Third Dimension of a Person

I do not remember the last time I had a chance to watch television. Being able to watch what you want and when you want online made the habit of watching television casually fade away. Although one can easily argue that watching stuff online is just as wasteful of time as watching television, I can at least find more meaningful things to watch online that otherwise would easily go unnoticed. The video The Danger of a Single Story that I had a chance to see in our class was another excellent example for that. It was a recording of Nigerian novelist Chimamanda Adichie’s TED speech. She argues about critical misunderstanding of other cultures and places that stem from single narrative. It was an intriguing and a thought-provoking video.

I attempted to reflect the message in the video by the response: “Similar to a work of art in a gallery, a human being is open to many different interpretations. These alternative interpretations form the three-dimensional being that we see. Hence, accepting a single interpretation would only serve to strip away that crucial third dimension.” People tend to observe others on the surface level. Given personal information and background of the person gets assorted with what they had heard about that person’s culture from other sources in the past. This is the point in which literary works become very important in shaping that perspective. Some literary works do not represent the culture with intricacy as they tend to focus on dramatic aspects or cultural contrasts. Many people may find themselves in position of neglect due to their desire of simplicity or lack of encouragement to discover more about others. In the video, Chimamanda Adichie encourages people to broaden the scope of stories that they consume in order to fully understand the notions of other people and perhaps appreciate a narrative by the person rather than an observer.

The danger of being only exposed to a single perspective on a particular culture or group of people is accepting the stereotype as the norm. Chimamanda Adichie makes the statement that “the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.” It is important to remember that exploring similarities among cultures, peoples, and places is as crucial as exploring the differences. Storytellers have the power and the option to motivate their readers to discover these alternative perspectives. I believe the key is examining what makes a story or a narration compelling to the reader based on empirical reasons rather than commercialized reasons. People in general may find it difficult to grasp the importance of rejecting the single story and break away from the limitations of simplicity but writers tend to find the opportunities in which they can explore these complexities as they are expected to be the puzzle-solvers of thoughts. Hence, the objective of writers should be crafting stories that explore many different aspects instead of assembling a product that repeats the same, single story.

My meta-goal for voice in writing…..

This week’s reading has been quite a feast and I am looking forward to our class discussion. In the spirit of Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDtalk and Peter Elbow’s idea of moving beyond compromise and embracing contradictions I am including a link to one of my favorite artist/linguists. Molly Bartholemew is an American Sign Language interpreter who captures the spirit of music and popular recording artists through visual storytelling and ASL.
Watch with the sound on and then turn the sound off.
Does she capture the voice of the artist?
What tools does she use?
Are there any metaphors that move beyond sound and hearing that might be useful in writing beyond “voice?”

Voice in Writing​

Last week while watching Chimamanda Adichie’s TEDtalk video about “The danger of a single story” I was able to relate to many of her experiences and agreed to the statements she made about the dangers of a single story.  Growing up in Haiti, my parents always enrolled in private schools, I enjoyed summers in resorts and lived a life unlike many others. In my younger childhood years, I was unaware of Haiti’s poverty and political destruction until I went to other places for holiday and other people would talk about terrible things happening in the country. My parents, for the most part, kept me sheltered from that reality because they planned to move out of the country in the future. After living in both Canada and the United States, I have a story about Haiti that many other people would not assume. I suppose people would expect a story of poverty, misfortune or any other stereotypes that connect when it comes to the country and living there.

Nevertheless, I, like Chimamanda have a voice in the story of Haiti that is unconventional and different from stories in the news, or books. If I were to write a truthful story about my childhood in Haiti it would sound natural to me, however, to be more persuasive for others I would probably write a different story about a reality that fits more into the stereotype of a Haitian childhood. This is a point Peter Elbow makes in his article Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries when he referenced philosopher, Aristotle. He states,

We can now see that a writer must disguise his art and give the impression of speaking naturally and not artificially. Naturalness is persuasive, artificiality is the contrary; for our hearers are prejudiced and think we have some design against them. (1404b)

The point of voice in writing is further elaborated in the text. Elbow discusses the difference between writing (text) and voice ( language). He discusses in great details about the way writers have an authentic voice and one that is tuned and polished in order to create writing styles that are appropriate in context ( i.e classroom, teacher expectations, etc.)

Another point Elbow referenced in his article is from associate professor Darsie Bowden who argues that,

…voice is alive in our classrooms. Students at all levels instinctively talk and think about voice, or their voice in their writing, and tend to believe they have a real or true self—despite the best efforts of some of their teachers (170).

It is in a classroom setting that many students, unfortunately, lose their voice because teachers tell them that they should write in ways that fit categories, and proper writing formats. Students are adversely affected in this way because they are no longer able to express themselves in writing and ultimately their true voice is silenced. They then go on to write stories or text that simply gets them a satisfactory grade.

ii. speak yourself

In this metaphorical world, then, even if we figure out the system, we are stuck. If we want to be heard we are limited to our single note. If we want to sing other notes, we will not be heard.
And yet, if we are brave and persistent enough to sing our note at length–to develop our capacity for resonance–gradually we will be able to ‘sing ourselves in’: to get resonance first into one or more frequencies and then more. Finally, we will be able to sing whatever note we want to sing, even to sing whatever note others want to hear, and to make every note resound with rich power.
Peter Elbow, Power 282
(qtd. in “Voices in Writing” 172)

Whaaaaaaat? I’m starting a blog post with a deep quote and not an awkward “oKAY KIDS WE’RE HERE LET’S GO” ? Unheard of. Unthinkable. Wild.

