If you are a writer or reader of a certain temperament, you celebrate the “postmodern condition,” in which the flux and flow of events dethrone the narrator’s assured voice. If you are a scholar exploring “posthumanism,” you might believe that the human subject can no longer speak as the master of circumstances. Yet if you are an ordinary worker, you need to find your voice. You need, like our Renaissance forbearers, to find principles of continuity and unity in how you account for your material experience.
“Voice” is both a personal and a social issue. To hold fragmentary experiences together in time requires the capacity to step back from the power of each event to hurt or to disorient. To find one’s voice requires establishing some distance from the immediate, from the noumenal; sheer surrender to the moment weakens one’s voice. Of course in the midst of the most traumatic events, like a civil war, stepping back can occur only after the event is over. But in the sort of traumas to which I have devoted my studies, as in the moments when people are tested at work—told, for instance, they are losing a job—the capacity to stand in and out of a situation at the same time is a practical strategy for survival—with long-term consequences. Workers who can manage this duality are better able to fashion a sustaining long-term narrative for their lives.