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Talk is cheap: some notes on freedom of speech and the ethics of listening in Route 181 by Michel Khleifi and Eyal Sivan by Uriel Orlow


Freedom is hot verbal currency these days and much is claimed or done in
its name; it has become what in French would be called a passe-partout, a
key to all doors. George W. Bush used the word freedom 42 times during his
second inaugural address as US president earlier this year; the speech lasted
only 21 minutes which amounts to two freedoms per minute. As an abstract
and modern notion (i.e. not physical freedom from slavery or oppression)
freedom is a product or indeed aim of the Enlightenment project; it was
sloganised during the French revolution in egalité, liberté, fraternité (equality,
freedom and familial/national ties) and canonized in the same year in relation
to speech as the first amendment to the US constitution. Thus freedom of
speech represents something like an after-thought, a belated realization, or
indeed, a Derridean supplement... Since then, freedom of speech has been
promoted to a fundamental human right and is now embedded in many
constitutions and charters worldwide, often bundled with the right to
information. Yet this double freedom of expression and information is by no
means an absolute one; there are many interests, be they political or economic,
that it may not interfere with. Moreover, while speech – if it is permitted –
can come about as a spontaneous act, access to information on the other
hand – even if it is considered a right – always takes place in a controlled
environment. Not only if speech is to be free and informed is it dependent
on access and thus subject to various control-mechanisms; also on much
more subtle levels, many conditions are necessary for freedom of speech to
be possible in reality. These political, cultural, educational, social and
economic factors evade easy quantification. In Archive Fever Derrida notes
how access to archives can be seen as a measure of democratization.2 In
addition, I would argue that conditions need to be created where newly
accessed information can also be circulated freely and sensibly, that is,
without being used as a propagandistic instrument. In allusion to Benjamin’s
historical index of recognizability,3 one could speak of a historical index of
utterability; a marker of moments in time and place when certain things
can be said.
For decades, many...