Thursday, April 4, 2019
Title: Tough Talk, Vulnerable Soldiers: Language and Affect among United States Service Members
Abstract: This talk explores the politicized nexus of language/semiosis, empathy, ritual, and military experience in the United States. I describe how, in order to create effective service members, basic training in the Army and Marine Corps encourages the attenuation of empathy and personal vulnerability through a ritual and language-ideological process I call “semiotic numbing.” I then examine contexts of combat to explore some semiotic means by which military personnel handle life or death contexts when empathy and vulnerability must be contained, including a verbal pattern I call “register perversion.” I discuss an artistic organization that uses a semiotically ingenious inverse rite of passage designed to help veterans recuperate affective realities discouraged during service and, in some cases, reflect on the politics of military semiotics. Along the way, I link the range of semiotic stances I discuss to contemporary American political debates on empathy and its implied relationship to nationalism.