Archive for February, 2012

(working draft) Why denying writer’s voice is problematic

Wednesday, February 29th, 2012

In my reading on voice in writing, I cannot help but feel denying the existence of a writer’s voice is problematic for a number of reasons. Though I am still working on finalizing this list as well as fleshing out my points (time, man, it is all about time right now), here are a few observations I’ve made thus far.

  • Denying voice devalues literature

I recently asked a friend of mine why some colleagues will refer to “literature as rhetoric.” I understand how literature, just as all pieces of writing, makes rhetorical moves, but I did not understand the concept of perferring to view literature as simply rhetoric because I felt it devalued literature since literature is so much more than the words on the page and the motives behind those words. Literature is about the aesthetic experience and the esthetic space just as much as it is about humanity and connections. He told me that he felt the “literature as rhetoric” movement came out of poststructuralism/structuralism when literature became referred to as a “text” and since everything can be a “text” then we can surely analyze literature through a rhetorical lens.

For me, voice is what adds the personality and (though I hate using the word, but can think of no other right now) the soul to a written work. For instance, I respond much differently to reading a work of literature by an author I enjoy reading (Wharton, James, Kafka, Chopin, Lahiri, etc) than I respond to an essay that I am reading purely for the information I will gain (such as a piece of theory or a scientific article). The two things are not the same. If one views literature as merely rhetoric, I think we devalue that work of literature and we thereby ignore voice as I understand voice (the personality and “soul” of the writing and the writer).

 

  • Voice is important to women writers because of the anxiety of authorship, as well as it is important to all writers who are not typically seen as “authors”
Voice grants a sense of agency to a writer and this agency is particularly important to non-white, non-male authors and writers. This concept goes back to the “anxiety of authorship” as voiced (no pun intended) by Gilbert and Gubar inĀ Madwoman in the Attic where they appealed for a women’s authorial canon.
  • Voice is important to the humanities in general.
The humanities thrive on human creativity and art. I don’t see why it wouldn’t be important. How else can we be heard? When I think of the humanities, I think of art and creativity and sharing these values with others in varying formats.
  • Voice is present in rhetorical studies through the “chora”

The chora in rhetoric is where creativity takes place and since voice is the creativity an author exercises in the process of writing, I cannot see where voice wouldn’t be cooperative with the rhetorical term of chora.

I learned about the chora in rhetorical studies during Critical Theory when Dr. Brooks visited. Our class was trying to wrap our heads around Kristeva’s “semiotic chora” at the time and Dr. Brooks chimed in with what chora refers to in rhetoric. It was interesting, so thank you Dr. Brooks.

 

  • Writing is an art and I believe the writing process can be viewed as “erotics” (like the erotics of authorship or the erotics of reading) and “voice” plays a role in this

As a creative AND academic writer, the writing process is one of my favorite parts of writing. In fact, I enjoy the writing process for any type of writing, really. When I turn in a paper, I always think about what more I could have done with it, though I realize that eventually I have to stop revising. Still, I love the act of writing and I can’t help but feel that part of this has something to do with the inner voice that becomes the outer voice through the act of writing.

[more to come]

When I first started this project, I truly believed in a singular voice. After doing some further reading, however, especially reading from writers who are non-white and from multicultural backgrounds (I’m thinking of the new term I have recently learned—third culture kids—and the readings I have done about feminism from non white backgrounds, among other things) I am questioning this. But at the same, a writer’s voice, or an author’s voice, is unique. If I pick up a book by an author I am familiar with, I can recognize the style, or the voice, pretty easily. Sometimes it is really easy, like distinguishing Gertrude Stein from Nathaniel Hawthorne (who is also someone from a different time in comparison to Stein). So I do feel the “single voice” idea has its place and we certainly have a practice that identifies with it. And it makes me wonder, in our culture of technology and diversity, does that need to be changed?

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Voice studies?

Monday, February 27th, 2012

When I first entered my PhD program, I had no concrete idea about what I wanted to write my dissertation on. All I knew, was that I wanted to pursue something that had some basis in literature or something that was literary. Though my program is heavy on the rhetoric (something I somewhat understand, but have little scholarly interest in–no offense), I entered it because I love writing more than I can articulate. My desire since I was an undergraduate has been to teach writing and be able to spend as much time as I can writing. If I am in love with anything, I am in love with writing.

So when I heard one of my professors in class say some things about “voice” in rhetorical studies that I didn’t agree with (in fact, it sounded like blasphemy to someone like me who has a fair amount of grounding in creative writing and literature), I started to do some reading and thinking about voice. For instance, creative writing is full of talk about voice. I would argue that it would be difficult to get into an MFA program if a writer had not yet established, or at least was on the way to establishing, her own voice. Every creative writing textbook that I have seen so far has had a chapter on voice, though sometimes this is termed as “tone” or “style.” Either way, it always comes back to voice.

Unlike some in the field of rhetoric, I do believe in voice. I don’t necessarily believe we have multiple voices in our writing, however. My theory is that each writer develops one voice, of which she can distort based upon a given situation (or it might be developed vice versa where a writer plays with a number of voices to finally create her own–I think this way of looking at it makes the most sense). But to study voice and better understand how voice operates and is developed, I plan to study creative writing students and programs. Luckily, there is a MFA program in creative writing just across the river from my university, as well as a few others not too far away. I want to use my findings to argue that voice is singular and develops over time through mimicking other voices while learning to find one’s own voice.

To me, this project is very exciting because it means I get to work on literary aspects of writing as well as more technical aspects of writing, where I talk about tone and style as I look into voice. I also will get a chance to research the historical significance of voice in literature and writing and learn what has been said in these fields. Further, the chance to work with creative writing students to better understand what they think of when they think about voice and how they understand voice sounds intriguing, especially as someone who studied creative writing as an undergraduate, though never at the graduate level.

It is nice to finally have a fairly solid grounding as to what I want pursue for my dissertation and since I have a year of coursework left, I still have some time to develop a good reading list and get a strong committee together that will aid me in this project as well. At any rate, it is nice to know where I am headed.