2001) reviews the role of the "non-dit" in diplomatic speech, where he distinguishes between presupposition and sous-entendu:
The implication of the "non-dit" with respect to colonial exploitation of North America is explored by Elise Marienstras (Le Traité de Paris de septembre 1783: traité international ou naissance d'une nation? 2001)
With respect to the construction of the European Union, M. Arkoun (Pour une politique de l'ésperance dans l'Union Européenne) argues (provisionally) that:
(b) Honne (Japanese): Considerable attention has been given to the contrast in Japanese culture between "tatemae" as the explicit stated reality of a situation, and "honne" as the unspoken reality of that situation. The latter may be skillfully and deliberately concealed behind a facade [more]. Honne is deep motive or intention, while tatemae refers to motives or intentions that are socially-shaped, encouraged, or suppressed by majority norms. The former would only be expressed privately (if at all), whereas the latter may be expressed openly. Aspects of international relations have been reviewed in the light of these contrasts. Covering up self-interest with lip service is a global, time-honored tradition practiced by statesmen [more | more]
According to Linus Hagström (Diverging Accounts of Japanese Policymaking. European Institute of Japanese Studies, Working Paper No. 102 September 2000):
(c) "Non detto" (Italian): According to Gianni Tibaldi (private communication) the Roman Law connects the meanings of "unsaid" to the problem of "showing the will". The will, in fact, may be:
"Silence" is considered a lack of any form of expression, meaning an " absolute void of will". Unless an agreement or a law attributes to the silence a meaning, in which case the silence represents a form not of tacit but direct expression. From a global-psychological context the meanings of "unsaid" and "silence" appear broader. "Uusaid" then refers to a kind of action (negative) to which corresponds the Latin word "tacere" that originally meaning "to hide" or "to secrete" while the "silence" refers to a condition of quietness or noiseless. "Unsaid" is a category of language; "silence" is a category of the body and the environment (time and space). Both "unsaid" and "silence", in any case, belong to the communication world and so the value and effectiveness of the messages depend not only on the intention (conscious or unconscious) of the subject who expresses or is silent, but on the disposition or attitude of the subject to whom the message is addressed and whose interpretation is conclusive. Exactly for this raison the Roman Law defines the "tacit expression" as a "conclusive attitude" .
And in the arts with respect to music: "L'attenzione fluttuante va affinata in senso musicale per raccogliere le comunicazioni sonore ma non verbali che veicolano preziosi frammenti di non detto" (see Antonio Di Benedetto. Prima della parola: L'ascolto psicoanalitico del non detto attraverso le forme dell'arte)
With respect to secrecy (Mario Ricciardi. La rilevanza etica del segreto):
(d) Other sources: "ungesagt" (German) notably explored by Heidegger; "Offenes Geheimnis" (German); "non dice" (Italian); "Secret de Polichinelle" (French).
(a) Tacit knowledge and implicit learning: Tacit knowledge has been defined as that which enters into the production of behaviors and/or the constitution of mental states but is not ordinarily accessible to consciousness. Tacit (silent) knowledge (Polanyi, 1958/1974) and implicit learning (see Berry [ed.] 1997) have in common the idea of not knowing what you do know or have learned. Although the expression "tacit knowledge" appears to have been introduced by Polanyi , the idea that certain cognitive processes and/or behaviours are undergirded by operations inaccessible to consciousness -- by a cognitive unconscious, as Reber (1995) calls it -- goes back at least as far as Helmholtz's work in the 19th century (Reber 1995, p. 15). A more recent and influential formulation of this basic idea can be found in Lashley (1956). It has been claimed that "tacit knowledge" has been all but hi-jacked by management gurus, who use it to refer to the stock of expertise within an organization which is not written down or even formally expressed, but may nevertheless be essential to its effective operation. [more | more | more]
(b) Traditional ecological knowledge (or TEK): This is a system of understanding one's environment typical of indigenous peoples. As with tacit knowledge, it may be characterized to a high degree by non-explicated, non-verbal "know-how" rather than explicit "know-of". It is built over generations, as people depend on the land and sea for their food, materials, and culture. TEK is based on observations and experience, evaluated in light of what one has learned from one's elders. People have relied on this detailed knowledge for their survival -- they have literally staked their lives on its accuracy and repeatability.[more]
Relations between people may be characterized, or governed, by unstated obligations, as indicated by these quotations:
These implicit obligations may be recognized during an adjudication process as unexpressed terms of an agreement. Courts often determine that there are implicit obligations between contracting parties that are not explicitly set forth in writing. [more]
Of great importance in Japanese culture, is the unstated moral debt of gratitude understood by the term giri -- whether in relationships such as master-subordinate, parent-child, husband-wife, brothers-sisters, friends, and sometimes even enemies and business associates. It may involve a self-sacrificing pursuit of the happiness of the other. When acting towards a person to whom one feels giri, one must not take into account one's own suffering when alleviating or helping the other out of a difficult situation.
