The Art of Memoir - Mary Karr (2015)

Chapter 4. A Voice Conjures the Human Who Utters It

I believe that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of [man’s] puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.

William Faulkner

Each great memoir lives or dies based 100 percent on voice. It’s the delivery system for the author’s experience—the big bandwidth cable that carries in lustrous clarity every pixel of someone’s inner and outer experiences. Each voice is cleverly fashioned to highlight a writer’s individual talent or way of viewing the world. A memoirist starts off fumbling—jotting down facts, recounting anecdotes. It may take a writer hundreds of rough trial pages for a way of speaking to start to emerge unique to himself and his experience, but when he does, both carnal and interior experiences come back with clarity, and the work gains an electrical charge. For the reader, the voice has to exist from the first sentence.

Because memoir is such a simple form, its events can come across—in the worst books—as thinly rendered and haphazard. But if the voice has a high enough voltage, it will carry the reader through all manner of assholery and tangent because it almost magically conjures in her imagination a fully realized human. We kind of think the voice is the narrator. It certainly helps if the stories are riveting, but a great voice renders the dullest event remarkable.

The secret to any voice grows from a writer’s finding a tractor beam of inner truth about psychological conflicts to shine the way. While an artist consciously constructs a voice, she chooses its elements because they’re natural expressions of character. So above all, a voice has to sound like the person wielding it—the super-most interesting version of that person ever—and grow from her core self.

Pretty much all the great memoirists I’ve met sound on the page like they do in person. If the page is a mask, you rip it off only to find that the writer’s features exactly mold to the mask’s form, with nary a gap between public and private self. These writers’ voices make you feel close to—almost inside—their owners. Who doesn’t halfway consider even a fictional narrator like Huck Finn or Scout a pal?

The voice should permit a range of emotional tones—too wiseass, and it denies pathos; too pathetic, and it’s shrill. It sets and varies distance from both the material and the reader—from cool and diffident to high-strung and close. The writer doesn’t choose these styles so much as he’s born to them, based on who he is and how he experienced the past.

Voice isn’t just a manner of talking. It’s an operative mindset and way of perceiving that naturally stems from feeling oneself alive inside the past. That’s why self-awareness is so key. The writer who’s lived a fairly unexamined life—someone who has a hard time reconsidering a conflict from another point of view—may not excel at fashioning a voice because her defensiveness stands between her and what she has to say. Also, we naturally tend to superimpose our present selves onto who we were before, and that can prevent us from recalling stuff that doesn’t shore up our current identities. Or it can warp understanding to fit more comfortable interpretations. All those places we misshape the past have to be ’fessed to, and such reflections and uncertainties have to find expression in voice.

You cut a contract early on to offer up the deepest perceptions you can muster without preening and posturing. Other writers may work otherwise, but every great memoirist I ever talked to sounded cursed to face up to real events. That’s just the nature of the enterprise. Truth works a trip wire that permits the book to explode into being.

If the reader intuits some deception or kink in the writer’s psyche that he can’t admit to, it erodes the scribbler’s authority. This drives a reader from the page, putting the writer in competition with Chubby Hubby ice cream and the TV remote—tough contests to win.

However you charm people in the world, you should do so on the page. A lot of great writers rebuke charm, and I don’t mean the word to conjure a snake charmer pulling off a trick with a poor dumb animal whose fangs have been torn out. Too many writers relate to their readers that way, which results in some dull, hermetic books written just to satisfy the artist’s preening ego. Charm is from the Latin carmen: to sing. By “charm,” I mean sing well enough to hold the reader in thrall. Whatever people like about you in the world will manifest itself on the page. What drives them crazy will keep you humble. You’ll need both sides of yourself—the beautiful and the beastly—to hold a reader’s attention.

Sadly, without a writer’s dark side on view—the pettiness and vanity and schemes—pages give off the whiff of bullshit. People may like you because you’re warm, but you can also be quick to anger or too intense. Your gift for charm and confidence hides a gift for scheming and deceit. You’re withdrawn and deep but also slightly scornful of others. A memoirist must cop to it all, which means routing out the natural ways you try to masquerade as somebody else—nicer, smarter, faster, funnier. All the good lines can’t be the memoirist’s.

