Re: passives, etc.

Subject: Re: passives, etc.
From: Matthew Wong <wong -at- ACEC -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 4 Feb 1994 13:45:13 PST

On Fri, 4 Feb 1994 09:04:03 -0600 Michael Spooner wrote:

> I'm wary of the knee-jerk reaction against it that Shannon Ford mentions.
> I like Bonni Graham's instinct about the relative functions of active and
> passive. If you really want "authoritative" backing, Bonni, you could cite
> Eisenberg. She says essentially the same thing you do: active highlights
> the subject (of the action, that is), and passive highlights the object. So it
> should be a functional choice, not an aesthetic one.

I believe the real issue lurking behind this topic of passive vs. active is
authority. -- that is, what authority should I as a reader concede to the text.

The argument for the active voice is symptomatic of what Jacques Derrida
termed as the 'metaphysics of presence.' For Derrida, that western
philosophy consists of the determination of being as presence in all senses
of this word. It would be possible to show that all terms related to
fundamentals, to principles, or to the centre have always designated the
constant of a presence--eidos, arche, telos, energeia, ousia (essence,
existence, substance, subject) aletheia, transcendentally, consciousness or
conscience. God, man, and so forth. In other words, the authority of the
text comes from the recognition of the presence behind the text. Thus the
active voice validates this presence, and in this recognition, encourages the
reader to accept the subjective authority of the presence behind the text.

On the other hand, the passive voice seeks to mask the subjectivity of the
presence by appealing to the reality beyond the text. In doing so, it projects
an objectivity that is the basis of its authority.

Thanks for hearing me out.


Matthew (wong -at- acec -dot- com)

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