Notice

Responsibility | Responsibility | Occurs when a person speaks in another’s name or place. This can include more or less legitimate ways of speaking on behalf of another, presenting oneself as representative of a group or social category, or even of appropriating another’s speech.

Who exactly is speaking when we speak? Who do we make speak for us? One can hear a surprising variety of enunciative positions in Jacques Chirac’s 2007 speech marking the end of his term: President, citizen, government, Chirac the man, even the People of France. This collection of examples of responsibility seeks to understand the ways in which different bodies (individual, collective, symbolic) can be contained, implied in, or suggested by a given instance of speech.

We have identified three main types of relationships that a speaker can have with these bodies or labels: speaking in someone’s name (representation), speaking as something (belonging), and speaking for someone or something (substitution).

Representation

Responsibility can take the form of representation, that is to say, speaking “in X’s name.” A speaker can state the body they are speaking for by virtue of an explicit relationship that has been established between them: I am legitimately qualified to represent someone else speaking. This leads us to ask about the modes of legitimation that underpin such a relationship (a mandate, the law, a vote, experience), or in other words, the conditions that have been assembled to make this taking up of responsibility intelligible, fair, indisputable, etc.

The French president’s function gives the person expressing themselves the ability to speak in the name of the people. Thus, when Nicolas Sarkozy gives Dany Boon the Legion of Honor, he says: “Today all of France thanks you, Dany…” The whole of the French people is implied behind the presidential body: as president, I can speak in the name of the people (see also We are now the generation of the heart of the fight back).

On the other hand, in this speech given at the first Conference of Black Writers and Artists held at the Sorbonne in 1956, Aimé Césaire clearly delimits the responsibility of the “we” he is speaking for and about (Black intellectuals): he refrains from extending this responsibility to that of representing or speaking for the whole of the people (see also Répressif, Je vis moi aussi, I want to report a fight, Au nom de Dieu, and Chokolomo chokolomo). Yet, in her 2012 presidential campaign, Eva Joly maintains her belonging to a specific social category all while aspiring to represent an entire people.

Belonging

There can be different relationships of belonging, that is to say different forms of responsibility when speaking “as X.” I speak as (I belong to the category of) a woman, worker, poet, resistance fighter, Black, American democrat, etc. This strategy allows one to orient how one’s discourse is received, to specify its implications in a given context, but it does not constitute a form of responsibility as such: I am not necessarily speaking in the name of the category I belong to. However, it is still easy to shift this presentation (of oneself) toward a form of representation (of the category I am a member of), as can be heard in Daniel Balavoine’s speech to François Mitterand. One can hear the same type of shift in this electoral message by Arlette Laguiller, or even more spectacularly (“we are” = “they are” = “all of France”) in this commentary of France’s 1998 World Cup victory (see also Ça fait dix ans…, Ce que nous défendons, and You must change your ways).

The act of speaking as X establishes a potentially controversial relationship with the act of speaking as this X. This form of responsibility’s legitimacy can be an object of controversy, as in this talk show excerpt; or it can be something to handle with caution, like the fact that Emmanuelle Béart, invited to speak on television as a witness to the expulsion of undocumented migrants from the Saint-Bernard Church in 1996, prefaces her speech by saying “I am here as a woman,” bringing an unexpected category to the forefront of the discussion, given what she usually represents on television—an actress (see also J’ai des positions politiques or Il n’y a que des faux témoins).

Substitution

Another possible relationship is one of substitution, or one of appropriation that has been more or less consented to. One does not only speak as or in the name of another, but instead of them. My speech stands for the speech of another; I am a place-holder; I speak in people’s places. This can be heard with the girls from the film L’Esquive, or here when Claude Levi-Strauss speaks of a colleague’s moods, or even when Angelo Badalamenti tells the story of the birth of the Twin Peaks soundtrack (see also Il est tombé assez amoureux, En plus i s’fout d’ma gueule, La pomponnette, and Baguette de merde).

In this interview, Malcolm X speaks not only in the name of Black people or as a Black person but, oddly, in the name of the category of slaves, to which he claims to belong: “The same slave master who owned us put his last name on us to denote his property.” He thus takes on the legacy of slavery and its responsibility to such a degree that it becomes a form of identification: he is literally speaking for slaves here—that is, in their place—to the extent that they do not have (or never had) the right to speak.

