“For myself, for a long time… maybe I felt inauthentic or something, I felt like my voice wasn’t worth hearing, and I think everyone’s voice is worth hearing. So if you’ve got something to say, say it from the rooftops.” (Tom Hiddleston)
We live in an age of instant communication. An age of relative freedom of speech (obviously there are many caveats to this but, in theory, yes). An age where if you feel like you have something to say, sign up to Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, WordPress, YouTube, and many other social media and blogging sites and then use these resources for your own purposes. If you want to use them to reblog cat pictures, that’s fine, if you want to use them to try to raise awareness of social inequality in your hometown, that’s fine too, encouraged even. So, in the age of the Internet, of Twitter and Tumblr and Facebook, everyone can theoretically have a voice. (Presuming you’re literate and have an internet connection, that is.) Of course, this is open to abuse. I’ve never seen such vitriol until I innocently perused some hashtags on Twitter or the YouTube comment section. People can hide behind a screen and say things they wouldn’t even dream of saying to someone’s face.
And yet, when everyone can (theoretically) have access to a medium in which to voice their opinion, there are always limitations. And not all of those are necessarily circumstantial or cultural. No, I would argue a lot of these limitations are self-inflicted and self-regulated and it is in this light that I’d like to consider that wonderfully articulate quote a little further. The opinion I quoted above encapsulates so many of my anxieties so succinctly. The awful, practically constant sensation in the pit of my stomach that nothing I am saying is worthwhile. I’m not aiming for something revolutionary, I’m just aiming to not be regurgitating the same trite phrases and opinions that have come before me. And yet, and yet, I find myself agreeing with the opinions of others to the point that I sometimes wonder if, in actual fact, I’m too scared to hold a contrary opinion, to speak out, to say ‘no actually, in my opinion, I’m not sure what you’re saying is the most important thing about this text’.
I had an interesting chat with a professor of mine last week. After a lovely lovely trip to Lancaster Castle for a peek into the dungeons where it’s believed those tried of witchcraft there in 1612 were held (an oddly unsettling and humbling experience if I’m allowed a moment to be soppy), I mentioned to her about a common theme in the feedback I receive on my essays – to have a clearer argument and be more confident about it when presenting it, instead of leaning so heavily on existing secondary material. Now, I work from the text first and foremost. I do not work from critical theory and use that as a lens through which to view a text. To me that allows for too much potential for imposing a theory on a text that might not necessarily be the best fit. But that’s just me, that’s just how I work, I look at the language of the primary text and work out from there. In the process of this expanding from the text I, naturally, look at what other critics have said. And here comes the trouble-
-When you work on, and adore, that old bard himself, Mr William Shakespeare, there seems to be very little that hasn’t been said. That is to say, whenever I read a play and go ‘ooh! idea!’ and have a nice light-bulb moment, it only takes a quick Google Scholar search to realise that, in fact, this is not an original thought by a long way and in fact there is a whole area of scholarship on it already! That’s daunting and, when it happens on multiple occasions, it’s a little disheartening. You begin to feel like just one voice drowning in the sea of much more educated and much more intelligent individuals. Why on earth would anyone listen to me when they could listen to Stephen Greenblatt or Terry Eagleton or Gail Kern Paster? No wonder so many people suffer from the anxiety of thinking that their voice is worthless, they are inauthentic, their voice is not worthy enough to shout loud and proud from the rooftops.
And yet, if all of those people had limited and in fact silence their voice at the point at which that anxiety gripped them, none of their works would ever have been written – something I definitely need to remember when the self-doubt becomes paralysing.
The quote on which I began this post offers a solution that appears much too simplistic. Oh if only, if only it were that easy, and we had our opinions validated by someone yelling back from a neighbouring rooftop ‘tell me more!’. But I think I had a moment of this. The moment when I was stood chatting to my professor in the middle of Lancaster’s shopping centre about needing to work on some strategies for talking back to critics and building confidence to do so. I said to her that I’d received the same feedback ‘have a stronger and surer argument’ throughout my undergraduate career, and that I wasn’t surprised that I was still receiving the same feedback. And she said to me ‘no, I think you’ve changed since last year, I’ve noticed you’ve developed so much and you don’t even realise but you have’. I was taken aback. I don’t think she’ll ever really know how such a simple comment could reassure me so much.
So, alright, maybe I won’t be rushing up the steps of Bowland Tower to scream my voice from that particular rooftop any time soon but, maybe, just maybe, I’m starting to feel closer to being someone worthy of studying an MA, to having a voice, to being able to weigh in with my opinion on Richard III because it’s my opinion and because that’s worthwhile. So that quote above seems to be a simple solution but it’s not a switch you can suddenly flick down so that you feel an overwhelming rush of validation and authenticity. It’s a slow change, an ongoing process that you have to work at and be prepared to listen to, and consider, the voices of others – but you also shouldn’t be afraid to use your own if you have something to say.
(NB: A slightly self-indulgent post today, I hope no one minds. It’s something that eats away at me quite a bit if it wasn’t blindingly obvious from what I just wrote above, and so I have to vent about it a lot to try to talk myself round to believing it. I wrote a similar thing here a little while ago about worth, self-doubt, and how it affects writing, but I feel as though my thoughts have become clearer since then.
Oh and I apologise for the blatant Tom Hiddleston quote – actually one of the reasons I like him, and his work, is because he comes across as a thoughtful individual and is about 1000% more articulate and eloquent than I could ever be. Sometimes he just gets it right, and yes, in my opinion, his voice is worth hearing.)