Puerility as a Voice

Posted on June 18, 2007


A surprising number of contemporary British novelists have no ‘voice’. Not to name any names. But to compare the Americans. McCarthy; DeLillo; Ford; Salter. The Americans write prose often suited to being read aloud. I am about halfway through a sequel to The Graduate. It is by a writer with an instinct for dialogue. If life is becoming increasingly ‘without ontext’ -– naturally we retreat into the human voice as the mark of whatever reality remains.  The human voice is the counterbalance – to the loss of the past for example, or of the sense of place (regional accent).  it is a resource used to great effect by the Americans. We can recognise the sounds of the voices we are hearing.  As you cannot recognise the sounds of any voice in say in Barnes or Amis, or McEwan; or at least I can’t.  The only sound of a voice that I can hear in these novels, as rendered these English writers is one of a muffled journalism.  In the recognition at least that here is someone who exists, in this sound of an authentic voice the ‘loss of story’ or the so-called ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ that is sometimes said to characterise much of modern cultural life, which seems a perfectly correct observation, is clearly illustrated by reflexive novelistic themes of this sort, in which it is the human voice that is the main protagonist.  A process that, in a certain aspect, excludes the very possibility of culture – creates new possibilities. The strongest example is Salinger’s Caulfield.  What exists for Caulfield, where is it that the novel places him?  In what time, in what surroundings? He hates everything: religion, culture, tv, life, society, school, mum, dad, etc. This is just a voice in a void speaking – comically and in pain.  Catcher in the Rye s distinctive narrative voice that the novel lives; and it lives like nothing else in literature.  So, thus the thesis: has he companionable, recognisable, true, mawkish, human etc effectively and everything works and everything is an amenity.  Everything is ideal.  Or has a strong sense of ideality or of the American Dream associated with it.  The problem is – if you like – that he knows that his own life is its own cause in its failure, in the way that it has no context, or in the way that it has no reality, that this is not really a human life; but that this lack of reality and real meaning has no solution either, so that there can be no real story for him (that David Copperfield crap), because being phoney, it makes him feel nauseated — authenticity is the key to everything – but of course there is absolutely nothing to the world that he finds himself in that is authentic – and so we need to counterbalance it, as it were, with the very ‘sound’ of all this – which is the affective void’s vocal noise, which is the sound of Caulfield himself, complaining, in this image of what it is to be alive, for the individual to be alive now, in a world that is this world that in its reality has more or less ceased to exist as an intelligible proposition. We need to be able to hear him because this is how he exists, by him, in the midst of this void, talking, and again complaining; since he exists in spite of himself; against everything. There are similarities in Charles Webb’s Home School. ‘Nature’s register’ is the human voice. In other words, where there is nothing real besides – nothing that means anything beyond this, outside the voice’s mere material fact.  Voicelessness here means mannerlessness, or puerility.  The inability to grow up, or to become anything, because there is nothing to grow up into; because there is nothing in fact that is there to be real; to be; and so the act of being able to conceive of a believable social reality requires this strange summersault of the mind, into realising its own existence through the emptiness of an inadvertency: of manners that are mannerless: in order to become a body, perhaps.  Caulfield lives for us, as Benjamin also does, because this is what seduces him; the form of the mannerliness – this everlasting sense of youth and rebellion; so that if it is in nothing else that we hear it is in the sound of this voice complaining at its own voicelessness; crying for any kind of scruple of human taste; that the living principle is. Unable to evolve any sort of conduct beyond that which demonstrates a new kind of void world chic the only thing left to him is the rejection of such a culture and the evolution of a human voice that in strangely inverted way works as a means of being free – through negativity. This is his recourse, to complain, volubly, and at length, so finally successfully: yes, he exists.  So, voice and place. Haunted by the Spectre of Vulgarity, doomed to the fading gigantism of an Advert, complaint, in its mourning of the absence of manners, establishes a new order of one.

Posted in: The Unreal