Different Voices, Voicing Difference (Panel)


Comparative Literature / Global Anglophone

Nicholas Pisanelli (Brown University)

Joseph Romano (Columbia University)

The question of the relation of language to voice traces back to Aristotle’s De interpretatione, with its definition of speech as the sign of thought, and writing the sign of speech. In Jacques Derrida’s account of this phonologocentric model, voice is the ligature of “phōnē and logos,” securing their essential proximity. But if voice is only a mediation, then, as Barbara Johnson writes, voice is no longer “self-identity but self-difference.” Paradoxically, the voice marks the singular but is itself plural, sweeping the self up into an ever-ramifying play of differentiation. As David Lawton proposes, “voice is both a signature, ‘I,’ singularity, and a clear marker of difference, ‘not I,’ multiplicity”. How, then, to explore the enigmatic dwelling of the voice in its self-difference, in what Giorgio Agamben calls “the moat between phōnē and logos,” wherein voice is neither sound nor meaning, but that which runs between them.

The aim of this panel is to take up the question of voice in its relation to difference across literary periods and theoretical frameworks. What affects or affections stir the voice? What is the voice’s materiality, its relation to sound and sense? How do texts represent voices, how are texts themselves voiced? Literature offers a unique site at which to address these questions precisely because the voices and voicings of literary texts are threaded with the differential play of language. Dostoevsky’s polyphonic novels, Chaucer’s loquacious tale-tellers, and Soyinka’s chthonic dramaturgy all give voice to this difference without ever resolving into a simple identity. We seek papers that explore the various voices of literary texts, the voices of literary criticism, and the imbrication of voice and form. Possible topics include, but are not limited to:

Polyphony, Heteroglossia, Dialogicality

Voice as style, voice as “signature”

“Voicing” as composition and form

Pathemata or affects as that which inhere in the voice

Free Indirect Discourse

The “Lyric I”

Narration, character and “giving voice”

Non-human voices

Digital voices

This panel seeks papers that explore how literary texts formalize the relation of voice to difference. By thinking through the ways that voice exceeds the identity of the subject, this panel aims to produce accounts of the difference(s) between voices, their particular timbres and tones, and, ultimately, the very possibility of their expression. In particular, we seek papers that theorize how literary texts shape words with voice, connect voice to form, and find new kinds of sense in their voicings.