The use of the pronoun ‘we’ has always been a bit of a problem for me in the broadcasting business; so much so that it is one of the main reasons I stopped listening to Today on Radio 4 (main culprit John Humphrys) and, after watching Newsnight last week I decided to contact presenter Evan Davis about it. He very graciously wrote me a thoughtful reply and a copy of our exchange is published below – with Davis’s permission.
And here is one of the more egregious recent examples of Humphrys’ use of ‘we’, as spotted by Twitter user James Melville.
Kevin Telfer wrote:
You may think this a small thing; and in some ways it is – just a word
with two letters: ‘we’; but I think that the use of this word has
significant implications and its overuse on the Today programme in
particular is one of the reasons why I stopped listening to that show.
Did I overreact? Well, maybe, but I don’t think so.
Continue reading “My problem with ‘We’ – an exchange of views with Newsnight’s Evan Davis”
Who knew that experimental literary fiction could give you belly laughs? Well, Lincoln in the Bardo is one of the funniest and most raucous books I have ever read, of any genre. I didn’t expect it to be funny. It is also many other things as well – but I think that its humour was the greatest surprise for me, especially given that the principle focus of the novel, outwardly at least, is death. Yet on reflection I don’t think that I should have been so surprised because this book does not provide a type of artistic experimentation that feels academic and ultimately alienating; instead it offers a carnivalesque celebration in the finest traditions of the novel, which has it its heart Bhaktinian dialogism and heteroglossia.
Do you see what I did there? I explained how a novel that you might think would be artistically elitist actually turns out not to be using academically elitist language. That deserves a bit more explanation.
Mikhail Bakhtin was a Russian theorist who wrote extensively about the novel using slightly obscure terminology. But beyond the terminology, he offers a compelling analysis. Let’s go back to what the word ‘novel’ means – new and original. Bhaktin’s view of true novels is that they always seeking to be new and original by being an ‘anti-form’ that undermines the idea of single, authoritative truth in texts. He argues that the thing that makes novels distinct is the way that they incorporate a range of different speech types – or ‘discourses’ – that compete against one another within the text in a way that never fully resolves itself. This is something that Bhaktin called ‘dialogics’. David Lodge explained it by saying that ‘As soon as you allow a variety of discourses into a textual space…you establish a resistance… to the dominance of any one discourse.’ So rather than a unified, homogenous form of language, the novel presents a heteroglossic variety of language types.
Continue reading “Lincoln in the Bardo – a very funny and brilliant novel”