Skipping over the many examples that Connor’s gives of ancient and not-so-ancient, often ghastly, treatments for stuttering … :
… Marshall McLuhan remarked during a conversation with John Lennon in 1969 that ‘language is a form of organized stutter.’ It may indeed be that the phenomenon of voice is best thought of as a kind of stutter in the order of things — an obstacle, a black hole, a convulsive interval — in which life holds back from itself and curdles into voice. It is against this apprehension that we should understand efforts to shore up and indemnify the voice against death, or the myriad petits morts, which it comprises. The history of stammer and efforts to rectify it are an attempt to bind up a wound in the idea of voice itself, and thus an attempt to quarantine the freedom and life of the voice from the baseness and deathliness that can invade it.
But if stuttering is an impediment, it is also oddly generative. Stutterers tend to become skillful synonymizers, trick-recyclists, unbelievers in the church of mot juste. For the stutterer, there are always too many words, and yet never quite enough. As a stutterer, Charles Dodgson was well-equipped to appreciate the sentiments he articulated during the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party:
‘You should say what you mean,’ the March Hare went on. ‘I do,’ Alice hastily replied; ‘at least — at least I mean what I say — that’s the same thing, you know.’ ‘Not the same thing a bit!’ said the Hatter.
Indeed, though stuttering is usually an affliction, it can also be a temptation, a tipsy sin of the tongue to complement what Augustine defined as ‘voluptuous aurium,’ the ‘ravishing of the ear.’
… But the voice is more than the body’s adventure or excursus, its way of going out from itself. For the voice can also sicken, thicken, ail, age, go away, be thwarted, contaminated. There is an oneirism of the defective voice which is every bit as intense and sustained as the strange, sad, stubborn dream of the living voice. As the body’s greatest power of emanation, the voice has become the bearer of a fantasy, not just of reach, but of endurance. In going out from the body, we imagine, the voice persists in its absence. But that voice is never entire, and the uploading of the body into voice never perfect.
… Like deafness, stuttering has sometimes been thought of as a kind of alienation from the human — a condition in which one wrestles with what has become a foreign tongue. Its victims, or exponents, are thought of as lispers, babblers, or barbarians, the jeering echolalia with which the Greeks designated those beyond the Hellenic pale.
… Like flypaper, the voice gathers things on the way, lilts, leanings, aches, eccentricities, accents. For the voice to fail is not only for it to wane, weaken, or be broken, to become less itself. It is mixing as well as dimming. For the voice to fail is for it to become adulterated, more than what it was. The voice is interfered with, picks up interference, as though it were an organ of listening as well as of transmission, impression as well as expression. Alongside the tradition of the horrifyingly, heroically failed or maimed voice, there is another tradition, which embraces the voice’s condition of what Michel Serres calls a ‘mixed body.’
There is no better enactment of this condition than the sound artist Alvin Lucier’s astonishing I Am Sitting in a Room of 1969. For this piece, Lucier recorded an explanation of the process by which he proposed to make the piece:
I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice, and I am going to plug it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves, so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed.
He left the room, and played the recording he had just made back into the room he had just left, where it was rerecorded. This recording was then played back into the room and rerecorded in the same way. As it is played, recorded, replayed and re-recorded, the voice and the room blend. By iteratively enhancing the resonant frequencies of the room, Lucier manages to let us hear the sound of how the room listens to the voice. What emerges is a new voice, an extraordinary, literally unheard-of ‘mixed body,’ the body of the voice as it always anyway, inaudibly is, amid the things of the world. Sound engineers for film and radio plays will often record silence on the set in order to have available a stock of ‘room-tone’ into which other sounds may be embedded.
… Our celebrations of the voice are too monotonously pitched in the register of fullness, richness, clarity and penetrativeness, the bay is too regularly accorded to the energetic out-loud and ‘haute voix.’ The autumnal, deciduous voice, which is heard in illness, fatigue, ague and age, is not epically shredded by passion, but rather silted with lilting circumstance. It is a voice becoming distinct in the very accidents whereby it loses its difference and distinctness. As Aristotle wrote, only creatures that have life can give voice, but not everything that is in the voice, or given utterance by it, is alive. In coughs, whispers, drawls, hisses, hesitations, laughs, stammers and other vocal noisings, the voice meets and mingles with what is not — indeed is, in the end, nothing more than this mingling. The pathos and the finesse of the voice that gives out, gives way, comes not from the virile figure it cuts against the ground of things, but rather from its suggestion of a persona, a being that has its being ‘through sound’ that, is, like our own bodies, rather than our dream of those bodies, a fluent mélange in which what it is and what it is not commingle and converse.