Major significance may be attached in personal relations to a requirement for respect and avoidance of disrespect -- a want of respect or reverence, esteem, civility or courtesy. This may be mutual or asymmetrical. It may only be a mental attitude -- possibly expressed in an impatience of bearing, recognized in the military as "dumb insolence".
Whether in the case of diplomatic protocol, rules of precedence, or interpersonal relations (notably between family or community members), great attention may be given to the phatic communications that are indicative of a level of respect or disrespect -- that may seldom be rendered verbally explicit. This concern is not confined to particular social classes. It may be extremely important in articulating relations amongst gang members and between gangs. [more | more | more].
In a series of influential and controversial papers on "conversational implicature", Herbert P Grice (1957, 1968, 1969) has argued that the meaning of a word (or nonnatural sign) in general is a derivative function of what speakers mean by that word in individual instances of uttering it. Conventional theory discourages inquiry into what a particular speaker might mean by a word in a particular utterance -- to understand the utterance it is held to be enough to know what the word "means". But Grice argues that what a word "means" derives from what speakers mean by uttering it -- and he further holds that "what a particular speaker or writer means by a sign on a particular occasion... may well diverge from the standard meaning of the sign" (Grice 1957: 381). [more |more]
In this sense what is implied may well be effectively "unsaid" and highly dependent on contextal implications.
A vast literature has complicated the theory of implicature since 1978. (see Penelope Brown and Stephen C. Levinson, Politeness: Some Universals in Language Use, 1988; Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson, Relevance: Communication and Cognition, 1986; Georgia M. Green, Pragmatics and Natural Language Understanding, 1989, 87-125; and H P Grice, Studies in the Way of Words, 1989)
Whereas a lie is necessarily explicit, deception is a much broader practice that can include all kinds of deliberately misleading omissions, suggestions, and nonverbal implications. (see Complementary Truth-handling Strategies: Mediating the relationship between the "Last class" and the "Liar class". 2003)
Deception may be especially significant in the case of self-deception, whether in the case of an individual, a professional group, a social class, a nation, or even the international community. An interesting phenomenon in this connection is that of groupthink, notably as it relates to the unstated attitudes governing recognition and evaluation of evidence (see Groupthink: the Search for Archaeoraptor as a Metaphoric Tale: missing the link between "freedom fighters" and "terrorists" . 2002).
A classic form of deception gave rise to the notion of "Potemkin Villages". These derive their notoriety from a grand tour by Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia, of the newly conquered Crimea in 1787. The tour was organized by Prince Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin who is purported to have ensured that Catherine was only exposed to the prosperous villages along the route. Potemkin's critics in the Imperial Court labeled these villages "Potemkin Villages" and claimed that they were actually inhabited by actors (see also Globalization within a Global Potemkin Society. 2000). Some might see a parallel in the US presidential visit to London in November 2003 when the first lady Laura Bush told reporters she had barely noticed the opposition to her husband's state visit: "We've seen plenty of American flags. We've seen plenty of people waving to us -- many, many more people in fact than protesters," she said [more].
In his frustration with Saddam Hussein, George Bush has himself declared: "I'm sick and tired of lies and deception". But the world has subsequently been dismayed to discover that, in the words of Ray McGovern, co-founder of the Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (USA): "No President has lied so baldly and so often and so demonstrably" (Independent on Sunday, 9 November 2003).
