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Who’s speaking?
  1. Gillie Bolton1
  1. 1Medicine and the Arts, King’s College London University, Department of English, Strand, London WC2R 2LS, UK;

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    When you read, who is speaking to you? A novel or poem is always told by a specific voice—the voice of the narrator: that narrator is a fictional character, whether they reveal themselves or not. Whose is the narrator’s voice in any particular text?

    When you write, who tells the story, creates the description, or reports events? You know who is holding the pen or tapping the keys, but whose voice is expressed within the writing? Where does writing come from, whether you are reader or writer?

    How does literature (fiction, poetry, drama) have the power to transport the reader or writer into a space other than the one inhabited by their body? Winnicott would have called it a playspace.1Play here does not mean ease and light enjoyment. It means a deeply creative, explorative, expressive, and inventive space. It is a strenuous exercise of the imagination, when the imagination is “a power at once intelligent, sensitive and constructive, importantly related to the power of healing”.2 It is not only the space into which children disappear, but also where musicians are when playing, and where all of us are when we read or write with deep attention.

    Writing can be powerful communication: even more powerful than speech, as it does not disappear on the breath. Much of what we read is absorbed unaware, like many other sensations. Since the narrator is not corporeally present in the disembodied text, their characteristics can pass unnoticed. Yet every utterance has a narrator. Every utterance is a communication between interlocutors. To whom do you listen as you read a text?

    The point of view from which writing is angled greatly affects readers’ responses. It also greatly affects the writer’s understanding as they write. Everyone has multiple voices clamouring or silently …

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