It is indeed to illustrate her advice that this media coach pretends she is quoting her dining companion. Speaking for others is a widespread practice among politicians, especially during election night, when they use simple numbers to deduce that all kinds of things have been said by voters. Comedian Christophe Alévêque plays with this very form of deception by pretending to extract one voice from a range of very different opinions.

This form of substitution can take place during the process of copying something (see La pomme-frite classique or C’est gentil d’accepter de me parler). But quoting someone can also fall within this category, as here with Jacques Lacan, who is ordered by the person interviewing him to specify what kind of responsibility he feels for what he has just said in Freud’s place.

When the person whose voice we are appropriating is present, substitution can appear to be violent: such is the case when Arletty speaks to his employee Martha all while speaking for her, or when Michel Drucker retranslates what Serge Gainsbourg has said to Whitney Houston from English to English. In an even more twisted example, we can hear Jacques Martin compelling a child to act by pretending to speak to the public (“This young man who will take the stage without me telling him to is Jean-Sébastien”) then hear the stubborn refutation of the person whose actions he intends to predict.

In certain cases, the limit between two subjects, the person speaking and the person being spoken for, can become blurry. Substitution tends toward identification. Such is the case in this relaxation recording aimed for children about to fall asleep. It is definitely the case with people possessed by demons, as can be heard in certain certified recordings. It might also be the case with this Britney Spears fan on YouTube who does not speak in the singer’s name (as her agent, friend, or lawyer might do) but literally in her place, caught in an intense process of empathy and identification which (truly or falsely) flirts with schizophrenic behavior. But who is speaking, for and about whom, in this marabout’s advertisement written in the third person?

Occurs when a person speaks in another’s name or place. This can include more or less legitimate ways of speaking on behalf of another, presenting oneself as representative of a group or social category, or even of appropriating another’s speech.

Who exactly is speaking when we speak? Who do we make speak for us? One can hear a surprising variety of enunciative positions in Jacques Chirac’s 2007 speech marking the end of his term: President, citizen, government, Chirac the man, even the People of France. This collection of examples of responsibility seeks to understand the ways in which different bodies (individual, collective, symbolic) can be contained, implied in, or suggested by a given instance of speech.

We have identified three main types of relationships that a speaker can have with these bodies or labels: speaking in someone’s name (representation), speaking as something (belonging), and speaking for someone or something (substitution).

Representation

Responsibility can take the form of representation, that is to say, speaking “in X’s name.” A speaker can state the body they are speaking for by virtue of an explicit relationship that has been established between them: I am legitimately qualified to represent someone else speaking. This leads us to ask about the modes of legitimation that underpin such a relationship (a mandate, the law, a vote, experience), or in other words, the conditions that have been assembled to make this taking up of responsibility intelligible, fair, indisputable, etc.

The French president’s function gives the person expressing themselves the ability to speak in the name of the people. Thus, when Nicolas Sarkozy gives Dany Boon the Legion of Honor, he says: “Today all of France thanks you, Dany…” The whole of the French people is implied behind the presidential body: as president, I can speak in the name of the people (see also We are now the generation of the heart of the fight back).

On the other hand, in this speech given at the first Conference of Black Writers and Artists held at the Sorbonne in 1956, Aimé Césaire clearly delimits the responsibility of the “we” he is speaking for and about (Black intellectuals): he refrains from extending this responsibility to that of representing or speaking for the whole of the people (see also Répressif, Je vis moi aussi, I want to report a fight, Au nom de Dieu, and Chokolomo chokolomo). Yet, in her 2012 presidential campaign, Eva Joly maintains her belonging to a specific social category all while aspiring to represent an entire people.

Belonging

There can be different relationships of belonging, that is to say different forms of responsibility when speaking “as X.” I speak as (I belong to the category of) a woman, worker, poet, resistance fighter, Black, American democrat, etc. This strategy allows one to orient how one’s discourse is received, to specify its implications in a given context, but it does not constitute a form of responsibility as such: I am not necessarily speaking in the name of the category I belong to. However, it is still easy to shift this presentation (of oneself) toward a form of representation (of the category I am a member of), as can be heard in Daniel Balavoine’s speech to François Mitterand. One can hear the same type of shift in this electoral message by Arlette Laguiller, or even more spectacularly (“we are” = “they are” = “all of France”) in this commentary of France’s 1998 World Cup victory (see also Ça fait dix ans…, Ce que nous défendons, and You must change your ways).