Secrecy ensures that much of relevance to participative, democratic, international policy-making remains "unsaid" -- whether widely rumoured or not. Employment in many organizations, notably governmental and intergovernmental organizations, requires signature of contracts preventing disclosure of information that it is believed should remain "unsaid".
Intelligence gathering: This may be understood as an investment in the unsayable -- for security reasons. The most ambitious national program in democratic societies to this end is that of the US Defense Department's Total Information Awareness program. It has ironic similarities to the invasive surveillance programs deplored by the US in totalitarian societies -- notably the East German Stasi who maintained files on up to 6 million East German citizens, namely one third of the population [more]. The most ambitious international program is Echelon, a global surveillance network that can eavesdrop on every single phone call, fax or e-mail, anywhere on the planet [more | more | more]
Classified information: Extremely large quantities of information are treated as "classified", namely secret, by intergovernmental organizations, national governments (especially their security services), and corporations -- despite different attempts to ease the critria requiring classification or the length of the period prior to their declassification [more | more]. Documents may be so held by governments for periods up to 50 years prior to release, although they may be deliberately shdredded in anticipation of the release date. The Vatican has maintained secret for centuries its archives relating to the Inquisition [more]. The degree of concern with official secrecy is a clear indication that governance is to a very large degree based on the "unsaid" -- information that is not open to public debate. Valid arguments in justification for such secrecy in particular cases are improperly extended to other cases.
The degree of deception under which national and international politics is conducted is illustrated by the classic case of Daniel Ellsberg who in 1971 acquired notoriety with his release of the 7,000-page Pentagon Papers, a Defense Department study of the USA's sordid involvement in Indochina. [more | more | more].
Codes of silence: according to James E. Lukaszewski (Overcoming Codes of Silence, 1999): "In many situations where reputations are at stake, where serious damage is threatened or has already occurred, there is a human tendency or institutional expectation that silence will be maintained. Ironically, codes of silence become obvious quickly and fuel relentless attacks by outside forces to pierce the veil of secrecy and bring down those responsible. Codes of silence are institutional hiding places". Lukaszewski distinguishes
This categorization does not include:
The "unsaid" may be intimately associated with a sense of ignorance of what might be meaningfully said -- rather than with knowledge deliberately withheld. According to David Gray (Wanted: Chief Ignorance Officer, Harvard Business Review, November 2003) ignorance (that he terms nescience) is a new form of knowledge -- and a resource in its own right (see review by Lucy Kellaway. In case you don't know, ignorance is the new knowledge. Financial Times, 1 December 2003). In particular knowledge encourages people to think in well-worn ways, whereas ignorance encourages continual questioning and creativity. To complement approaches to knowledge management, Gray identifies four steps to managing nescience: deferment, prematurity, irrelevance and waste.
For Alexander Schatten, et al (Closing the Gap: From Nescience to Knowledge Management, 2003), there is a case for enhancing the knowledge management process by accentuating the importance of nescience in information and knowledge-centric processes. When knowledge is generated and applied, society proceeds one step higher in system complexity; the nescience, the insecurity increases, new problems arise, and the system risk generally grows. Following Helmut Willke (Dystopia: Studien zur Krisis des Wissens in der modernen. Gesellschaft. Suhrkamp Taschenbuch Wissenschaft, 2002), the authors suggest that the "The crisis of knowledge is cognitively driven by the new relevance of nescience". They call for a new concept that accepts the fact that growing knowledge always produces nescience and the management of nescience is the factor of future success. For them:
Concern with nescience has arisen in relation to environmental sustainability (see Richard C. Bishop and Antony Scott. Nescience and the Safe Minimum Standard of Conservation): "Under nescience, surprises can happen and decision-makers know it. More formally stated, under nescience, alternative future states of the world and associated probabilities are not fully defined. Economic theorists have yet to address choice under nescience.". The authors stress the need for a theory of choice under nescience -- given that nescience is a much more realistic assumption than uncertainty. Their examination of ignorance, ambiguity, unforeseen contingencies, and the precautionary principle showed a rather consistent tendency toward choices that stress caution, guarding against extreme adverse outcomes, and keeping options open.
