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Narrative 13.1 (2005) 1-10
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Voice, He Wrote
The four essays in this issue are written in four distinct, though familiar, critical voices. In his essay on "Double Dealing in Cinematic Narrative," David H. Richter identifies different ways that films "cheat" their audiences in an energetic voice that effectively mixes scholarly and vernacular registers. "Inadvertent lapses, with no attempt to extract unlawful gain, are classified as mere goofs. Directors can't afford to reshoot to correct every mistake the script girl makes, and where the loss of reality- effect is minimal, one allows for financial constraints" (12). Drawing on Mikhail Bakhtin's work in her piece on "Heteroglossia, Monologism, and Fascism" in The Waves, Gabrielle McIntire investigates voice itself in a patient, probing, and consistently scholarly voice. "While Woolf never actually names fascism in the novel, the ways in which she represents the group's ambivalent awe for a quasi-mystical confraternity, the characters' alternating fascination and abhorrence for order and authority, the group's hero-worship of Percival, and what I will examine as the quasi-monologic arrest of Bernard's closing soliloquy all point to a sustained meditation on the nearness of fascist rhetoric and sentiment to the politics and rhetoric of everyday English life" (30).
Chris R. Vanden Bossche, analyzing the recent critical history of Jane Eyre, employs the voice of ideology critique even as he questions its operations. "I will argue that literary criticism has tended to treat ideology in economistic terms as a fixed, normative field of discourse that represses social reality, a conception that underlies the now commonplace characterization of Victorian texts as both subverting and supporting ideology" (46). William Little, in his exploration of Christopher Nolan's recent film Memento, adopts and adapts the voice of psychoanalytic criticism. "Seen through this interpretive framework, [Leonard's] failures to remember [End Page 1] are symptomatic of something more than a blow to the head. They constitute a form of auto-interruption that mimics the interruption of sleep, time, and marriage caused by the criminal trespass" (71).
Listening to these four voices and to those in some other texts I've been reading, especially Gerald Graff's Clueless in Academe, prompts me to offer some reflections about voice in narrative theory and interpretation. I also remain concerned that narrative theory still carries the reputation among many of our colleagues as that field populated by nerds using Greek terms to drone bloodless abstractions at each other. I am not about to set down rules that contributors to Narrative must adhere to; I like the diverse voices we've published over the years, including the ones in this issue, and, if I've learned anything in this job, it's that a good editor follows his contributors as much as or more than they follow him. I am also not about to propose a one-size-fits-all formula for either developing or judging critical voice: the phenomenon is too complex to be reduced to any such formula. In other words, there is no single ideal critical voice—and it's a good thing too. What I want to do here is identify some principles underlying various effective uses of voice, principles that give pride of place to clarity as inflected by audience and purpose. More generally, I believe the subject of critical voice in narrative studies deserves more attention, and I hope that my thoughts will spark some of your own, including some you'd be willing to send to me. I'd be happy to publish a sample of such responses in a Dialogue segment of a future issue.
Voice, when it refers to writing, is obviously a metaphor, but we often don't hear its metaphorical tones. We don't hear them because we've become habituated to the metaphorical usage, but that's not the only reason. We also don't hear those tones because the term isn't only metaphorical. It refers as well to one kind of synesthesia. The phenomenon of written voice is not as extraordinary as that of hearing A flat...