Richard Wright’s Black Boy, published in pre–civil rights America, seems to shun charm and speak with a bitterness he paid dear for. That refusal to pander forms the core of his talent—a ruthless, unblinking gaze that reports to us with often barely tamped-down fury.

It was Wright who started the American memoir craze of the last century with the publication of Black Boy in 1945. (The book gushed out of him in 1943.) He was followed closely by other smash hits: Thomas Merton’s Seven-Storey Mountain (1948), Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory (1951), and Mary McCarthy’s Memories of a Catholic Girlhood (1957). Nabokov was publishing excerpts in France starting in 1936, and McCarthy in the New Yorker in 1946, but for my money, it was Wright who first won an audience in book length without being wildly famous first. Wright started shaping the form as we think of it today. (The next generation featured Maya Angelou and Frank Conroy, who no doubt learned from the aforementioned first-timers.)

Booker T. Washington’s Up from Slavery had previously been a national best seller, but Washington had been a major figure before. Wright was the first African American to ride from oblivion onto the New York Times best-seller list. Not the last, though, for Malcolm X (1965) and Angelou (1969) bobbed in his wake. As a little white girl in segregated Texas, I found such books showed me racism as we were all still gagging on it. Today I even wonder if those memoirs didn’t partly fuel the civil rights movement. Without them, black experience would’ve been rendered solely in sociopolitical speak. Wright’s refusal to shuffle Uncle Tom–like down the page trying to cull favor was a revolutionary act at his time in history, and it reads as true in that context. Of course, his voice can also transport with its poetry:

Each event spoke with a cryptic tongue. And the moments of living slowly released their coded meanings. There was the wonder I felt when I first saw a brace of mountainlike, spotted, black-and-white horses clopping down a dusty road through clouds of powdered clay.

There was the delight I caught in seeing long straight rows of red and green vegetables stretching away in the sun to the bright horizon.

But such tender moments stand in stark relief to the brutal facts of the Jim Crow South and segregated Chicago. He starts off Black Boy with a distracted, aimless rage; deciding to set the family house on fire:

My idea was growing, blooming. Now I was wondering just how the long fluffy white curtains would look if I lit a bunch of [broom] straws on fire and held it under them. Would I try it? Sure.

After this, he’s beaten almost to death by his mother and takes a hallucinatory stretch in bed. Soon after that, he finds a way to defy and infuriate his bullying father. Awakened into a fury by a mewing kitten, the old man tells Richard to shut it up: “Kill that damn thing!” And the boy does.

Wright depicts killing the kitten with chilling detachment. After arguing his father into the ground about the “rightness” of having killed the animal, he notes:

I had had my first triumph over my father. I had made him believe I had taken his words literally. He could not punish me now without risking his authority. . . . I had made him know that I felt he was cruel and I had done it without his punishing me.

Wright’s lawyerly case eschews all moral piety, laying bare the ruthless scrap for truth and turf—even in his family—that he was born to. At a time when his American publishers could cudgel him into changing the book’s title from American Hunger to Black Boy—thus reducing a visionary’s label into a racial slur—his voice above all speaks with a sense of unblinking veracity, refusing any soft focus. He’s one of few memoirists who can pull it off. (German novelist Thomas Bernhard’s Gathering Evidence and Graves’s Good-Bye to All That also come across as bitter: that tone, which might grate coming from other writers, feels like the inevitable cost of their truths.)

In my experience teaching in a hyperselective grad program, pretty much any truth written deeply and with enough clarity and candor to allow emotional range winds up fascinating me. I’m not sure just any scribbler could win my praise writing lived experiences, but our students seem fairly adroit at cobbling up unique voices that hold me in thrall.

And the more memorable the voice, the truer a book sounds, because you never lose sight of the narrator cobbling together his truth—not everybody’s agreed-on version. Or is it the truer a book, the better the voice?

Great memoirs sound like distinct persons and also cover a broad range of feelings. The glib jokester becomes as tedious and as unbelievable as the whiner.

