mladen dolar – his master’s voice

The following essay is excerpted from Mladen Dolar’s book, A Voice and Nothing More (which I’m reading for my dissertation).

The voice did not figure as a major [western] philosophical topic until the 1960s, when Derrida and Lacan separately proposed it as a central theoretical concern. Dolar goes beyond Derrida’s idea of “phonocentrism” and revives and develops Lacan’s claim that the voice is one of the paramount embodiments of the psychoanalytic object (objet a). Dolar proposes that, apart from the two commonly understood uses of the voice as a vehicle of meaning and as a source of aesthetic admiration, there is a third level of understanding: the voice as an object that can be seen as the lever of thought. He investigates the object voice on a number of different levels–the linguistics of the voice, the metaphysics of the voice, the ethics of the voice (with the voice of conscience), the paradoxical relation between the voice and the body, the politics of the voice–and he scrutinizes the uses of the voice in Freud and Kafka. (There’s a great review by Christine Boyko-Head HERE.)

a voice and nothing morePlutarch tells the story of a man who plucked a nightingale and finding but little to eat exclaimed: “You are just a voice and nothing more.”

There is a story that goes like this: In the middle of a war, in the middle of a battle, there is a company of Italian soldiers in the trenches. And there is an Italian commander who issues the command “Soldiers, attack!” But nothing happens, nobody moves. So the commander gets angry and shouts even louder “Soldiers, attack!” At which point there is a response, a voice rising from the trenches saying Che bella voce!

This story can serve as a good entry into the problem of the voice. On the first level this is a story of a failed interpellation. The soldiers fail to recognize themselves in the appeal, the call of the other, the call of duty, and they don’t act accordingly. Surely the fact that they are Italian soldiers plays a great role in it, they do act according to their image of not the most courageous soldiers in the world, as legend has it, and the story is most certainly not a model of political correctness, it indulges in tacit chauvinism and national stereotypes. So the command fails, the addressees don’t recognize themselves in the meaning being conveyed, they concentrate instead on the medium, which is the voice. The attention paid to the voice hinders the interpellation and the transmission of a symbolic mandate, the transmission of a mission.

But on a second level another interpellation works in the place of the failed one: if the soldiers don’t recognize themselves in their mission as the soldiers in the middle of a battle, they do recognize themselves as addressees of another message, they constitute a community as a response to the call, the community of people who can appreciate the aesthetics of a beautiful voice. Who can appreciate it when it is hardly the moment, and especially when it is hardly the moment to do so? So if in one respect they act as stereotypical Italian soldiers, they also act as stereotypical Italians in this other respect, namely as opera lovers. They constitute themselves as the community of “the friends of the Italian opera” (to take the immortal line from Some Like It Hot), living up to their reputation of connoisseurs, people of refined taste who have amply trained their ears with bel canto, so they can tell a beautiful voice when they hear one, even among the canon fire.

The soldiers have done the right thing, from our biased present perspective, at least in an incipient way, when they have concentrated on the voice instead of on the message, although, to be sure, for the wrong reasons. They are seized by a sudden aesthetic interest precisely when they would have had to attack, they concentrate on the voice because they have grasped the meaning all too well. But quite apart from their feigned artistic inclination they have also bungled the voice the moment they isolated it, they immediately turned it into an object of aesthetic pleasure, an object of veneration and worship, the bearer of a meaning beyond the ordinary meanings. The aesthetic concentration on the voice loses the voice precisely by turning it into a fetish-object.

I will try to argue that there is a third level: an object voice which doesn’t go up in smoke in conveyance of meaning and which doesn’t solidify either in an object of fetish reverence, but an object which functions as a blind spot in the call and a disturbance of aesthetic appreciation. One shows fidelity to the first by running to the attack, one shows fidelity to the second by running to the opera. But fidelity to the third is far more difficult to achieve. I will try to pursue it on three different levels: linguistics, ethics and politics.

The linguistics of the voice

Let us start by considering the voice as it appears in the most common use and in its most massive presence. It is the voice which functions as the bearer of an utterance, the support of a word, a sentence, a discourse, any kind of linguistic expression.

The moment we start looking at it more closely, we can see that even this most commonplace and ordinary use is full of paradoxes. The voice may well be the quasi-natural bearer of speech, but it also proves to be strangely recalcitrant. If we speak in order to make sense, to produce meaning, to convey something, then the voice is the material support of that production of meaning, yet it doesn’t itself contribute to it. It is rather something like “the vanishing mediator,” to use Fredric Jameson’s expression, it makes the utterance possible, but it disappears in the meaning being produced. When we listen to someone speak, we may at first be very much aware of his/her voice and its particular qualities, its color and accent, but soon we accommodate to it and concentrate only on the meaning that is conveyed. The voice is like the Wittgensteinian ladder to be discarded when we have successfully climbed to the top, when we have made our ascent to the peak of meaning. The voice is the instrument, the vehicle, the way, and the meaning is the goal.[1]

Hence one can make a provisional definition of the voice (in its linguistic aspect): it is what doesn’t contribute to making sense.[2] It is the material element recalcitrant to meaning, and if we speak in order to say something, then the voice is precisely that what cannot be said. It is there, in the very act of saying, but one cannot say it, it is evasive, it eludes any pinning down. It is the non-linguistic, the extra-linguistic element which enables speech phenomena but cannot be itself discerned by linguistics.

To use a more technical language, there is an antinomy, a dichotomy of the voice and the signifier. The signifier possesses its own logic, it can be dissected, it can be pinned down and fixed—fixed in view of its repetition, for every signifier is a signifier by virtue of being repeatable. It functions through and by differences, through differential oppositions, it can be tracked down to a series of binary oppositions (as in Saussure and Jakobson), and those oppositions enable it to produce meaning. It is a strange creature that possesses no identity of its own, being just a bundle of differences in relation to other signifiers, while its material support and its particular qualities are irrelevant, it is not endowed with any positivity, any quality definable on its own, its only existence is a negative one (following the Saussurean dictum that in language there are only differences without any positive terms). Yet its mechanisms can be disentangled and explained in that very negativity, its negative nature produces positive effects of signification. Despite its traps and pitfalls, the signifier possesses a logic with which we can make sense, or more modestly, with which we can make do in making sense, or at least nonsense.

The voice is a very different matter. Of course one can dissect the voice into discrete units, the phonemes, the vowels, the consonants etc., but this is the part of the voice which has been seized and moulded by the signifier. One produces the sounds of a language in such a way so as to satisfy its differential matrix, the phoneme is the voice captured by the signifier, the voice caught in the matrix, and only insofar it has been caught in the matrix can it make sense, follow the tenacious rules of the difference on its route towards meaning. Hence the difference between phonetics and phonology: phonetics concentrating on the positive production of the sounds of a particular language, and phonology concentrating on the matrix of oppositions, for which the material production of sounds is irrelevant.[3] Phonology kills the voice, it stabs it with the signifying dagger, it does away with its living presence, with its flesh and blood.

