Analyzing David Brooks’ voice

David Brooks has a distinctive voice, as in this excerpt:

But unlike the other animals, people do have a drive to seek coherence and meaning. We have a need to tell ourselves stories that explain it all. We use these stories to supply the metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.

Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over our stories. We do have a conscious say in selecting the narrative we will use to make sense of the world. Individual responsibility is contained in the act of selecting and constantly revising the master narrative we tell about ourselves.

The stories we select help us, in turn, to interpret the world. They guide us to pay attention to certain things and ignore other things. They lead us to see certain things as sacred and other things as disgusting. They are the frameworks that shape our desires and goals. So while story selection may seem vague and intellectual, it’s actually very powerful. The most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.

How would we characterize the persona speaking here? It’s authoritative and strong, learned but unpretentious, moral, and a bit sad at the human condition.

What devices create this personality? The passage is stunningly clear, which creates the sense of powerful authority. This guy knows what he’s talking about. He takes his time to explain things, rather than jamming heavy concepts into dense, academic prose.

The language is mostly simple, with a mixture of slightly technical words: “coherence,” “metaphysics,” “narrative,” etc., all used in ways that make their meaning clear without explication, setting what sounds like common sense into a philosophical frame, lightly worn.

His sentences are straightforward, with a clear subject and verb, nothing inserted between them, He rarely uses contractions, and repeats “we” and “our” and “us” to personalize his applications.

Brooks unifies his argument by repetition. He chains ideas together by repeating a word in one clause in the next:

“Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control over….”
“…it’s actually very powerful. The most important power we have is the power….”

He begins related clauses with the same structure:

“…people do have….”
“We have a need….”
“…we do have some control….”
“We do have a conscious say….”

Brooks always injects a wistful note. He has high hopes for the human race, as a man devoted to “individual responsibility,” but is skeptical about whether we actually direct our own lives:

“…metaphysics, without which life seems pointless and empty.”
“Among all the things we don’t control, we do have some control….”
“We do have a conscious say….”
“The most important power we have is the power to help select the lens through which we see reality.”

The clarity of this voice creates power; his clarity enables our understanding.

[What do you notice about this voice?]

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Published in: on November 10, 2009 at 11:20 am  Comments (1)  

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