This talent for truth includes a voice’s bold ability to render events we find unbelievable elsewhere. On the first page of Hilary Mantel’s Giving Up the Ghost—for my money a book as worship-worthy as any of her prizewinning fiction—we hear about her encounters with the spirit world. On a staircase, she passes through a shimmer in the air that contains a ghost: “I know it is my stepfather’s ghost coming down. Or, to put it in a way acceptable to most people, I ‘know’ it is my stepfather’s ghost.” First off, she states the mystical experience as simple fact, but because she knows many readers in our skeptical culture will adjudge her bonkers, she spends a subsequent sentence traveling to where those readers’ more rationalist belief systems hold sway. She rephrases, putting know in quotes. So she starts inside her mystical experience, then briefly jogs to where the dubious reader stands prepared to discount her. And from that instant, we trust this most sensible of voices to incorporate both the irrational and our doubt about it. In doing so, she’s invited us into the supernatural experiences so common to her. She speculates a few paragraphs later about the auras of eye migraines that torment her—allowing neurological possibilities for her ghost-related experiences. Above all, we’re convinced of her firm curiosity about her encounters with the supernatural, her willingness to explore any explanation for them.

So later when, as a child in a garden, she has a run-in with the ultimate evil—one could only call it demonic though she doesn’t go that far—she doesn’t have to disavow the reality of the event to accommodate our doubt. The voice has made room for us before. Mantel needs only stick to physical facts and her child’s reaction:

The faintest movement, a ripple, a disturbance of the air. I can sense a spiral, a lazy buzzing swirl, like flies; but it is not flies. There is nothing to see. There is nothing to smell. There is nothing to hear. But it is motion, its insolent shift, makes my stomach heave. I can sense—at the periphery, the limit of all my senses—the dimensions of the creature. It is as high as a child of two. Its depth is a foot, fifteen inches. The air stirs around it, invisibly. I am cold, and rinsed by nausea. I cannot move. I am shaking. . . . This is the beginning of shame.

Whether you doubt Mantel’s “reality” in this passage, you can have no doubt that she’s reporting something ineffably real to her. (A similar type of entity inhabits her novel Beyond Black, among the most overpoweringly disturbing books I know—on a par with Turn of the Screw or the best of Stephen King.)

So, too, must voice confess to readers any moral bankruptcy, as in Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life:

I was a liar. Even though I lived in a place where everyone knew who I was, I couldn’t help but try to introduce new versions of myself as my interests changed, and as other versions of myself failed to persuade. I was also a thief.

What’s so winning about this confession is the author’s self-aware reason for it: he’s trying to forge a self, and when popular opinion interferes with the process, Wolff fabricates to fool his audience and further what he sees as self-reshaping. It’s the gift of self-awareness: who hasn’t wanted to be somebody different and tried to scudge the public into buying the act? Rather than ruining the reader’s confidence in the author’s pages, the confession actually bolsters her belief. We can accept anything from a memoirist but deceit, which is—almost always—a shallow person’s lack of self-knowledge.

Even somebody I might not otherwise care for can compel my attention when speaking out of hard-felt experience and self-knowledge. On airplanes, we’ve all been stranded next to some chatty, perfectly nice but duller-than-a-rubber-knife human being, and we’ve all faked sleep to escape that chatter. Yet when travelers’ anonymity permits said bore to speak out of some profoundly felt experience, I often find myself riveted by the confessions of somebody I’d otherwise dread spending even a five-minute elevator ride with. That person’s living, breathing inner expression, which (when told with heart and candor) includes some parcels of radical suffering and joy . . . well, it always captures me.

For speaking from passionately felt events is risky. Emotional stakes make drama, which is a conflict with feeling and danger mysteriously contained in a human body’s small space. Don’t get me wrong—a writer’s voice doesn’t have to be effusive or operatic to work. Nobody’s more reticent than Conroy or Nabokov, say. But no one doubts the depths of their feeling, however cool their overall tones.

As often as I’ve been bored by a shallow seat partner fronting some fake self, I’ve been transfixed by watching lived passion radiate off a stranger’s face. Even the most buttoned-up or recalcitrant person, trying to restrain feeling, can’t help but convey it in close proximity if she’s telling those core stories that’ve seemingly shaped who she is. The least articulate of confessors can—in fleeting moments of connection—move me as a great symphony does. And it’s from the need to capture the shared connections between us that symphonies were invented. Ditto memoirs.