The phoneme is the part of the voice which contributes to signification, so this is not the voice we are after, the voice that cannot be said. The problem is that there is a rest which cannot quite disappear in meaning, or which cannot be made a signifier, the rest that doesn’t make sense, a left-over, a refuse. One can say: the word silences the voice, but not quite.

One can have some inkling of the voice if we listen to a particular intonation of the utterance—indeed the intonation can turn the meaning upside down; or if we listen to someone with an accent, ad cantum, which appears as a distraction or even an obstacle to the smooth flow of the signifiers, to the hermeneutics of understanding. But both the intonation and the accent can be discerned by linguistic means, although somewhat more complicated ones. Or one can be aware of the voice through its individuality, for one can almost unfailingly identify a person by the voice, the particular individual timbre, resonance, pitch, cadence, melody, the peculiar way of pronouncing certain sounds. Indeed, the voice is like a fingerprint, instantly recognizable and identifiable, and this fingerprint quality of the voice is something that doesn’t contribute to meaning nor can it be linguistically described—but it can be physically, phonographically defined. Its features are not linguistically relevant, they are the slight fluctuations and variations, they do not violate the norm, but rather the norm itself cannot be implemented without some “personal touch,” the slight trespassing which is the mark of individuality. But all of these, intonation, accent, individual timbre, all complement the meaning, they are the necessary side effects of that teleological progression, the seeming distraction contributes to the better fulfillment of the goal.

The most obvious case is singing: it brings the voice energetically to the forefront, on purpose, at the expense of meaning. Indeed, singing is bad communication, it prevents the clear understanding of the text (one needs supertitles in the opera, a rather distasteful institution but one cannot help reading them nevertheless). Singing takes the distraction of the voice seriously and turns the tables on the signifier—let the voice take the upper hand, let the voice be the bearer of what cannot be expressed by the signifier, as the expression versus meaning, expression beyond meaning, expression which is more than meaning, yet expression which functions only in tension with meaning (it needs a signifier as the limit to transcend and to reveal its beyond). Primo la musica, e poi le parole, or the other way round? The entire history of the opera, from Monteverdi to Strauss (Capriccio), can be written through the spyglass of this dilemma. Yet by its massive concentration on the voice it introduces codes and standards of its own, more difficult to define and elusive than the linguistic ones, but nevertheless highly structured. Expression beyond language is another highly structured and sophisticated language. And by focusing on the voice it actually runs the risk of losing the voice that it tries to worship and revere: it turns it into a fetish-object, one could say, the highest rampart, the most formidable wall against the voice.[4] Bringing the voice from the background to the forefront entails a reversal or a structural illusion: the voice appears as the locus of true expression, as the place where what cannot be said can nevertheless be expressed. It endows the voice with profundity; by not meaning anything it appears to mean more than mere words, it becomes the bearer of some unfathomable primary meaning which, supposedly, got lost with the language. It seems to still maintain the link with nature, on the one hand, the nature of a paradise lost, and on the other hand it seems to transcend the language, the cultural and symbolic barriers, in the opposite direction, as it were: it promises an ascent towards divinity, an elevation above the empirical, the mediated, the limited, the worldly human concerns. Hence the highly acclaimed role of music as an ambiguous link with both nature and divinity. But the state of some primordial fusion that the voice should bear witness to is always a retroactive construction, a structural delusion. It is only through language, via language, by the symbolic, that there is voice,[5] and the illusion of the voice as the bearer of a deeper sense, of some more fundamental message, is the core of a fantasy. The voice that we are after is not some profound meaning, but precisely what is utterly meaningless; not the transcendent, but the cumbersome.

If those were not the right ways to deal with the voice, what then would be a better one? The voice, as we have seen, is a non-signifier, something that doesn’t concur to meaning, it is a non-signifying remainder, a leftover heterogeneous to the structural logic. If materiality is irrelevant to the signifier, it doesn’t seem to be irrelevant to the voice. Indeed, the voice seems to be the link that ties the signifier to the body, it indicates that the signifier, however purely logical and differential, must have a point of origin and emission in the body. There must be a body to support it and to assume it, its disembodied network must be pinned to a body, if only in its most intangible and “sublimated” form, the mere oscillation of air which keeps vanishing the moment it is produced. Still, this almost disembodied body is enough to be embarrassing, it is like the undead dead, the corpse that one cannot dispose of (like in Hitchcock’s The Trouble with Harry). The voice pertains to the body, but to a disembodied body, a dismembered body—or it pertains to a wrong body, or better still, it doesn’t fit the body. Hence all the troubles with what Michel Chion has called the acousmatic voice, the voice whose source remains unidentified—when the acousmatic voice finds its body, it turns out that it doesn’t work, the voice doesn’t stick to the body, it is an excrescence which doesn’t match the body at all. If you want a massive example of this, think of Hitchcock’s Psycho, which revolves entirely around the question of “where does the mother’s voice come from? To which body can it be assigned?” And it proves that the voice without a body can be a most haunting thing indeed.[6]

To cut a long story short, one could see the antinomy of meaning and the voice as the antinomy between the signifier and the object—the object as the object of the drive. There is one mechanism which strives towards meaning and understanding, and on the way there obfuscates the voice, and there is, in the very same place, another mechanism which has nothing to do with meaning, but rather with enjoyment. It is an enjoyment normally covered by meaning, steered by meaning, framed by meaning, and only when it becomes divorced from meaning can it appear as the pivotal object of drive. One could say: the voice is the excrement of meaning. To put it schematically, in every utterance one has a dimension of signification, which is ultimately the dimension of desire—this is where Freud pinpointed the dream as the wish-fulfillment, Wunscherfllung, the satisfaction of desire in what apparently runs counter to signification, but actually accomplishes its course; and on the other hand the dimension of the drive which turns around the object, the object voice, something entirely evasive and ambiguous. So that in every spoken utterance one could see a miniature drama, a contest, a diminished model of what psychoanalysis has tried to conceive as the rival dimensions of desire and drive. In desire, we have the fireworks of what Lacan has called “the unconscious structured like a language,” but the drive, says Freud, is silent—insofar as it turns around the object voice, it is a silent voice, a voice that doesn’t speak, not at all structured like a language.