As a philosopher, Manuel de Diéguez (Science et Nescience) explores the notion of intelligbility and the reasons why the invariant is considered intelligible: "Il s'agissait donc ici, par une spéléologie de la compréhensibilité, de démasquer l'idole fondamentale qu'est 'arbre de la connaissance' en sa copie baptismale et magique de la constance. Peut-être le moment est-il venu de placer, par de modestes moyens, l'humanisme comme la théologie en face d'une critique radicale de leur re-présentation, afin que, par-delà l'univers pléthorique de la prévisibilité, resurgissent la vocation, la tension et le tragique de la transcendance."
The classical philosophical study of ignorance was however that of Nicholas of Cusa (De Docta Ignorantia, 1440) of which Jasper Hopkins has provided a recent translation and appraisal (Nicholas of Cusa On Learned Ignorance, 1981/85). For Nicholas such learned ignorance involved "embracing the incomprehensible incomprehensibly". The unknowing which Nicholas discusses has been understood to be not so much an erudite or a wise unknowing (i.e., an unknowing which confers a kind of erudition or wisdom on the one who does not know) as it is simply a recognition-of-limitedness that has been achieved (i.e., an unknowing which has been learned, so that the one who has learned of his unknowing is now among the instructed, rather than remaining one of the unlearned). The emphasis of Nicholas is upon instruction in the way-of-ignorance and that the man of learned ignorance is not thought by Nicholas to be a man of erudition. Nicholas does mainly understand "docta ignorantia" as an ignorance which has been acquired and which distinguishes its possessor from those who are thus uninstructed. Yet, it is equally clear that "the more he knows that he is unknowing, the more learned he will be" and that Nicholas also sometimes understands "docta ignorantia" as an ignorance which renders its possessor wise.
At the first UNESCO Philosophy Forum (Paris, 1995) 71 philosophers and specialists from various fields engaged in dialogues to explore the question, "What don't we know?" (see Ayyam Sureau (Ed). What We Do Not Know, 1996)
From a pedagogical perspective, Academia Vixen (The Emperor's Nakedness: Undressing Ignorance in the Classroom, 2003) asks how students might be instructed in ignorance: "This is not to promote stupidity -- something, as we all know, vastly different from ignorance -- but to argue that respect for that which we do not know or think we do is a continuing prerequisite for learning, both in the classroom and beyond". The author criticizes the perspective of Shoshana Felman (Psychoanalysis and Education: Teaching Terminable and Interminable, Yale French Studies, No. 63, 1982) on the issue of teaching and ignorance in psychoanalytic terms where ignorance is likened to an analysand's "repression" or "resistance" to knowledge -- although ignorance is not not seen as a lack of knowledge, unknowing is characterized in a negative light as "an active refusal of information." Her question remains as to whether it is possible to teach students not to know, or is knowledge too great a temptation for them, and for us?
A political perspective on the Middle East crisis is offered by Miriam Reik and Fouzi Slisli in terms of Unknowing what is known (Al-Ahram, No. 657, 25 Sept. - 1 Oct. 2003).
Stimulated by the challenge of ignorance in relation to health care, the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center (What is ignorance?) explores a variety of positive understandings of ignorance. The co-founder, Marlys Witte, indicates there:
The value of ignorance in a group dynamic situation has been explored in the International School of Ignorance, meeting occasionally since the 1980s (see also Anthony Blake. A Self-Organizing Group in Dialogue, 1994). This process was also associated with the emergence of a School of Unknowing -- in the light the medieval mystical treatises grouped under that name [more]. An online agnostic International University of Nescience has also emerged.
According to spiritual traditions, nescience is the "force which prevents wisdom shining from within, that is that which holds it in latency." (see Ramjee Singh From Nescience to Omniscience) For Singh, from a Jain perspective, for example: "In short, nescience or mithyatva is at the root of all evils and the cause of worldly existence". In the Bhagavad Gita (5, 16): "When, however, one is enlightened with the knowledge by which nescience is destroyed, then his knowledge reveals everything, as the sun lights up everything in the daytime". [Vedanta perspective on avidya]. But for Dionysius the Areopagite (Mystical Theology):
Again, poetically expressed by T S Eliot (Four Quartets: East Coker, 1940):
Much of this poem is recognized to be a literary borrowing -- expressed in poetic form -- from maxims formulated by St John of the Cross [more].
