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Introduction: Voice Matters | POSTMODERN CULTURE 10.12.

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September 9, 2017 Posted by Webmaster under Volume 24 - Number 3 - May 2014

Indices Annette Schlichter (bio)


Volume 24, Number 2, January 2014 University of California, Irvine
aschlich@uci.edu
Volume 24, Number 3, May 2014
Volume 25, Number 1, September 2014 Nina Sun Eidsheim (bio)
Volume 24, Number 1, September 2013 University of California, Los Angeles
neidsheim@ucla.edu
Volume 23, Number 3, May 2013
Volume 23, Number 2, January 2013 the voice is there to be forgotten in its materiality; only at this cost does it fill its primary
Volume 23, Number 1, September 2012 function.
Michel Chion
Volume 22, Number 3, May 2012
Volume 22, Number 2, January 2012 Sound is a little piece of the vibrating world.
Volume 22, Number 1, September 2011 Jonathan Sterne

Volume 21, Number 3, May 2011


Voice plays a vital role in human ecology. Simultaneously tied to the body and entwined with the
Volume 21, Number 2, January 2011 external environment, the voice exists in a complex interaction with multiple physical and
Volume 21, Number 1, September 2010 sociocultural formations. Yet interest in studying the role of voice qua voice in cultural production
is a fairly recent phenomenon. Even though a range of scholars from different disciplines such as
Volume 20, Number 3, May 2010
anthropology, film studies, linguistics, literature, musicology, performance studies, and
Volume 20, Number 2, January 2010 philosophy have commented on the constitution of the voice (including Dolar, Duncan, Eidsheim,
Volume 20, Number 1, September 2009 Ochoa Gautier, Kreiman and Sidtis, Sundberg, LaBelle, Butler, Feldman, Davies, and Connor in
Dumbstruck and Beyond Words) and the role of the vocal in culture and society (including Chion,
Volume 19, Number 3, May 2009
Cavarero, Connor, Harkness, Hirschkind, Ong, and Weidman), and even though some of these
Volume 19, Number 2, January 2009 writings have been influential in the humanities and social sciences (including those by Derrida,
Volume 19, Number 1, September 2008 Dolar, and Chion), a cohesive field of Voice Studies or even a broad area of shared vocabulary
has yet to coalesce. While debates about the materiality of sound and its impact on the cultural,
Volume 18, Number 3, May 2008
social, and political spheres (including those by Attali, Goodman, and Sterne) have coalesced
Volume 18, Number 2, January 2008 into the emergent field of Sound Studieswhich has received attention recentlythe same has
Volume 18, Number 1, September 2007 not yet been true for discourse on voice. Nor have the exploration of vocality and the conditions
of voicing become prominent topics within Sound Studies. This is a curious gap in academic
Volume 17, Number 3 May, 2007
debate. If human listening is indeed vococentric (6)as film scholar Michel Chion, one of the
Volume 17, Number 2, January 2007 eminent writers on voice, strongly claimswhy has the wealth of scholarly contributions about
Volume 17, Number 1, September 2006 voice failed to manifest in the more visible form of a field of study?

Volume 16, Number 3, May 2006


As paradoxical as it may sound, the rather elusive place of the voice in academic discourse
Volume 16, Number 2, January 2006 might be an effect of its central role and complex function, shaped by the intersection of the
Volume 16, Number 1, September 2005 material and the metaphorical, in Western culture and society. Thus, the fields that have
examined the voice have generally tended to divide into two camps: the symbolic and the
Volume 15, Number 3, May 2005
material. On the one hand, what may be considered material inquiry into the voice includes
Volume 15, Number 2, January 2005 medicine (for diagnostic and therapeutic purposes); physiology (in order to understand its
Volume 15, Number 1, September 2004 function within the body); and engineering (for example, to explain topics like tissue, vibration,
and air flow). On the other hand, the particular figuration of the voice as a carrier of self in
Volume 14, Number 3, May 2004
Western culture has turned it into an object of philosophical and theoretical inquiry, which has
Volume 14, Number 2, January 2004 often done away with its materiality. We may call this effect the weight of the symbolic.

