Listening to voices in search of my own: A reflection

§ New Line of Thought

Every new line of thought is a departure.

Or a new way of arriving where one already is.

–  S.D. Chrostowska, Matches

I have been thinking about voice lately.

I am drawn to voices in literature, listening to the way stories are told, the language, the perspective, the vision, the content. I can’t say what I am looking for but I know when I find it. Or, more critically, I know when there is, in an otherwise worthwhile read, nothing for me at this time. As a reader I am grazing, hunting and pecking, listening for the voices that startle and ideas that stimulate. It is an entirely idiosyncratic endeavour driven by my own writing–reading to write that is sometimes at cross purposes with reading to review.

But it is reading that leads one down interesting side roads.

I’ve been immersed for the past few days, in en abîme, the blog of Daniela Cascella, in anticipation of reading her book of the same name and its successor F.M.R.L.. From the fragments and articles I have read to date, it is clear that she writes with an intuitive grace about the experience of language as rhythm, tone, and meaning. Reading, writing and listening are, for Cascella, deeply sensuous experiences. Most explicitly she is drawn to writing after sound, a project as seemingly elusive as the task that drives my own writing: that is, writing after being.

In her review of Marlene van Niekerk’s mesmerizing The Swan Whisperer for Music & Literature, Cascella prefaces her piece by describing this work as:

“ . . . a tale of transmission, disappearance, and utterance, of writing as it hovers at the edge of language, trafficking with the ephemeral and the unreliable; challenging the primacy of the written text through a compelling reflection on flow and interference, rhythms and non-origin.”

I am deeply interested in articulating the experience of being, an age old question I know, but I would suggest that its timelessness arises from the inherent challenge of adequately giving voice to an experience that, itself, “hovers at edge of language.”

We live in a world of sound-bites, of inspirational quotations, often ripped out of context and juxtaposed against images of flowers, beaches, or sunsets and spilled out on Twitter or printed on coasters and tea towels in gift shops. Authenticity is a watch word, To thy own self be true, as the Bard himself would say. We hunger after the healing journey of self-discovery, we admire it in our heroes, we long for it in our own lives.

I have sought it myself. My life has been a constant struggle to balance and rationalize an incongruent and conflicting experience of being in the world. I don’t know if my own challenges are, or have been, greater or less than those of anyone else, for in truth, the only truth I have is my own and even that is suspect.

“He has the feeling that merely by being alive he is blocking his own way. From this sense of hinderance in turn, he deduces the proof that he is alive.”
– Franz Kafka, Aphorisms

What I do know is that I am possessed of a persistent sense of groundlessness, a very real and present awareness of a fragile and constant process of coming into being. It is an ongoing expression of inauthenticity that I experience – if I could capture a truth it would be momentary and fleeting, cancelled out by its negative in the act of expression. My writing is directed toward giving this experience, as I know it, voice.

Which brings me back to the point where I started. As I said, I have been thinking about voice. But until this point I was thinking of voice in the sense of expression, not sound.

Spring in silverMy own voice is damaged. Metaphorically and in fact. I sacrificed my voice a number of years ago in my endeavour to be real, and as a result I have lost power and depth. My voice strains easily. To speak loudly and project takes concentration and effort and leaves me hoarse. Yet I frequently read aloud to myself. I find that to write seriously, I require silence and the freedom to read my writing aloud as I progress. Those that have the misfortune to live with me have learned to accept this quirk, but I must confess I really love to write when I am alone in the house.

That makes me wonder about the necessity of an aural component to the process of writing about being. About silence and sound.

Interactive Silence

“A stillness that is initially a stillness ready to be, once it ceases to be still . . . An end, recurring so many times that in the moment that it ends . . . An ignited fire of the end to an extent of necessary measure . . . A braided braid . . . Getting to know one another and being known . . . In the trap of mental unification . . . Nonbreak-down . . . Silence, sounded over, blaspheming about silence and about not being silent . . . The inability to locate the word, and yet the necessity to seek it, as if the word could save one from that which is unsaid.”
– Róbert Gál, On Wing

To talk about being, for now, for me, begins with writing about my life. I need to be able to frame the angle at which I intersect with the world. To that end my first piece of “memoirish” writing will be published on Minor Literature(s) in the near future. I am concurrently exhilarated and horrified by the prospect. This is an openly queer piece, at once honest and guarded, and marks the beginning of a journey to find that elusive voice in all its permutations.

Author: roughghosts

Literary blog of Joseph Schreiber. Writer. Reader. Editor. Photographer.

26 thoughts on “Listening to voices in search of my own: A reflection”

  1. “What I do know is that I am possessed of a persistent sense of groundlessness, a very real and present awareness of a fragile and constant process of coming into being.” Familiar.

    Loved reading this ‘reflection’. Waiting for the ‘memoirish’ (I’m noun-ing it) now.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Mini. I am a little anxious. The piece is spare and a little experimental in style but have never talked openly about my experiences in the way that I do here. However, it does set the stage for trying to unravel what I really want to talk about: being.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh good luck with your piece; I’m sure it will be brilliant.