The voice ties language to the body, but it doesn’t belong to either. It is not part of linguistics, but it is not a part of the body either—it detaches itself from the body, it doesn’t fit the body, it floats, it is like a bodily missile which has detached itself from its source, emancipated itself. So it stands at a paradoxical and ambiguous point, the intersection of language and body, belonging to neither and yet at the point they have in common. The voice stems from the body, but doesn’t belong to it, and it upholds the language without belonging to it either, yet, in this paradoxical topology, this is the only point they have in common.

Ultimately, it is not even the voice that can be heard. In order to conceive its function as the object of the drive, one must deprive it of sonority, divorce it from the empirical voices to be heard. Inside the voices heard there is a voice unheard of, the silent voice. One has to detach the object voice from sonority, one has to devise an aphonic voice. For what Lacan called objet a, to put it simply, is not an object of this world. It is not an existing thing that could be the object of a “sense certainty.” To be sure, it is always evoked only by bits of materiality, attached to them as an invisible appendage, yet not coinciding with them, it is both evoked and covered, enveloped by them, for “in itself” it is just a void. So sonority both evokes and conceals the void of the voice.
One could put it in these terms: the drive reaches its aim without attaining its goal, it is satisfied through its being thwarted, without attaining its end, it is “inhibited in its goal,” zielgehemmt, but nevertheless not missing its aim; the aim is merely the path taken, and the drive is entirely “on the way.”[7] So if the goal of the utterance is the production of meaning, then the voice, the mere instrument, is the aim attained on the way, the side-product of the way to the goal, the object around which the drive turns. Hence, the problem with music is that it tries to turn the aim into the goal, it takes the object of the drive as the object of immediate enjoyment, and thus misses it—it obtains aesthetic pleasure and runs the risk of being stuck with a fetish instead of the object. One can make a brief remark here that the entire work of Adorno is a massive warning against this—Adorno’s wager is that there is an object other than the fetish, a musical object has to undo the ties of the fetish-object.

The linguistics of the voice? There is none. There is merely the linguistics of the signifier, and its counterpart is the drive circumscribing the voice which can occasionally run amok when separated from meaning as its signifying anchorage. Yet, this strangely persistent remainder cannot be done away with easily, it seems to have a close link to the subject of enunciation. Couldn’t we say that the voice coincides with the very process of enunciation, something that cannot be found anywhere in the statement, in the sentences proffered, in the meaning conveyed? The voice as the voice of enunciation sustains the signifiers and is actually what holds them together like on a string; it is what makes of the signifying chain out of signifiers a paradoxical counterpart to subjectivity.

The ethics of the voice

Let me now approach the voice from an entirely different angle, under the heading of the ethics of the voice. If the first understanding of voice—as the support of speech—is omnipresent and trivial, then the second one is not uncommon either. There is a figure of speech, a metaphor which associates the voice and conscience. Strangely, ethics always had to deal with the voice, the voice has been the red thread of reflections on moral questions, both in the popular reasoning and in the grand philosophical tradition. Is this voice, this internal voice of a moral injunction, simply a metaphor? Its metaphoricity is perhaps doubtful and should be put into question. Is the internal voice still a voice, or is a voice that has no empirical manifestation perhaps the voice in the proper sense, closer to the voice than the sounds that one can hear? What is the tenuous and tenacious connection between voice and conscience? Is ethics about hearing voices?

One can recall its brief history (here Baas is a sure guide). It all starts with one of the best known voices, the Socratic voice, the daemon which accompanies Socrates wherever he goes. In Apology, Socrates states in his defense in front of the tribunal: “…I am subject to a divine or supernatural experience. It began in my early childhood—a sort of voice which comes to me, and when it comes it always dissuades me from what I am proposing to do, and never urges me on.” The voice, this daemon, is like Socrates’ shadow, or his guardian angel. (1) Its origin is supposed to be divine and supernatural, it is at the innermost of his consciousness but originating from beyond, it is an “atopical voice,” coming from another space while being at the same time most intimate. (2) Furthermore, it is not a prescriptive voice, it is not a voice telling him what to do—he has to decide about that himself—but merely a prohibitive, dissuasive voice, preventing him from doing wrong but not advising him how to do good. (3) It is a voice with which one cannot argue, it is not a matter of argument. (4) One should also point out that this voice actually dissuaded him from taking part in the active political life: the voice pertains to the moral law as opposed to the positive written laws of the community, the voice sustains “the unwritten law.”

The theme will then be taken up by an entire tradition: the voice of conscience as a firm guide in ethical matters—the bearer of a moral injunction, an imperative voice which compels in its immediacy, a voice which one cannot silence or deny, or one can do this only at the price of catastrophic consequences. It is a voice which circumvents discursive argument, it provides a firm ground for moral decisions beyond discursivity, beyond the intricacy of deductions and justifications. Its pure commanding authority is supposedly unfailing.

One can see this mechanism perhaps at its purest with Rousseau who speaks of “the immortal and celestial voice,” “the sacred voice of nature,” “the interior voice” which is “infallible.”[8] Other voices can try to tamper with it, “the shrill voice” of prejudice, “the voice of the body” (“conscience is the voice of the soul, passions are the voice of the body”), yet it imposes itself, it gains the upper hand, the true voice against the false voices. However much one can reason, calculate and argue about morality, all this is groundless without a firm footing in the voice, its immediate intuition and the sentiment it carries.

It may be strange, and perhaps symptomatic, that one can find this line also in Kant. Strange, because Kant is at the opposite end of Rousseau on the question of ethics: firm ground can only be provided by the moral law, which, in its universality, or in its injunction to universalization, is purely formal. Every moral action should be submitted to the test of universality, and there doesn’t seem to be any place for the voice or for moral feelings. Ethics should be grounded in reason alone, yet we find at a certain point that even reason is endowed with a voice. When debating what appears to him as the monstrous proposal to promote one’s own happiness as the supreme moral goal, he says that this principle would entirely destroy morality “if the voice of reason in relation to the will was not so clear, so piercing, so discernible even for the most common man.” /…/ die Stimme der Vernunft in Beziehung auf den Willen (ist) so deutlich, so unüberschreibar (unovercryable) selbst für den gemeinsten Menschen so vernehmlich. /…/ The proponents of false morals can continue their confused speculations only if they plug their ears against that “heavenly voice.” So there is not merely the voice of the heart, or the voice of nature, there is also the voice of reason, which, while being silent, is nevertheless so loud that no matter how loud one tries to cry, one can never cover it or silence it. “The voice of intellect is a soft one, but it will not rest till it has gained a hearing,” Freud will say in The Future of an Illusion in strange accordance with Kant.