Maybe I’m learning. Maybe I’m still lowkey, wistfully emotional and riding the high of a double concert weekend. I gotta give my wallet a break, my god.

Anyway. Elbow. I’m really digging this article. Like, wow. I feel like I won’t be able to do it (nor anything else I’m planning on talking about) justice with my paltry commentary.  Here goes nothing, I suppose.

So, from the beginning, I could already see the whole either/or debate Elbow would later talk about throughout the paper. We have those who are all into students/writers having their own voice in writing and that voice is something that should be taught to try to achieve, then we have the skeptics who are like “y’all are just adapting to your audience so it’s not Really You but a You that’s been Socially Constructed to Fit Into A Mold.”

And like. I get it. I get what the skeptics are saying. Yes, people are so altered by society’s expectations of them that they almost don’t become people living for themselves anymore, but people living exclusively for others, even going as far as being a different person for each of those different people… so like, does a Real You even exist at that point?

Fun fact: I read a fanfiction that discussed that whole concept once. One of the best fics I’ve ever read.

Ten points if you could follow that long sentence. Because I’m afraid to reread it again. Regardless, Elbow has the right idea in disagreeing with the either/or debate, because things are never in black and white.

I feel like… we won’t be able to change the fact that we are socially constructed if we don’t try to alter society ourselves. If we don’t try for sincerity in writing and in general, we’ll never get it at all–if that makes sense. It’s completely true that we are changed by our places in society, but that’s a very dour and complacent state of mind to stay in. Real nihilistic, if you ask me. So… it’s fine to focus on your own voice in writing. It can really help with soul-searching and whatnot.

But along that same line, I’d say it’s not wrong to adapt the voice of your writing for your audience. For example, do you think I’m gonna write like this for a legitimate paper? With snark and thinly-veiled exhaustion and maybe one thought too many ?

Nah. I’ll reign it in. But does that mean my academic voice is any more or less Me? There surely is one real voice in me, but can’t it have more than one tone? Adaptability doesn’t always equate “artificiality,” which Elbow brings up a bit later in the article with an interesting quote:

“Naturalness is persuasive, artificiality is the contrary; for our hearers are prejudiced and think we have some design against them.” (169)

Lemme just @@@@ all those skeptics. Sure, there will be those writers that try to fool their readers into believing that they’re all-knowing, but it’s the writers who put their own selves into their writing that truly get (or should get) listened to.

Later on, Elbow talks about how there are those who believe that text gives no window to the actual self. Interesting. I’d say maybe not the whole self, because pshhh our whole selves aren’t even visible to us to begin with. But… given the right topic, you can have a person writing some pretty honest and soul-bearing stuff.

(I’m reminded of a blog post I did back in the day on fanfiction. That was a wild ride. I still shoot that link at people once in a while.)

Even more later on, Elbow brought up voice in different types of writing. I’m gonna go off about the voice in Internet language. I’m generally active in groupchats and on Twitter, and text-speech and internet lingo is a whole language on its own.

Elbow talks about how “handwriting is more personal and body-connected than typing, so handwritten words are often more experienced as more ‘voiced’ than typed or printed words. With the resources of word processing, people sometimes try to create or bring out a voice by using certain fonts” (176). That’s all well and good, but what about those platforms where you can’t utilize formatting options like fonts, bolding, italicizing, underlining, strikethroughs, etc.? Emoticons and emojis come to mind, but with text alone, more subtle trends come and go.

In fact! Who better to introduce those “Twitter Linguistics” than a student who studied them. A Twitter user conducted a survey (which I participated in) earlier in the year about different linguistic trends utilized online (particularly Twitter) such as “Keyboard Smashes,” “Excessively Long Ellipses,” “Non-Interrogative Question Marks,” etc.–most, if not all, of which I use on a daily basis. The user then posted later, saying that the paper was completed, so there you go! 

Now, all these little trends can help effectively convey one’s voice and attitude over cyberspace. I’ve been told that, in a messenger setting, I can easily be “heard” when I send messages. Whether it’s a rAISE IN VOICE or a……. confused…………. drawn-out….. pause, or??? ?? a disbelieving? ? ? series of not-questions? ????, little text quirks can bring a new context to a person’s voice in writing.

When appropriate, of course. You won’t see me going jfklsjfkldsjkl in an academic paper.

I think that’s all I’ll say for this reading! I can’t wait to go over it more in class. It was actually a really interesting read.

There’s just one more thing I want to touch on before I go.

Last week in class, we watched a TEDtalk about “The danger of a single story” by novelist Chimamanda Adichie:

Hers was an incredible story. I was only able to answer two of the three posed questions during our Twitter discussion:

Before I did, though, I mentioned how I was reminded of a speech I’d heard earlier in the day at the United Nations General Assembly by the leader of popular K-Pop group, BTS. Truthfully, I felt (and feel) a little silly bringing it up, but the message of the speech–about youth, self-empowerment, self-love, and finding your voice to “Speak Yourself” and tell your story–was too important to pass up.

Everyone has a story to tell, after all. One that should be told and should be listened to. It’s something I stand for.

So yeah, voice is important. Probably more important than any of us can comprehend on our own.

See y’all next week.

— C