Vox 23 – Eva Hoffman Describes the Silent Center

Eva Hoffman has the best extended personal description I’ve seen of the idea that we have some kind of primal or individual voice down underneath everything. But she identifies it with silence! And yet even in saying this, she also does justice to the other idea of multiple voices–and the need and reality of them. It seems a paradigm description of a person having their “own voice.”

“I am writing a story in my journal, and I’m searching for a true voice I make my way through layers of acquired voices, silly voices, sententious voices, voices that are too cool and too overheated. Then they all quiet down, and I reach what I’m searching for: silence. I hold still to steady myself in it. This is the white bland center, the level ground that was there before Babel was built, that is always there before the Babel of our multiple selves is constructed.”

“From this white plenitude, a voice begins to emerge: it’s an even voice, and it’s capable of saying things straight, without exaggeration or triviality. As the story progresses, the voice grows and diverges into different tonalities and timbres; sometimes, spontaneously, the force of feeling or of thought compresses language into metaphor, or an image, in which words and consciousness are magically fused. But the voice always returns to its point of departure, to ground zero. This is the point to which I have tried to triangulate, this private place, this inassimilable part of myself.” (Hoffman, Eva. Lost in Translation: A Life in a New Language. Penguin, 1989. 275-6).