All drama depends on our need to connect with one another. And we’re all doomed to drama; even the most privileged among us suffer the torments of the damned just going about the business of being human. People we adore drop dead or die over tortured years. We’re born ugly and poor, or rich and handsome but uncared-for. In even the best families, loved ones—however inadvertently—manage to destroy each other’s hope. They fail to show up at the key instant, or they show up serving grief and shame when tenderness is starved for.

One great side effect of my own work is how often strangers skip the small talk to confide the more turbulent patches of their lives. It’s an odd phenomenon that I have never not been moved by such a tale. And I’m not that compassionate or generous, either.

Still, a living, breathing human being—even a boneheaded or barely articulate one—conveys so much in person. The physical fact of a creature with heart thrumming and neurons flickering—what Shakespeare called the “poor, bare, forked animal”—compels us all; we’re all hardwired in moments of empathy to see ourselves in another. Hearing each other’s stories actually raises our levels of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which is what nursing mothers secrete when they breastfeed—what partly helps them bond with their young. It helps to join us together in some tribal way.

It’s harder to translate lived experience onto a page. A story told poorly is life made small by words. The key details are missing, and the sentences might have been spoken by anybody. We need a special verbal device to unpack all that’s hidden in the writer’s heart so we can freshly relive it: a voice.

Unfortunately, nobody tells a writer how hard cobbling together a voice is. Look under “voice” in a writing textbook, and they talk about things that seem mechanical—tone, diction, syntax. Doh, the writer says with a forehead smack. Diction is merely word choice, what variety of vocabulary you favor. Syntax is whether sentences are long or short, how they’re shaped, with or without dependent clauses, etc. Some sentences meander, others fire off like machine-gun runs. Tone is the emotional tenor of the sentences; it’s how the narrator feels about the subject. Robert Frost said anytime he heard wordless voices through a wall, tone told him who was angry, who bemused, who about to cry. For me psyche equals voice, so your own psyche—how you think and see and wonder and scudge and suffer—also determines such factors as pacing and what you write about when. Since all such literary decisions for a memoirist are offshoots of character, I often find that any bafflement I face on the page about these factors is instantly answered once I find the right voice.

In Frank Conroy’s Stop-Time (1967) he doesn’t try to jack up a mediocre experience into dramatic spectacle. Rather, he takes a small moment and renders it so poetically you can’t forget it. Here he’s a way-smart, pseudo-delinquent high school student before school.

Eyes closed, head back, I drank directly from the carton of milk, taking long gulps while cold air from the refrigerator spilled out onto my bare feet. Leaving an inch for [my stepfather’s] coffee, I replaced the carton and pushed the fat door shut. End of breakfast.

The scene captures the feral hunger of any adolescent male standing in the fridge door. Yet it feels so specific—the long gulps, the cold spilling on his feet, even the inch of milk he has to leave behind for his stepfather. Is he doing it thoughtfully or sullenly or automatically? You’ll have to read the book to find out, for Conroy manages to make even the most quotidian event mean. Nobody’s rendered a teen’s cynical morning haste any better. And the rhythm of the paragraph: the long sentence—three lines—followed by a short sentence—two—leads up to three perfunctory words “End of breakfast.” This is an outlaw boy scrabbling for small sustenance, and the authority of the fat fridge door and his seminal voice—in the context of the rest of the book—lines up with Conroy’s cool, I-can-take-being-neglected persona. So powerful is Conroy’s voice that—at the zenith of his powers—he’s able to sexualize the throwing of a yoyo:

That it was vaguely masturbatory seems inescapable.

I doubt that half the pubescent boys in America could have been captured by any other means. . . . A single Loop-the-Loop might represent, in some mysterious way, the act of masturbation, but to break down the entire repertoire into the three stages of throw, trick, and return representing erection, climax, and detumescence seems immoderate.

