In the beginning of Nancy Sommers “Revision of Student Writers and Experienced Adult Writers,” she describes the interesting difference between revision in writing and revision (or lack thereof) in speech. She quotes Roland Barthes saying “’A word cannot be retracted, except precisely by saying that one retracts it. To cross out here is to add: if I want to erase what I have just said, I cannot do it without showing the eraser itself (I must say: ‘Or rather…’ ‘I expressed myself badly…’); paradoxically, it is ephemeral speech which is indelible, not monumental writing. All that one can do in the case of a spoken utterance is to tack on another utterance.’ What is impossible in speech in revision.”
As I reflected on this concept, I hesitantly agreed, thinking also that people’s memories are not so perfect as the remember every speech act they hear. But then I got to thinking, I recently had an experience with a friend where I wished I could go back and delete some of my own words via text. Text messages, even though written, are more like speech as they cannot be taken back or “unsent.” In this I agree with Sommers, but I think it fits these kind of in-between speech and writing acts better than conversational speech, due to fallible memory.
Additionally, it is possible to bring the same kind of irreversibility to writing as Sommers suggests exists in speech. In “Writing Against Normal: Navigating a Corporeal Turn” Dolmage offers students an opportunity for this as they revise drafts of their essays on a wiki. Each student is able to give the other students feedback and any and all drafts can be pulled up and compared at any point. In this way, they are actively interacting with all sentences and comments ever typed. Deletion is impossible for “A wiki’s existence is revision – once redesigned ends, it becomes a website, and no longer a wiki” (Dolmage 115).
What do you think? What are some ways that speech acts and written words allow for revision (or don’t)?