my five minute presentation tomorrow, draft one

I just wrote this, and I just practiced reading it. It clocked in at 5 minutes 30 seconds. I have to cut at least 30 seconds, preferrably more so that I can slow down my reading, but here is draft one:

I’d like to begin with a story. A few weeks ago, I was attending a meeting, and someone mentioned that we should ask a friend of mine about an organization she belonged to. I had my laptop opened and I noticed she was online. I was able to ask her the question immediately.

Flash forward a few weeks to a couple nights ago. I was working late in a computer lab, trying to learn how to do a few new tricks with Adobe Acrobat Professional. I was totally baffled by so many things, including new computer programs, new ways of using networks. However, directly at my hands was the vast internet, which allowed me so many resources for answers. Additionally, I was able to use instant messenger to ask some friends some questions. I realized that my knowledge, and really who I was, was not just embodied in me, but rather embodied in every resource at my hands.

In his book What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy, James Paul Gee states, “thinking and reasoning are inherently social. But they are also inherently distributed, and more and more so in our modern technological world. By this I mean that each of us lets other people and various tools and technologies do some of our thinking for us” (184).

He goes on to state that his “knowledge is not only social, it is distributed outside my body. If you were to assess just my skills playing video games alone in my home, you would underestimate me. You need to assess me as a node in a network and see how I function as such a node. The knowledge I gain playing games, limited as it is for an old babyboomer, is but a part of my functioning as such a node, and it is knowledge that can spread into the network as well. In turn, knowledge flows to me, making me better than your original estimate would have assumed” (189).

You might begin to wonder what this has to do with voice. Well, in order to have an effective voice in writing, writers must develop their own authority. The debate over where this authority comes from is intense. Aronowitz and Giroux claim that students have voices that arise from their “experiences, languages, histories, and stories,” and define voice as “the ways in which students produce meaning through the various subject positions that are available to them in the wider society” (quoted in Martin 7). Mikhail Bahktin notes that no writer has complete freedom because all our words are linked to previous words; a really good writer has talent at keeping his, her, or hir own freedom while joining discourse (cited in Matalene 182).

Cummins notes that the voices of authorities “deafen,” making her “feel like a giant channel, trying not to drown in the streams of ideas, trying not to succumb to others’ authority, trying to allow myself, somehow, to author” (50). In order to author, Cummins claims that one must have authority and challenge others’ authority (50). In her essay “Between the Drafts,” Nancy Sommers, after noting how she felt the weight of others’ authority, found her authority in “negotiating the uncertaintity” that fills her life (284). Sommers relates authority to identity, stating, “It is in the thrill of the pull between someone else’s authority and our own, between submission and independence that we must discover how to define ourselves” (285). Clark and Holquist also link authorship and identity: “The architectonic activity of authorship, which is the building of a text, parallels the activity of human existence, which is the building of a self” (quoted in Daly 1).

If Bahktin is correct, and our texts are built from others’ words, and Clark and Holquist are correct, that building a text parallels building ourselves, and Aronowitz and Giroux are correct that our voices arise from our experiences, or if we go as far as Gee, that our knowledge exists both inside us and outside us, then one could argue that we are actually texts made up of others. Actually, this is not a new idea. Lance Olsen writes that “We are all, as Roland Barthes pointed out so long ago, texts, and a text is ‘a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash’” (“Avant-Crit” 568).

I would, borrowing from Lance Olsen, use the term “collage” to describe writing, because we are blending and clashing older ideas, to use Barthes’s words. I would argue that it is no longer just our writings that are collages, but also we who are collages. We are a collection of voices and resources. Ironically, as our identities become more and more individualized in this postmodern hyperindividualized world, they also become more blurred, more one with each other.

So, if our identities are blurred, if we are all made up of various “texts,” then what happens to our voice, to our authority? I would argue, as Nancy Sommers does, that we should, as writers and as people, dangle ourselves amidst the polyphony of voices, suspending ourselves “between either and or,” so that we can see “ambiguity, uncertainty, and discontinuity, moments when the seams of life just don’t want to hold” (284). It is when we begin to make sense of all the voices in our heads that we can gain some form of authority. I want my students to do just that: realize they are constantly being informed by various voices, and are in fact composed of those voices themselves. Students should suspend themselves amidst that polyphony of voices, amidst the uncertainty between either and or, on issues about which they are writing and in their lives.

This entry was posted in Polyphony, Voice, Writing 511 Teaching Writing (Fall 2005). Bookmark the permalink.

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