Interruption and Alterity: Dislocating Communication

Amit Pinchevski
Graduate Program in Communication, McGill
May, 2002
 

Abstract

This project attempts to question the way the relation between communication and ethics has traditionally been conceptualized, and to offer an alternative perspective on that relation. An implicit premise in many communication theories is that successful communication is ethically favorable, particularly in facilitating ideals such as greater understanding, participation and like-mindedness. Contrary to that view, this project proposes that ethical communication may lie in the interruption of communication, in instances wherein communication falls short, goes astray or even fails. Such interruptions, however, do not mark the end of ethical communication but rather its very beginning, for it is in such moments that communication faces the challenge of otherness. Mobilizing relevant ideas from the work of French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas to the field of communication studies, this project proposes the concept of interruption as the main correlative between ethics and communication. The investigation then sets out to explore three limit-cases in which the stakes of ethical communication are most crucial: understanding and misunderstanding, communicability and incommunicability, and silence and speech. The discussion employs a distinctive approach to study the place of alterity in communication: dislocation—a double gesture which implies both tampering with the proper activity of communicational procedures and pointing to the ethical possibilities opened up by interruptions. The issues above are addressed through critical analyses of themes such as: universal language or the undoing of Babel; the ethical significance of misunderstanding and the challenge introduced by translation; autism as a paradigmatic case of incommunicability in medical, scientific and social discourses; the epistemological status and the ethical stakes of incommunicability; and, finally, the ethical dimension of free speech, the significance of silence and the responsibility to the silent Other.
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We wish to acknowledge the financial support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council for their financial support through theAid to Scholarly Journals Program.

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