Did I Stutter?

Well, no, but was Raj Patel stuttering when Amy Goodman interviewed him about his new book, The Value of Nothing, yesterday on Democracy Now? As he answered Amy’s first question, it seemed all he could do to get each word out. I apologize if Raj really does have a stutter, but it seemed to me that it was an affectation, as though he wanted to prove that he is not only passionate but also has so much to say that it is all he can do to control the firehose stream of his consciousness long enough to form complete sentences.

Then today I saw this from Christopher Hitchens’s Vanity Fair article about the origins of the filler word “like”:

“This is an example of “filler” words being used as props, to try to shore up a lame sentence. People who can’t get along without “um” or “er” or “basically” (or, in England, “actually”) or “et cetera et cetera” are of two types: the chronically modest and inarticulate, such as Ms. Kennedy, and the mildly authoritarian who want to make themselves un-interruptible. Saul Bellow’s character Ravelstein is a good example of the latter: in order to deny any opening to a rival, he says “the-uh, the-uh” while searching for the noun or concept that is eluding him.”

This doesn’t quite fit my impression of Patel. I think he’s really just imitating/influenced by some stereotype of a scholar at some ancient British university, brought blinking out from his study to expound on his scholarship for a lecture hall of eager young students and too confident in the import of his work to bother worrying about presenting it in a considerate, easy-to-understand fashion.

But I couldn’t wait to be the first person to go into print comparing Raj Patel to Bellow’s uber-neoconservative character, Ravelstein (in what is a truly great book, by the way-among other things, it influenced me to shave my head for one of the first times, not that that takes much doing).

By the way, the title of Patel’s book comes from an Oscar Wilde quote, although he’s either misquoting him or there are multiple versions of this particular aphorism floating around.

Finally, why does Democracy Now sound so bad? There’s always this weird hiss and the voices seem bloodless and inhuman, sort of the way the first CDs sounded. I’d ascribe it to using digital technology instead of analog-it reminds me of nothing so much as the way voices sound when I’m interviewing people who use VoIP phones-but aren’t all radio programs recorded digitally now? Maybe it’s the result of just using really cheap digital technology.

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