I could tell you that Hamlet was played by Kenneth Branaugh, Mel Gibson in the movies and most recently Jude Law in an off-broadway production. I could tell you that the play was integral to the works of Freud and Nietzsche. I could name some other characters if you’d like, I could even quote a line or two but that’s about it. I didn’t read read Hamlet and Pierre Bayard would tell me not only is that perfectly ok, but I should not feel any guilt whatsoever. I should accept the fact that my cultural literacy is shaped by gaps and fissures and this does not prevent me from forming my own solid portfolio of literary knowledge (Bayard, 124). Furthermore to act as if I read read Hamlet without having actually read Hamlet would further inculcate me in a cycle of shame and prevent me from ever fully being me – Jeanette (my mom calls me gingy…long story), autonomous, academic capable of transmitting to you dear reader my authentic thoughts on any book in my own voice…but Bayard, what is my voice? Where is it? How do I find it and more importantly, how do I write it?
It is no mistake that Bayard’s book is called, “How to talk about the books you haven’t read” and not “How to write about the books you haven’t read” because methinks that would not be so easy. Bayard does give (non-)readers an inkling of what it takes to be a writer:
To talk about unread books is to be present at the birth of the creative subject. In this inaugural moment when book and self separate, the reader, free at last from the weight of the words of others, may find the strength to invent his own text, and in that moment, he becomes a writer himself (180).
So…when I stop reading and I stop being influenced by all the authors I know and love, I am freed to write my own works in my own voice, all by myself in a full throttle stream of consciousness, correct? There are no baby steps or guidelines leading up to this just free falling words from inky nub to cottony page…ok, fair enough, but Bayard is a semi-satirical, semi-fictional work so until I read those words from a more valid source, I will be inclined to believe them.
“An author’s anxieties about his own credibility can lend her to subordinate her voice to the point where it cannot be heard at all (Semenza, 169).” — Gregory Colon Semenza, author of Graduate Study for the 21st Century
I have a writing voice. I’m supposed to know how to use it and not be anxious, Bayard suggested, Semenza approved.
How does one cultivate a genuine voice in graduate school?
P.S.: This post is about voice and not Hamlet, in case you weren’t planning to read read it.