Sticks, Stones and The Material Effects of Appearances

Thursday April 09, 15.12.45

Phil L’s clan motto, translated into English. They are able, because they seem so.

Further to the point of how stories, ideas and language can shape the world in material ways, this came out of the blue on the thread of something or another, the family motto of Phil’s clan, of Australia:


They are able, because they seem so.

I stopped dead in my tracks with a broad smile upon hearing this, which I think may have confused the workshop context. What this meant to me was a summation of the ability of knowledge to come into being by force of will, in a fashion. By showing and telling stories you create material effects — in this case, I am not because I say I am, but for my appearance, or perhaps because my appearances suggests an ability to accomplish whatever faces me. This is not to diminish the import of this motto in context — it is powerful. It’s not just about fooling someone through the creation of appearances, but recognizing the power of what one sees (or hears, or is told) to shape the imagination and, thereby, the hands to craft things in a material way. Making things through the excitement of imagining and then desiring.

Why do I blog this? A recollection of a block of time during my formative, graduate school days when I was trying to understand the power of rhetoric and language and conversation and its material effects. I underestimated the force by which communication and conversation is able to produce life/death consequences. It might be passé now, I simply don’t know — but it was Judith Butler’s Excitable Speech that started laying some of the bedrock for me on this point — the role that *injurious language plays in producing material effects. Sort of her long, deep and dense way of explicating the complexity and not-quite-true aspects of that old children’s rhyme *sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.