Anna Pagès, philosopher: ‘Let the blank page return. Students need exposure to the void’

The researcher in educational theory has written a book on our voice “as a philosophical category.” She says that our voice is nothing but that of our unconscious

Laura Fernández
Anna Pagès
Anna Pagès, philosopher, on June 21 in Barcelona.Albert Garcia

It all started when Sappho was resurrected. Indeed, when a pair of British archaeologists and experts in papyrus, Bernard P. Grenfell and Arthur S. Hunt, stumbled upon Fragment 44 from Sappho, the Greek poet, while visiting Cairo. It describes a wedding. In fact, the poem is inspired by the moment in The Iliad when Andromache recalls her marriage to Hector. In Anna Pagès, a philosopher, writer, and researcher in educational theory, it awakened an interest in the voice — and the world of voices and endless multiplicity — that led her to think of it as the place in which one survives, and from which one departs. “It seemed to me that by extracting that poem from the depths of the desert sand, that once the text was located and read and translated, it came to life, and the buried voice returned,” she says. She wanted to write about it, about voice, “as a philosophical category,” and one “opposed to logos,” that is, the classical form of philosophy, the one that imposes some kind of law and order. “My intention was not to replace it, but to break it down, to go beyond it as a static organizing principle.” The result is the book Queda una voz. Del silencio a la palabra (or One voice remains: From silence to the word), an illuminating philosophical essay, halfway between a treatise and the chronicle of a peculiar journey to the center of that which allows the unconscious — that which we truly are — to manifest itself.

Question: In this world of contemporary voices, have we lost our voice?

Answer: In a sense, yes. Our lives are overwhelmed by a deafening yelling, which manifests itself through social networks, a hubbub that imposes a non-stop discourse in which it is difficult to see and find oneself. Adolescents today inevitably feel helpless in the face of that. [It’s] a kind of crushing, the crushing of civilization, and they disappear. They take refuge in themselves. And what should we do to reach them? We cannot align ourselves with the yelling, but rather open gaps in that non-stop discourse.

Q. What do you mean?

A. Students are subjected to many voices these days. When the teacher talks a lot, they switch off and they get lost. Words must be economized. Speak in short sentences. Ask them to focus on one word. Reformulate that word in your own colloquial language. Move through the voices, in a way that allows something human to emerge from all that noise. The voice is not only something we hear, it is an experience of language. A language that is incorporated into the body. As a child, Anne Carson chewed through the pages of Lives of Saints, the words were like jellybeans to her. As children, we tasted words.

“In what we say, there are things we don’t know that show us as we really are.”

Q. How can we get this taste back?

A. I teach contemporary thinking to students of Physical Education and Sports Sciences. And we have worked on their sports curriculum. I made them write a lot, about how they started doing sports, and when. And they dived into their voice. It is the construction of themselves that has emerged from the words. Discourse, what one thinks, is progressive. It is not immediate, and you need time and space to grow. They had never written about themselves. We need the pencil and the blank page back in the classroom. Not excluding technology, of course. But students need exposure to the void. These gaps need to be created, to open gaps in which to listen to oneself.

Anna Pagès photographed in Barcelona on June 21
Anna Pagès photographed in Barcelona on June 21Albert Garcia

Q. Here you recover the idea already present in Dining with Diotima: Philosophy and Femininity, your previous book, in which you sought an alternative to the rigidity of the philosophy you call masculine (not necessarily made by men), but in the manner of an old and inflexible dogma. In a certain sense, the vindication of the voice is a bit of a desire to return to a time when there were no such fixed dogmas.

A. Philosophy could be revived if it tried to rescue the voice of the text. Giorgio Agamben says that philosophy is the search for and the commemoration of the voice. The word commemoration is interesting. It does not speak of remembering, but of rescuing something lost. Because we have lost our voice. When we become aware that we speak, our voice is left behind and what stands out is language. Language becomes an object of study. But if the studied thing was the voice, it could drive through philosophy on a scooter, having fun. It would resuscitate a liveliness that has been lost in philosophical discourse. But philosophy alone cannot do that. It needs literature and psychoanalysis. You can write a text in an academic journal about one of Plato’s dialogues without voices. The academic world, in fact, has specialized in losing its voice. The voice of the reader, the voice of the text, the voice under discussion. Everyone hears what they want and nothing resonates.

Speech, what one thinks, is progressive. It’s not immediate, and you need time and a space for it to grow

Q. Does that mean it becomes less useful over time?

A. As Lacan said, the pretension of the philosopher is to see himself seeing. In that sense, philosophy does not end up solving anything, and society is looking for solutions. As a discipline, it is a fish that moves in the current and dodges the obstacle. Voice can also be seen as something that occurs in synchrony in space and time. That is, it happens in real time. The world is increasingly a deferred world. Reading Nietzsche aloud, reading him trying to make him flesh and blood, brings back intact the sense of what he said, brings him and his philosophy back intact. It stops time.

Anna Pagès in Barcelona on June 21.
Anna Pagès in Barcelona on June 21.Albert Garcia

Q. In the idea of the power of the word, as something that is forming you, there is the notion of awareness, and yet you point out that it is on the side of the unconscious, are we what we don’t know we are?

A. The voice is the voice of the unconscious. In what you say there are things you don’t know and that show you as you really are. I have an anecdote: I often say that philosophy is a girl on a stool, that’s how it started for me. In my house, my grandfather sang and my mother played Schubert on the piano. My grandfather hardly spoke, but he sang in German. There was something unfamiliar in his voice. I didn’t have room, but curiosity made me look for a stool to perch on and contemplate it. Philosophy is that something that chirps, on the far side of logos.

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