For “today” we read three(maybe 5) speeches (two/four written into a novel and one “real” speech). How does a speech as a mode of communicating or “writing” the nation differ from a written text? Are whatever differences that exist between something intended to be delivered and something intended for publication effaced by the ultimate publication of a speech? You might consider the inherently limited (initial) audience of a speech? Whether there are ways in which both more and less barriers exist in “speaking” the nation? Additionally or alternatively, feel free to discuss your thoughts on the content of these “speeches” and how they relate to other texts we have read or each other.
Public speaking is easier said than done. Not only must the speaker present their thesis and point of view in a coherent and intelligent fashion (as an author must in a novel or article), the speaker has the added disadvantage of needing to keep the audience engaged for the duration of the speech. This creates an inherent limit on the length of said speech, because no one wants to listen to an entire book read to them by a person in front of a podium. Speeches are not inherently limited in terms of the size of their audience, but in their scale. Douglass mentions this towards the conclusion of his admittedly lengthy speech: “I have detained my audience entirely too long already. At some future period I will gladly avail myself of an opportunity to give this subject a full and fair discussion.” While I disagree that he has detained me too long, the fact remains that these speeches differ from our readings over the past few days because they have to find a way to force the audience to be constantly engaged. Now, the usual trick to hold on to your audience is to use humor, but neither Douglass nor the Imperium speakers resort to making their audiences laugh. No, their subject matter is far too dire. However, what speeches can do is inflame their listens, call to action, and create passion. I’ve never wanted to vote for someone based on reading their platform, but when I went to see Bernie speakI was inspired the way a that a text simply couldn’t accomplish (alas, all my inspiration didn’t get him to the finish line). The point is, social change needs both books and speeches, but I feel that it is the latter that truly causes action.
After readig Imperium in Imperio, I was struck by how the issues facing the “Imperium” in the novel seem to still be affecting African Americans today. In the century since it was written, not much has changed in how we as a society enforce our lofty ideals of liberty and equality for minority populations.
This year alone we have witnessed injustice after injustice play out on the national stage, and yet no meaningful progress has been made to curtail the shootings and beatings and horrible treatment certain citizens receive because of their appearance.
I think perhaps the only thing that has changed in the last century is society’s general shift from an overt racism on the part of the government (the criminal justice system in particular) to a quieter, vestigial one.
But even today, with our modern “progress,” how can a people constantly promised justice and equality live peacefully in a nation that oftentimes provides them with neither?
While I agree that those who are not offered justice or equality should not, cannot, be asked to live peacefully within the nation, I disagree with your point about the changes in racism in the last century.
I am by no means an expert: I have not personally experienced discrimination because of my race; however, I believe that the government, especially the criminal justice system, is involved in just as much overt racism as they were a century ago.
After the abolition of slavery and the Reconstruction period, the United States needed to find a way to continue to exert power and control over minority groups, especially black Americans. They did this through the prison systems. Black men and women are often given sentences which are far longer than they should be considering their crime. They are also far more likely to be convicted than a white man or woman would be in the same situation.
The government also exerts control through the police themselves. As you said we have seen multiple shootings this past year. White police officers are rarely, if ever tried in a court of law for the shooting of black men and women; those who are tried are not convicted.
