Federico Petris

The Transnational Politics of Latin in the Digital Age

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In my project, I research uses of Latin and re-adaptation of original Latin phrases as these are currently used in political discourses on social media. More specifically, I will analyse uses of Latin in online political discourse as a case of how individuals might embody norms of power and subjectivities that are developed in an ‘elsewhere’ without quite becoming themselves. In other words, uses of Latin as expression of alternative forms of agency that entails variable capacities to take responsibility for envisioned future event.

The project, focusing both on the symbolism of the Latin language and on the grammar of the phrases encountered, asks why Latin is the chosen medium in online political discourses, and what it means to engage in (online) political discourses through Latin. It originates from the intuition that while the action that a Latin phrase envisions can often be apprehended by attending to the grammar and the literal meaning of Latin, other elements of the discourse remain ambiguous as they are obfuscated by theconciseness of Latin when used in online fora.

Example of such phrases are “Moscovia/ Sina/ Judea delenda est”, and “sic semper tyrannis”. As it can be seen here, while the event that a Latin phrase envisions remains explicit, the cause of the action and the agent causing the action are left unspecified or ambiguous, as they are concealed by the lack of an identifiable agential subject. This has the implication that also the position occupied by the speaking subject remains open as it cannot be directly attributed to that of agential subject. When this ambiguity is reconceptualised in terms of the subject’s separation from responsibility for the action envisioned, my contention is that politics of language – and specifically uses of Latin in online political discourses –present us with a case where the speaking subject asserts the need to re-frame and rearticulate experience in the ‘now’ and to imagine alternatives in an elsewhere, at the same time as she occupies a safe, stable, external position of power away from the consequences of the action. In other words, an opportunity to investigate alternative forms of agency – hence alternative yet-to-be articulated forms of subjectivity –that entails variable capacities to take responsibility for (future) events.

On these terms, the project dialogues with an existing literature that studies how individuals might embody norms of power that are developed in an ‘elsewhere’ without quite becoming themselves. However, the novelty introduced by my project is that the hypothesised separation takes place through a medium – Latin – that is used in online fora. This is important because, in taking cognizance of digital communication studies’ claim that online messages are concise so as to be immediate in their reception, the hypothesised separation is now conveyed in a concise and spectacular manner, so that its quicker reception raises questions about the formation of trans-national subjects who are abstracted from action and never configured as active agent.

In order to address these questions, in this project I will look at Latin uses beyond words and in conjunction with the social embeddedness of uses. That is, I will understand language as system of meaning in use, which will allow me to direct the investigation towards alternative forms of subjectivities and (inter)subjective positions that are implied in uses of Latin as these emerge and evolve through interactions and throughout time. Critically, the project acknowledges that an awareness of the social distribution of language is important in order to account for circulation and the structural characteristics of the network in which these uses of take place. Therefore, through specific methodological procedure I will make such awareness a composite part of the analysis; more specifically, I aim to do so through the creation of a thesaurus of uses, which will be completed byregistering selected attributes for each collected source. The dataset of uses thus developed will then become available to scholars who are interested in other dynamic that are related to the phenomenon of uses of Latin in online fora.