Unreal Nature

July 13, 2012

Destroys and Defends

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:17 am

… Raging is more than something done to or written over a particular body; it is the desire for and hallucinated accomplishment of a new kind of body, a fiercer, hotter, more dissociated, but also more living, urgent, and vital kind of body.

This is from Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism by Steven Connor (2000):

… ‘When we say that the divine being is invisible, we mean that we do not have power over it. To say that the divine was inaudible, however, would be to claim that it had no power over us.’ [John Hull, Touching the Rock]

A voice without an origin which is usually to say, a voice immune to the powers of the eye and the categorial cognitive functions associated with it, will emphasize the power of voice as utterance and effect over against its associations with presence and intention. At the same time, voice cannot not be thought of in relation to the idea of presence, since, as Walter Ong suggests, ‘manifestation of personal presence is not something added to voice. Voice is not peopled with presences. It itself is the manifestation of presence.’ On this view, it cannot be quite accurate to speak of a voice deprived of all aspects of presence. In so far as a sound is recognized as a voice, rather than as a sound, it is assumed to be coming from a person or conscious agency. Aristotle distinguishes the idea of the voice from sound in general in just these terms in his discussions of sound of his De Anima, 2.8. The difference between sound and voice, he writes, is a difference between unsouled and ensouled entities: ‘Voice is a kind of sound characteristic of what has soul in it; nothing that is without soul utters voice.’

… The cry — whether of anger, fear or pain — is the purest form of the compact between the voice and power. The twentieth century was dominated by the mediated or technologically magnified cry, the microphone, megaphone and loudspeaker allowing the generalization of the aggressive-sadistic use of voice. Amplified voices, like the natural amplification effected by the cry itself, cancel or close up space. Indeed, amplified voices disclose the particular form of the assault upon space constituted by the infant’s cry. For when we shout, we tear. We tear apart distance; we disallow distance to the object of our anger, or of our ecstasy. When I shout, I am all voice, you are all voice, the space between us is nothing but a delirium tremens of voice. In shouting, we fall upon our own voices, attempting to claw them apart. At such times, the voice is a malign object, a hot, ulcerous excrescence upon the self, that I must at all costs put from me. Why must I put my voice from me, when my  voice is the claim and enactment of my power? Because the voice is the means of articulation. The voice is the agent of the articulated body, for it traverses and connects the different parts of me, lungs, trachea, larynx, palate, tongue, lips.

… The principle of the vocalic body is simple. Voices are produced by bodies: but can also themselves produce bodies. The vocalic body is the idea — which can take the form of dream, fantasy, ideal, theological doctrine, or hallucination — of a surrogate or secondary body, a projection of a new way of having or being a body, formed and sustained out of the autonomous operations of the voice. The history of ventriloquism is to be understood partly in terms of the repertoire of imagings or incarnations it provides for these autonomous voice-bodies. It shows us clearly that human beings in many different cultural settings find the experience of a sourceless sound uncomfortable, and the experience of a sourceless voice intolerable. The ‘sound hermeneutic’ identified by Rick Altman determines that a disembodied voice must be habited in a plausible body. It may then appear that the voice is subordinate to the body, when in fact the opposite is experientially the case; it is the voice which seems to colour and model its container.

… The voice of rage … presents itself as the antagonist of the sonorous envelope, the denial of the bodying and embodied nature of sound. And yet such a voice is also capable of bracing or armouring itself by its very tonalities; the angry or demanding voice at once destroys and defends itself — in fact, defends itself against itself. Think of the rant of the demagogue, as the type of warlike political persuasiveness: the voice cracks with the effort to surpass its own condition, to become an action, achieving a kind of immediate effectivity in the world. Hitler’s voice rages at itself, suffocates itself, attacks its own form; yet it also reins and retains the rage it unleashes. Timbre and voice quality are bound in by the percussion and ‘attack’ of the voice itself. In all of this, we have, to be sure, the gesture and enactment on the body of a certain affective disposition. But the power of the spectacle depends upon something more. It depends upon the production of another, imaginary body, the vocalic body of raging itself. Raging is more than something done to or written over a particular body; it is the desire for and hallucinated accomplishment of a new kind of body, a fiercer, hotter, more dissociated, but also more living, urgent, and vital kind of body.

My most recent previous post from Connor’s book is here.

-Julie

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