Yet with Kant the voice acquires a subtler form: for Socrates, the voice merely dissuaded him from doing wrong, for Rousseau, the divine and natural voice was the guide telling the subject how to act, a compass in every situation. For Kant, the voice doesn’t command or prevent anything—it is merely a voice which imposes the submission of the will to the rationality and formality of the moral law, the categorical imperative. The voice of reason is merely the injunction to submit to reason, it has no other content. It is a purely formal voice imposing formality. Reason itself is powerless (something that Kant will develop at great length in The Contest of Faculties), its voice, silent as it may be, is the power of the powerless, the mysterious force which compels us to observe reason.

Finally, the voice which says nothing in particular but insists as a pure injunction finds its last and perhaps purest form in Heidegger. Very briefly: in the paragraphs of Being and Time dealing with Gewissen, “the existential-ontological foundations of conscience”, one can find the whole phenomenology of the call of conscience (der Ruf—the cry, the appeal?).

What does the conscience call to its addressee? Strictly speaking nothing. The call doesn’t say anything, it doesn’t deliver a message about worldly events, it has nothing to tell. Least of all does it strive to open in the addressee some “monologue” within the self. “Nothing” is called (zu-gerufen) to the self which is called upon, but the self is called (aufgerufen) to /him/self, that is, to its most proper possibility of being (Seinkönnen). The conscience speaks exclusively and persistently in the mode of silence. [My translation]

So there is a pure call, not commanding anything, a mere convocation and provocation, the call to an opening to being, to get out of the closure of one’s self-presence. And the notion of responsibility—ethical, moral responsibility—is precisely a response to this call—it is impossible not to respond to this call, one is always called upon. The very notion of responsibility has the voice at its core, it is a response to a voice.

Where does the voice come from? It stems from the innermost of our being but at the same time it is something that surpasses us, it is a beyond at the most intimate. (“The call comes from me and yet transcends me.” “It calls, against expectation and against my will.”) The intimacy from which the call comes is constantly described as unheimlich, uncanny, with all the ambiguity that Freud has given to the word: that which is the most intimate and external at the same time, the internal externality, the expropriated intimacy, the extimacy—the excellent Lacanian word for das Unheimliche. So the call is the call to exposure, the opening to Being which is precisely opposed to a self-reflective monologue with oneself, it hinges on that which, within oneself, one cannot appropriate. The voice is pure alterity, it prevents the self-reflexivity of a Selbstbewusstsein.[9]

Through all these attempts, we have an opposition between the voice, its pure injunction, its imperative resonance, on the one hand, and on the other, the argument, the particular prescriptions or prohibitions or moral judgements. Strangely, here we find again our initial division into the voice—as the object—and the signifier. One could say that in this view of morality, the signifying chain cannot be sustained by-itself and in-itself, it needs a footing in something which is not a signifier, but the object, the voice which doesn’t say anything, but is precisely through this all the louder, an absolute convocation which one cannot escape, a silence which cannot be silenced.

A good way to conceive it is to connect it with the voice as pure enunciation which we detected already in linguistic utterances—it can be seen as the enunciation without a statement.[10] And one could say that there lies the crucial point, the touchstone of morality: one has to supply the statement oneself. The moral voice is like a suspended sentence, a sentence left in suspense, a sentence to be completed by the subject, by his moral decision, by the act. The enunciation is there, but the subject has to deliver the statement and thus assume the enunciation, respond to it and take it on his shoulders.

Yet, if the voice is at the very core of the ethical—the voice of the pure injunction which doesn’t command anything, an enunciation without a statement—it is also at the core of straying away from the ethical in the name of ethics itself. The psychoanalytic name for this is the superego.

It can easily be seen that the superego stems from a voice and is endowed with a voice. Freud: “…it is as impossible for the super-ego as for the ego to disclaim its origin from things heard” (seine Herkunft aus Gehörtem). If for Freud the vocality of the superego is just one of its features, then for Lacan it is the essential feature constitutive of the superego: “the superego in its intimate imperative is above all a voice and very vocal, and with no other authority than that of being the fat voice” (sans plus d’autorité que d’être la grosse voix). One can already surmise the difference: it is a fat voice, not the voice of pure enunciation, and it always comes up with statements and directions.

Essentially, it is a voice that one cannot measure up to, it is not a suspended sentence that one would have to resume, it is the voice of a moral agency in relation to which one is always deficient: however much one tries, one will always fall short, or better: the more one tries to live up to it, the more one fails. It is a voice that always reduces the subject to guilt, and the guiltier one is the guiltier one will become—it is a self-propelling property. There lies the obscene side of the superego, its malevolent neutrality, its Schadenfreude, its malicious indifference to the subject’s well-being. To put it in Kantian terms: the voice of the superego is not the voice of reason, but rather the voice of reason run amok, reason berserk.

The dividing line is very thin and tenuous. One can see it in Kant (see Alenka Zupancic): there is a slide leading from what Kant calls the respect, die Achtung, for moral law on one side to awe, die Ehrfurcht, on the other, the prostration in the face of it. Respect is the drive, der Triebfeder, of the moral law, the condition of its assumption by the subject, and it presents the paradox of being an a priori feeling—the only non-pathological feeling, as it were. Moral law can become effective only because we are driven by respect for it. But a couple of pages later Kant says:

In the boundless esteem for the pure moral law, whose voice makes even the boldest sinner tremble and forces him to hide himself from its gaze, there is something so singular that we cannot wonder at finding this influence of a merely intellectual Idea on feeling to be inexplicable to speculative reason.

He describes the effect of moral law on the subject as essentially that of humiliation. Suddenly we have a law endowed with a voice which makes one tremble, a gaze from which one cannot hide, the humiliation, die Ehrfurcht, which is not just respect but above all fear, awe, dread: all the elements that can be connected, by a single stroke, under the heading of superego. The superego is not the Other of a pure enunciation which demands a continuation, the accomplishment of the act, but the awesome and horrendous figure of “the Other of the Other,” the Other without a lack: and what makes it so frightful is precisely the voice which obfuscates its lack.

The obscene part of the superego is always entrusted to the voice: one can think of the secret rules and rituals which effectively hold together gated communities—the rules of initiation, of belonging to some in-group etc. Those are the rules which could never be put down in writing, they are always whispered, hinted at and remain confined to the voice. The voice is what distinguishes the superego from the law—for the law has to be underpinned by the letter, there is no law without a letter, and the letter is something publicly accessible, in principle available at all times to everyone. In contravention and in supplement to the law there are rules entrusted to the voice, the superegoic rules but which actually and effectively hold together communities and constitute their glue. The voice is precisely what cannot be universalized, it is the non-universal par excellence.
So with the ethics of the voice we can see again that the voice plays a pivotal role and is by virtue of that placed in an ambiguous position. If its divinity and alterity can be provisionally put under the heading of the Other, then the voice is unheimlich by virtue of its link with the Other, with the extimate Other within. Yet it doesn’t simply belong to either the subject or the Other, it is not the subject’s proper voice which he could master, but it is also not simply a divine command, it cannot be simply placed in a transcendence. The voice comes from the Other but doesn’t belong to the Other, it is not its part. It circumscribes, yet again, the object as a void, a void in the Other, it is devoid of any positivity.

