For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression

For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression

For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression

For More Than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression


The human voice does not deceive. The one who is speaking is inevitably revealed by the singular sound of her voice, no matter "what" she says. We take this fact for granted- for example, every time someone asks, over the telephone, "Who is speaking?" and receives as a reply the familiar utterance, "It's me." Starting from the given uniqueness of every voice, Cavarero rereads the history of philosophy through its peculiar evasion of this embodied uniqueness. She shows how this history- along with the fields it comprehends, such as linguistics, musicology, political theory, and studies in orality- might be grasped as the "devocalization of Logos," as the invariable privileging of semantike over phone, mind over body. Female figures- from the Sirens to the Muses, from Echo to opera singers- provide a crucial counterhistory, one in which the embodied voice triumphs over the immaterial semantic. Reconstructing this counterhistory, Cavarero proposes a "politics of the voice" wherein the ancient bond between Logos and politics is reconfigured, and wherein what matters is not the communicative content of a given discourse, but rather who is speaking.


My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words
Of thy tongue’s uttering, yet I know the sound.

—William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

After some hesitation, Romeo takes a risk—he speaks up out of the darkness and presents himself to Juliet. Rather than introduce himself by name, however, he alerts Juliet to his presence in the very act of speaking, or, more precisely, through the sound of his voice, by which she in turn recognizes him.

The singularity of the voice, which Shakespeare foregrounds in this well-known scene, is the essential point of departure for Cavarero’s text. She tries to rethink the relation between speech and politics—announced in Aristotle’s formula whereby man’s nature as a political animal [zoon politikon] is bound up with man’s characterization as that animal that has speech [zoon logon echon]—by focusing her attention on the embodied uniqueness of the speaker as it is manifested in that speaker’s voice, addressed to another. in this way, she radically departs from more traditional conceptions of what constitutes “political speech,” such as the signifying capacity of the speaker, the communicative capacity of discourse, or the semantic content of a given statement. As in her earlier work, Cavarero continues to develop and deepen a number of themes foregrounded by Hannah Arendt, who asserts in The Human Condition that what matters in speech is not signification or “communication” but rather the fact that “in acting and speaking, men show who they are, reveal actively their unique personal identities and thus make their appearance in the human world.” From Arendt’s perspective, speech is not a mere faculty that distinguishes man from animal, or a general capacity for signification that allows human beings to communicate with one another; rather, speech is first and foremost a privileged way in which the speaker actively, and therefore politically, distinguishes him- or herself to others. By focusing her attention on the uniqueness of the speaker—as it is manifested in the unique sound of the voice—Cavarero is able to offer in For More than One Voice a novel ac-

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