The whole range of mystical experience in the period of Dionysius the Areopagite, Master Eckhart et alia is characertized by what theologians have termed the via negativa, that can also usefully be understood as one way of responding to the "unsaid". This is the approach to God through negation, a commonplace of all mysticism, whether Eastern or Western. From this perspective, no predicates attach to God; no words may legitimately be used to describe him. In stripping from the mind all its delusions about God it is prepared for the truth, and in eliminating all that is not God, there is a penetration to the heart of the mystery. An analogous approach is recognized in relation to the Upanishads, as in the expression neti-neti (not this, not this) in response to the reality of all that is affirmed. In this context the "unsaid" is the ground of mysticism. It relates also to the expression of St. John of the Cross as the "silencio sonoro" (sounding silence) and the beautiful Dark Night (see Antonio de Nicolas. St. John of the Cross: Alchemist of the Soul, 1995). San Juan de la Cruz called this poem 'Songs of the soul delighted at having reached the high state of perfection, the union with God, by way of spiritual negation."
As reviewed by Nicholas Colloff, Michael A. Sells (Mystical Languages Of Unsaying, 1994), explores how selected mystical writers use language to body forth that inexpressible reality and its contours. Each language demonstrates a use of patterns of 'apophasis' (namely 'speaking away'). Apophatic theology has been described as a way of 'negation' and in this has been set opposite 'kataphatic' theology as a way of 'affirmation'. 'Apophasis' may howevr be understood not as a direct negation of prior affirmative statement but as a way of 'unsaying' them. 'Kataphatic' theology is then the necessary context in which 'apophasis' can take place. Apophasis is then a language of double statements, although each of the writers explored recognises the tendency to fix only upon the single statement to the neglect of its twin -- so each double statement must be placed within further statements in order to achieve an infinite regress, a referential openness rather than defining the referent. This referential openness in the text evokes the openness and vulnerability to the ultimate necessary to practice the 'perpetual transformation'. As Colloff concludes, texts of this kind are performative. They are designed to 'trigger' in the reader a comprehension of the way of being that the text itself mirrors.
Social and other pressures, including secrecy, ensure that many questions remain unasked or unanswered that pertain to what is "unsaid" (see, for example, Questions to which Many deserve Answers, 2000; 911+ Questions in Seeking UnCommon Ground and protecting the Middle Way, 2001). Political, and other forms of, discourse may be structured to avoid drawing attention to those questions.
This phenomenon has been particular evident in the case of events associated with the "war on terrorism" (see for example Harry Browne. The Unasked Questions. 29 January 2003; William Raspberry. Unasked Questions. The Washington Post, 30 September 2002). It was also evident in the case of Kosovo (see for example, Philip Hammond. The Unasked Questions: Reporting of the war in Yugoslavia has been strong on rhetoric and short on genuine attempts to get at the truth. Times, 9 April 1999).
It has also applied in the case of other sets of issues (see for example David C. Korten. UNCED: Unasked Questions. 15 April 1991; Alex Kirby. Foot-and-mouth: the unasked questions. BBC, 21 January 2002)
1. Historical memory: Collective memory of past tragedies and shameful massacres, possibly interpreted by some as acts of genocide, may be subject to repression and denial by later political forces (as, for example, with Central America and Armenia) -- or because it is too painful for people who have to live with those who may have been involved in their perpetration (as in post-francist Spain) [more]. Genocide denial has resulted in efforts to recover historical memeory to guard against repetiton of the process.
2. Individual memory: In this case the focus is on the tendency of people who have experienced abuse in their early childhood to be subject to repressed memory syndrome under which they deny having been exposed to such abuse. Misguided exploration of this phenomenon, resulting in false accusations, has led to recognition of False Repressed Memory Syndrome.
