Sunday, May 24, 2009

Voices Cast at the Margins of the City

Montiglio tells us that Athenian orators of the fourth century, in contrast to Homeric public speakers, "want their voices to be made of a pure disembodied logos, and not of a powerfully resonant substance. . . .From being ligeia, their voice has become lampra (luminous)" (Silence, p. 148). She recapitulates and expands on ligus:

[I]n epic poetry ligus modifies not only the voice of good speakers, but also the song of the Sirens and the dirge of the Muses, thus associating different forms of expression on account of their clear and powerful resonance. As regards speakers, there is no incompatibility between the audible physicality of their voices and the clarity of their words. By contrast, in the classical age ligus is applied to specifically to kinds of music and utterances in which sounds prevail over words: the lovely melody of the aulos, but also, and more insistently, the voices of mourning.


Ligus, Montiglio says, speaking still of the classical age, "describes voices that are cast at the margins of the city: that of the nightingale, a plaintive song reminiscent of barbarian rhythms; that of mourning women, like the Thebans who pour out their ritual cries over the dead, or like the Suppliants, barbarian women similar to nightingales, who cry out their lament with a barbarian voice"(pp. 148-149). The marginalization of voices ripples–no, the disturbance is deeper. Sundered from sound, wrenched from its body, the voice loses its capacity to legitimately express suffering in public spaces, paradoxically just as further suffering is imposed by force; subaltern dissent is stifled at the cost of a muted logos for everyone, and, consequently, a muted democracy. Passions, any passions, including the passions of the Muses, have become a threat to the web of orders: the political, the epistemic, the linguistic, the expressive, the noetic, all sustained now by not just a denial of vocal power but by a violent reification of speech and concomitant suppression of the real, a devaluing of the real in the economies of the recognized. Recognition. The irony of course is that the voice is the epitome of recognizable of personal expressions, gestures that tell who we are. If hearing consigns us the world and its contingency, as Cavarero says in echo of Jonas (For More than One Voice, p.37), then the deafness codified by excision of voices from the shared logos makes problematic any discussion of a shared world, except in the most rarified, least inclusive settings. I have to stop myself here. I don't want to rely on pre-established habits of thinking in order to assimilate what Montiglio has to say. The dematerialization of language means something to me personally, and I suspect the dematerialization of silence does as well. Silence feels.

Let's pick up again on Montiglio's discussion. Her interpretation of the conceptualizations of the vocal quality of ritual mourning is, naturally, informed by Nicole Loraux's study of ritual lament. She ties work to a conceptual dematerialization of the voice, and also, coincidentally, a dematerialization of the logos.

As Nicole Loraux has shown, the legal effort to reject the vocal expressions of mourning outside the public space is prompted by the political urgency to contain feminine lament, which supposedly upsets civic order by its unbridled affectivity. Accordingly, it is to be expected that the voice of the orator refuses to resemble these voices of lamentation: while the latter are all-sonorous, ligeiai, the former dematerializes by coinciding with the rational content that it conveys. In fact, lampros applies to the logos as well as to the speaker's voice; and persuasive speech, as Athena reminds us, is provided with eyes, with a gaze that emphasizes its rationality. This speech that wants to be manifest to the eye makes itself visible through an equally transparent medium: an immaterial voice, a pure "mirror of thought."

(pp. 149-150)

The nurturing of empathy leads to a realization that we not only acknowledge gaps in soulful encounters but that we feel our own impulse to respond to gaps. I speak now, to be critical of my own thoughts, from experience and from memory, which we may wish to regard in its physicality. Is luminosity an aspect of its physicality? Is it any less questionable for being embodied? Obviously I harbor doubts about the nature of my feelings, my impulses, my responses. Shall I cull the margins of the city for the secrets to my soul? How could that be empathy? Because it would represent a commitment to listening?

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posted by Fido the Yak at 4:13 AM.


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