I agree that public speaking is probably a much more complicated matter in that there is more to consider than when writing a speech within a written text or book. With public speaking, one has to be more consciously aware of who their audience is and how to keep them engaged. For Douglass, I don’t think it should have been too hard to keep his audience paying attention to what he was saying since slavery definitely would’ve been the hot topic of the time. Specifically, although I was reading the speech and not listening to Douglass speak it, I can imagine that the use of the word “your” would have stood out to the audience. He addresses the founding fathers repeatedly as “your fathers” to emphasize that he does not associate himself and his people with these men, and that on the Fourth of July he mourns the inequality, as opposed to the whites who spend the day rejoicing and ignoring the fact that so many American people are enslaved on this day of freedom. He knows what white Americans want to hear about their founding fathers, so he invokes pride through describing how they were underdogs, but persevered to fight for what they believed in. However, he also uses their attention to call out the hypocrisy of a nation celebrating freedom when not everyone is free. Frederick Douglass uses these techniques to not only intrigue his audience, but to say directly to his audience exactly what he means. On the other hand, I think having a speech as part of a written text gives the author a little more freedom to hide behind the words they’re putting out, and use other techniques that are more readily understood while reading. In addition, since the audience is not live, the general reaction is not as much of an issue. Douglass had to be cautious when choosing what to say because he wouldn’t want to anger all these people who are sitting right in front of him. To contrast, in Imperium in Imperio, the author can say maybe slightly more risky things because the audience isn’t right there to react. For example, the last speech given in the excerpt contrasts from the others by suggesting that maybe getting all fired up and angry and fighting back isn’t the best thing to do, and that revenge must not be a goal of any of their efforts. This more pacific approach was probably something that blacks at the time it was written needed to hear, but had it been said live in public, the crowd may have become too outraged to hear out the entire idea. Therefore, sometimes written text is better way to get more people to listen to more controversial ideas. However, I think that both “What, to the Slave, Is the Fourth of July?”, and the speeches in “Imperium in Imperio” effectively consider all aspects of the media through which they’re showcased, highlighting that although there are many differences between written and oral texts, both methods can be just as powerful.
Personhood is evident in speeches. The audience is confronted with someone’s humanity because the person delivering the speech is physically before the audience. In both texts that are originally conceived as written pieces and speeches that are published, we lose that element of humanity. I think that this was imperative to Douglass’ speech because he is part of a group that was viewed as inhuman – or at least 3/5 human. That is not to say, however, that the text of Douglass’ speech is not powerful and falls flat. Douglass’ use of imagery – sounds, sights, and physical feelings – translates in the reading and retains its potency, reminding the reader of his humanity and how America abused and enslaved the black population. In terms of speeches’ audience, it’s important to remember that those who attend speeches are a self-selected group. One can stay at home and read a text, but it’s necessary to leave home and travel somewhere else to hear a speech. Considering “speaking” the nation, the construction or description of the nation will be much more tied to the individual who gives the speech than it is to someone who authors a written piece about the nation. Because audience members are face to face with an orator, that person becomes representative of their speech and ideas. Delivering aloud is often perceived as a much more personal experience that writing, which somewhat distances the writer from their words because their literal voice is removed from the final product.
Speaking the nation differs from writing the nation because speeches have an intended audience. Speeches are written to be delivered with a specific audience in mind, whereas written texts can be read by anyone at any time. This makes speeches likely to be more persuasive, in terms of language and diction, than a written text — a speaker has to maintain the interest of the audience in addition to conveying a message. It is for this reason that Douglass goes to such (unnecessary) lengths to praise the Declaration of Independence/Constitution before critiquing the nation’s injustices. I also think that speeches are an inherently more personal medium than written texts. A speaker is physically conveying the words, whereas a writer is somewhat disconnected from their writing because they are removed from the text. As Belton notes in Imperium in Imperio, “Words can portray the form of a speech, but the spirit, the life, are missing.” Speaking and writing also differ in terms of accessibility, and this is one of the most important distinctions in terms of speaking or writing a nation. Speeches are more accessible in that they can be understood even by those who cannot read, but are simultaneously inaccessible in that not everyone has access to a speaking platform. For instance, Douglass describes how “the distance between this platform and the slave plantation, from which I escaped, is considerable.” The fact that Douglass delivered “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” as a speech rather than as a written article is significant because he was given a platform to speak before the president of the United States, and in this role he was able to fully capture the irony of commemorating the Fourth of July that, to a slave, reveals “the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”
While a speech may become available in text later, there is still a distinct difference in the writing of something meant to be read in comparison to the writing of something meant to be heard. Speeches have an initial, intended audience that they are delivered to. While speeches will still reach a wider impact through being published or simply through word of mouth, the initial delivery has a much more specific audience. The speaker will craft their speech with this audience in mind, catering to issues and concerns they hold to provoke thought and inspire action. Speakers also need to keep in mind the attention of the audience. Listeners cannot rewind a speech the same way they could reread a passage. It is important to not only hold their attention, but make sure the meaning of the speech is clear enough to be understood during delivery.
