I’m not Crazy I’m just Reading

I have been thinking about voice. The voice that a piece of writing creates. But when you read, voice is your creation. A creation using the building blocks a writer drops at the worksite. Building materials neatly stacked on pallet paragraphs, in sacks of stanzas, page after page piled at the curb. You with your shovel and wheelbarrow at the ready. Your ability to hear the written voices is the major reason that film often fails. Often the cameras and microphones can’t capture what you bring to a text. How do you do it? How do you get writing to speak? What are we doing as readers when we create these voices in our heads?

As a special education teacher I think of teaching as non-invasive brain surgery. I hear voices of teachers in my own noggin and I wonder what quotes of mine students will hear reverberate in theirs. My skull is crowded. My mother’s words, my father’s silence, sibling lectures and jokes, friends laughing, teasing, insulting. Advice, ridicule, warnings, each with a decidedly distinctive voice. This is not schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is the malfunctioning of this ability. When this ability functions it is more like cognitive behavior therapy, it is what results from the Socratic Method.

In the Janssen’s Mindstorm schizophrenic simulation the voices frustrate, undermine, constrict and isolate. Voice in literature has a different effect. Actually, people with schizophrenia often report that reading quiets the voices. What if the brain uses the same regions to create a character’s drawl as it does to bombard someone with paranoid ranting? The key difference between the auditory hallucinations of reading and schizophrenia would be in the ability to differentiate the source and reality of the voices. Schizophrenic hallucinations with their paranoia, fear, and derision may be coming from another part of the brain and passing through the synaptic voice box. Malfunctioning parts of the brain may be pumping the unfiltered chemicals and electricity like a fire hose through the same region or regions used to create voice from writing. So when someone with schizophrenia reads are they occupying the part of the brain that gives voice to the paranoia and using it to create the written voice?

Writers in their attempt to marshal that same brain space, that synaptic voice box, succeed at various levels. The ability to inspire the creation of an articulate voice in the reader is a challenge. To supply material for multiple voices complicates things. To have those voices converse and to converse in an entertaining and enthralling manner is still more difficult. To enable the conversation to include the reader, for a writer to supply material and elicit a conversation that allows space for the reader’s input to actually listen to the reader, well, that is the sort of mastery writers aspire. Think of it in terms of dimensions. One dimensional would be one voice, two dimensional dialog, and three dimensional, conversation. Removing, as the thespians say, the “fourth wall” and listening to and getting input from the reader would qualify as the fourth dimension. Just as the visual arts trick us into seeing depth and space, writing sets readers up to hear auditory hallucinations that are deep, rich, and ultimately immersive.

This is a new way of thinking about reading for me. Will it help me write more immersive poetry? Do you think it will help you write better? Will it help one to read more insightfully? How does this change our way of looking at dramatic monologues, play dialog, abstract poetry? Or is it like explaining a joke or diagramming ballet? I am deeply curious to know. Especially, from those with more knowledge, first or second hand, about auditory hallucinations.