Blowin’ Blowin’

For years, President Santos had fervently defended his government’s peace negotiations with the FARC-EP guerrillas in the face of citizen scepticism and opposition from some national political sectors. Eventually, an agreement was signed on 26 August 2016 – after four years of negotiation – to end the 52-year war, the longest civil war in modern times and the sole remaining armed conflict in Latin America. The president decided to ratify the agreement by putting it to the vote; however, on 2 October 2016, the electorate rejected it by a miniscule majority as 50.22% voted ‘No’, while 49.78% voted ‘Yes’. This result shocked commentators and left the peace agreement in limbo, plunging the country into uncertainty. Then, on 7 October 2016, to the amazement of opponents of the agreement, it was announced that Santos had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, the highest international political accolade. (It was, in fact, only after renegotiations between the two opposing political parties, a modified treaty was finally approved, via the Congress of the Republic of Colombia on 29-30 November 2016.)

The Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech is a unique and significant international site of public discourse committed to articulating the universal grammar of peace but not without a political agenda. Nobel lectures are worthy of attention by those interested in understanding how highly engaged political actors use language and rhetorical appeals to advance peace. One of the discursive characteristics of this grammar is the ideal of hero enactment. In their speeches, most of the heroes subtly enact the ideal universal human by accepting their prize with humility and gratitude, but they accept it on behalf of those their cause is identified with; in the case of president Santos, he received the price in the name of the victims of the Colombian conflict.

President Santos used the occasion of the Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo that December to capitalise on the signing of the agreement, to present it as an endorsement of his heroic management of the internal armed conflict and himself as one of the protagonists in the history of world peace.

The speech works as a victory rhetoric at the end of the Colombian armed conflict. Strategically, Santos inserts himself as the agent of historical change, who plays different roles in the development of his own definitive account of the war. The configuration of his own image rests on the stages of the narrative built around the end of the war; stages that represent the overcoming of a violent past, the celebration of a successful present, and the forthcoming agenda for a total peaceful future in Colombia. However, and despite the hero enactment, the president does not deny that the peace process was complex, protracted and contentious – characterised by significant bargaining and compromising among various societal and political stakeholders. And, he hopes that in the years to come the Colombian people will reap the fruits of the peace treaty and reconciliation process.

Despite Colombia’s 2016 remarkable peace achievement, today the agreement has not been fully implemented under the current administration, due to the country’s right-wing Democratic Centre party government – vociferous opponents of the peace deal.

Blowin’ Blowin’ is a project that uses an Oulipian constraint methodology (after the French literary group OuLiPo), whereby the words of President Juan Manuel Santos’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on 10 December 2016 are arranged in alphabetical order. Using the filmed coverage of the event, I have focused on re-editing the entire speech, separating each word that Santos spoke, then reordering the 3,341 words from the speech all in strict consecutive alphabetical order as a restrictive remix.

This project is conceived as an x-ray of Colombia’s political oratory in the wake of the peace process and agreement made with the FARC-EP guerrillas. In this remix, the alphabetical ordering of the vocabulary and word-choices unfolds and the speech grammar collapses as the words are organized alphabetically. Even without listening for subtextual meanings, certain words dominate the speech when we listen to them in alphabetical order. The words jump out through Santos’s vocalisation and shifts of tone and pace. Particular words are used frequently, paz, for instance, uttered some 42 times, and guerra is said almost 25 times. Proceso, violencia, Colombia, posible, imposible, acuerdo, país, victimas and fin are said numerous times. In contrast, words like mujeres are only mentioned 4 times, justicia only 3 times and sufrimiento and guerrilleros are only mentioned once. These frequencies demonstrate how much the speech was built around core words. The alphabetical constraint places these words in unintended juxtapositions, which produce surprising counter-meanings and generate new potential readings of the speech.

 

 

Single channel video, 25.04 minutes loop, 2019.