Conroy puts himself into a trance practicing the yoyo, thus disassociating from his family’s profound lack of care. Finding that “cool” spot—in the old hep-cat jazz sense of finding a groove—means finding order, silence, a place where time can stop. In such instants of cool, the boy-in-pain Conroy can vanish. He’ll later find sex and music and liquor and driving too fast as other modes of escape into selfless silence.

Having taught Conroy’s Stop-Time for some thirty years, I can testify that students seem to trust this voice. They believe it—that it won’t lie or mislead, fabricate events or pander, confess the lesser sin to hide the greater, bore or beg for pity. Ergo, in literary terms, it sounds true.

Again: voice grows from the nature of a writer’s talent, which stems from innate character. Just as a memoirist’s nature bestows her magic powers on the page, we also wind up seeing how selfish or mean-spirited or divisive she is or was. We don’t see events objectively; we perceive them through ourselves. And we remember through a filter of both who we are now and who we once were.

So the best voices include a writer’s insides. Watching her mind feel around to concoct or figure out events, you never lose sight of the ego’s shape, its blind spots, dislikes, wants. The books I reread don’t seek to record as film does—a visual medium tethered to surface action (these days, in popular film, the flashier the better); nor as a history does—by weighing and measuring various sources and crafting a balanced perspective.

To tell the truth, such a memoirist can’t help but show at each bump in the road how her perceptual filter is distorting what’s being taken in. In other words, she questions her own perceptions as part of the writing process. The deeper—and, ergo, more plausible-sounding—writer inquires.

Just as memory distorts, so too does the ego’s synthesizer shape even the simplest of our sensations, and voice should reflect that distortion. Conroy in his no-nonsense milk guzzling doesn’t sound frail or sentimental, nor does Wright in his righteous rage. The noise each makes speaks his character into being. Both sound tough and cynical, even as kids. Since a personal theory about the world and one’s place in it can make it appear so, we can assume they’re as wary in the world as on the page. They translate events coming at them to conform to ideas about how they presume stuff works—in their cases perhaps through a scrim of smart, canny suspicion.

But how dare I speak of truth in memoir, when it’s common knowledge that the subjective, egoistic perception is a priori warped by falsehood—perhaps mildly so in self-serving desires, or wildly so in hardwired paranoia? A Buddhist monk might call how the ego takes in the world maya or “delusion”; a psychologist might point out how you project past traumas onto today’s innocent events. So how’s veracity possible?

It’s not that memories aren’t shady, but the self-aware memoirist constantly pokes and prods at his doubts like a tongue on a black tooth. The trick to fashioning a deeper, truer voice involves understanding how you might misperceive as you go along; thus looking at things more than one way. The goal of a voice is to speak not with objective authority but with subjective curiosity.

For me, say, a penchant for gloom has to be confessed to throughout any book I write. Bleak humor right at the edge of being wrong has kept me alive, so it’s wound up in my work. Asked by my sister why I was sexually assaulted as a child but she wasn’t, I quipped, “Maybe you’re not cute enough”—which takes one of the darkest events in my life and tries to turn it into a putdown for somebody else. Talk about grim. To chirp my story like some bouncy cheerleader would be to lie. That grimness has to make it in.

A believable voice notes how the self may or may not be inventing reality, morphing one’s separate “truths.” Most of us don’t read the landscape so much as we beam it from our eyeballs.

The inability to don angel wings—to shirk culpability or justify past sins—seems innate to the voice of every memoirist I revere. The life chroniclers who endure as real artists come across as folks particularly schooled in their own rich inner geographies. A quest for self-knowledge drives such a writer to push past the normal vanity she brings to party dressing. She somehow manages to show up at the ball boldly naked.

A memoirist’s nature—the self who shapes memory’s filter—will prove the source of her talent. By talent, I mean not just surface literary gifts, though those are part of the package, but life experience, personal values, approach, thought processes, perceptions, and innate character.

Here’s Elif Batuman in The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them, dramatizing her talent for surreal metaphor along with her passion for Russian lit. The passage comes from her magnificently slapstick chapter detailing an academic conference on Batuman’s hero, Soviet martyr Isaac Babel.

