This is a little segment of Sarah Manguso‘s Perfection (Manguso, 2020) that spoke to me. It made me laugh a little as I often struggle to recognize the heart of a project–it’s particular, sometimes obvious, always contingent, truth. The irony of using someone else’s voice to demonstrate original voice is not lost on me. Citation be damned! Who do these words really belong to anyway? Aren’t our bibliographies always simply a catalog of the words’ last foster parents or caretakers?
I once had a student whose husband was a gravedigger. She didn’t write about it.
I once had a student who grew up in her father’s itinerant magic show. She didn’t write about it.
I once had a student who was so ashamed when she told me what her job was–housekeeping–she whispered it to me. She didn’t write about it.
I once had a student whose father was a security guard who spoke five languages and got beaten up regularly. He didn’t write about it.
I’ve lost count of the number of students I’ve had who refused to write in their natural register because they distrusted the ease of it. They thought writing was supposed to be hard.
I guess the only bone I have to pick here is with the refusal, which implies a conscious and deliberate choice not to let that voice in. As if it is known, and not hidden in plain sight.
Manguso, S. (2020). Perfection. The Paris Review, (233), 15–23.