The act of speaking as X establishes a potentially controversial relationship with the act of speaking as this X. This form of responsibility’s legitimacy can be an object of controversy, as in this talk show excerpt; or it can be something to handle with caution, like the fact that Emmanuelle Béart, invited to speak on television as a witness to the expulsion of undocumented migrants from the Saint-Bernard Church in 1996, prefaces her speech by saying “I am here as a woman,” bringing an unexpected category to the forefront of the discussion, given what she usually represents on television—an actress (see also J’ai des positions politiques or Il n’y a que des faux témoins).

Substitution

Another possible relationship is one of substitution, or one of appropriation that has been more or less consented to. One does not only speak as or in the name of another, but instead of them. My speech stands for the speech of another; I am a place-holder; I speak in people’s places. This can be heard with the girls from the film L’Esquive, or here when Claude Levi-Strauss speaks of a colleague’s moods, or even when Angelo Badalamenti tells the story of the birth of the Twin Peaks soundtrack (see also Il est tombé assez amoureux, En plus i s’fout d’ma gueule, La pomponnette, and Baguette de merde).

In this interview, Malcolm X speaks not only in the name of Black people or as a Black person but, oddly, in the name of the category of slaves, to which he claims to belong: “The same slave master who owned us put his last name on us to denote his property.” He thus takes on the legacy of slavery and its responsibility to such a degree that it becomes a form of identification: he is literally speaking for slaves here—that is, in their place—to the extent that they do not have (or never had) the right to speak.

It is indeed to illustrate her advice that this media coach pretends she is quoting her dining companion. Speaking for others is a widespread practice among politicians, especially during election night, when they use simple numbers to deduce that all kinds of things have been said by voters. Comedian Christophe Alévêque plays with this very form of deception by pretending to extract one voice from a range of very different opinions.

This form of substitution can take place during the process of copying something (see La pomme-frite classique or C’est gentil d’accepter de me parler). But quoting someone can also fall within this category, as here with Jacques Lacan, who is ordered by the person interviewing him to specify what kind of responsibility he feels for what he has just said in Freud’s place.

When the person whose voice we are appropriating is present, substitution can appear to be violent: such is the case when Arletty speaks to his employee Martha all while speaking for her, or when Michel Drucker retranslates what Serge Gainsbourg has said to Whitney Houston from English to English. In an even more twisted example, we can hear Jacques Martin compelling a child to act by pretending to speak to the public (“This young man who will take the stage without me telling him to is Jean-Sébastien”) then hear the stubborn refutation of the person whose actions he intends to predict.

In certain cases, the limit between two subjects, the person speaking and the person being spoken for, can become blurry. Substitution tends toward identification. Such is the case in this relaxation recording aimed for children about to fall asleep. It is definitely the case with people possessed by demons, as can be heard in certain certified recordings. It might also be the case with this Britney Spears fan on YouTube who does not speak in the singer’s name (as her agent, friend, or lawyer might do) but literally in her place, caught in an intense process of empathy and identification which (truly or falsely) flirts with schizophrenic behavior. But who is speaking, for and about whom, in this marabout’s advertisement written in the third person?

Index

If only this one is ours

Danez Smith, public reading of his poem Dear White America, 2014.

She loves this country

Jeb Bush, Donald Trump, excerpt from a debate at the Republican Party primaries, 2015.

La balle ou la tasse

Dialogue between a neuro-psychologist and her patient, excerpt from the documentary Journey to the center of the brain, France Culture, 2018.

T’as beau leur montrer par A + B

Account recorded by the photographer Antoine Bruy, 2016. 

Deze vrouwen

Excerpt from a belgian imam's preach, YouTube video, 2012.

Répressif

Roland Barthes, excerpt of Comment vivre ensemble, lecture at the Collège de France, 1976-1977.

Rebelle sans cause

Doc Gynéco and Laurent Ruquier, excerpt of the show On n’est pas couché, France 2, 2007.

Pour toutes les femmes de ce pays

Arlette Laguiller, televised message for the presidential campaign, 1974.

Les français sont étonnants

Christophe Alévêque, excerpt of the show On n'est pas couché, France 2, 2007.

La Pomponnette

Raimu, excerpt of the film La Femme du boulanger by Marcel Pagnol, 1938.