Voice through Differance

As I was reading “A View of Writing and Students” by George Hillocks I was enamoured with the Derrida’s idea of discovering meaning when there is not-meaning, and that little gap is called differance. I thought it sounded a lot like the surrealist games that I used to play when I first fell in love with surrealism at 18. Many of my Exquisite Corpse poems, or my chopped up- scrambled-and blindly reassembled poems had very little discernible meaning, or at least that was the case until I really looked at the results. All of the words (or at least some of them) were mine and had been chosen for a reason. Their original intention had been released, and now these raw words were making new meanings on their own, yet my voice still haunted their new arrangements. I chose ambivalent pineapple fall night crocodile at a sand the cat in between. Somewhere, those words make sense. They are still mine, and then also, not mine.

Always while playing Exquisite Corpse with someone (one person writes an If… statement and covers it, and the next person writes a Then… statement, and so on) the results swung between hilarious and eerie.

“If the hedgehog drank the soup… then my dog wouldn’t have puked”

“If you were not here… then I wouldn’t be either.”

More often that not, our little half-lines of poetry would magically bridge the gap between separate minds. They would start to make sense together, or at least take on a similar voice, a manner of ridiculousness or cryptic messages that fell into step. In the differance, there was meaning.

I also thought of all the times when my own writing had crept up into my ears and became incomprehensible mush. A few days (sometimes years) away from it, doing something else entirely, and I had nearly forgotten what I had written. When I revisited the poem or story, it read like a stranger’s work. I could see where the piece had grown wayward, and where it had its real roots. I suddenly would know exactly what the piece meant and how to say it. Once I found the meaning, the voice of the piece, my voice felt stronger and more authentic.

I can’t help but feel that meaning and voice are closely related. Voice comes from a place of conviction. Voice feels like a commitment to the work. And work has to mean something to have that kind of power. Breaking down the thing seems the best way to see how it works. In my internship today I had the opportunity to read some of the students’ work as they workshopped each other’s papers. At first, I was oddly overwhelmed by the responsibility even though I’ve workshopped for years. But after a few pages, I saw that each student’s paper had at least one part where her voice came through so clearly that it felt as though a well-known character were speaking to me from the page. And what I noticed is that each of those points described a moment in which the speaker was reflecting on her behaviour in a quizzical, distant sort of way. Something she did that was at once familiar and alien, understood and curious, and that reflection of differance within the moment ultimately brought the speaker, and her voice, into sharp relief. And I had the pleasure of reading that moment and briefly hearing the voices of strangers, and thinking about what that meant.

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