Much that is "unsaid" publicly may take the form of rumour, anecdote and corridor gossip. This may be referenced under the French term (Secret de Polichinelle) or the Grman term (Offenes Geheimnis):
A widespread response to any attempt to draw attention to the "unsaid" is through denial. This is notably evident with respect to:
George S. Cabot and Steve Harmon. When are contractual obligations created? 10 things you may not know that can hurt you [text]
Rodrigo Agerri. Fixing Unsaid Meanings. First International Workshop on Semantics, Pragmatics and Rhetorics, Donostia-San Sebastian, Spain, November 2001) [commentary]
D C Berry (Ed.). How Implicit is Implicit Learning? Oxford University Press, 1997
Nicholas O. Berry. War and the Red Cross: the unspoken mission. St. Martin's Press, 1997 [review]
John Bittleston. What's left unsaid: Body language says a lot about a person if you know how to read it properly. 4 July 2003 [text]
Barry Brown. Unsaid Summit. Green Left Weekly Home Page (on the UNCED Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, 1992) [comment]
Harry Browne. The Unasked Questions. American Liberty Foundation, 29 January 2003 [text]
Fiona A Campbell. "The Sayable and Unsayable": Memorialisations of the Shoah in Law, Critical Theory and Culture, 1998 [text]
Rory Carroll. Saying the unsayable. Guardian, 11 June 2003 (how Bob Geldof's outspokenness over the Aids crisis facing Ethiopia stung the country's leaders) [text]
Jara Crawford. Say the Unsaid Things [text]
Nigel Cross and Kitty Warnock. The Unsaid in UNCED. [text]
E J Dionne. President's speech on Iraq left too much unsaid: Little candor about who will pay. Concord Monitor, September 10, 2003 [text]
Mindles H. Dreck. Asymmetrical Information: Honne and Tatemae. 24 May 2002 [text]
Jacques Duquesne. Le non-dit de Pie XII. L'Express Livres, 23 novembre 2003 [text]
Michael Eric Dyson. Words unsaid (African American women and the Million Man March). 1995 [text]
Dave Duffy. Something unsaid about Timothy McVeigh's execution. Backwoods Home Magazine. 1998 [text]
Wayne A. Edisis. The Hidden Agenda: Negotiations for the Generalized System of Preferences. Brandeis University, 1985, doctoral dissertation (Helen Dwight Reid Award Winner)
Jérome Frenkiel. La politique du non-dit. Les éditoriaux de la Gazette, 30 novembre 2002, 52 [text]
Johan Galtung. US "Negotiation" Style -- and the six-party talks over over Korea, 2007 (Conference at the University of Jeju, Jeju and Hanshin University Seoul)
Didier Girard. A shattering silence: the obscene in the unsaid. [comment on the book Frankenstein]
Louise Glück. Disruption, Hesitation, Silence. In: Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry. New York, Ecco, 1994
Philip Hammond. The Unasked Questions: Reporting of the war in Yugoslavia has been strong on rhetoric and short on genuine attempts to get at the truth. The Times, 9 April 1999 [text]
The Hindu. Unasked questions. The Hindu, 14 May 2000 [text]
David Hirst. The Unsayable Must Be Said: the West has been loath to link the war on terror to settling the Palestinian issue. Toronto Globe and Mail, 18 October [text]
Derek Hook. The Unsayable, the Virtual and the Limits of Natural Discourse. University of the Witwatersrand [abstract]
W. Iser and S. Budick (Eds.). Languages of the Unsayable: the play of negativity in literature and literary theory. Columbia University Press, 1989
Paul Jalbert. Structures of the 'Unsaid' Theory, Culture and Society, 11(4), pp. 127-60
Alex Kirby. Foot-and-mouth: the unasked questions. BBC, 21 January 2002 [text]
N. R. Kleinfield. Patients Whose Final Wishes Go Unsaid Put Doctors in a Bind. New York Times, July 21, 2003 [text]
David C. Korten. UNCED: Unasked Questions. PCDForum Column #12, 15 April 1991 [text]
Elizabeth le Roux. Imaginary Evidence: Finding the non-dit in fiction. University of the Witwatersrand [text]
Dorothy Leonard and Sylvia Sensiper. The Role of Tacit Knowledge in Group Innovation. California Management Review, Spring 1998
Ed Lewis. Hidden Agendas Of The War That Is Not a War. 2001 [text]
