Fragments on/of Voice

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Abstract

Literature operates with voice, and voices the voices of the author/poet, of the characters (and the poem’s ‘speaker’), and of the reciter and reader. But literature also operates an extensive imaginary of voice. Voice is the ‘stuff’ of literature in two senses: its material support and an abiding theme. And criticism itself involves so many ‘voicings’ of literary texts, as we test out the texts’ possibilities, their reverberations, their potential afterlives. This chapter explores both the physiology and imaginary of voice across millennia, shaped by phenomena as various as the social function of poetry in predominantly, or exclusively, oral cultures, the class and race politics of accent, the technologies of sound recording, reproduction, transmission and processing. It approaches this history through a series of interconnecting fragments: Voice as origin to, and excess over, speech; the voices of the muses and of song, voices that come from within and without, voices that ‘possess’ us; prosthetics of voice, written or machinic; mnemonics of voice, in which voice is not just memorable but creates memory. In both its physiology and its imaginary, voice comes across as extravagant – as extravagance, even.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSound and Literature
EditorsAnna Snaith
PublisherCambridge University Press
Chapter2
Pages56-73
Number of pages18
ISBN (Electronic)9781108855532
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 May 2020

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