Voice Lessons: The Seductive Appeal of Vocal Control in Frank Herbert's Dune

By Mack, Robert L. | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

Voice Lessons: The Seductive Appeal of Vocal Control in Frank Herbert's Dune


Mack, Robert L., Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


Calmness drained out of her. Jessica felt her teeth chattering, clamped them together. Then she heard Paul's voice, low and controlled, reciting the litany:

"Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past me I will turn to see fear's path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

--Frank Herbert, Dune

FANS OF FRANK HERBERT'S CLASSIC SCIENCE FICTION NOVEL DUNE WILL NO doubt recognize the above quotation as the Bene Gesserit litany against fear. The affirmation appears many times in the narrative, becoming so representative of the central character Paul Atreides that an edited version of the invocation found its way into David Lynch's 1984 filmic adaptation of the book. Those who have not previously encountered the litany in either text or film, however, will likely register a fact that its more ardent fans tend to forget: namely, that it is spoken aloud. There is more to the litany than its content. Although at times Paul silently thinks the litany within the story, in dire moments--such as in the ornithopter crash excerpted above--it appears to require vocal repetition in order to calm a terrified heart.

The litany against fear is one of many vocal techniques that Herbert utilizes to construct the Bene Gesserit as a politically powerful force within his futuristic narrative. An ancient and mysterious order of women, the Bene Gesserit train (almost exclusively female) acolytes in diplomacy, espionage, sex, martial arts, lie detection, and mind control. Adherents perfect this last talent through a physiological trick they deem "the Voice," or the meticulous adjustment of personal vocal tones to mirror a target's own. Performed correctly, the Voice results in a frighteningly irresistible mental suggestion directed toward a hapless pawn. By assuming a voice uniquely keyed to each of her victims, then, a Bene Gesserit can almost unnoticeably bend the willpower of other characters in the novel by merely speaking to them.

The power and danger of the voice in these and other aspects of Herbert's narrative resonate with contemporary philosophical anxieties surrounding the nature and scope of human embodied speech. As Mladen Dolar notes in A Voice and Nothing More, the voice is the site of a great many paradoxes. It appears to substantively transmit meanings to others while evading any clear substance or secure meaning in itself. The voice seems to function as a unique expression of oneself, but it is also necessarily an expression of the other. We only gain our ability to speak from others who teach us--the (m)other, after all, ascribes meaning to the infant's voice long before the infant does. Even when the voice takes on more stylized forms in practices like singing, it registers as both beautiful and unsettling, a terminable signification coupled with an elusive excess that Roland Barthes once attempted to capture in his notion of "the grain." The fact that we cannot locate or define something so intimately conceived of as our own (1) establishes, in the end, a rather uncertain relationship with the voice, inspiring a mixture of both anxiety and pleasure that manifests across texts in popular culture. It follows, then, that a concern for the philosophy of voice is well served by studies that attempt to discern how cultural representations and deployments of the voice indicate the timbre of this collective anxiety and pleasure.

With its use of the voice to steer key narrative points, Dune certainly serves as a fruitful starting point for this kind of project. Herbert's masterpiece is "the best-selling science-fiction novel ever" (Freierman C7), with five further novels penned by Herbert. In addition to Lynch's cinematic adaptation in 1984, the novel has inspired television miniseries, video games, and even a modern run of eleven best-selling books set within the Dune universe and coauthored by Herbert's son. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Voice Lessons: The Seductive Appeal of Vocal Control in Frank Herbert's Dune
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.