Re: Reassessing our practices

Brent R. Henze (brhenze@MAILBOX.SYR.EDU)
Thu, 15 Feb 1996 12:40:19 -0500

Hi all,
Regarding the issue of the essay as a monologic text (and its
resulting utility or lack thereof)--I've been teaching a course this
semester focusing on "testimonial literature" and, more broadly, texts
which represent an individual's or group's identity as a means of
political representation/action. One text my students are reading
currently is Moraga/Anzaldu'a's _This Bridge Called My Back_, which
includes a variety of texts which are clearly polyvocal/dialogic
(conversations, correspondences, and so on), but also some material which
is at least arguably "essayistic" (for instance, Canaan's "Brownness" or
even Lorde's "The Master's Tools will Never Dismantle the Master's
House", which was a spoken text, but which nonetheless seems monological).
Much of what has been said so far about dialogic texts has helped
me to understand what's going on in _Bridge_; certainly the use of these
genres empowers the writers of _Bridge_ in the ways some of you have
mentioned. But at the same time, I would argue that the writers of the
"essays" in _Bridge_ are using that form to accomplish similar
goals--personal and group liberation, radical reform, and so on.
One effect of the essay form, both for the writers of _Bridge_
and for some writers of testimonials, seems to be that it allows one to
*present* one's experience when, in another more dialogic form, one might
have *more* difficulty because of the actual interference of other voices
(possibly dissenting voices). For example, if I needed to tell my story
to a group of people likely to resist what I had to say, it's
*empowering* to have the space of an essay to work through what I need to
say. Monologic texts do have a history of excluding marginal voices, but
in a discourse governed by community norms and so on, it is similarly
disempowering for a marginalized voice to make inroads via dialogue. One
of the main points of _Bridge_, it seems, is that the white feminist
movement resisted the voices of women of color (while claiming it was
open to "all women's voices"), and it took a fairly direct challenge to
that oppression to change that situation. Of course, _Bridge_ as an
entire text is polyvocal, but not in the sense that readers and writers
are negotiating their subject, so much as that many voices are directing
a critique to an "outside reader" (the white feminist movement). The
book accomplishes other goals, as well, but at one level it seems to
share some of the monological characteristics of what we're calling an

Sorry this is so long-winded; does this make sense?