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.

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