Finding a Voice

by Daniel Hartley

When I write privately – in a journal or a notebook – about personal thoughts and experiences, it is almost impossible to find a voice. What I mean by this is that I cannot find a style of writing adequate to the content of my private life. Most of the time, I use one of three languages: formal English in academic essays, colloquial English full of obscenities and idiomatic puns in conversations with friends, and (bad) French with my girlfriend. In other words, I – ‘I’, my identity – spans these three basic worlds, which means that when I come to write my ‘private’ thoughts (no thought is ever truly private – which is also part of the problem) I have to navigate between these three domains.

The difficulty is that no one discourse ever feels totally appropriate to the other two. Formal philosophical or theological jargon doesn’t seem to capture the nuance of, for example, a lover’s exchange, and nor does a filthy joke about one! There are two consequences of this, which are secretly one. Firstly, it means that my identity is not unified or integrated: ‘I’ is the particular interstitial gap generated by the mismatch of these three languages. Secondly, the historical epoch is such that an integrated identity is denied me. Life is so decompartmentalized that no one discourse seems capable of encompassing the totality. The first of these is history from the view of the subject; the second is history on the side of the object.

Perhaps the novel is still important for this reason: that it can provide symbolic resolutions of such real antagonism.