Midwifery and the conception of voice
But the fact that the maternal function is wielded by men— indeed, that literature is one of the ways in which men have elaborated the maternal position—means that the silence of actual women is all the more effectively enforced. With men playing all the parts, the drama appears less incomplete than it really is.
(Barbara Johnson 1987:142)
What does it matter who is speaking, someone said, what does it matter who is speaking.
Michel Foucault’s citation (1984:101) of an anonymous voice from Samuel Beckett’s Texts for Nothing points to half of the problem that I will be investigating in this chapter: who speaks a literary text and what is the status of that utterance with respect to origin, representation, and property? In other words, how do authors image their own voice in poetry in order to guarantee its recognizability and hence its survival as their product? Emile Benveniste and Roland Barthes have argued that the “person” of the author dissolves into the linguistic subject of the text (the one who says “I”), and is, according to Barthes, given life only by the reader, and Foucault has pointed to the ideological and historical construction of the author-function; drawing on both of these theoretical positions, I will be examining how the “I” of a text fashions itself and is shaped both by the immediate cultural circumstances of its production and by the history of its readership. The construction of John Donne’s poetic voice provides us with a particularly clear example of this problem. Until very recently, critics have tended to read Donne’s voice through the authoritative legacy bequeathed to us by T. S. Eliot and the New Critics; in his celebrated essay on the Metaphysical poets,