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  • Writer's pictureTashroom Ahsan

The Human Voice

There’s an issue that affects me every day. Every single day I get up in the morning, I put my deodorant and clothes on, I brush my teeth, and then I walk to class. I enter the classroom and I drown in this issue, I drown in the sea of faces that espouse it into my nose and through my laundered clothes, and into my washed hair, I smell it. I see it, I smell it, I drink it, I try not to eat it, but I still eat it anyways, and I definitely touch it. Worst of all, though, I hear it everywhere. I can’t take a single step around this main circle unless it’s 3:30 AM, the only time when everyone else is asleep, and not hear it. Right now, I’m drowning in it, and I was drowning in it just before I got up here and started my song and dance number.

In fact, it’s the song and dance numbers I can’t stand. I guess I may as well tell you my issue now. I hate it when you speak. I can’t stand the sound of your voice. But don’t worry, it’s not your voice I hate. I mean, I do hate your voice, but I don’t hate your voice in particular, like how I can’t stand Sean’s granola in particular but I still love granola. No, I hate voices in their universality. But I don’t hate the voice for its sound, I hate it when you speak. It’s when you speak that I feel this frustration, this rage. I think about it every night as I wallow in bed to Elliott Smith’s Either/Or. I think about it every morning as I reflect on my hellish nightmares, for no nightmare of mine is as hellish as one where one is lost in a world where everyone thinks they need to speak. When I get up, I walk to class, but I dread the moment someone breaks the silence of my mind with their voice. So I do the Stoic thing: I don’t think for myself, I brace myself for the moment someone says something. And I brace myself by preparing to say something else too. I don’t think to myself; I fashion my persona, my mask, so when someone says ‘good morning’ to me, I can say it back, instead of scowling at the ground. I mean, I do still scowl at the ground anyways, but I try not to.

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll quote myself on it again now: to speak is to perform. And this is the fundamental issue with Deep Springs. We want to talk too often in the wrong ways. This doesn’t need much explanation, but I’ll explain anyway, since L.L. Nunn demanded that I speak.

The essence of speech is rhetoric. When we speak, others hear us. There are two aspects to the speech itself: that which is said, the content, and that it is said, the fact that you spoke. When listening, that which is said is subordinated to that it is said, the content subordinated to the fact of speaking, for everyone will recall that the speech is said more than that which is said in the speech. So we speak primarily for the sake of speaking to be heard by other people, with a tag-along that some people might comprehend and engage with the content of that which is said. The primary end, in speech, is the production of the plurality of selves within each listener who hears you. Everyone will hear you and judge you based on the fact that they heard you, and will remember that you spoke more than what you said. The speech is tethered to you more than it is to its content. Thus, when we speak, we speak to craft a self in others, with the content subordinated to that end, since fewer people engage with the content than with the identity.

At Deep Springs, we sit down in a classroom and congregate in a circle with our little texts before us, books that speak to us, and we have a nice bull session (learned that word from composition) on the words the text uses until time runs out. Sean comes into the classroom with his big Carhartt jacket, his suave hair, and describes how something is in a sense like something else as he strokes his hair and revels in his brilliance. Amin talks about justice, mumbles off into an incredible yet incomprehensible question, and has the room appropriate his scent. Carmen goes on about some random Greek word, Connie apologizes profusely, Nathan looks up and talks to God, the list is 27, well, I guess, 33 people long. Someone told me the point of seminar at Deep Springs is to be an individual producer of truth, to be one who extracts partial truths from texts and collaborates with others to put their partial truths together and arrive at some greater truth together. But as long as we speak, this will never happen. As long as we speak, we speak for other people to hear us, for others to think about us. As long as we speak, we’ll be gripped by anxiety each time we open our mouths. As long as we speak, we will want to sound smart, we will want to make Anton laugh, we will want to imbue Julien with pure joy. As long as we speak, we are superficially engaged, because we don’t care about what we say, we care about how others think of how we speak. As long as we speak, we communicate in a way that isn’t concerned for truth, but concerned with appearances. We perform, not ponder. We want to build up this verbal mask so that when someone thinks of us, they think of the mask that they like, and like us through it. The essence of speaking is rhetoric but we pretend that by conversation, we will arrive at truth.

SB is the only place where it’s appropriate to speak, since we’re all putting on our political suits and ties and puppeteering ourselves so we get what we want. It’s the only time where we speak knowing that everyone’s aim is external rhetoric, not a vague construction of self. Engaging in the game of rhetoric is a different aim from self-fashioning through speech, but it still contains a superficial teleology distant from the truthful discourse that Deep Springs conversations are associated with. Indeed, Deep Springs conversations are the most superficial, because they’re the ones where your image matters the most, since you live, labor, eat, and everything else with these people. There’s no truth when we talk to each other here.

How can we ever communicate towards truth? Write notes to each other like I did in elementary school? Well, when I was in elementary school, I wrote those notes because my teacher, Mrs. Lowe, the one who flipped my card to a 4 and made me walk alone for two weeks of recess because I said ‘yesser’ to her third command to me but she thought I said ‘yes sir,’ yeah, Mrs. Lowe, she told me I couldn’t speak anymore because I talked too much, so my workaround was to perform through these little note cards that I passed to the kids I wanted to like me. Writing to each other is the same as speaking because it communicates an idea tied to my identity. As long as what I communicate is tethered to this self, then the content of what I communicate will not search for anything outside of myself: it will search only for me to manipulate what the other person thinks of me, regardless of what it may seem. So we can’t write to each other and we can’t talk to each other if we want to engage in this collective search for truth.

But, my fellow actors, there exists a solution for us to communicate towards truth! Everytime we want to communicate something earnestly, we have to get out a little typewriter, press its clunky keys, leave our name off, and post it somewhere. Because truth can only be the aim of a form communication when the truth is not tied to an identity outside of its medium. This is why Victor Heremita’s Either/Or is a serious inquiry into the truth of how to live; two layers of pseudonyms anonymize the writing. This is why the greatest scientific feat of modern times, the mapping of the human genome project, was possible; hundreds of anonymous people, the 91st and 92nd names on that paper, sought truth before their glory. To facilitate the search for truth at Deep Springs, I will be posting a corkboard in the dorm on the 19th of December at 4:45 PM sharp, for anyone to anonymously post their strivings for truth, so we can actually do what Nunn told us to do: acquire knowledge. Also, please do me a favor and don’t take anything I just said seriously because, after all, I said it.

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