Unreal Nature

January 22, 2016

Sound-Body

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:38 am

… it’s steps coming and going, it’s voices speaking for a moment, it’s bodies groping their way, it’s the air, it’s things, it’s the air among things …

Continuing through Beckett, Modernism and the Material Imagination by Steven Connor (2014):

… As we tune our ears to the patterns of chatter and clatter in literature and the hesitations and lapses that mark their abeyance, we may easily forget the most important defining condition of most literary writing, namely that it is itself stonily mute, and that it exists in a world in which it is assumed that it will be read by a similarly silent reader. … Literature elaborately and attentively concerns itself with sound, but does not itself make a sound.

… perhaps it is a move from one kind of sound to another. The one who reads aloud is silent inside, for the outer voice will tend to drown out or shout down the inner. The one who reads silently, by contrast, is suffused by his or her inner sonority, if inside is exactly where it is, if sonorous is exactly what it is. Those who read aloud make themselves deaf, abolishing their ear into the sound that actuates their tongue. Those who read silently still their tongues the better to sound out what they read.

… The fact that inflected languages give a sonic index of the function of a word in a sentence, so that words have their spin, posture or orientation inscribed in them, is oddly enough what allows them to develop complex cross-fades and counter-rhythms through the interruption of expected word order.

[line break added] One of the paradoxes of the development of language is that, as silent reading has become more and more the norm, so uninflected forms have also tended to replace inflected forms, which is to say, the structure of sentences has become more and more dependent upon word order and therefore the continuous emission and emergence of the sound stream.

The increasing commonness of silent reading is to be regarded, therefore, not as the simple turning down of sound, but as the creation of a more complex space of inner resounding.

… Many of Beckett’s texts ask us to listen, or to imagine listening, to streams of words and voices that are themselves said to be internal murmurings or overhearings. Their space is the strained, uncertain listening space …

… The speaker of The Unnamable talks at one point of his fear of sound, in which the voice to which we are paying heed alternately blends with and splits from the sounds to which it is hearkening:

fear of sound, fear of sounds, all sounds more or less, more or less fear, all sounds, there’s only one, continuous day and night, what is it, it’s steps coming and going, it’s voices speaking for a moment, it’s bodies groping their way, it’s the air, it’s things, it’s the air among things, that’s enough, that I seek, like it, no, not like it, like me, in my own way, what am I saying, …

… Literature does not silence sound: it auditises the field of the visible. It opens up larger and more variable spaces of reprieve from the distinct orders of the visual-spatial and the oral-temporal. These spaces may not be bodily in the blunderingly crude sense that we affix to that term: that is, they may not be subject to the usual restriction of unshareable space and irreversible time.

[line break added] But that is only one view of what a body is and does. Bodies are also affectings, as Spinoza and, following him, Gilles Deleuze, argue. A body is the sum total of what it may effect and affect. The body is a field of potentials and exposures, which is always therefore ahead or aside of itself.

[line break added] Seen in this way, the paradoxical kind of sound-body suggested by literary works, and pressed to a certain kind of limit by the work of Beckett, is a kind of white body corresponding to that proposed by Serres, a body that can in principle inflect itself in all postures, positions, directions, and possibilities, and which ‘fills its space equally: high as much as low, right as much as left, it abandons preferences and determinations, its memberships, and knows the better how to do so because it has often crossed the old white river. Here it is a completed body.’

Corresponding to this white body would be something that we might call a white voice, on the analogy of the whiteness of white light or white noise, that includes all possible frequencies.

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

-Julie

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