We can see that we find again the ambiguous ontology—or rather the topology—of the status of the voice as “between the two,” being placed precisely in the curious intersection of the subject and the Other, just as it was before placed at the intersection of the body and the language, circumscribing a certain lack in both. “Pure enunciation” can be taken as a red thread which connects the linguistic and the ethical aspect of the voice. If the status of the voice at the intersection of the two is taken as something positive, if it gains an existence, if it grows fat, as it were, then the moral law turns into the superego. The positivation of the intersection turns the Other into the frightful figure of jouissance, the echo of the primal father which always haunts the law.[11] Lacan gave the formula: “The superego is at the same time the law and its destruction.” To follow the superego is not to follow the moral law, it is a way of avoiding it. If the superego is the supplement of the (paternal, positive) law, its shadow, its obscure and obscene double, then one should add that the alternative, or the disjunction, between the law and the superego is not exhaustive: the moral law, at the interstice of both, doesn’t coincide with either, and it is there that the object voice is to be situated.

The politics of the voice

The political dimension of the voice can perhaps best be approached at the origin, at the very beginning of political philosophy, on the first pages of Aristotle’s Politics.

Now why is the man more of a political animal than any bee or other gregarious creature? The reason is obvious: nature, as the saying goes, does nothing in vain, and man is the only animal endowed with speech. Mere voice (phone) is indicative of pleasure or pain, and therefore belongs also to the rest of the animal world. But the power of speech is intended to express what is advantageous and what harmful, what is just and what unjust. It is precisely in this that man differs from other animals: he alone has any notion of good and evil, of justice and injustice; and an association of living beings possessed of this gift makes a household and a state.
There is maybe a surprise to see that the very institution of the political dimension depends on a certain division of the voice, a division within the voice. For in order to understand the political, one has to discern the mere voice on the one hand and speech, the intelligible voice on the other. There is the massive divide between phone and logos—everything follows from there—and it seems that on a different level we find here again the divide between the word and the voice that we got familiar with in the part about linguistics.

Strangely and incidentally, two, perhaps most, books of political philosophy at the end of the past century, two discoveries of the last decade, both start off with a discussion of this passage: Rancière’s La Mésentente and Agamben’s Homo sacer.

To follow Aristotle, mere voice is what animals and men have in common, it is the animal part of man. It can only indicate pleasure and pain, experience shared by both animals and humans. But speech, logos, doesn’t merely indicate, it manifests the advantageous (useful) and the harmful, and consequently the just and the unjust, the good and the evil. If one receives a blow, one may well scream, emit a voice to vent one’s pain, and that is what a horse or a dog would also do. But at the same time one can say “I have been wronged” and thereby the speech introduces the measure of just and unjust. It doesn’t just give outlet to feelings, it introduces a standard of judgement.

At the bottom of this there is the opposition between two forms of life: zoe and bios. Zoe is the naked life, the bare life, life reduced to animality, and bios is the life in community, in the polis, the political life.
The tie between the naked life and politics is the same as the tie that the metaphysical definition of man as “the living being endowed with language” is looking for in the articulation between phone and logos. The question “How does the living being have language?” exactly corresponds to the question “How does the naked life inhabit the polis?” The living being possesses logos by suppressing and retaining in it its own voice, just as it inhabits the polis by letting its own naked life be ex-cepted by it (Homo Sacer).

This dense quote by Agamben points exactly to the crucial juncture: the analogy, which is more than an analogy, a parallel, which is not just parallel, between the articulation voice-logos and zoe-bios. Voice is like the supposed bare life, the supposed exterior of the political, while logos is the counterpart of the polis, of the social life ruled by laws and a common good. But the whole point is, of course—the point of Agamben’s book—that there is no such externality: the basic structure, the topology of the political, is for Agamben that of “inclusive exclusion” of the naked life. The very exclusion places zoe in a central and paradoxical place, the exception falls into interiority. (“Let us call the relation of exception the extreme form of relation which includes something by its exclusion.”) And this is precisely the place that we were pursuing all along in dealing with the voice: the topology of extimacy, the inclusion/exclusion. For what presents a problem is not that zoe is simply pre-social, the animality, the outside of social, but that it persists, in its very exclusion/inclusion, at the heart of the social—just as the voice is not simply an element external to speech, but persists at its core. And even more: the voice is not some remnant of a previous pre-cultural state, or a remnant of some happy primordial fusion when one was not yet plagued by language and its calamities, it is the product of logos itself, what sustains logos while being at the same time what troubles it.

One can see that the voice, in its function of the internal outside of logos, the apparent extra-logos, is called upon and necessary in certain well-defined and crucial social situations. A more detailed phenomenology and analysis of those would have to be made, but here are just some examples which are taken from very different levels.

The voice is intimately linked with the dimension of the sacred and the ritual, highly codified social situations where using the voice, as the voice beyond meaning, makes it possible to perform a certain act. One cannot perform a religious ritual without recurring to the voice in that sense (one has to say prayers and sacred formulas labialiter, viva voce, in order to assume them and make them effective, although they are all written in the sacred texts and everybody knows them by heart) and it is the use of the voice which endows it with the ritualistic character. This is where this voice echoes the supposedly archaic voice, the seemingly primordial voice not bound by logos.[12] The three great “religions of the Book” all rely on holy scriptures where the truth is manifested, yet the scripture, the holy letter, can only become effective if and when it is assumed by a living voice. It can only function as a social tie, the link of the community of believers, it can only become enacted if and when a voice pronounces what has been written ever since the foundational moment of origin and what all believers keep in their memories anyway.

The secular examples observe the same structure: the proceedings of the court have very strict rules as to the parts of the proceedings and the depositions that have to be made by voice. A guide for the jurors in the French court says:

The orality of the debates is the fundamental rule of the court. This rule imposes that the court can only form its conviction on the basis of the elements orally and contradictorily debated in the court. This is why the court and the jurors cannot consult the files (dossiers) during the sessions. This is also why one cannot read the deposition of a witness which is going to testify before she has testified: the file is always secondary. (Quoted by Poizat).

