Royster, “When The First Voice You Hear…”

Royster, Jacqueline Jones. “When the First Voice You Hear Is Not Your Own.” CCC 47.1 (1996): 29-40. (12 pages)

Royster re-articulates the notion of voice, a central manifestation of subjectivity. The lens of subjectivity, “the power and authority to speak and to make meaning” (31), and its central manifestation, voice, become complicated when considering the subject positions of muted and marginalized rhetors. Namely, she suggests, “dimensions of the nature of voice…remain problematic” (30). She organizes her critique of currently held understandings of voice in three acts

In scene one, she considers the context of “when the subject matter is me and the voice is not mine, my sense of order and rightness is disrupted” (31). She asserts that those in authorized positions within mainstream communities—to Royster, often strangers to the communities of which they speak—proceed without accountability, and positions marginalized communities in binds that do not support their warding off of such intrusion. She advocates for a field in which codes of behavior “that can sustain more concretely notions of honor, respect, and good manners across boundaries” be established and articulated (33).

In scene two, Royster draws her attention to the negotiation between and crossing of boundaries. She writes, “I’ve accepted the idea that what I call my ‘home place’ is a cultural community that exists still quite significantly beyond the confines of a well-insulated community that we call the ‘mainstream,’ and that between this world and the one I call home, systems of insulation impede the vision and narrow the ability to recognize human potential and to understand human history both microscopically and telescopically” (34). Put otherwise, she sees boundaries and yet the brokering between these boundaries is important. She advocates, then, for listening and inclusion—a paradigmatic shift toward often silenced textual and interpretive modes of knowing and seeing. She confronts, then, the inability to hear certain voices or the unwillingness to: “that my voice, like her voice, is still a muted one. I speak, but I can not be heard. Worse, I am heard but I am not believed. Worse yet, I speak but I am not deemed believable” (36).

In the final scene, Royster confront the assumptions behind the “authentic voice.” As she writes, “Yes, I do have a range of voices, and I take quite a bit of pleasure actually in being able to use any of them at will…all my voices are authentic” (37). Such plural voices is necessary to “construct social realities that celebrate acknowledge, and affirm differences, variety” (37). Further, such hybridity—the capacity to “move with dexterity across boundaries, to make themselves comfortable, and to make sense amid the chaos of difference” (37)—a is a strategy of survival.


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