(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 in 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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