There are, to be sure, various exceptions to the rule, but the living presence of the voice is the element which defines the ritual nature of court proceedings. The most technical depositions by experts have to be read aloud by them, and only the voice makes them effective, transforms them from mere constative statements into performatives. And this is where even the president of the USA couldn’t get away with a written deposition but had to take the witness stand. Here again we have the scripture, the written law on the basis of which the court has to decide, yet for the law to become effective, for the law to be enacted, one has to have recourse to the voice. If the court is to decide whether the present case can be subsumed under the law, how the letter of the law applies to it, if the court is to determine the truth of the present case and relate it to the law, then it can only do it by the voice. Viva voce. (And we should mark in passing the link between the voice and establishing the truth; there is a point where truth has to be vocal.)

Another example: within the Anglo-American academia, there is the institution actually called viva voce, or just viva, i.e. the defence of a dissertation, of a doctoral thesis, which has to be made “in the living voice.” In most universities all examinations and tests are done by writing (and then anonymously examined by a couple of independent examiners), so in theory one could actually survive the entire academic life and get a degree without ever opening one’s mouth. Up to the viva: at this point, when passing the key initiating ritual, one has to “give voice,” one must not just display one’s knowledge but perform one’s knowledge. The corpus of a candidate’s knowledge has been written down in the dissertation, but this is not enough, it has to be enacted through the voice and only thus made effective.

And the last example (as in Poizat): elections, in a great number of languages, have retained a connection with the voice: giving one’s voice for a candidate, counting the voices (in English the link is weak—one counts the ballots; German: für jemanden stimmen, seine Stimme abgeben, Abstimmung, Stimmabgabe; French: compter les voix, donner sa voix; Swedish: att rösta på; in all Slav languages: glasovanje, etc.). Again this is a metaphor whose metaphoricity has uncertain borders and cannot be quite contained. It has a historic origin in voting by the voice, i. e. by acclamation—Catholic bishops were voted that way and there was an element of acclamation ritually accompanying every coronation of a monarch. Monarchs, God forbid, were never elected, but nevertheless the people had to “give its voice” (think of the opening scene of Moussorgsky’s Boris Godunov which entirely revolves around the problem of the acclamation of the monarch). The coronation, the inauguration of a monarch, couldn’t be properly accomplished without the formal acclamation of vox populi, vox Dei? In a strange connection, God’s will, manifesting itself in the choice of the monarch, could only be implemented by expressing itself through the voice of the people, although the people had no say.

Elections have retained an element of this ritualistic use of the voice. In this highly technically sophisticated society, one still has to give one’s voice, or one has to ritually perform, as it were, the myth of a society organized and tied together by the voice, where the people are still called upon to give their voice in favor of the ruler. The fantasy is that of a Gemeinschaft, a community in which all members can hear each other and the fundamental social tie is the vocal tie. But the electoral voice has to be a silent voice (a silenced voice?): it has to be given by writing, it has to be performed in a small cabin, a cell-like cubicle, in complete isolation (in French it’s called l’isoloir), in complete silence. Furthermore, it has to be done one by one, so that the collective outburst of the acclamational voice is broken down, nipped in the bud, seemingly deprived of its quality of the object of the drive. It is the voice measured and counted, the voice submitted to arithmetic, the voice entrusted to a written sign, but no matter how hard they try to kill it and dismember it, it is still a voice. If the letter of the constitution is to be enacted, in democratic societies, it has yet again to be enacted by the voice.

But this use of the voice is not the only story or the whole story, far from it. All the cases which were briefly used here as examples rely on a division of labor, as it were: there is a coexistence of the letter and the voice and it is quite clear where and when the voice should intervene in order to enact the letter. The two functions are clearly delimited and circumscribed, and the intervention of the voice is called upon in well-defined places and times. This division gives an impression of a peaceful coexistence, a complementarity, as if the letter would find in the use of the voice its Platonic missing half it has been seeking. The voice is only used at the place and at the time that was allotted to it, and all depends on this (problematic) boundary being maintained.

In a sharp contrast to this, there is another kind of voice, a very different use and function of voice which has the effect not of enacting the letter, but of putting into question the letter itself and its authority. It is precisely the (appropriately called) authoritarian voice, voice as authoritarian, the voice as the source of authority against the letter, or the voice not supplementing but supplanting the letter. Most tellingly, all phenomena of totalitarianism tend to overbearingly hinge on the voice, the voice which in a quid pro quo tends to replace the authority of the letter, or seriously put into question its validity. The voice which appears limitless and unbound, i.e., not bound by the letter.

To give a light-hearted and entertaining example of what is rather sinister in itself, one can think of Chaplin’s rendition in The Great Dictator. Indeed, the structural use of the voice in “totalitarianism” has never been depicted more convincingly. Several things have to be noted.[13]

1. What we hear in the opening speech by the Tomanian dictator Hynkel (this was actually the first time that people could hear Chaplin speak) is a non-existent language with all the makings of German (some ludicrous identifiable German words are mixed in). We don’t understand a word (or quite literally, just a word here and there), it is the voice and its theatre which are isolated as the essential feature of the dictator, the voice beyond meaning. The whole speech is but a staging and choreography of the voice.

2. At the same time, we have an invisible English translator interpreting the speech, providing the senseless voice with a meaning. This mechanism is formidable and striking, it seems to be literally ubiquitous: the anthropologist Junzo Kawada, who has studied the political role of the voice in various societies, tells us that in Mosi tribe in Burkina Faso the chief-king always speaks in an incomprehensible low voice and needs an interpreter who explains to the people what the chief really said.[14] But it is essential that the chief is there as the source of the voice, he has to emit the voice, pure voice without signification, and some second-in-command then takes care of the meaning. This device seems to have functioned in many societies. Philippe-Joseph Salazar has detected it in the France of the 17th century, a society very much ruled by “the cult of the voice,” as the title of his book runs. The same device is now enacted here, in this caricature: the master as the source of funny voices, side by side with what is then technically called the voice-over, the invisible interpreter in charge of the meaning.

3. But it is quite clear that what the interpreter is saying is not an accurate translation of the speech, but rather its transformation into something “politically correct,” fit for the ears of the outsiders. It is clear that for the insiders the dictator is saying something that can only be entrusted to the voice and doesn’t bear translation. And we can surmise that he is promising them relief from the strict laws, the “licence to kill,” there is an implied promise of spoils, loot, plunder, an orgy, a promise to suspend the law—something that couldn’t possibly be put into public words. While the interpreter is presenting the whole thing for the historic record, and consequently playing it down, providing it with a rationale, unsuccessfully struggling to put it into a good perspective. The paradox of the scene is that we have two versions, the dictator’s speech and its translation, but we don’t understand the one and yet nevertheless know that the other one is false, but the very discrepancy of the two versions provides the exact clue—precisely the discrepancy between the voice and the signifier.

