"Voice" is perhaps the most bandied-about term in the lexicon of composition studies. It figures with great frequency in interpretations of literary and nonliterary texts and is an enormously popular metaphor in discussions of student writing, the composing process, and the philosophy of language. But do these critical and practical applications of "voice" account for key distinctions between speaking and writing? According to Darsie Bowden, "Writers don't technically have voices and in persisting to apply the voice metaphor to texts, we may be creating more problems than we resolve."
The Mythology of Voice, then, is an argument against voice. Bowden looks at what voice is in its various permutations, exploring where it comes from and exposing some of the key assumptions about writing and language that have made it so powerful and charismatic an element within American writing instruction. In particular, the author examines the conflation of speaking and writing, the problem of presence, and the use of voice to represent a unitary, authentic, and powerful ethos that is intended to drive-as well as explain or interpret-a piece of writing. She shows how voice is both a particularly Western concept and an American one, arising out of political, social, and disciplinary circumstances that are often viewed as intrinsic to our unique heritage.
While voice is indeed an important part of our ideological and pedagogical history and has proved useful to both teachers and theorists, Bowden ultimately contends that it has persisted beyond its usefulness. Her final chapter proposes solutions, drawing upon metaphors from women's studies and computer technology. As a practical example, she shows how these metaphors might be used in discussions of student texts, better conforming to contemporary approaches and attitudes toward writing instruction.