“Speaking” the nation seems to have more barriers due to its initial time constraint, although “speaking” the nation could become “writing the nation” should a speech be published after the fact.
Douglass’s speech struck me as being in the same spirit as the Declaration. Both are calls to action. However, the Declaration made use of “we” in order to unify the nation against an outside force. Douglass uses “you” instead of “we,” which shows that the nation is internally divided and his call to action seeks to unify the nation by forcing those in power to acknowledge and correct injustice they have perpetuated.
I definitely agree that there is a vast difference between giving an actual speech in front of a group of people rather than having your work be published and read later.
I think the orality and physical image present during a speech put the issues in perspective, for those able to see it. I believe that speech can induce a different type of action than written sentiments. Speeches are a powerful active force. It takes quite a bit to stand up in front of a group and put your physical self at risk, and the crowd can see that.
Speeches can also be a powerful humanizing force for the issues presented. You can see someone actually saying what is effecting them, which brings the problems closer to each person’s individual reality. In essence, it puts a face to the name.
I do agree that speeches tend to have a more specific audience, but I also believe that just the act of the author giving the speech can have an effect on those not physically present, like literature.
A speech differs from a written text in various ways. When someone is writing a piece for publication, even if they have an reader audience in mind, it is a more solitary process, and doesn’t really involve those readers with the process of creation. A speech, however, is delivered with an audience directly present. And even when it is transcribed, there is still the sense that the author/speaker is speaking directly to you. Also, when giving a speech, if the audience is responsive during the speech, that may also influence the way the speech is given. Written work is usually not able to be affected in this way. Slam/spoken-word poetry and written poetry have some parallels to the differences between speeches and written works, as well. Speeches and spoken word poetry are written in ways that allow and rely on tone inflection, emphasis and the use of pause to allow the listener to experience the impact of the message, aspects which are not present in simply written work or poetry. When a speech is published, the reader is unable to pick up on all of the aspects of the person’s voice and way of talking that contribute to the experience of a speech. It is possible for the power and passion and feeling of being directly addressed to be evident, however, even when the words become written down, because they still reflect the same impassioned ideas and message. It is true that publication allows for a much wider audience than just those who were there to witness the speech being given, taking away some of the barriers of a limited audience. This also may affect the intimacy of hearing the speaker give the speech firsthand, rather than reading a transcribed version. By “speaking” the nation, in the way that the speaker can deploy tools of passion, inflection and spontaneity, it allows for a more natural articulation of their experiences and views of the nation. Written word can be more thought out and planned, with careful edits, but often speeches are written ahead of time (even though exceptions, like Belton’s speech, occur) and in being spoken, add an extra element of persuasion.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about a speech to me is fleetingness of a speech. As opposed to text where one can go back and analyse or reread, (real) speeches are in the moment (until they written out and re-read). In my eyes the fleeting quality of a speech makes strong diction more important in speeches than in prose. Also because a listener is more pressed to listen and is incapable of pausing a speech emotion is often stronger than concrete imagery. The most likely part of a speech to be remembered precisely is a short part containing strong diction and high emotion. As I read I noticed words specifically in the speeches of “Imperium in Imperio” which I felt I would be especially likely to remember if were an audience member. Specifically I recalled the words by the President of Imperium as he said that Anglo-Saxons “have apparently chosen our race as an empire” and his words that “A court that will thus carelessly dabble and play in puddles of human blood needs no further comment at my hands.” To me this lines seemed to be poetically charged and would certainly linger in my mind following the speech. Feeling the power of these words which are merely part of a short story — not direct reality — I can only imagine the words vast expanse of powerful words which compelled individuals of the past (such as Martin Luther King JR, though certainly too there are many others forgotten in waft of history) to take action without resorting to violence.
