Sound-Effects: The Object Voice in English Fiction

full name / name of organization: 
Jorge Sacido (USC)
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Whether thematised, reported, directly dramatised, or simply hinted at, "voice" as pure sound object in English fiction has deserved little critical attention. Recent theoretical developments in the psychoanalytical field –most notably, Mladen Dolar's 2006 monographic study A Voice and Nothing More– provide an invaluable tool for a more systematic approach to a recurrent topic which has been nearly neglected in favour of "the gaze" (for which psychoanalysis itself is to be made partly responsible) and of "writing" as the support of original difference that undermines the myth of presence which deconstruction precisely attacks as a metaphysics of the voice. Understandably, poetry has been by far the major focus of theoretical and critical interest regarding the objectual, material side of sound effects present in writing (e.g. D. Wesling and T. Slawek, Literary Voice [1995]). Yet, attention to the status of the object voice as the meaningless supplement of the differential operations of signification opens up new ways to approach central questions such as subjectivity, ideology, spectrality, ethics, authority and otherness in fiction. Claire Kahane's Passions of the Voice (1995) and, particularly, a bunch of recent essays on English modernists (e.g. M. Ellmann's "Joyce's Voices", 2009; J. Paccaud-Huguet's "A Remainder that Spoils the Ear", 2008; or A. Ramel "Tess's Silent Cry", 2008) are an index of the relevance, topicality and potential of this issue. Indeed, sound-effects are a crucial narrative element not only in classic novels such as Gulliver's Travels (and its babel of odd-sounding words), Wuthering Heights (and its partly aural ghosts) or Ulysses (and its wordplay and its variety of sound-effects), but also in less known shorter pieces like, for instance, Muriel Sparks' "The Girl I Left Behind Me" (in which a young office clerk is haunted by the echo of the tunes whistled by her boss, a man revealingly called Mr Letter) or A. L. Kennedy's "A Bad Son" (in which word pronunciation and screaming play a central role in the protagonist's predicament). However, "object voice" as a theoretical concept and as a literary element is not restricted to human sounds alone, but encompasses a wide variety of acoustic effects that range from music, mechanical noises and the din of urban crowds to the sounds of nature and to silence itself as, paradoxically, "the object voice par excellence" (Žižek "'I Hear You with My Eyes'" 1996, 92).

Our plan is to put together a volume of essays that explore this topic in modern English fiction (18th century to the present) preferably, though not exclusively, from a psychoanalytical perspective based on the Lacanian concept of the voice as partial object as developed by M. Dolar, S. Žižek and others. Those interested should send a 600-word abstract of the proposed paper and a brief biographical note by February 15, 2013 to We will request the authors of selected abstracts to send the complete MS (6,000 to 9,000 words in length and following the MLA Style Manual 2008 ed.) by July 31, 2013. Once this second stage of the process is completed, the editor will approach a quality publisher with the book proposal. Our initial plan is that volume will be published in 2014.

Jorge Sacido
Senior Lecturer/Associate Professor of English
Dept. of English and German Philology
University of Santiago de Compostela
Editor of Modernism, Postmodernism,
and the Short Story in English, Rodopi, 2012 ("Postmodern Studies Series" nº 48)