Hello World, Rankine Speaking…

I’m finding that the more I read from Rankine, the more I sense a separation between narrator and text.  For a while I blamed both agency and authenticity, unreasonably upset that she would separate herself from her readers in such a way.  But Smith and Watson write an interesting section in Reading Autobiography in which they explain the different types of voices within writing.  I realized then that perhaps this could vouch for some of the obvious detachment.  The autobiographical “I” has a great deal to say for the voice of the story – Rankine often switches from the narrating to the narrated “I” as she incorporates stories of her interactions with the world.  More specifically, she also includes the voice of others, no matter how passive.  Smith and Watson explain this in the Voice section of Reading Autobiography by noting that “autobiographical narration is also opulated with external voices…[which] may be incorporated through citation of dialogue or the use of free indirect discourse” (80).  A fine example of this method can be found on page 54 of Don’t Let Me Be Lonely as Rankine retells the story of her meeting with an editor regarding a book she is writing about hepatotoxicity.  While the editor asks Rankine to explain her views on the liver itself, Rankine refuses to answer her directly.  Instead she reads an article from the Times. The display of the editor’s frustration leaves Rankine pondering what she might have said.  On this same page, she writes, “I understand that what she wants is an explanation of the mysterious connections that exist between an author and her text.  If I am present in a subject position what responsibility do I have to the content, to the truth value, of the words themselves?  Is “I” eve me or am “I” a gearshift to get from one sentence to the next?  Should I say we?  Is the voice not various if I Take responsibility for it?  What does my subject mean to me?” (Rankine 54).

Despite the long-winded nature of this self examination, the passage allowed me greater insight into Rankine’s mind.  And as such, I felt guilty of expecting such connections between the text and my author as well.  She goes on to say that she could have told the editor about how the liver relates to the the world–or even reference a poet like Vallejo because he has obtained a closer perspective on what to think.  Nevertheless, the tone in Don’t Let Me Be Lonely suggests Rankine’s own inability to express a voice of her own.  Perhaps this is, in part, why she often separates even the “I” from her text.  Toward the beginning of the book, for example, she often makes note of “the eyes” instead of “my eyes”.  While there are many potential reasons for this separation like any other, perhaps the justification falls into the theory that Rankine, like anyone else with moderately inaccessible thoughts, simply cannot provide an entirely true reason for what she writes.  Smith and Watson support this idea by writing that “crafting a textual voice out of such experience raises the stakes of life writing and asks that readers grant a different kind of authority to the narrators of such struggles, particularly when their voices are multifarious and ambivalent” (84).  As it turns out, my frustration with Rankine’s voice is unfounded yet again.  Instead of taking the easy way out, Rankine raises the stakes on life writing in order to address subjects that need not be explained through a close connection between narrating voice and text.  It has become our own responsibility, then, to see to it that life-writers are not held to some existential standard regarding their connection to their own writing and the world around them.

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