Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Conflation of Voice and Author

Seated round the great table, nobody paid heed to the boy, who crouched by the wall and watched them with hunger-wide eyes. If scraps were thrown to the floor, both cat and boy would spring for them, and I reckon the cat were never half as grateful for those meager, greasy bits as the boy.


When I'm reading, I don't usually have a problem confusing the voice of the book's narration, be it through character or third-party, with the voice of the author. When I'm writing, however, I'm always paranoid that whatever I write will either sound too much like me, therefore being indicative of my life experience, my philosophies, or my personality, or not like me at all, therefore leading those who know me to conlude that I'm trying to hard or something.

The above snippet has been floating around in my mind for over a week now, and while I know that stylistically it's probably derivative of Margo Lanagan's Tender Morsels, which I'm currently reading, it also doesn't sound anything like me. So basically I'm just projecting self-judgments onto whoever would read that, because it would be ludicrous to think that anybody would actually be able to surmise anything about me from it.

I think that one of the most telling ways in which authors become present in their own works ("present" in this case meaning "apparent to the reader") is through their handling of philosophies, ideas, and ideals. This was a huge talking-point in my literary criticism class a couple of years ago, when we tackled Heart of Darkness. There are many schools of literary criticism, but we focused for a brief time on the opposing views of Formalism versus New Criticism. The relevant area in which they differ, for this post, is in the importance they place on the author. Formalism treats the author essentially as part of the work, taking into account aspects of their biography; New Criticism, on the other hand, tries to completely remove the author from the interpretation of the work, insisting that it stand and be analyzed as a completely separate entity.

Personally, I tend towards a more Formalistic approach to literature. When I read something, I immediately want to know about the author, their philosphies, their experiences, the cultural context of the work, and anything else that occurs to me. It helps me to put the work in perspective, as well as to demolish any false ideas I may have developed about them while reading.

My guess is that this tendency is what is causing much of the writing problem I'm having now. Why it is, well, that's a different question, and one that I'm not really prepared to answer. I just hope that I can get past this. Forcing myself to put more of a separation between work and author could be, I think, the first step.

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