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September 03, 2006



I've had a fairly voice-filled weekend what with one thing and another, so I'm really excited to get back and find you too are working hard on that devious being of the voice. I love this stuff about voices not singing - so so much to be said about the moment of transition between troublesome that makes sprechgesang, for instance. Can't wait for extended versions of this: keep it up!


"To slightly over-characterise Dolar, there is in his book a certain disdain for the aesthetic pleasuring in the voice, a disdain which flows from the need to sustain a critical relationship with his field (this is a point also made by Pinocchio Theory in his recent review of Dolar’s book)."

I find this characterization of Dolar's position somewhat strange. I confess I haven't finished his book yet, but isn't this precisely one of the points of voice as objet a, that it embodies a jouissance that is in excess of the law of the signifier and which functions as cause of desire? This seems to come out above all in his discussions of Plato's theory of music in _The Republic_ and elsewhere. Plato (and later Augustine) goes into extensive detail about the properties of acceptable and unacceptable forms of music and poetry, excluding the flute from the _Republic_, but also defining what sorts of meter are acceptable in poetry. It does not seem to me that Dolar is so much holding the jouissance of voice in disdain, as he's trying to account for why, historically, voice has been seen as a threat or dangerous, and how it functions as a point of attachment in identification that is irreducible to the play of the signifier.

One of the repetitive themes throughout the text is the manner in which voice can become fetish (cf. pgs. 30-31), but here wouldn't the issue be that of objet a as a product of castration (Lacan writes objet a as a/-phi in Seminar 10 and 11), and how certain relations to voice strive to disavow castration? Would this be a disdain for the jouissance of voice, or a way of trying to surmount the traumatic dimension of voice (the trauma of the superegoic voice in its sheer materiality, for instance)?


Of course, as I say, I am overcharacterising to make rhetorical effect to a certain extent. However: I suppose the crucial point here is whether one is prepared to make the leap (and it is a very wide leap, by no means clearly signposted in either Lacan, Freud, Dolar or Zizek) from objet petit a, to pleasure, consuming, encounter. All of Dolar's Lacanian moves seem to circle round pleasure, around the voice's texture, its materiality ssimply a kind of naming, but where are the voices he encounters here? Where is the vocal stuff against which he is rubbing?


Hi Pinnochio:thanks for your kind words... I'm working on somthign a bit longer, so I'll keep you posted!! I've been reading you stuff for a while now - very inspiring.


Are you using the terms "pleasure" and "enjoyment" as synonyms, as the concepts are quite distinct in Lacan. Does Dolar himself refer to voice in terms of pleasure specifically, as I can't recall coming across it (and I'm sure I could have easily missed it as I wasn't looking for it)?

At any rate, I strongly disagree with this remark: "However: I suppose the crucial point here is whether one is prepared to make the leap (and it is a very wide leap, by no means clearly signposted in either Lacan, Freud, Dolar or Zizek) from objet petit a, to pleasure, consuming, encounter."

There is actually a good deal to justify this move in Lacan. Objet a itself is the remainder of jouissance (not pleasure) that is produced as a result of the operations of alienation and separation, and is what the subject strives to obtain in the fundamental phantasy ($ <> a). As such, voice would be that senseless excess over and above the play of the signifier, that attaches one to a discourse beyond what the discourse might say (the person who speaks "just to hear themselves speak") or the terrifying jouissance of the superegoic voice that traumatizes as a sort of excess over any particular command it might make (for instance, the child who's world is put entirely out of joint simply in being addressed by their father, regardless of whether that father is yelling or punishing... There's something in excess of the command here).

In his account of drive Lacan argues that drive continuously pulsates about objet a, perpetually missing it, but gaining jouissance or satisfaction from the very repetitive nature of this process. This idiotic repetition is what Lacan refers to as "phallic jouissance", a jouissance attached to the ever elusive object, and he explicitly connects it to the logic of capitalistic consumption in Seminar 17. Consequently we can have various avatars of objet a. There can be objet a of the traumatic *encounter* (which Lacan associates with anxiety in seminar 10: L'Angoisse, where overproximity of the object produces anxiety). There can be objet a of drive-satisfaction pulsating about the object and missing it (which I take you to be referring to when you talk about "pleasure", but it's important to emphasize that where pleasure is a reduction of tension in the psychic system, jouissance is an increase that's often experienced as painful), and finally there's objet a pertaining to consumption, where since the object is always missed we perpetually have to renew our pursuit of the object. This is all standard Lacan.

I'm a little less clear as to where Dolar is going with his discussion of fetishization and music. Fetish as a form of perversion seeks to disavow castration. The signifier is the agent of castration in that it requires a sacrifice of jouissance in order to enter the symbolic order (the symbolic order instates perpetual displacement and absence into the infans). Dolar's point seems to be that in the case of the musical voice we experience ourselves as surmounting the lack introduced by the signifier and attaining completeness through our relation to the voice. I'm not sure if it's common or not, but in my own relation to music I seldom notice the words or lyrics being sung at all (which is one reason, I take it, that it's possible to enjoy songs in foregin languages). Rather, we relate to voice itself beyond meaning and seem to encounter a jouissance that is absent in speech. It is for this reason that Plato was so suspicious of music containing lyrics and certain forms of sung poetry, as it can capture the listener or hypnotize them, bring them to assent to things being articulated in the song (as in the feiry speech of a fundamentalist minister, which is so entrancing), thereby introducing something other than logos. Voice as objet a, I think, explains the efficacy of such attachments.