When the Russian Academy of Sciences puts together an author’s Collected Works, they aren’t aiming for something you can put in a suitcase and run away with. The “millennium” edition of Tolstoy fills a hundred volumes and weighs as much as a newborn beluga whale. (I brought my bathroom scale to the library and weighed it, ten volumes at a time.)

The detail of her hauling a scale to the library marks her an adorably obsessive kook, and we hope her passion for Russian lit will infect us. (Hint: it does.)

Like Batuman’s work, Babel’s is also earmarked by shocking juxtapositions and unforgettable similes. One of his Red Cavalry stories begins, “The orange sun is rolling across the sky like a severed head.”

You can watch Batuman hone her talent for metaphor if you read the first version of this essay, as I did, in the literary cult mag n+1, where Tolstoy’s collected volumes first weighed as much as “a large timber wolf.” Most of us would’ve let the wolf metaphor stand—it’s jolting and funny and echoes a Russian landscape. But she rewrote, and the beluga whale is the far better animal, springing as it does from salty caviar, which echoes the lost empire of the czars. Plus the whale, like Tolstoy, is a behemoth, reigning in a rarer element than the wolf. It’s hard even to believe he’s a mammal like the rest of us.

As you start out in rough drafts, setting down stories as clearly as you can, there begins to burble up onto the page what’s exclusively yours both as a writer and a human being. If you trust the truth enough to keep unveiling yourself on the page—no matter how shameful those revelations may at first seem—the book will naturally structure itself to maximize what you’re best at. You’re best at it because it sits at the core of your passions.

Cheryl Strayed, whose Wild still rides the best-seller list, was blessed with a passion for poetry that informed her language. That and the discipline to keep a daily journal during her solo hike of the Pacific Trail gave her the skeleton of that book. Strayed speaks of truth as a quest: “I tell students they want to find the true, truer, truest story.” Her first draft scraped the surface, but she found deeper psychological truths in revisions. How you approach the truth depends on your passions—Russian books and surreal metaphor, journal keeping and poetry and hiking.

You can witness two different talents approaching some of the same material by reading brothers Geoffrey and Tobias Wolff. Geoffrey’s seminal Duke of Deception (1979) partly grew from his extraordinary skills as a biographer: he used a historian’s investigative research to rout out his con-man father’s lies. Research and interviewing were gifts Geoffrey had mastered in his fascinating and immaculately documented biography of Lost Generation suicide Harry Crosby, Black Sun. Geoffrey’s memoir uses photos and documents to announce it as an investigated work. But nonfiction’s notions of the truth kept evolving. By the time his brother Tobias brought out This Boy’s Life in 1989, he used no photos, no interviews. His work is an act of memory. Two men, two talents, two approaches.

Developing a voice is actually learning how to lodge your own memories inside someone else’s head. In some ways the narrator comes to exist as a stand-in for the reader.

The only way I know to develop a voice is to write your way into one. As a memoirist moves words around on a page, telling stories, she starts to uncover that thing she does best, which should stay in view during most of the book.

And you need not be fancy in diction and syntax to win an audience—only true. Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes uses the proletariat’s blunt, monosyllabic diction to work magic.

My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland when I was four, my brother, Malachy, three, the twins, Oliver and Eugene, barely one, and my sister Margaret, dead and gone.

When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.

Above all—we were wet.

Other than a peppering of Latinate words like loquacious, McCourt uses words we learned by fifth grade. It’s what he writes and when and the directness of his utterance that we connect with. A polymath like Nabokov (more on him in the next chapter) wows us with his linguistic surface; McCourt works to make us identify with him more.

The first paragraph posits family trouble—My father and mother should have stayed in New York—then draws the simplest list of siblings, ending with the awful presence of a dead infant. And since McCourt knows in some ways that we as readers fear the cliché of an awful Irish childhood, he addresses that fear right off. So he comes straight to where the reader’s cynicism about his enterprise hides. McCourt then routs it out with mockery: the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests, bullying schoolmasters. . . . He ends with a simple, understated, carnal joke on himself in the physical cold of his island home: “Above all—we were wet.” McCourt raised psychological stakes while wowing us with both tragedy and humor—promises for what the book will hold.

He would’ve failed trying to use Nabokov’s diction, syntax, or psychological approach.