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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Critical Voice

Critical voice means sounding like yourself. It means writing in such a way that your own scholarly persona is at the forefront. We say a student lacks critical voice when he or she is using citations from other scholars to make his/her points, and lacks a strong perspective. Stylistically, having a voice means choosing stylistic options deliberately rather than using a default style (generic acadamese) or an imitation of someone else's style. A strong theoretical model can weaken one's own prose. For example, if one has been reading Foucault a lot then the inclusion of a lot of that jargon can make one's prose sound derivative.

Whatever the other defects of my scholarship, I think that it always sounds like me. If I had to define my own voice it would be a little bit impatient and irreverent, fond of brash and opinionated statements but at the same time careful in qualifying them; self-conscious about my own biases, but at the same time fully invested in them. My style is clear but complex in its ideas. I rarely offer a paragraph of mere information. I am relatively laconic, but can sometimes slip into verbosity. I like to slip in the occasional huge vocabulary word (chthonic) just for fun. I like precision and humor...

It might be interesting to define your own style in this way. Do a stylistic self-portrait. What did you find? If you couldn't do it, why not?

1 comment:

Thomas said...

I've always said that theory and method are substitutes for style. And vice versa: a good style can serve as theory and method.

Interestingly, Foucault himself was always coy about his "theory". He banked on his style. I think that's really what's happening in the cases you're talking about: people imitate Foucault in theory but fail to see how his theory depended on his style.

If they tried explicitly to imitate his style, instead hoping all that's needed is an appropriation of the theory, then they might discover their own voice in the process. The irony is that while Foucault is the source of a lot of today's jargon, it doesn't come off as jargon in his own writing.