    Like you, I’m intrigued by voice. It’s what I constantly search for in the books I read: a distinctive, fresh and original voice is so much more important to me than the storyline. I feel that I’ve read so many books in my life that there are no new stories left for me to read, so it is the unique voices that I seek out. It’s like striking gold when you come across one that really sings to you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Kim. I have been really keen on exploring the way stories (fictional or true) can be told. I am leaning to a more experimental approach and hope it works. The subject is very gut level for me.


  3. I’m also interested in this idea of voice of literature. It can be quite tricky to define what makes a particular voice work, especially in the context of the specific narrative or piece in question. There have been times when I’ve put a book aside simply because the voice felt ‘wrong’ or inauthentic in some way, even though the story or subject matter itself was of interest to me. I guess it’s something to do with the fit or congruence between the voice and content. Hard to define precisely, but as you say, you know when you find something that resonates.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The response to a voice is very personal isn’t it? I probably lean to a more spare style but every now and then I hit something with long, florid, Proustean sentences and it just works. By the end though, it’s like finishing a rich desert and I look for something plainer.


  4. The thing is, you have a very evocative and original voice. It’s tangled up with what you read and how you think your way through books. It’s true somehow. That’s why I read your blog. “I need to be able to frame the angle at which I intersect with the world.” Yes, yes! And I look forward to reading more.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your kind words. I just re-read the piece that will be published for the 100th time (I just found out it will be published Friday May 6) and I guess I just have to wait to see how people respond. It is at once guarded and yet it deals very frankly with my identity. I am fascinated by ontological questions – our subjective experiences, and whether they can be articulated and when we sense that we do not align with others (for whatever reason) how is it that we know. Literature, especially fiction, can be an excellent forum for exploring these ideas but I don’t think I have the patience for fiction and my real life seems intent on giving me plenty to ponder!


  5. I don’t see how your voice can be damaged because I think your voice is distinct enough to rise above the cacophonous world of blogging. I don’t often drop by to read (because I’ve been too busy with work and life issues to have any kind of reading done) but when I do read your pieces, I’m always captivated. I envy your voice, and I look forward to more of our pieces!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Angus. My writing voice is becoming stronger perhaps, as I stumble along, but my actual speaking voice is damaged. You will see why when you read the essay I refer to above. It will be published at a site called Minor Literature(s) on Friday May 6. I will link it here at some point, I’m thinking of creating a new page for my off site writing, but I am a little anxious about it and want to see how people respond first. It is an openly queer piece, more upfront than anything I have ever written. I will email you the link when it goes live if you would like. I would appreciate your feedback.


    1. Yes, it will be published on May 6 at Minor Literature(s). I will eventually link it here but I will want to see the response. I know I have spoken to you about my identity and have written about it on my blog, but this piece is more honest and vulnerable. I am proud of it, but a little anxious. I just followed you on twitter. If you want to follow me back, I will definitely be retweeting the link there.


  6. reading to write. i’ve always wondered about readers who just read and don’t write. i feel this way too. i’m hungry to read because it feeds my writing. i too will have a sort of memoire out this fall, called immortal for quite some time, with the university of utah press. and like you, it makes me just a bit nervous, even as i’m pleased it will appear. i / we need to explore who we are, who we want to be, who we were.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s even harder to understand those who want to be writers but can’t be bothered to read (and there are plenty of those). Reading and writing go hand in hand for me, and I think for many bloggers too. When you read a book and write about it, whether a formal review or a reading diary type of format, reading informs your writing and writing informs your reading.

      Good luck with your memoire. I am most interested in an ontological sort of endeavour to look at being, more explicitly to articulate an intrinsic inauthenticity of being. This little piece that comes out next week lays out the parameters from which I come to have an interest in the problem, but requires me to speak very frankly about a ceratin aspect of my self identity that very few people in my life are aware of. So that’s scary but if I have any story to tell this is it.


  7. just read your essay and am — am, what shall i say — am dumbfounded. that’s a big, blocky word for what i am thinking/feeling after your careful sentences, after your searching thoughts, after your literate explorations, after your subtle declarations of your shifting self. peter handke quotes bob dylan at the beginning Wunschloses Unglueck: He not busy being born is busy dying. the glimpses of you being born are heartbreaking and life affirming. my own work, the page proofs of which i am reading today, was jolted into being when my brother john died of AIDS and i was left to think about our differing genders and our shared sexual makeup. i haven’t done so with your sophistication, but perhaps with similar intent. many, many thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Scott. I was thinking of emailing you the link when this comment came through. I will link the piece here in a few days. In the meantime, the response has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m a little numb.

      By the way, I accepted your friend request on Facebook but warn you that I am rather hopeless there. I’ll have to get a tutorial from my 23 year-old daughter one day!


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