How Miles Davis misrepresented his assault of his wife Frances: a case study in the language of abusers
Here is the account which jazz musician Miles Davis gives of the first time he assaulted his wife, Frances.
I loved Frances so much that for the first time in my life I found myself jealous. I remember I hit her once when she came home and told me some shit about Quincy Jones being handsome. Before I realized what had happened, I had knocked her down… I told her not to ever mention Quincy Jones’ name to me again, and she never did… Every time I hit her, I felt bad because a lot of it really wasn’t her fault but had to do with me being temperamental and jealous. I mean, I never thought I was jealous until I was with Frances. Before, I didn’t care what a woman did; it didn’t matter to me because I was so into my music. Now it did and it was something that was new for me, hard for me to understand.
(Miles: The autobiography, by Miles Davis in collaboration with Quincy Troupe, 1990, p. 228)
Allan Wade and his colleague Linda Coates say there are four major ways in which language can be used to construct an account of violence which misrepresents the nature of the act, the actions of the perpetrator, the responsibility of the perpetrator, and the actions of the victim. And the flip side — there are four major ways in which language can be used to construct an account of violence which accurately represents the nature of the act, the actions of perpetrator, the responsibility of the perpetrator, and the actions of the victim.
In the heading of the following table the word ‘discursive’ simply means ‘relating to discourse or modes of discourse.’ In other words, the ways people speak and write.
Readers, let us analyse this account from Miles Davis. How does he construct his account to misrepresent the act, his actions, and the actions of Frances? Let us try to apply the idea of the four discursive operations of language to Miles Davis’s account.
- How does Davis conceal and misrepresent his violence against Frances?
- How does he mitigate and obfuscate his responsibility?
- How does he conceal Frances’s resistance?
- How does he blame and implicitly pathologize Frances?
With grateful acknowledgements to Allan Wade and Linda Coates, especially their article Language and Violence: Analysis of Four Discursive Operations. This link takes you to an online pdf of that article which was originally published in the Journal of Family Violence (2007) 22:511-522.
Readers: once you’ve had a go at analyzing Davis’s account, you might like to go to the article in that link and see how Coates and Wade analyzed it. Look for their analysis of Davis’s account on page four of the pdf.