Another perspective on ‘voice’

When Robert Richardson introduced Maggie Nelson on Saturday afternoon, he mentioned Louis Menand. This reminded me of something Menand wrote about voice in his introduction to the 2004 edition of The Best American Essays. Here’s an excerpt:

     “The real basis for the metaphor of voice in writing is not speaking. It
is singing. You cannot know a singer from her speech, and although
“natural phrasing” and “from the heart” are prized attributes of song,
actually singing that way requires rehearsal, preparation, and getting
in touch with whatever it is inside singers that, by a neural kind or
the grace of God, enables them to turn themselves into vessels of
musical sound. Right before he walked onstage at the opera house,
Luciano Pavarotti is reported to have taken a big bite of an apple.
That’s how he helped his voice to sound fresh, spontaneous, and

     What writers hear, when they are trying to write, is
something more like singing than like speaking. Inside your head,
you’re yakking away to yourself all the time. Getting
down on paper is a depressing, Desmond McCarthy-like experience.
What you are trying to do when you write is to transpose the yakking
into verbal music; and the voice inside, when you find it, which can
take hours or days or weeks, is not your speaking voice. It is your
singing voice–except that it comes out as writing…”

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