The Duty to Speak

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If everyone single person speaks, does that mean every single person has power?

To take power is to win speech.

For our first CCS of 2017 we were asked to look at a few different readings and then choose one to do a task on. I found the one about chiefs and power really interesting and it made me first think of Powhatan, Pocahontas’ dad. The text I chose:  The “Duty to Speak” speaks about how many groups call the chief those who master the art of speech. After re-watching the films I took down some notes on him and realised how much it related to the text.

We can see that he holds power, yet he’s often calm and he only wants the best for his daughter and the tribe. When he speaks he uses hand actions and gestures, and the people around him stop talking. Like the text said, many chiefs are not those who are violent, and Powhatan wanted to avoid violence. He thinks logically for the safety of the people and says orders and instructions when needed. He is calm and peaceful, yet authoritative and does as much as he can to avoid violence, because he is extremely wise and has a great deal of trust. However when his people are put in danger then he gets angry.

“Your weapons are strong, but now our anger is stronger.”

He differs greatly to Governor Ratcliffe, who seemed like he was in power. However he only wanted violence and would do do anything for himself, as he didn’t care for the people. Because of this, he lost the respect of the people and later on his status.


For our homework we had to use a template and choose a block of text from one of the readings, which related to a picture we chose. I found this really interesting, which is why I decided to write a post on this.
I chose Powhatan, and here is the text I picked out:
“To speak is above all to possess the power to speak. Or again, the exercise of power ensures the domination of speech: only the masters can speak. As for the subjects: they are bound to the silence of respect, reverence, or terror. Speech and power maintain relations such that the desire for one is fulfilled in the conquest of the other.

It is in the nature of primitive society to know that violence is the essence of power. Deeply rooted in that knowledge is the concern to constantly keep power apart from the institution of power, command apart from the chief. And it is the very domain of speech that ensures the separation and draws the dividing line. By compelling the chief to move about in the area of speech alone, that is, the opposite of violence, the tribe makes certain that all things will remain in their place… The chief’s obligation to speak, that steady flow of empty speech that he owes the tribe, is his infinite debt, the guarantee that prevents the man of speech from becoming a man of power.


Pierre Clastres, The Duty to Speak, Society Against the State, trans. Robert Hurley (Zone Books, New York: 1987 [1974), p.151-156″



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