Performance as Critical Practice: Nourbese Philip’s “Discourse on the Logic of Language”

  • Mark McMorris


The title of her book, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks, refuses to stabilize into a single voice. The verb “tries” means “harasses, vexes,” and means “attempts to use.” The word “tongue” splits its referent also, as the organ of speech and then by metonymy as the speech, or language, itself. The book consists in a series of trials—attempts, ordeals—pitting the subject pronoun against the tongue, and staging the subject as the tongue’s operator and manager. It’s a book about a linguistic situation that is unstable, with English in an equivocal position: as mother tongue, as father tongue. But this equivocation does not conceal a truth—we cannot decide between them, nor can we discover a mother tongue elsewhere. We cannot retrieve a mother tongue by any laborious effort.


Emotional Expressivity Universal Grammar Critical Practice Single Voice Gender Prejudice 
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  1. 1.
    Philip, She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks (Charlottetown, Canada: Ragweed, 1989), 36. Subsequent citations appear parenthetically in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    For a good discussion of visual poetics, see Johanna Drucker’s “Visual Performance of the Poetic Text,” in Close Listening: Poetry and the Performed Word, ed. Charles Bernstein (New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 131–161.Google Scholar
  3. 10.
    Ezra Pound, Personae: Collected Shorter Poems (New York: New Directions, 1971), 130.Google Scholar

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© Joan Retallack and Juliana Spahr 2006

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  • Mark McMorris

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