Am I completely missing your points?


Thanks for the tutorial on Lacan (which I don't need), all of which is fine and makes sense on its own terms, but still does not address my core point here: my critique of Dolar (and by implication, Lacan and I suppose, to a lesser extent, Zizek) is that the Lacanian economy has no place for thinking about material specificity save at the most generalised and 'empty' level - in other words, Lacanian psychoanalysis fails to escape from the deadlock it sets up: the Real is always in some sense empty, general, without specficity and it is precisely this turn in Lacan (and, perhaps also in Zizek) that makes encountering voices as they sound (not in any innocent or original sense, but in their spcificity) very difficult or always already displaced.
In short, my point, despite my throw-away use of terms like pleasure etc. here, is to call for a precise materialism of the voice: in other words where are the sounding, material voices in Dolar's text? How does our consuming of those voices intervene in their meanings? What, specifically, is at work in spoecific, contextually particular, voices.
As a Lacanian, I am dismayed at the ill-suited of terms like objet petit a to this project, although I am on the whole in agreement with Zizek's re-reading of late Lacan on this in particular. All that you say above, therefore only makes sense if you limit the account of voice to a generalised, non-specific account. If you deceide to test it out a little more thoeoughly (i.e. see how the approach might work in say an engagement with the vocal technics of Bruce Springsteen, for example), it gets MUCH more difficult. I think Dolar is right to avoid this materiality since his approach is ill-suited to thinking it. The question remains, how to think that level of specificity? Is material specificity simpply a spasming of the symbolic order? Are we to redice it all to a misfire, a short circuit?


Thanks for the clarification. I think I was thrown through a loop by your use of the term "pleasure" and suggestion that this is ignored, when objet a and drive revolve around jouissance and repetitive satisfaction. I'm much more sympathetic to the claim you're making in terms of materiality, but I wonder if this isn't a problem that extends far beyond Lacanian psychoanalysis. In the clinic, of course, we don't work with these sorts of generalities, but with the material specificity. The analysand, for instance, goes on and on about the traumatic nature of a particular voice such as the paternal voice that they perpetually experienced as invading and upsetting their world, perpetually putting them ill at ease, regardless of *what* is said. That is, these generalities come to be individuated in the analytic setting through the experience of the analysand and specific way of relating to the material world (perhaps this is a problem in thinkers such as Zizek and Dolar as they only work with psychoanalytic concepts and not a clinic?).

The Western philosophical tradition, as you no doubt no, has had a tendency to argue that materiality as such is not thinkable apart from form. This comes out in Plato's critique of appearances, Aristotle's distinction between form and matter, Kant's subordination of the matter of sensibility to the categories of understanding, Hegel's assertion that we cannot say sense-certainty but are always-already situated in the universal of the signifier, Husserl's relegation of the hyletic flux of experience to a subordinate position beneath "eidetic essences", and Saussure's submission of sound to the differential forms of the signifier (which comes out with special clarity in Hjelmslev). Yet nonetheless in the Aristotlean orientation matter serves a necessary *indviduating* function for beings, as forms alone do not individuate one being from another. What, then, is the specific individuating contribution of matter? None of the thinkers above, up to Lacan (who is deeply formalist, as you point out) and Dolar, have a satisfying response to this question.

It sounds to me that in relation to voice you are asking how it is possible for us to think the individual/individuating without reducing it to form. In some respect, Dolar seems to be alluding to this as well in his discussions of Dolar, when he argues that voice is left over when the differential form of the signifier is subtracted. Voice serves as a necessary condition for the signifier and as its material embodiment, but are we able to think this materiality of voice for itself, without reducing its individuality and singularity once again to form? Or, to be paradoxical, can the materiality of this voice here be said?


Uggh, It's too early to be writing... The second sentence in the final paragraph should read "Dolar seems to be alluding to this as well in his discussions of *Saussure*..." That is, there's something that's not captured in the apparatus of the signifier and the signifying chain alone.


Interesting discussion - but Sinthome, surely there are other resources in thinking materiality than in the philosophers whose work you pointed to? Schelling, Nietzsche, and Heidegger ('The Origin of the Work of Art').

Nevertheless, fascinating to think about what it means to write about the materiality of *vernacular* voices. If there are ways of attempting to repeat or retake materiality in philosophical commentary (e.g., Blanchot on literature, Heidegger on Holderlin, Nietzsche on Wagner), I wonder whether the question raised by the materiality of the vernacular voice is even more transgressive.

Curious the division of labour implied in the separation of philosophy from Theory, as encountered in other humanities departments: the philosophy/ Theorist comes up with ideas that are then applied (e.g., Dolar's account of the voice to the discussion of Springsteen's voice.) But of course this application is never straightforward, and for me at least, it is where something interesting happens: philosophy/ Theory is forced to plunge into materiality. Why do philosophers so rarely engage themselves in this kind of work?


Lars has this right, I think. Whilst the Lacanian turn in critical theory (one of many, of course) has opened up some very interesting and fruitful avenues of thinking (Ljubljana school in particular), there are blindspots in that body of work that must also be addressed, and we have other resources to call on for that. I'm currently re-reading John Mowitt's _Percussion_ which stands in a critical relationship with Zizek et al whilst maintaining a certain solidarity. Might be worth looking again at thinking how the vernacular, as Lars siggests, holds a certain kind of spcificity which is strategically available to us here...

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