Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Una voce poco fa

The narrative voice begins when we narrow down the focus on the sound of the idea fluttering about in the cage of the mind and try to put some feathers on it, see it as it were, flying about. Next step is to achieve some tactile connection. Thus have we heard, seen, and felt an idea prior to giving it form outside our imagination, treating it as though it had a personality, an agenda, a mission.

At some point, we delegate these qualities--personality, agenda, mission--to others. The musician delegates these qualities to notes and form and tempo. The fine arts person delegates shading, medium, size. And the writer, mindful of qualities, also has things to delegate to ideas.

Things begin for me with sound. Makes sense when I look at the past history of the beginnings I have brought to page and screen and stage, but it also makes sense to me that there is no right or wrong in this process. Ultimately, I do have to see and to feel, by which admission I understand that there are at least two other ways to approach Things, through vision or through tactile awareness. My craziness, if you will, is that I hear voices. Yours may be that you have visions, or that things feel strange or funny or compelling. We not only can but do co-exist; we can live in the same room, hearing voices, seeing visions, feeling feelings each of us has the knowledge that ultimately we need to have all three working in some form of concert. Indeed, that triangulation gives us form, whether the form is a photograph, a painting on a photograph, a woven pattern, a stage play, a screen play, a short story, a drawing, a sculpting.

At some point, consciously or not, we have identified our narrative informant, the One who presents challenges to us that we must seek to engage. I first became consciously aware of mine when I was signed up in a program initiated by Oscar Janniger by which he studied the effects of d-lysergic acid diethalamide on individuals. An hour after ingesting the blue dots from Sandoz laboratories, I strode confidently to the attending nurse to inform her of my belief that I'd been given a placebo and to request my car keys. She nodded thoughtfully, then reached in her desk, where she pulled forth a print of a Hieronymus Bosh and more or less thrust it at me. The way I saw what happened next, I'd been immersed in that riotous landscape, enveloped by it. With the withdrawal of the Bosh print came the awareness that I indeed had not been given a placebo. I followed the nurse to a room where I was to spend the next several hours. What good fortune, I thought, that there was a radio in the room. Alone, I turned on the radio to experience the new effects streaming through me with the companionship of music. Almost immediately I found a spirited performance of the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D major. When the time came, I was thrilled to note that the violinist was using the Joachim cadenzas. But before the performance ended, the nurse reappeared to remind me that there was a radio in the room which I was welcomed to use. All I needed to do was plug it in.

I am far from being a musician, to the point of being illiterate at reading sheet music. With this vivid memory in mind of having "heard" such a complex work came the identification of my own narrative voice. Of course I can see things; I most certainly feel them, but most of my working ideas come from the sound of some voice telling me things. Sometimes it is a character--although at the time I do not recognize the presence as a character--introducing herself or himself, almost as though I am at some mixer, wearing a name tag, and being greeted by a stranger who proceeds to introduce himself or herself.

Getting to know characters of my own creation has led me to the adjunct position of editing the work of other writers; I simply set the dial to the questioning mode of what the author wanted as opposed to my own vision. If I can't tell after a while, I need a conference with the author to find out the author's intent and perhaps to offer suggestions that will make the author's intentions more reachable.

The narrative voice has a good deal of work to do; it filters our choices of things, persons, details, places to be included and excluded; it filters attitudes and tone, personality if you will.

The more we use it, even in quotidian things, the more the narrative voice helps us even when doing things like buying a new tire or looking for an antihistamine in a drug store; the narrative voice is the voice we have cultivated as a trusted friend and collaborator. None of this Gilbert and Sullivan or Laurel and Hardy off-stage rivalry. The narrative voice is the reliable narrator of our life and our instrument. It is just as reliable when it encourages us to click a shutter, use a pencil instead of a charcoal, or first person instead of third. It is us, narrating to the select audience of us. And there is no more reliable narrator for us. We may marvel with and be envious of someone else's narrative voice, but in every sense of the word, the best we can do is listen to our own.

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