Questions (de Roland Barthes)

To question is to want to know something. Yet, in many intellectual discussions, the questions which follow the lecturer’s remarks are in no way the expression of a “want” but the assertion of a plenitude. In the guise of questioning, I mount an aggression against the speaker; to question then takes on its police meaning: to question is to interpellate. Yet the interpellated subject must pretend to answer the letter of the question, no to its “address.” So a game is set up: although each side knows what the others intentions are, the game demands a response to the content, not to the way the content is framed. If I am asked, in a certain tone, What’s the use of linguistics?” –thereby signifying to me that it’s no use whatever –I must naively pretend to answer: “Linguistics is useful for this, for that”, and not in accordance the truth of the dialogue: “Why are you attacking me?” What I receive is the connotation; what I must give back is the denotation.

In the space of speech, science and logic, knowledge and argument, questions and answers, propositions and objections are the masks of the dialectical relation. Our intellectual discussions are as encoded as the old scholastic disputes; we still have the stock roles (the “sociologist”, the “Goldmannian”, the “Telquelian,”, etc), but  contrary to the disputatio, where these roles would have been ceremonial and have displayed the artifice of their function, our intellectual “intercourse” always gives itself “natural” airs: it claims to exchange only signifieds, not signifiers.

-Roland Barthes, “Writers, Intellectuals, Teachers”, en The Rustle of Language, páginas 318-319.

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