Tuesday, January 1, 2008


Lise Noël's Intolerance: A General Survey simply took my breath away.

I had initially come across her work by way of citations in a few articles I was assigned to read for a seminar course. From that moment, I wanted to read her book. Quite simply, this is one of the most thought-provoking and far-reaching analysis I've ever read on the subject. Her ideas are not only filled with candor, but her writing style is grippingly artful.

"The oppressor has no apparent existence. Not only does he not identify himself as such, but he is not even supposed to have his own reality. His presence is so immediate and dense, and his universe coincides with the Universe, that he becomes invisible. Rarely seen, rarely named, he is unique, nonetheless, in having a full existence; as the keeper of the word, he is the supreme programmer who confers various degrees of existence on those who are different from himself. Stated without apparent reference to any specific group, the oppressor's discourse presents a vision of humanity that espouses the very characteristics of his specificity. As the embodiment of the universal, the dominator is also the only Subject, the Individual who, never being considered to belong to a particular group, can study those impersonal categories of the population who pose a "problem," represent a "question," constitute a "case," or simply have a "condition." (p. 11)

"Whether it modulates the dictates of conventional wisdom or moulds the verdicts of experts, the tactical versatility of the discourse allows the dominator to retain control of power by controlling the discourse. Holding the majority or even, in some cases, a monopoly on the rights to decide the production of meaning, he can change the fundamental rules of his relations with the dominated as he wishes. The defence of his interests requires that the result always be the same: either he will win, or the dominated will lose. To have any hope of emerging from their alienation, the victims have no choice but to dismantle the logic that systematically traps them. Changes in coherence must be pinpointed, and regular care must be taken to ensure that no double standard is applied. Such prudence should apply particularly to the views of authority: the subjectivity of the specialist is no less present just because it is unacknowledged." (p. 174)

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