When giving a speech one is usually limited by time constraints; an audience is only willing to listen for so long. Written texts are allowed to be more complex, and to use more complex rhetorical devices, etc, as a reader has time to sit with and analyze a text. Speeches, to be effective, have to be snappier and easier to digest in terms of sentence structure and length, etc. I think that the audiences of each of these forms of communication vary with the time period. When Douglass, Griggo, and Garvey were writing, I’m assuming the audience of speeches was a more elite group. Speeches were and are more likely to take place in metropolitan areas at events that probably required some sort of invitation, whether formal or informal. Transportation isn’t cheap, so one would have to live relatively near the location the speech was being given. Written texts are able to be widely distributed, but of course, the audience for these must be literate at a relatively advanced level. Even when a speech is published, there are differences that remain between written and verbal works, because one speaks differently than they write, so speeches will always be slightly more informal and perhaps employ more obvious or easily understood rhetorical devices. There is also more “wiggle-room” in terms of the wording of speeches because an orator verbally delivers a speech allowing them to use inflection and tone to create meaning that goes beyond word choice.
The speeches all seemed to connect to one another in that the authors/orators all viewed the current situation of Black Americans similarly – they were living in a “state within a state.” They also all invoked religious arguments or appealed to Christian sentiment. Although the writers agreed on the problem, they had differing views on the best solution. Douglass was firm in his belief that, yes, Black Americans do have a place in this nation and they deserve to be viewed and treated as human beings, given the same rights that white people have. Griggo, unless I’m wildly misinterpreting his meaning, seems to almost be a white apologist (?) as his central figure gives a speech insisting that his fellow men do not go to war against their oppressors but try to see the world from their point of view, almost sympathizing with them, and encouraging the Black Americans who have gathered in that congressional building to effect change peacefully. I guess he doesn’t disagree with Douglass in this sense, but the tone he takes is much more passive and infirm. Garvey advocates for a return to Africa for all Black peoples; he advocates for the establishment of a powerful, unified Black nationhood existing in Africa. He believes that racial progress necessitates racial separation.
Garvey’s idea of nationhood, although he does not use that word, is similar to what was outlined by Gellner. A combination of people and politics, brought together by will, solidarity, choice, and elements of fear and coercion. However I do get the sense that when Gellner is describing coming into nationhood he is talking about gaining dominance in order to oppress a less powerful group, or the “lower-class.” I do not think Garvey has this intention at all, I think he is advocating for the creation of a unified Black nation as a means of survival. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Garvey engenders some fear among his audience because he basically says that the white and Asian races will become more powerful than the Black race and eventually, inevitably wipe them out, unless Black folks decide to join forces and create a space for themselves in Africa. Or reclaim a space they were taken from. Because of the universal oppression of Black people, any type of separate and powerful Black nationhood is inherently political, as it is continues to be to this day.
The speaking of the nation instead of the writing of the nation both limits who the audience is and the perspective of the creator. The audience, at least initially becomes those who hear the speech, which allows for a more personable connection with the information presented, in some cases even allowing for audience response. There is an immediate sense of approval of speeches based on the reaction from the audience. Thus, one can interpret, such as in “Imperium in Imperi0”, wether the audience agrees with how the nation is being portrayed. Additionally a speech seems to be the ideas of the person speaking them and can therefore appear more singular than other documents we have read such as the constitution which seems to represent the ideas of many. However, speeches can, in my opinion, inspire nationalism and therefore become the motto or anthem of a movement or nation. Speeches such as Dr. Martin Luther King’s mountain top speech express the ideology of both himself and his people. This can also be seen in “Imperium in Imperio” and “What is the Forth of July to a Slave” as the orators address the exclusion and discrimination they and their people have faced from U.S. government they also call for a more inclusive nation. Hence, these speeches illustrate nationalism because they ask for a nation that they can call their own.
I completely agree with everything you said, and just want to add the emotional component of verbal speeches. This is an extremely significant factor, as a lot of these sentiments of nationhood relate back to the idea of feeling accepted and a sense of belonging. Hearing someone speak, as opposed to reading something, gives a genuine emotional connection to the speech. Verbal connotations are extremely significant and influential, so hearing someone’s voice, and the emotion and sentiment behind it, truly has a large impact. Further, speakers tend to be extremely passionate and persuasive, which results in a greater ability to inspire listeners and evoke emotional responses. Overall, when reading these two texts I was able to imagine the difference between reading them (as I did) and listening to/watching them being spoken.