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Volume 14, Number 1, September 2003


Traditionally, philosophical and theoretical works in Western culture have treated the voice as a
Volume 13, Number 3, May 2003
predominantly symbolic phenomenon with metaphysical qualities.[1] Voice has been cast as a
Volume 13, Number 2, January 2003 central metaphor in critiques of dominant regimes of representationfor instance, in the uses of
Volume 13, Number 1, September 2002 the tropes of speech and voice versus silence, deployed to represent gendered and/or racialized
relations of power. Yet the voice remains disembodied in such critiques. This disembodiment of
Volume 12, Number 3, May 2002
the voice arises from what the Italian philosopher Adriana Cavarero aptly terms the
Volume 12, Number 2, January 2002 videocentric character of Western thinking, an enterprise that denies to the voice a meaning of
Volume 12, Number 1, September 2001 its own (13). Cavareros work is part of a recent critique of the dominance of the visual in
Western culture, where the master discourse of philosophy has systematically represented
Volume 11, Number 3, May 2001
modes of knowing and being through metaphors of vision that range from everyday terms, such
Volume 11, Number 2, January 2001 as insight, to the philosophical notion of Enlightenment (Jay 1).
Volume 11, Number 1, September 2000
Even powerful critiques of logocentrism, such as Jacques Derridas examination of the
Volume 10, Number 3, May 2000
metaphysical tradition of thought in Of Grammatology, cannot escape the devocalization of
Volume 10, Number 2, January 2000 voice (Cavarero 14). For example, Derridas critical neologism phonocentrismas he calls the
Volume 10, Number 1, September 1999 privileging of speech as unmediated interiority, or the presence of pure thinking, over writing in
the metaphysical traditionapproaches the vocal without fully acknowledging the material.
Volume 9, Number 3, May 1999
Derrida argues that voice has become the vehicle of self or identity, which expresses itself in the
Volume 9, Number 2, May 1999 concept of writing as derivative of speech; while speech effaces the process of signification
Volume 9, Number 1, September 1998 through the assumption of the voices relationship to self, feigning an absolute proximity that he
calls auto-affection (20). Derrida renders the effacement of the signifier in the voice an
Volume 8, Number 3, May 1998
experience of illusion, which has become the condition of the very idea of truth (20).
Volume 8, Number 2, January 1998 Curiously, his uncovering of the Western subjects illusion of self-presence recognizesat least
Volume 8, Number 1, September 1997 implicitlythe materiality of voice as a condition of speech, in order to erase it again.

Volume 7, Number 3, May 1997


Cavarero claims that speech in the Derridean critique of phonocentrism is exclusively figured as
Volume 7, Number 2, January 1997 thought. She argues that the voice, associated with time, is represented as an acoustic signifier
Volume 7, Number 1, September 1996 that is more or less collapsed with the signified, hence giving the illusion of presence, while
writing appears subversive to Derrida because its spatial organization undermines the absolute
Volume 6, Number 3, May 1996
identification of signifier and signified that voice seems to present (222). This privileging of
Volume 6, Number 2, January 1996 writing ties Derridas treatment of the phone to a history of logocentrism-as-videocentrism.[2] In a
Volume 6, Number 1, September 1995 similar vein, Fred Moten detects in Derridas writing an occlusion (of sound) that occurs
sometimes in the name of a deconstruction of phonocentrism and always within a tradition of
Volume 5, Number 3, May 1995
logocentrism, which has at its heart a paradoxically phonocentric deafness (185). Moreover,
Volume 5, Number 2, January 1995 Derridas approach reduces the capacities of technologies of sound re/production, like that of the
Volume 5, Number 1, September 1994 phonograph, and their disruption of the presence of the subject in speech, to the sphere of mere
signification.
Volume 4, Number 3, May 1994
Volume 4, Number 2, January 1994 Derridas treatment of the voice stands as just one example of a range of influential humanities
Volume 4, Number 1, September 1993 discourses that engage with the voice as metaphor or theorize vocal acts in order to address
wider social, political, or cultural questions, but ignore the sonic aspect of the voice. Further
Volume 3, Number 3, May 1993
examples of devocalization can be found in Althussers notion of interpellation; Foucaults
Volume 3, Number 2, January 1993 deployment of the confession or of parrhesia; and in feminist arguments about gendered power
Volume 3, Number 1, September 1992 relations that equate the voice with agency and authority, and silence with powerlessness, such
as Spivaks or Showalters. Such works indicate the relevance to the humanities of the question
Volume 2, Number 3, May 1992
of the voice as medium, but they also quickly phase out the material voice, thereby maintaining
Volume 2, Number 2, January 1992 the linguistic as the paradigm for thinking speech.
Volume 2, Number 1, September 1991
Thus, hearing and thinking of the voice first and foremost as material practice does not free us
Volume 1, Number 3, May 1991
from the burden of the symbolicnor should it. In fact, the friction between the material and the
Volume 1, Number 2, January 1991 metaphorical dimensions of the vocal should serve as the condition of possibility for a productive
Volume 1, Number 1, September 1990 conversation about the voice. The weight of the symbolic on the vocal, and its close relationship
to the self as interiority, potentially mark crucial differences between discourse about voice and a
recently recognizable field of Sound Studies, which has emerged from an explicit interest in the
sonic, that is, the materiality of sound and its technologies. This is not to say that sound per se

