Thursday, October 30, 2008

When the First Voice Heard is JUST One's Own

The title of this post is a play on another; it's the twisting of another's title, of her voice. Some of you may know Jacqueline Jones Royster and her article, "When the First Voice You Hear is Not Your Own."
Royster is a woman, an African American, a rhetorician, a literary scholar, at least. And she's at least also one of those "very literate ladies," if I were to repeat one of the descriptive phrases that one of my male rhetoric professors uses for women rhetors when he writes an ostensibly pro-feminist article on "The Archaeology of Women in Rhetoric."

On page 37 of her own article, Royster writes, “I claim all my voices as my own very much authentic voices, even when it's difficult for others to imagine a person like me having the capacity to do that.” She's pointing out that men, that white men, that other scholars "speak" for her and for other women, other African American women, other African American women both scholars and laywomen who are all "literate."

Royster is not trying to deny anyone voice, not even a white male his voice. She'd just like to remember hearing her own mother's voice, and to hear her in scholarship. She'd like there to be some “home training” and at least “politeness.”

Royster asks: “How do we translate listening into language and action, into the creation of an appropriate response?” And her article opens by her beginning to say something in answer:
[I]n terms of my own need to understand human difference as a complex reality, . . . I have concluded that the most salient point to acknowledge is that ‘subject’ position is really everything. 
Using subject position as a terministic screen in cross-boundary discourse permits analysis to operate kaleidoscopically, thereby permitting interpretation to be richly informed by the converging of dialectical perspectives. Subjectivity as a defining value pays attention dynamically to context, ways of knowing, language abilities, and experience, and by doing so it has a consequent potential to deepen, broaden, and enrich our interpretive views in dynamic ways as well. . . . In a fundamental way, this enterprise supports the sense of rhetoric, composition, and literacy studies as a field of study that embraces the imperative to understand truths and consequences of language use more fully. (38)

I'm going to end this post by saying I'm tiring of hearing my own voice all the time. When I talk with others about feminisms and rhetorics, it's usually been a kind of singular male talk. There's been recent talk with John Hobbins (Ancient Hebrew Poetry), and David Stein, and ElShaddai Edwards (He Is Sufficient), and David Ker (Lingamish), and James McGrath (Exploring Our Matrix), and Wayne Leman (Better Bibles Blog)--all men, much about women and discourse and their voices. Do you hear what we're doing? So "objectively?" Oh, by the way, I'm a man, a Euro American, a linguist, an second-language-learning expert, and a fledgling rhetorician and composition scholar. Some call me a feminist too. But the point is not my subjective position, or all my voices either, is it? The point is what abstract logic gets at, and coldly observes.

Here's a sample of that logic from my blogger friend John Hobbins, who deserves a reply to his response to me (but I'm just not sure where or how or whether to begin). John says,
Kurk [which is my nickname, the aka for J.K. Gayle],

Your question is an interesting one, but I don't think it would play out the way you seem to suggest.

That is, you assume that if we had more feminine voices from antiquity, beyond Enheduanna and Sappho and the Pythian priestess, we would have access to vastly different conceptions of God and the good.

I doubt this. You underestimate the power of transmitted form and content in traditional societies.

If you look to an age like our own, in which feminine voices are a commonplace, is it the feminine which stands out, or the irreducibility of each and every singular voice, male or female?

Consider the following (male) authors associated with the Shoah: Frankl, Wiesel, Levi, and Kozinski. Consider the following (female) authors: Stein, Hillesum, Frank, and Weil. Each of these voices is irreducibly singular. Irreducibly male or female, to be sure, but maleness or femaleness is simply not the voices' most salient characteristic.

To be perfectly honest, I don't think your "-centric" categories are helpful in making sense out of these authors, male or female.

Indeed, it is not at all clear that feminist interpretations of either the male or female authors just mentioned have elucidated the authors so much as provided a mirror on which to observe reflections of the feminist thought of interpreters.
I think I'd said a couple of things like this: "I wonder how Suzanne and other women (should they ever be present in our conversations equally) might answer, or ask (if an important question at all). In a male-dominate world, whether post-biblical or NOT, I wonder what Eve might say (about her God and his gender(s))?" Suzanne, of course, is Suzanne McCarthy (Suzanne's Bookshelf), who had already said in the conversation at John's blog, "I believe the equal function of woman must be protected first in order to have any open discussion of gender."

She was speaking for herself, subjectively, and replied to John as follows:
[John:]Since I imagine we are around a coffee table, with Suzanne, Peter, Kurk, David Stein, and Iyov present, ....

Let me [Suzanne] express my regrets.

[John:]I would also add at this point, just to liven up the conversation, have you read your Mary Daley? [sic]

Yes, I [Suzanne] have.
I [J.K. Gayle] take that to mean that the first voice she heard was not her own. In other words, we men talk about and talk over and talk past, with so much objective logic, that we don't hear the voices, all of them.

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