The Power Culture of Silenced Dialogue

This week, a piece by Peter Elbow had readers examining the ideas behind voice in writing.  Voice has always been something I have struggled with until I no longer did. I first heard about the use of voice and the finding of one’s voice in my early college days.  I young man in one of my writing classes, proclaimed that he had returned to SUNY Purchase because it was the only way he could find his true voice.  Much of what Elbo speaks about in his piece is that very thing – the finding of one’s voice.  Not a speaking voice per say but a writing voice.  I began to examine my own writing, hoping to find voice.  Never could.  I worked in the publishing world and had to imitate (Something Diana’s presentation brought out.) the styles and the voice of other writers.  I hoped this would allow me to find my own voice.  It did…but not until years later. 

I agree with Plato when he said something to the tune of, “the power of language is derived from the nature of the rhetor’s self.  Only a good rhetor can create good works.”  I have found that the voice one uses to speak is the voice one should use to write.  Society already writes the way they speak when texting or sending an email.  Yes, we have a professional tone when most communicate in business settings.  I think all one has to decide is in which of these two voices are you going to tell the story in.  Ray Bradbury said much the same thing in his novel, Fahrenheit 451.   The retired English Professor character, Faber says, “Good writers touch life often.  The mediocre ones run a quick hand over her.  The bad ones rape her and leave her for the flies.”  A person can contain a brilliant writing voice, but is he or she has nothing of import to convey, then all we have are the flies left behind.

Elbow develops the idea that teachers teach voice in the classroom.  It’s true, it is unfair that some teachers – not me – teach the idea that all kids have some mysterious voice in their head and all they have to do is unlock it on the page.  What a load of nonsense.  Differentiated Learning has shown us that not all students learn and convey ideas in a written form.  The author Elbow was complaining about seemed to adopt an idea contrary to mine own and Elbow’s.  Voice is what you say and what you sound like when saying it on the page.  Years ago CAPS did not necessarily mean yelling like it does now.  The CAPS is a visual thing.  It’s also part of voice.

What surprised me most is that the entire piece by Elbow did not really discuss voice more as it did defend his own work on the value of allowing one to find what works best instead of setting preconditioned confines to the exploration of voice in a student’s work. Voice is something we all have.  It’s not a magic power.  One has to want to find it in the first place.

Then there was the second piece for the week, which couldn’t be more opposite.  The Silenced Dialogue presented quite a few ideas in regards to the power of communication.  The author, Lisa Delpit, created her own metalanguage in presenting the ideas behind the Culture of Power.  To me, Culture of Power sounded like an evil group of super villains bent on taking over the world.  Delpit believes that people with power do not understand that they have power in the first place.  I felt the definition behind the word power was a bit absent.  As I mentioned in my Electronic Literature presentation, words have a host of meanings.  Power is one of those words that can be defined simply as adding electricity to an appliance or the ability to rule over another. I disagree.  People who have power know they do.  Whether or not they chose to show said power is well within their own rights.  Perhaps, that person does not it’s acceptable to show one’s power.  Then that is what must be taught  in a classroom. 

At times during my read of Delpit’s piece I found myself wondering if the author was equating power to the word wealth.  There is a culture at every level of society.  Within those levels there are those who exercise power over others within the herd.  There will always be a food chain in regards to power at any level.  There will always be people who preferred to be led.  Just as there will always be people who want to lead. There are rules and laws whether traditional or unwritten at every level of society as well.  Everyone plays by those rules or they make up their own as he or she goes along. 

Teachers need to embrace these ideas.  “I want the same for everyone else’s children as I want for mine.” This line struck me as very powerful, indeed.  As teachers we want the best for our own and our students.  Teachers need to play into the strengths of the power struggles that go on in society.  Lisa Delpit’s piece began with speaking of race.  In today’s society, even the mention of race has a power to make some run and other stay put.

My mom always blamed me for running toward trouble.  That was my power.  It wasn’t trouble I was running toward – it was understanding.  And that is a power in an of itself.