Monday, 6 February 2012

Telephonic Bodies...

...Some loose connections and crackling lines between the Ronell text and discussions from previous sessions...

This quaint little film is not exactly riveting but its focus on the many spectacular component parts of the machine.. Copper, Nickel, Cotton, Gold....Silver... and the painstaking stop motion that depicts the assembly - the hand cranking out the existing parts to be reconfigured into the telephone - led me to think of it as the formation of a body of sorts.

Perhaps this curious amalgamation of materials is comparable to the cleanly functioning machine of the singing body so favoured by Barthes. Its own jouissance producing version of "..the tongue, the glottis, the teeth, the mucous membranes, the nose..." (GOTV p183). Could it be said then that the telephonic voice has a grain? Perhaps rather the apparatus applies grain to the voice - indeed to any voice that cares to be mediated by it. The telephone becomes a co-opted body then or an extended one - a reordered system of human interconnection implicating and zoning in on the fingers, the mouth the ears, moving towards something like the "zones of intensity" described by Deleuze and Guattari - the focus of all desire. A body without organs perhaps?

Is a telephone call between two people something of a ménage á quatre? The presence, intervention and caress of all four bodies necessary for the conversation to take place...

(What are the implications of this on conference calls??)

Ronell seems to allude to the composition of the telephone as a somewhat reordered systems of organs - the nipple allied with the mouthpiece, the cord becoming umbilical, the entire object a kind of prosthetic limb - a body reduced and made essential for altered purpose. Perhaps something to link to D&G's suggested program "Why not walk on your head, sing with your sinuses, see through your skin, breath with your belly.." (How To Make Yourself a Body Without Organs p151)

(Has LG had the same thought and taken it too literally??)

Also consider how much time is spent staring at a telephone and waiting for it to ring or jumping at the sound of it, knowing there may be menace or bad news at the other end? The machine becomes the embodiment of the desired or feared - the agent of amorous contact or exposure to peril.  A telephone makes its presence felt both in silence and in its moment of alarm. There is an association here with the acousmatic voice as we have discussed - but could we consider a ringing telephone a silent acousmatic? A voice dominating with the same puissance as the classic voice over without the physical manifestation or vision of the body that emits it? When a telephone rings we know a voice is in our midst, it is imminent - but the co opted body of the telephone allows the speaking voice to remain silent while simultaneously holding court.

The telephone implies the possibility of a voice, it holds sway over the other, in this case over the receiver. Perhaps in this mode there is a reciprocal becoming telephone? 

Another thought I had for possible silent acousmatics was the Human breath, as exemplified here in Beckett's 1969 work (excuse the cheesy YBA rendering). 

The heavy breathing voice tends to reside in the realm of the telephone - allowing a dominating presence in a space while essentially keeping shtum...

This Beckett work is full of vocal presence despite the absence of the body and indeed of the speaking voice. The original play script describes the bookmarking of the exhalation with a birth cry (vagitus) which this version omits. 

Also interesting then that in this video - the crackle at the other end of the receiver sounds like 'someone crying' (01:14)  - the lost child that Bell sets out to recover perhaps? 

Lastly how often is the telephonic voice marred by bad signal - words split and cut, meanings lost and connections failing, breaking up and lost in tunnels....the voice to voice setup is still marked by the space of différance the same deferral that Derrida attributes to the written word.

How then might we characterise the sound of a busy signal - so full of signifiance? The background tone signalling the space into which bodies may enter and conversation can occur; equally the death knell that cuts the interaction back to nothing. A sonic full stop. 

Or an endless row of them ".........................................................................................." (The Deaf p341)


  1. wow amy, fantastic post - massive amount to think about there, especially the chasm of telephonic exchanges in relation to derrida.... crackle is a re-emerging theme... there's an essay (I think by Mark) about the emergence of crackle and it's meaning... the osmosis of human and technology presence and dislocation is interesting too.....the voice is like a ghost, passing through walls and territories....a body but not, a presence but not.......echo cho 0 0 0 0 0 ....

  2. Thanks! Yes I have some notes on a talk Mark gave about "The metaphysics of crackle" - linking to the idea of Hauntology as 'the surface noise of obsolete materialities' could be interesting in relation to developments in communication technologies.

    I think there in something in this fetish aspect too - the voco-fetisism that you posted about perhaps? That bit in the Ronell text about the kiss made me think of your post also - "The Kiss is the abolition of sense, the miniaturization of all postal systems" (p343) So back to Derrida again!

  3. Yeah, the whole 00rntology/hauntology definitely ties in with the voices dislocation, it's technological isolation - it's haunting from a derridian death, a death of logos, it's life vapour sapped and reduced to a crackling sonic - amputated from it's corporeal home - tru dat.... I'd really like to see those notes.... but I'm sure there is a blog or an article around too... mmm *googles* - I can only find this - - and refs to it.... maybe there isn't an article.

    I tried to write about the kiss a while back, not a great post admittedly -doubt it aligns with fetishism - more about shunting a seam into the logos/phone shism... but The Kiss isn't really voco - it's oral - I think my post sort of grapples with this major devision.

    The cool thing about the voice is it's so flighty, at one moment it's so bodily, grainy, so personal and unique - but it can be totally removed from this corporeality and still haunt, still carry logos.... and the auto-affectation dilemmas around voice play into this dynamic, cut through and invert.....

    but sound, dislocation, cyborgian themes, the logos/phone or zoe/bios splits etc, the history of phonocentricism etc really all pivot around what the voice means for presence, and how it means different things for presence in different contexts. The voice can be the ultimate horrorific presence of oneself as other - a brutal presence - but then on the other hand it can still exist as utter unpresence as, as a crappy vocal on a bad line - almost as removed as dead html code......