some foundational stuff


While I did get to read (and try to ingest) all of Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,” I focused on the section about interpellation. In this section, Althusser discusses how individuals exist as subjects. In his example about the “hailing,” a person who is addressed becomes a subject in the moment the police flag the person down via the “hey, you there.” He says, “Experience shows that the practical telecommunication of hailings is such that they hardly ever miss their man: verbal call or whistle, the one hailed always recognizes that it is really him who is being hailed. And yet it is a strange phenomenon, and one which cannot be explained solely by ‘guilt feelings’, despite the large numbers who ‘have something on their consciences’.” That recognition here is important because it points to the act of recognition and of existence of subjects as something that always happens. He also says,” The existence of ideology and the hailing or interpellation of individuals as subjects are one and the same thing.” Althusser discusses how “ideology has always-already interpellated individuals as subjects.” He gives an example of how unborn children are always-already subjects. I am also curious about this statement about unborn children being born into/existing in a “highly structured” system: “…the former subject-to-be will have to ‘find’ ‘its’ place, i.e. ‘become’ the sexual subject (boy or girl) which it already is in advance.” This stands out to me because authors like Ann Fausto-Sterling (Sexing the Body) have discussed how intersex individuals have been forced to fit into dualisms to adhere to “normality.” Althusser and Fausto-Sterling seem to be making a similar point here regarding the ways in which existing structures and ideology assert particular expectations. This is interesting and helping me to understand some of the debates in the field, but I was wondering if there are more specific things I should be gathering from this article as connected to the voice. Is it the act of calling one’s name, or any kind of verbal recognition of the individual, what then constitutes the individual as an (always-already) subject?

Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” articulates the implications for art with the developing technologies of mechanical reproduction, and reflects on the significance that this has for art in its traditional form. He also conveys the importance of the politics of art. Benjamin traces developments in technology, like photography and film, to see the impacts this has had on art itself and its reception. He engages in discussions of authenticity, particularly reflecting on the stakes of authenticity during processes of reproduction. He says,“What withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art.” The notion of aura is important to tradition/ritual, and he discusses how reproductions lack this sense of aura. I found the idea that nature and historical stances play a role in how human sense perception is organized (as well as the medium in which art is articulated) to be compelling here. I wonder about how music fits into this puzzle, as well as the role of recorded sound (something I’m sure we will talk about in upcoming weeks). His reflections on tradition, ritual, and notions of “pure” art were helpful in understanding some of the shifts that have taken place in art over time, as well as its social function. In addition, his ideas about the differences between the theater and film were interesting in the context of audience reception. I wonder how true it is, though, that the audience identifies with the camera, not the actor. And aura goes away on film? Benjamin says, “The stage actor identifies himself with the character of his role. The film actor very often is denied this opportunity. His creation is by no means all of a piece; it is composed of many separate performances.” The lack of continuity somehow diminishes the authenticity (?) or just continuous performance, and therefore the impact on the audience? Benjamin also says that the screen actor is always aware that he is facing the public/the market, and also reflects on the importance of the shifting distinctions between the author and the public (something so important in the age of the Internet). The notion of collective viewing/listening (?) experience is also something that would be interesting to flesh out in the context of music, and important when thinking about how the audience receives art in different mediums.

A side note—I have a friend who writes about art and art education, and the increased corporatization and marketization of the two. I found this article to be relevant to some of the discussions we’ve been having, since there seems to be something about the shifting contemporary culture of the art world that propels ideas of exhibit-ready artist who has learned the skills to produce art rapidly and so it is reproducible. She argues that that’s what the whole culture of art education is like that nowadays. What’s lost when this is what it comes down to?

Mladen Dolar’s “The Linguistics of the Voice” was quite helpful in thinking about the ways in which we describe the voice. As vocabulary is inadequate, we have to locate different ways of understanding, and he theorizes different dimensions of the voice. He says, “The vocabulary may well distinguish nuances of meaning, but words fail us when we are faced with the infinite shades of the voice, which infinitely exceed meaning. It is not that our vocabulary is scanty and its deficiency should be remedied: faced with the voice, words structurally fail” (539). Dolar argues that one of the central features of the voice is its intermediacy (539). Since we are social beings, we have the unsilenceable “internal voice” (540). Dolar says that compared to other sounds, “…the voice has an intimate connection with meaning, it is a sound which appears to be endowed in itself with the will to ‘say something,’ with an inner intentionality” (540). The external sounds created by the human have intention in them (like playing an instrument—the musician has the intention that the sound will convey a particular meaning). I found it interesting that we may be aware of an accent or the differences in another person’s voice initially, but that we adjust to this so that we concentrate only on the meaning from a person’s speaking (540). The voice is also fleeting (disappears once the goal of meaning is met) (541). He says, “The ideality of meaning can emerge only through the materiality of the means, but the means does not seem to contribute to meaning” (541)à Does this mean that the means of the voice doesn’t give meaning? I’m wondering about the implications of that. If we could also talk about his definition of voice, as well as the “seemingly positive substance of the voice” as connected to structuralism that would be helpful. Dolar says we can be aware of the voice through intonation (but that it can still be empirically tested, like other linguistic phenomena), voice’s individuality, and the mechanical voice, but that we can still measure these things. I like the idea of thinking that the voice is like what fastens invisible beads together in a signifier chain (546). Dolar’s discussions of the non-voice, of those things outside of speech like coughing and hiccups, was compelling because those things can just happen, and/or they can signify something. I found it interesting that Dolar refers to singing as “bad communication” (550). He argues that the voice is brought “energetically to the forefront, on purpose, at the expense of meaning” (550). Or could there be more/different meaning, in this case? The voice also has the power in singing (551). What are the implications of this? Dolar says that the voice seems to maintain the link with nature and transcend language (551). What is the outcome?

A few questions that popped up to me as I was reading:

1) Do voices really ride over other sounds and noises? (539)

2) Is silence always like death? (540)


About jeanettethall

graduate student in American Studies View all posts by jeanettethall

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