Academic journal article Women & Music

An Antidote to Metaphysics: Adriana Cavarero's Vocal Philosophy

Academic journal article Women & Music

An Antidote to Metaphysics: Adriana Cavarero's Vocal Philosophy

Article excerpt

I am convinced that the best antidote to meta-physics is singing.

Adriana Cavarero with Elisabetta Bertolino, "Beyond Ontology and Sexual Difference: An Interview with the Italian Feminist Philosopher Adriana Cavarero"

The body of the voice/the voice of the body.

Meredith Monk, "Notes on the Voice"

ADRIANA CAVARERO HAS BEEN ONE OF Italy's foremost feminist philosophers since the 1980s. Her work has ranged widely from early investigations of dialectics and politics in Plato to her reflections on contemporary violence and ethics. Through it all, Cavarero is concerned with something that has in some quarters of postmodern philosophy and musicology become unpopular--a conception of selfhood founded on a unique embodied existent. Since the early 2000s Cavarero has turned toward voice as the means of elaborating her antimetaphysical project. With her turn toward the sonic and the vocal she has gradually come to the attention of music scholars. (1) Cavarero encourages us to rethink philosophical problems shared by many theories of voice: the question of sexual difference and its audibility, the peculiar affects in hearing and desiring voices, the mediation of voices, and the modes of relation and communication they make possible. Cavarero engages each of these questions in an important body of work founded in feminist thought that demonstrates the importance of vocality to any consideration of ethics, subjectivity, and human difference.

What follows is a polyphonic weave of historical and theoretical reflections with the voice of Cavarero as the cantus firmus. I offer an introduction, critique, and extension of the work of a philosopher whose concern with matters of voice and vocal expression deserves recognition and response from musicologists. (2) It was in the pages of this journal that Mary Ann Smart and Annamaria Cecconi first brought Cavarero's philosophy of vocal expression--For More than One Voice (hereafter FMTOV)--into an ongoing conversation within musicology about voices, philosophy, and gender. (3) Indeed, with its provocative emphasis on sexual difference, politics, the corporeal basis of vocal enunciation, and an ethics of relation and mutual vulnerability, Cavarero's philosophy is a welcome addition to the musicological toolkit--especially as scholars intensify a turn toward issues of presence, mediation, and performance)

Even as some musicologists have begun to take notice of Cavarero's work, none have noted how she herself arrived at vocal expression as a topic of philosophical reflection. Indeed, her reputation is based on and her most important work has been done in the Italian tradition of sexual difference feminism. She has typically avoided musical matters. Yet I argue that her vocal turn is of a piece with her earlier work. The model of vocal expression she develops in FMTOV combines a philosophical basis in Hannah Arendt's conception of action, a theoretical grounding in the thought of sexual difference, and her own practical participation in the feminist philosophical collective Diotima. (5) Cavarero's pragmatic, feminist, and political genealogy for her vocal philosophy is in stark contrast to conceptions of voice based on psychoanalysis, performativity, or linguistic anthropology. (6) This is not to suggest that such approaches are hOt valuable or that she herself is entirely distinct from those traditions but to note that Cavarero's conception of vocality brings to our attention uncommon interlocutors for musicology, namely, the work of Arendt and Italian feminism. (7)

As I argue, Cavarero's intellectual underpinnings must be taken into account if we are to recognize the full force and utility of her vocal philosophy to recent practices of musicology. My efforts to articulate the relationship of FMTOV to Cavarero's earlier thought are necessary, as she does not always make those links apparent. The first section of this essay is devoted to this task and draws out the importance of Cavarero's concepts of sexual difference, natality, and embodied uniqueness to her vocal philosophy. …

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