Storyteller

by MT

Again and again I am awed by the attention American people pay to the usage of words, both in spoken and written form (what Saussure distinguished as parole and langue). In terms of speech, with this presumed quality of presentation, students are benefited by a more engaging form of lecture in the classroom. To an international student, there is no problem of being assimilated or Americanized when it comes to words. The process of preparing for the coming presentation in Kyoto has proved to be painful but fruitful. With the help of several generous friends, I am able to rehearse again and again the 10-minute presentation of a ten page paper. I tried two extremes: read the paper and create a very dry atmosphere (the langue way), and speak to the slides and engage the audiences without looking at the notes (the parole way). The first method is intellectual but boring, while the later entertaining but superficial. Of course, an ideal situation would be combing the two. Most of the time in the conferences of art and architectural history, however, we see people read the paper all the way through, perhaps for the sake of efficiency and structural integrity.

With all my grumbles of boring lectures, I tend to go with the intellectual but dry way. But now there is the time constrain problem. My dry talk took 20 minutes but the conference prescribes a ten-minute limit and says thirteen minutes at most. Thirteen minutes is almost nothing. So for the sake of time, I improvise a talk on my slide images and I finished the talk just in thirteen minutes. Speaking ad lib in English is still quite a challange for me. Without the previous “dry” run, I would not make it. But with all my staggering and murmuring, my simulated audiences seemed to be enthusiastic with the engaging presentation style. Interestingly, during the improvisation, I also come up with some new words and phrases that are more effective in communicating my ideas—another proof that spontaneity and creativity go together.

Pierre Bourdieu once mentioned that, though language is the sources of intelligibility, speech is the origin of innovations and transformations in language. While for Saussure a grammarian studies the logic of language, it is the orator, the storyteller of Bourdieu, who engages with the logic of practice. The intellectual but dry way may be fine, the entertaining storyteller, however, may not necessarily be superficial. In my conversation with DU about presentation style, he seemed to suggest the former, considering my weak command of English. When I expressed my favor toward the loosened up style, he dropped me a line of golden truth: “You will need a lot of practice.”