Dagobert D. Manteltasche. A Desipient Prolegomenon to the Deconstruction of Silence: Neo-postdistanciationalist Approaches [text]
Alberto B. Mariantoni and Fred Oberson. Le non-dit du conflit israélo-arabe: les clés cachées du problème. Pygmalion, 1997 [introduction]
Jim Marrs. Rule by Secrecy: The Hidden History That Connects the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons, and the Great Pyramids. Perennial. 2001
Barry Mason. Exploring the Unsaid: Creativity, Risks and Dilemmas in Working Cross-Culturally. Karmac Books, 2004
Geoff Metcalf. Unasked questions. WorldNetDaily.com, 1999 [text]
Mitsubishi Corporation. Tatemae and Honne: Distinguishing Between Good Form and Real Intention in Japanese Business Culture. Free Press, 1988
Edward Mortimer. Saying the Unsayable. The New York Review of Books, Volume 40, Number 10, 27 May 1993 (Review of Cruelty and Silence: War, Tyranny, Uprising, and the Arab World by Kanan Makiya) [text]
Richard Neville. Saying the unsayable. Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 2002 [text]
Opus Dei. Ein offenes Geheimnis "Ein Geheimnis. - Ein offenes Geheimnis: Es gibt Weltkrisen, weil es an Heiligen fehlt". Der Weg, Nr. 301 [text]
Michael Polanyi. Personal Knowledge: Towards a Post-Critical Philosophy. University of Chicago Press. 1958
Stefan Pollan. How to Say the Non-dit; Disclosing World in Neo-Realist Film. 7th April 1999 [text]
William Raspberry. Unasked Questions. The Washington Post, 30 September 2002 [text]
A Reber. Implicit Learning and Tacit Knowledge: An Essay on the Cognitive Unconscious. Oxford University Press, 1995
William Rivers Pitt. State Of The Union: All that Bush Left Unsaid. TruthOut.com, 29 January 2003 [text]
Ritchie Robertson. Language and the Unsayable in German Thought and Poetry from Nietzsche to Celan [text]
G. Roudière. Traquer le non-dit. Paris, ESF
Stéphane Rozès. Le non-dit de la question sociale. l'Humanité, 23 novembre 2003 [text]
Pierre Salinger and Eric Laurent. Secret Dossier: The Hidden Agenda Behind the Gulf War. Penguin, 1991
John Ralston Saul. The Unconscious Civilization. House of Anansi, 1995
Pierre-Jean Simon. Le secret de Polichinelle de la sociologie. 1991
Ayyam Sureau (Ed.). What We Do Not Know. Gallimard, 1996 (First UNESCO Philosophy Forum, 1995) [excerpts]
Tapio Takala, et al. Tacit Knowledge in complex Mind-Environment Systems: Cross-modal temporal behavior modeled with artificial neural network societies. (A multidisciplinary project supported by the Information Research Programme of the Academy of Finland) [summary]
Sharon Todd (Ed.). Learning Desire: Perspectives on Pedagogy, Culture, and the Unsaid. Routledge, 1997.
Stephen Toulmin. Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity. University of Chicago Press, 1992
Marcel Turbiaux. Le secret de Polichinelle ou De l'art de la marionette en thérapie. Bulletin de Psychologie, Tome 50 (7/9), N°429, 1997, pp. 253-276
Stephen A. Tyler. The Said and the Unsaid: Mind, Meaning, and Culture. Academic Press, 1978
Anatoly Verbin. The hidden agenda of Nato's expansion to the east. (Contribution to the 8th International Communist Seminar, Brussels, 1999) [text]
Brian S. Wise. Enron: The Things Left Unsaid. Intellectual Conservatism, February 11, 2002 [text]
World Socialist Web Site. Hillary Clinton on Today: What was left unsaid. 27 January 1998 [text]
Beth Zacharias. 'Whole truth' sometimes best left unsaid. Nashville Business Journal, 2003 [text]
Véronique Zardet and Henri Savall. Vers la "pensée en action" stratégique ou le non-dit dans les discours sur la stratégie. Propositions pour améliorer la qualité scientifique des recherches en stratégie. Managment International, vol 2, 1
V Zegarac. What Is Phatic Communication? In: V. Rouchota and A. Jucker, eds., Current Issues in Relevance Theory. Benjamins, 1998, pp. 327-362.
V Zegarac and B. Clark. Phatic Interpretations and Phatic Communication. Journal of Linguistics 35, 1999, pp. 321-346.
this work is licenced under a creative commons licence.