The term “Writer’s Voice”, in my experience, is passed around quite liberally in discussions of literature and writing, as there is an implied assumption of what it contributes to the conversation. On some level I agree that’s necessary; the common concept behind that assumption is simple to grasp. Even in the acts of transcription or translation, the human behind the pen or keyboard influences which (if any) spelling errors are made, or what words and phrases one keeps in one’s head are reflective of the words that one hears from another language. The writer of a text, in my opinion, will never be capable of true universal objectivity in their voice because that writer’s person is the one performing the action.
However, as Jorge Luis Borges states in his essay, “On the Cult of Books”, “a book does not select its readers,” and written word inherently exists, at least partially, passively. A world-experienced writer can contribute himself to the creation of text, but that text cannot contribute to universality without a human to channel it through to that. Just as a writer, too, puts themselves into the composition of text, the orator of a text will contribute their own unique characteristics (the feeling and texture unique to that person’s voice, their ability to fluently read that text without mistakes, the amount of energy that is evident in their speech) in the recital of that text.
Saint Augustine, in Book VI of Confessions, describes his mentor, Saint Ambrose, as willingly isolated while reading, wondering if his silent reading was “perhaps to protect himself in case he had a hearer interested,” Reading the text silently, the quote could potentially come across as critical of Ambrose, as Augustine lists the possibilities for communication and mutual learning that could come from interjections of listeners. Equally as likely, though, is the implication of admiration, as Augustine later states Ambrose “had a good reason for what he did.” Whether intentional or not, the ambiguity is an element of the text, an element that does not change, short of post-compositional editing. Read that quote aloud, though, and the ambiguity that is an element of the text is removed, as the reader’s voice will exemplify both characteristics of the person reading it and the qualities of the text that the reader (consciously or not) took from the original text and introduced into their own reading of.
So, is there an element of certain texts that benefits silent reading as opposed to doing so vocally? Context would say so. Books are not, in and of themselves, performative; one cannot do anything reading silently but absorb. By reading aloud, we now introduce the factors of active observation and demonstrated interpretation. Some texts benefit from those factors, but, as Borges suggests in his essay, the written word contains a sacred permanence outside of human contact, which can be a genuine good.
Augustine. Confessions. 397.
Borges, Jorge Luis. “On the Cult of Books.” 1951.