South Park Self

voiceless it cries, mouthless mutters



My love-hate affair with Disney fairy-tale movies (and by "love-hate" I actually mean "hate with a side order of reluctant fascination and rather shamefaced amusement") is a fairly well-known phenomenon, but The Little Mermaid has always been my least favourite. It's something about Ariel out of the sea being muted - when she can't speak, she seems by extension to become unintelligent, almost animal, not quite human, her vacant and over-compensatory smile the very definition of the stereotypical airhead bimbo. Voiceless, she's strangely powerless to affect the action. Her land-bound identity externalises in one neat image the nastier and less enlightened views of women still being perpetrated in odd corners of our popular culture. I always disliked that element in the Andersen original, and in the visual and aural format of film it's horribly inescapable.

So I suppose it isn't that strange that effectively losing my voice for the last two days should give me exactly the same feeling. I'm a pretty much hyper-linguistic person at the best of times, and the job I do is very much about communication, a lot of it verbal. I give advice, and brief students, and train advisors, and weigh in on committees. I have a voice, and damned well know how to wield it. Being unable to speak blunts my efficacy to quite a ridiculous extent - my default response to a situation is to step in verbally, to describe, interrogate, throw around solutions, give instructions. To struggle for physical voice, even to be forced to whisper so I can't make myself heard, to hear my words slurred and slowed by my hoarseness, denies both my intelligence and my agency. It goes beyond maddening into something very like despair.

And that's not just about agency. Ariel's problem is that, shorn of her voice, she cannot communicate herself to the object of her desire. Her identity, her individuality, remains locked inside her. I'm not a physical person, other than wild hand-waving to support the verbal babble. A lot of who I am is in my language, my inherent intoxication with words, my complete inability to get through more than about five minutes of even a technical briefing without irony, technicoloured imagery and ridiculous wordplay. My esteemed colleagues at my Cherished Institution see, at a conservative estimate, approximately about a fifth of my personality, and with this throat infection they don't even see that. I become a dull, lumpen, slightly futile thing.

Today I had to find a last-minute substitute for my first two-hour curriculum talk, and struggled through the two-hour training this afternoon with heavy reliance on other people to elucidate the bits they could, and the room hanging anxiously on my croaked whispers. That is, fortunately, the last of my speaking duties for the week, and I think I'm going to resort to scribbled signage for the next two days so that my voice recovers for the rescheduled vampire lectures on Saturday. Because this? this sucks.
Her legs look slightly too large in that picture, as if they're somebody else's legs. Slightly amusing. :-)