“Whose Voice is it Anyway?”
Anne Ruggles Gere raises some thorny issues about voice in this article, which occupies chapter 2 of the Writing and Healing anthology edited by my professor, Charles Anderson and Marian MacCurdy. Issues of voice are quite complicated because through voice we express ourselves in ways that are shaped by our perception of self.
Gere opens the article by telling a story about her experience trying out to be a cheerleader in the seventh grade. She worked hard to make the squad but failed, because as she was told, “Your voice just isn’t loud enough.” I’ve never been told that, quite the opposite actually: I’ve often been told my voice is too loud. In retrospect, perhaps that’s why I felt more comfortable retreating into the silence of photographs. Every time I spoke, I felt as if I was dominating things. People often look at me like some kind of “leader” merely because I have little trouble speaking up. But I try not to. I choke back more words than I speak. My words just flow in torrents any time I open up the gate. I suppose I was trying to fix that by becoming a photographer. When I make photographs, I seldom speak. In fact, I find it nearly impossible to speak when my visual centers are working at the peak of their capacity. Through photography, I was looking for a quieter and more eloquent voice, a voice that wouldn’t make other people become silent: a voice that would encourage people to talk to me, rather than be silent.
Writing has shifted and modified my view of self, because I became more conscious of the games that people play when they express themselves. Everyone does it; they bend their voice to fit the situation, to try to find some common ground where connections might be formed. I really like Gere’s take on the opposite side of the coin:
Being told that my voice was too soft had as much influence on my understanding of the concept as anything I’ve read in professional journals. The term we use most frequently to describe voice— authentic— takes on meaning when we connect that word “authentic” with our own lives. Feeling inadequate or not powerful enough shapes one’s understanding of voice just as feeling important and in control does. Connecting to one’s life does not, however, mean continuing to think of voice in individual terms. Many of our current discussions about voice presume a stable, coherent self while our conversations about other aspects of composition take for granted a more complicated and less unified concept of self we call “the writer.” In wanting to be a cheerleader, I sought to join other voices, and I believe that the finely textured personal and autobiographical writing now emerging in the academy leads us to public and social contexts rather than private and individualistic ones.
This was just so incredibly well put and relevant to the questions of voice in blogging that I had to put it out there. Voice is a multivalent quality. It isn’t just “being true to yourself” it is also seeking to connect with communities of voices. The most important pole to steer by, as far as I’m concerned, is a sense that the voice we speak is connected in some way with the conglomerate self that we hold close. It isn’t a fixed thing, it shifts dependent on the situation in which we express it.
The questions that I find interesting are not “what is voice?” or “what is authentic?” but instead, how has the open sharing of ideas and personalities in the first truly global environment, the Internet, leveled or shifted the playing field when it comes to forging those connections which language (and/or self) drives us to seek.
Voice and authenticity are much larger things than the presence of personalities on the Internet. Blogging presents these qualities in a new context, with new depth and complexity. The interrogation going on, at least the parts that I’ve read, don’t do more than scratch the surface of the differences involved, focusing only on the similarities to the larger questions. What’s so different about blogging? I’m still not sure. I haven’t really isolated any good specific rather than general questions to ask. Hyperlinking pops up from time to time as one of those differences, and yet hyperlinking is just the latest twist on “intertextuality” which is also one of those deep and abiding questions about the nature of discourse. The Internet didn’t invent intertexuality; it has only accelerated it. However, it is possible that it has strengthened the ability to claim validity, by linking to supporting or dissenting positions, accelerating judgment.
So, is this blogging stuff just another manifestation for our need for speed? Or, is it deeper— reaching out to find some language, some voice that can be used to touch people beyond ourselves? I agree with Gere. Voice and authenticity are much bigger than just the act of inflicting our selves on each other.
That, by the way, was William Blake’s definition of friendship:
We impose upon each other.
Many blog writers I’ve known over the last few years cite friendship as a primary motivation. To make friends, because a person can never have enough friends.