Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Voice of Treason

Select a news story from a newspaper, some accounting of an event that has taken place or is perhaps ongoing.  An earthquake in what seems an unlikely place.  Hundreds, maybe even thousands of tourists converging on a site.  A revolution in an African country.  Possibly an impending event, say a tropical storm, gathering momentum, marshaling its forces, now moving toward landfall.

It is easy enough to consult newspapers from throughout the world; a few keys properly depressed on a computer or smaller electronic device will give ample targets.  The one standard vital to this exercise is that the story be newsworthy rather than feature, which opens doors toward interpretation bordering on bias or propaganda.

You have selected a story.  It may be as momentous or apparently routine as you wish.

Now, select four individuals, two men and two women.  They may be actors,  politicians, educators; they may be individuals alive and working now or famed personalities from the past.  They may even be from the news gathering professions, anchor persons, if you will.

The point of the exercise is to make your choices reflect as wide a spectrum for you as possible.

Now that the work of making the choices is over, the fun can begin, because the next step is to imagine each of the four persons of your choice reading the story as, in your mind's eye, he or she might read it.  Had you chosen as one of your readers the now retired broadcaster  Glen Beck, you undoubtedly would have reckoned him having to stop at some point to either hold back a gale of tears or prevent one from coming on.  Had you chosen the current House (of Representatives) Majority leader, John Boehner, you would probably have the same problem.  Had you selected as one of your four the actor Meryl Streep, you might have been surprised by the manner of delivery she chose but you would have to acknowledge how she brought nuance, depth, possibly even layers of conflict to her reading.

And think of the possibilities with Helen Mirren, Lady Gaga, and Leontine Price.  Think of the way the story being read by the late Walter Cronkheit would have brought a sense of comfortable gravitas to the reading as opposed to that of the actor Jack Nicholson, which might well have infused the reading with incalculable layers of mischief.

In some ways then, voice trumps story; the tone, pacing, perceived intent of the reader all have their effect on the meat and potatoes  of the story and its effect on the listener.

While in the game or role playing modes, we can consider the relative short supply of basic stories:  a heroic journey (which also includes coming-of-age), the discovery, the new guy or lady in town, the clash of titans (The Iliad and such Westerns as The Military vs Indians, Cattle vs Sheep Ranchers, etc)and attempts at restitution, which clearly includes revenge.  But the voices clamoring to narrate them are endless, multifarious, eager at the chance to bring forth some new thread of mischief or level of poignancy never before seen.

Until Mark Twain "found" his voice, American literature resonated with the subtextual gravitas of The King James Bible and the perfervid convictions of Noah Webster, of dictionary and of Little Blue Book Speller fame that the Bible was the literal world of God.  It was a world where Hebrew was required at the Yale and Harvard divinity schools and where so much of the evangelical fervor of our current experience had its origins.

Of the many splendid things to emerge from the "voice" of The King James Bible, Abraham Lincoln's speeches and writing, and the immense and resonant fictions of Herman Melville and William Faulkner serve as excellent examples.

The dialogue between these worthies and the vernacularity of  Mark Twain and Walt Whitman rose on occasions to argument, the sort that eventually forged modern American English at its most stunning best.  The United States Constitution attempts to separate Church and State.  Modern American Literature is no less vigorous in its attempts to separate Church and Status.

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