The Matter of Voice: Sensual Soundings

The Matter of Voice: Sensual Soundings

The Matter of Voice: Sensual Soundings

The Matter of Voice: Sensual Soundings

Synopsis

Philosophers for millennia have tried to silence the physical musicality of voice in favor of the purity of ideas without matter, souls without bodies. Nevertheless, voices resonate among bodies, among texts, and across denotation and sound; they are singular, as unique as fingerprints, but irreducibly collective too. They are material, somatic, and musical. But voices are also meaningful--they give body to concepts that cannot exist in abstractions, essential to sense yet in excess of it. They can be neither reduced to neurology nor silenced in abstraction. They complicate the logos of the beginning and emphasize the enfleshing of all words. Through explorations of theology and philosophy, pedagogy, translation, and semiotics, all interwoven with song, The Matter of Voice works toward reintegrating our thinking about both speaking and authorial voice as fleshy combinings of meaning and music.

Excerpt

And everything that speaks is made of mortal flesh.

—louis-rené des forêts, cited by Maurice Blanchot,
A Voice from Elsewhere

I came of intellectual age after authors were dead, which conveniently rendered their voices immaterial. This “death” had been given its official notice in Roland Barthes’s famous essay, “The Death of the Author,” which declared that authorial intent and biography were not central to literary criticism. Such reading is too limiting, Barthes argued; context and history and the accumulation of readers added to a text layers of meaning that no author could have intended, so that the author’s word on the text’s meaning was not in fact final and absolute. Indeed—a more extreme claim—it was not to be considered. the authors’ media—their poems, stories, essays, books—were no longer mediums, no longer channels for their very particular authorial voices. Barthes did not say that voices never matter, and in both A Lover’s Discourse and Image Music Text he dwells lovingly on what he calls “the grain of the voice,” “the friction between music and … language.” He considers voice in its very somatic texture, its feel in the throat and on the lips, its eroticism. But that the matter of the author matters, that the materiality of the voice lives even in writing (as I shall argue in the first chapter here), did not seem to affect the authorial death announcement or its eager reception.

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