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Talkative and Taciturn Nations: Ethnographic and Political Perspectives in European Discourses on Communicative Cultures (c. 1750–1850)

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Abstract

We often tend to think of authoritarian and dictatorial regimes in terms of ‘silence’, while parliamentary and democratic politics are linked to the category of ‘voice’. Retracing the historical emergence of such conceptualizations during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, this chapter aims at a reconsideration of these familiar, but reductive binaries. Exploring French, German, and British discourses on the question why some nations are more talkative than others brings to light a fundamental shift in the understanding of communication around the turn of the nineteenth century, when explanations in terms of national character were gradually superseded by a point of view linking taciturnity and talkativeness to specific political regimes. This gradual reorientation from a spatio-cultural to a temporal framing coincided with a distinct politicization of the question of communication (and its absence) which still resonates today. Placing our current understanding of the significance of voice and silence into a wider historical perspective thus contributes to a reconsideration of the meanings of communication in the modern world.

Keywords

  • Silence
  • Taciturnity
  • National character
  • Politics
  • Communication
  • History

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Unless otherwise noted, all translations are my own.

  2. 2.

    This text was written around 1755 and circulated in manuscript form until its posthumous publication in 1781.

  3. 3.

    Tacitus, Dial. 40. See also Seneca (the elder), Contr. 1 pr. 7.

  4. 4.

    Pseudo-Longinus, Sublim. 44. While Tacitus was one of the major ancient reference authors throughout the early modern period, Pseudo-Longinus was only rediscovered during the seventeenth century through his translation by Nicolas Boileau.

  5. 5.

    On this concept’s long-term background, cf. Boas (1969).

  6. 6.

    For some examples, see the caricatures by Temple West, Isaac and George Cruikshank in the collection of the British Museum (No. 1868,0808.6328, 6479, 12910; 1858,0316.49).

  7. 7.

    “La dictature, c’est ‘ferme ta gueule’; la démocatie, c’est ‘cause toujours’.” The quotation’s origins are disputed. It is attributed to various comedians and caricaturists like Jean-Louis Barrault, Frédéric Dard, Jean-Jacques Sempé, Coluche, Jean-Jacques Loup, and Woody Allen.

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Jung, T. (2022). Talkative and Taciturn Nations: Ethnographic and Political Perspectives in European Discourses on Communicative Cultures (c. 1750–1850). In: Mayar, M., Schulte, M. (eds) Silence and its Derivatives. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-06523-1_5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-06523-1_5

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