4. The speech at the beginning—the speech of the dictator Hynkel—is then mirrored by the final speech, the speech made by the Jewish barber in the disguise of Hynkel, the barber who is the exact double of the dictator, who is mistaken for the dictator and has to address the masses in that role. His speech is the very opposite of the initial speech, it is filled with humanism, the appeal to humanity and brotherhood. Yet, in a final irony, the response of the masses appears to be the same, there is the same enthusiasm in spite of the fact that the conveyed meaning is the very opposite. The thing is intriguing, since the masses don’t know that this is not the real Hynkel but his Jewish double—are we to understand that the masses are infinitely gullible, apt to any manipulation? On top of that, the final scene is accompanied by music from Lohengrin, of all things, a gesture that can only heighten the final ambivalence. Can the final scene cancel, obliterate, retroactively undo, aufheben, the effects of the first one, of which it is a remake? Or does the voice resound beyond the alleged humanist message, irreducible to it?

The totalitarian use of the voice is not at all in the same line with the instances of the division of labor. One shouldn’t read it as an invocation of the sacred and the ritual. Or rather: precisely because this is not the dimension of the sacred and of the ritual, it has to make all the more a pretence of it, it has to mimic, to emulate the ritual, as massively and as spectacularly as it can. The voice, although put at the very core, has a very different function here: the Führer may well be the chancellor of the Third Reich, the commander in chief of the army and occupy many political functions, yet he is not the Führer by virtue of the political functions he happens to be charged with, not by being elected and also not on the basis of his abilities. It is the relationship of the voice which makes him the Führer, and the tie that links the subjects to him is enacted as a vocal tie, it exists as the answer to the voice by acclamation which is an essential feature of the speech. It is the voice that makes the law—Führerworte haben Gesetzkraft, as Eichmann will say in Jerusalem, his words supported by the mere voice make the law, the voice immediately turns them into the law, that is, the voice suspends the law. In his person zoe and bios coincide.[15] He represents the unity of Volk and its biopolitical ambition and endeavour—Foucault’s term, biopolitics, aims precisely at the annihilation of the distinction between zoe and bios, that is, in our particular perspective, at the same time between voice and logos. Agamben, on the first pages of his book, defines sovereignty, after Carl Schmitt, as a paradox:

The sovereign is at the same time outside and inside the juridical order. The sovereign, having the legal power to suspend the validity of the law, is legally situated outside the law. This means that the paradox can equally be formulated in this way: “The law is exterior to itself,” or rather: “I, the sovereign, who am outside the law, declare that there is no outside of the law.”

So sovereignty is structurally based on exception. The sovereign is the one who can suspend the legal order and proclaim the state of emergency where the usual laws are no longer valid and the exception becomes the rule. The state of emergency has the most intimate link with the dimension of bare life: indeed it is proclaimed when our bare lives are endangered (natural catastrophes, wars, September 11…) and when one is obliged, in the name of the bare life, to cancel the validity of the normal rule of law. But it is up to the sovereign to decide whether the danger is indeed such that it calls for this extreme measure, so the very rule of law depends on the decision and the judgement emanating from a point outside the law. And the very moment when it is declared that this is now a matter of our bare lives, the survival, therefore a non-political matter, we are dealing with sovereignty and politics in their pure forms, with the showcase of the political.

One can see that this paradox largely coincides with the relationship between the voice and the letter that we have been examining. The letter of the law, in order to acquire authority, has to rely, at a certain point, on the tacitly presupposed voice, it is the structural element of the voice which makes that the letter is not “the dead letter” but exerts power and can be enacted. This can take the shape of a division of labor and a peaceful coexistence, but the voice is structurally in the same position as sovereignty, as pinpointed above, which means that it can suspend the validity of the law and inaugurate the state of emergency. The voice stands at the point of exception which threatens to become the rule, where it suddenly displays its profound complicity with the bare life, zoe as opposed to bios, that Aristotle was talking about. The emergency is the emergence of the voice in the commanding position, its concealed existence suddenly becoming overwhelming and devastating. The voice is precisely at the unplaceable spot at the same time in the interior and the exterior of the law, and hence a permanent threat of the state of emergency.

A politics of the voice follows from there, displaying the voice as pivotal and ambivalent. There is a point where the letter has to rely on a tacitly presupposed voice for its authority, and this invisible, inaudible part of the voice re-emerges with quite a bit of glamour in the ritualistic use of the voice in many codified social situations, those where the voice is called upon to enact the letter and where the hidden voice appears in a positive sonority, as a stand-in for itself, as it were. The paradoxical topology of the voice as essentially between the two can be extended: it is between body and language, the subject and the Other, phone and logos, the voice and the letter, zoe and bios. In all these cases it is always placed at the intersection of the two but belonging to neither; the two entities overlap in an element which doesn’t belong to either of them and which embodies a part of the void which holds them together. This location—the intersection, the void—turns the voice into something very precarious and elusive, an entity which cannot be met in person, as it were, not in the full sonority of an unambiguous presence. The moment this voice is taken as something commanding, compelling on its own, the voice supplanting the letter, we enter the realm where disastrous social and political consequences are quick to follow. It turns into the positive voice of pure command, His Master’s Voice.

We could also say that the voice finds itself in the position of intersection between the subject and the sovereign, the Master—one listens to the voice, and the moment one listens one also obeys, listening is the incipient subjection (there is an etymological basis to this—to obey stems from French obéir, which in turn stems from Latin ob-audire, to listen; similar gehorchen and hören in German, and the link in many other languages). And one emits the voice, one acclaims, one responds to the Master’s voice with acclamation. So that both the Master’s voice and the subject’s voice become indistinguishable in the intersection of domination. Yet, on the other hand, the silent voice that lies at the intersection of the letter and the voice can also be seen in a completely different light: as the voice of pure enunciation to which one has to supply the political statement in response—not by obeying, by merely listening, but by engaging in a political stance towards all forms of domination. There is a divide, a shifting difference always to be determined, between His Master’s Voice (which entails the posture of incipient obedience) and on the other hand the object voice, the formal voice without any positive content—something one would rather escape by obeying the sonorous voice and its commands, but nevertheless: this pure excess of the voice is compelling, it is the voice that cannot be silenced, although it never tells us what to do, and one has to respond to it as a political subject.


In Analysis Terminable and Interminable Freud speaks about three impossible professions in which one can be certain of an unsatisfactory outcome: government, education and psychoanalysis. It is obvious, if one looks at it in our biased perspective, that all the three crucially involve the voice at their core. They are the professions of the voice, and perhaps it is the cumbersome element of the voice which makes them impossible in the first place. The voice functions as the kernel of transference which they all contain, there is a transferential voice, voice as transference.