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lacks a symbolic dimension. On the contrary, Veit Erlmanns inquiry into the history of notions of
resonance is only one study that demonstrates the metaphorical richness of the phenomenon of
resonance in Western culture, and the ways in which thought has been understood to exist in the
absence of resonance are, in fact, not isolated. However, the study of sound has been conceived
as a field by putting materiality first. Taking this cue, we approach questions of the voice via
Sound Studies: i.e., we explicitly address the ways in which the symbolic, material, and cultural
intermingle and co-produce.

Specifically, we have found that to maintain the productive dynamic consideration of voice as
culturally produced material entityand to avoid the separation of the material and the symbolic
we have to take a transdisciplinary approach. Examples may be found in a combination of
performative and experiential methodologies together with relevant theoretical frameworks (such
as those of Bulut, Eidsheim, Marshall, Schlichter, and Kinney in this issue), and in the feeding of
one type of listening into another domainsay, applying clinicians listening culture to practices
that are commonly thought as aesthetic, for example, opera (Kasunic, in this issue).

Investing in a productive interaction and indeed tension between voice as sound and material
and voice as symbol, the essays in this issue do not contest the discursive role of voice. Rather,
they suggest that a notion of voice-as-discursivity is inseparable from vocality, pointing to the
ways in which discourse is constitutive of and constituted by vocal performances. Also
inseparable from vocality, these articles posit, is listening to the voicewhether in the form of
auto-listening (Eidsheim); collective or communal listening (Eidsheim, Kasunic, Schlichter,
Marshall, Bulut); pedagogical listening (Eidsheim, Kasunic, Schlichter, Marshall, Bulut), or
mediating mass audience listening (Kinney)which can also productively be understood as a
type of diagnostic listening, as Kasunic puts it. Indeed, the diagnostic may not only address
what produces such voices, but may also inquire into what produced the type of listening that
could carry out such an assessmentwhat Eidsheim identifies as listening to listening.
Addressing the way in which discursivity has been fashioned and maintained by a material
relation to voice, the collection interweaves perspectives from different fields of studyincluding
film and media studies, literary theory, musicology, critical theory, disability studies,
psychoanalysis, composition studies and rhetoric, gender and queer studies, drama and
performance studies, and cultural histories of sound and its technologies.

The question of the relationship of voice and the human body within a network of forces takes
center stage in the essays examinations of different histories, ideologies, and epistemologies of
voice in the West. As a singer and voice teacher, musicologist Nina Sun Eidsheim considers not
only the sound of the voice, but also the material, cultural practice of vocal timbral formation.
Specifically, she is concerned with the politics that are carried out through listeners interpretation
of voices and the attendant formal (voice lessons) and informal (recognition and acceptance)
pedagogies that act out those interpretations. However, rather than a critique of the individuals
who project racialized listening and materialize it by informally and formally training voices, she
notes that it is broader notions of sound and voice that entrain and support a more general
listening for difference, and suggests that, in order to combat these tendencies, developing
knowledge regarding the micropolitics of vocal timbre requires inquiry into listening.

Considering a precarious moment in Paris, historical musicologist David Kasunic is also


concerned with listening pedagogies. Through the introduction of Joseph Fouriers mathematical
theory of harmonic analysis, Ren Lannecs transcription of tubercular voices, and Manuel
Garcias physiology of voice, the question of the location of singing is reexamined. By
considering contemporaneous descriptions and cultural practices around the tubercular voice as
performed through seemingly disparate practicesmedicine, literature, musical transcription,
vocal and instrumental writingKasunic paints a picture of mid-nineteenth century Pariss
interconnected listening strategiesspecifically, the relevance of tubercular singing (as a
symbol of death) for the meaning of listening in modernity.

By considering experimental music and deaf performance through the theoretical frameworks of

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disability studies and psychoanalysis, theorist and musicologist Zeynep Bulut brings to light new
perspectives on the presumed limits of hearing and silence. Bulut examines the vocal
compositions Phonophonie by Mauricio Kagel and Lecture on Nothing by John Cage. Examining
these presumed limits through recent stagings of familiar twentieth-century art music repertoire,
Bulut posits, can further point to expanded boundaries of voice and speech, while
simultaneously demonstrating a performative language.

American studies and film scholar Katherine Kinneys essay The Resonance of Brandos Voice
engages with the vocal body in the cinema. Using current theories of acting in film and on the
stage, she examines the role of the voice in American acting by listening to Marlon Brandos
vernacular sound, from Stanleys howl in A Streetcar Named Desire to the Godfathers sotto
voce rasp. For Kinney, Brandos voice, which sounds so different from voices in Hollywoods
leading-man tradition, resonates with social and political meaning. She argues that his vocality
both embodies the naturalist tendencies of the Method and foregrounds its own construction,
exemplifying a central contradiction in male American actingand the norms of masculinityof
his time.

Annette Schlichter

Annette Schlichter is Associate Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of


California Irvine. She is the author of a German-speaking study on the figure of the madwoman
in feminist critiques of representation and the coeditor of a German collection on feminism and
postmodernism. She is currently working on a project, which examines overt and covert
ideologies and epistemologies of voice in different media practices, moving from a critical
reading of the metaphorical uses of voice in various literary and theoretical texts towards
analyses of vocal practices with a particular emphasis on the role of vocality in performances of
gender and sexuality.

Nina Sun Eidsheim

Nina Sun Eidsheim is Assistant Professor in the Department of Musicology, University of


California, Los Angeles. Her first book, Sensing Sound: Singing and Listening as Vibrational
Practice, is forthcoming with Duke University Press fall 2015. In her second book project,
Measuring Race: Listening to Vocal Timbre and Vocality in African-American Music, Eidsheim
deals with the cultural, social, and material projection and perception of vocal timbre.

Footnotes
[1] On the voice in ancient and pre-modern Western culture, see, for example, Butler, Connor
(2000), Dillon, Gordon, and Porter.

[2] For further critiques of Derridas reduction of the voice to self-presence, see Dolar, Kittler, and
Moten.

[3] In addition, the two editors of this special issue have engaged this endeavor by convening
research groups and symposia, giving presentations, and publishing for a number of years.
These activities include the University of California Multicampus Research Group, Keys to Voice
Studies: Terminology, Methodology, and Questions Across Disciplines (2012-15); University of
California Humanities Research Center Residency Research Group, Vocal Matters:
Technologies of Self and the Materiality of Voice (fall 2011); and the conference Voice Studies
Now, at the University of California, Los Angeles, January 29-31, 2015 (organized by Eidsheim
and Katherine Meizel).

[4] For example, one of the sections in Jonathan Sternes 2012 compilation of foundational texts
in sSound sStudies is organized under the heading Voices; the volume Voice Studies: Critical
Approaches to Process, Performance and Experience (edited by Konstantinos Thomaidis and

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Ben MacPherson) is forthcoming summer 2015; The Oxford Handbook of Voice Studies (edited
by Eidsheim and Meizel) is also in the making; and the dual language journal TRANS Revista
has published a special issue on voice (edited by rsula San Cristobal); a colloquium centered
on voice edited by Martha Feldman is forthcoming from The Journal of the American
Musicological Society; and Twentieth Century Music and Polygraph: An International Journal of
Culture and Politics recently issued calls for special issues on voice.

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The Micropolitics of Listening to Vocal Timbre Notes on Contributors

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