I have briefly considered only the first of those, government, with some of the paradoxes of the politics of the voice. I have entirely left out the second one, the voice in education—it is obvious that this is a book with many chapters, starting rather spectacularly with the mother’s voice which comes to replace the umbilical cord and to take over its function (hence one of the books on the voice is actually called L’ombilic et la voix, by Denis Vasse.) Then one should consider the voice of the teacher who testifies to his status of the bearer of Knowledge precisely by his/her voice, where again the body of knowledge to be transmitted, though stacked up in books, can only become enacted through the living voice. It’s all in the textbook, but the textbook becomes effective only by the voice—the voice as the lever of education, as it were, even if the teacher is only reading aloud from the textbook.

But I want to finish, rather abruptly and without further development, on the note of “the voice as the pivot of analysis.” Indeed, psychoanalysis is also one of those things which can only be carried out viva voce, in living voice, in the living presence of the analysand and the analyst. Their tie is the tie of the voice. But whose voice? The patient, the analysand, is the one who has to present his associations, anything that comes to his mind, in the presence of the analyst. So the patient is (in principle) the principal or in the limit the sole speaker, the dubious privilege of the emission of the voice belongs to him. The analyst has to keep silent, at least in principle, and the great majority of the time. But here a curious reversal takes place: it is the analyst, with his silence, which is the embodiment of the voice, the voice as the object. He is the personification, the incarnation of the voice, he is the voice incarnate, the aphonic silent voice. His is not his Master’s voice, not the voice of a command or of superego, but rather the impossible unbearable voice to which one has to respond. It is the voice which doesn’t say anything and the voice which cannot be said, the voice of radical silence and of an unbearable appeal, a call to respond, to assume one’s stance of the subject. One is called upon to speak, one would say anything that happens to fall into one’s mind to interrupt the silence, to silence this voice, to silence the silence, but perhaps the whole process of analysis is a way to learn how to assume this voice. It is the voice in which the linguistic, the ethical and the political voice join forces, coinciding in what was the dimension of pure enunciation in them, they are knotted together around that pivotal kernel of the object voice, of its void, and in response to it our fate of linguistic, ethical, political subjects has to be put to pieces and reassembled, traversed and assumed.

“His Master’s Voice” originally appeared in print in lacanian ink 22, 2003.

[1] In one of his sermons, Augustine makes the following claim: John the Baptist is the voice and Christ is the word. Indeed, this seems to follow from the passages in the beginning of St. John’s Gospel: John the Baptist identifies himself as vox clamantis in deserto, while Christ is identified with the Word, logos, which was in the beginning with God. Augustine says: “The voice is being effaced as the Word grows. The voice gradually loses its function as the soul progresses to Christ. So Christ has to increase and John the Baptist has to be obliterated.” (Quoted by Poizat).

[2] Tout ce qui, du signifiant, ne concourt pas à l’effet de signification. (Jacques-Alain Miller)

[3] “Moreover, it is impossible that the sound, the material element, belongs by itself to language. It is secondary for it, a matter that it uses. The linguistic signifier is by its essence by no means phonic, it is disembodied, constituted not by its material substance, but exclusively by the differences that separate its acoustic image from all others.” What defines the phonemes is not “their proper and positive quality, but simply the fact that they do not get confounded among them. The phonemes are above all oppositive, relative and negative entities.” (Saussure).

[4] “If we make music and listen to it, it is in order to silence what deserves to be called the voice as the objet a.” (Miller).

[5] “There is music only for a speaking being.” (Baas).

[6] “An unbridgeable gap separates forever a human body from ‘its’ voice. The voice displays a spectral autonomy, it never quite belongs to the body we see, so that even when we see a living person talking, there is always a minimum of ventriloquism at work: it is as if the speaker’s own voice hollows him out and in a sense speaks ‘by itself’, through him. The true object voice is mute, ‘stuck in the throat’, and what effectively reverberates is the void: resonance always takes place in a vacuum—the tone as such is originally the lament for the lost object.” (Slavoj Zizek).

[7] Lacan uses the English distinction between the aim and the goal, indiscernible in the French le but. “Here we can clear up the mystery of the zielgehemmt, of that form that the drive may assume, in attaining its satisfaction without attaining its goal. When you entrust someone with a mission, the aim is not what he brings back, but the itinerary he must take. The aim is the way taken. The French word le but may be translated by another word in English, goal. If the drive may be satisfied without attaining what would be the satisfaction of its end, it is because its aim is simply this return into circuit. The objet petit a is not the origin of the drive.” “In the profound relation of the drive, what is essential is that the movement by which the arrow that sets out towards the target fulfils its function only by really re-emerging from it, and returning on to the subject.”

[8] “Conscience! Conscience! Divine instinct, immortal and celestial voice; firm guide of an ignorant and limited being, but which is also intelligent and free; the infallible judge of the good and the evil, it is you that make the man similar to God, it is you that make out the excellence of his nature and the morality of his actions; without you I do not sense anything in myself which would elevate me above the beasts, just the sad privilege to stray from error to error with the help of an intelligence without a rule and a reason without a principle.”

[9] Here I am leaving completely aside the intricate problem of “the voice of being” in Heidegger.

[10] This formula is taken from Alenka Zupancic and found also in Baas.

[11] From this angle one could tackle the status of the voice in psychosis, something I will not deal with here. If the superego functions as the shadow and the supplement of the law, if it operates in and through this division, this yields some variant of the “neurotic” mechanism. But if the voice actually supplants the Other and immediately “makes the law,” then it entails the dramatic consequences one can witness in psychosis. Lacan scrutinized psychosis under the heading “the foreclosure of the Name-of the-Father”—and one could say that the foreclosed Name-of-the-Father returns in the Real precisely as the voice.

[12] Hence the whole problem of the use of shofar in Jewish rituals, which Lacan has treated at great length in his Seminar on anxiety.

[13] For this example I am indebted to Alenka Zupancic, also Poizat.

[14] “In this society the king doesn’t address directly and loudly the listeners who are his subjects. His voice is always quiet, grave, low. Each time the sovereign makes a pause, an assistant in charge of repetition amplifies and transmits loudly the royal words to the public. But this human amplifier is not limited by mechanically reproducing the words of the sovereign. It happens that he completes them and modifies their style when reciting them for the audience.” (Kawada).

[15] “He is placed at the juncture of zoe and bios, of the biological and the political body. His person is the place where the one constantly passes into the other.” (Agamben).

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