“The volume is exemplary. The essays collected in it illuminate a range of subject—film and film history, literature and literary history, the figure of the blind man in Enlightenment writing, ‘love at first sight,’ Augustine on intellectuals and sexuality—and they all work together to explicate three crucial and difficult terms in the Lacanian vocabulary: object, voice, gaze.”—Marshall Grossman, University of Maryland
Gaze and Voice as Love Objects: SIC 1by Renata Salecl (Editor), Slavoj Zizek (Editor), Mladen Dolar (Contribution by), Alenka Zupancic (Contribution by)
This provocative book examines love as the mediating entity in the essential antagonism between the sexes, and gaze and voice as love's medium. Approaching its topic with utter disregard for predominant multiculturalist and deconstructionist commonplaces, and with insights into the underlying target of racist and sexist violence, this book offers surprising revelations into the nature of an ancient enigma--love.
Read an Excerpt
Gaze and Voice as Love Objects
By Renata Salecl, Slavoj Zizek
Duke University PressCopyright © 1996 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
The Object Voice
In the beginning there was Saussure, or so the story goes. To be sure, our story begins much earlier—maybe it has indeed "always already" begun—but let us take our provisional starting point in this somewhat dubious doxa of our times.
The Saussurean turn has obviously a lot to do with the voice. If we are to take seriously the negative nature of the linguistic sign, its purely differential and oppositive value, then the voice—as the supposedly natural soil of speech, its seemingly positive substance, its firm substratum—has to be put into question. The voice has to be carefully discarded as the source of an imaginary blinding that has hitherto prevented linguistics from discovering the structural determinations that enable the tricky transubstantiation of voice into the linguistic sign. The voice is the impeding element that one has to be rid of in order to initiate a new science of language. Beyond the sounds of language that traditional phonetics has painstakingly described—spending much time over the technology of their production, helplessly ensnared by their physical and physiological properties—there lies a very different entity that the new linguistics has to unearth, the phoneme. Beyond the voice "with flesh and bones" (as Jakobson will say some decades later), there lies the fleshless and boneless entity defined purely by its function—the silent sound, the soundless voice. The new object demands a new science: high hopes are now vested in phonology instead of traditional phonetics. The question of how the different sounds are produced is seen as obsolete; what counts are the differential oppositions of phonemes, their purely relational nature, their reduction to distinctive features. They are isolated by their ability to distinguish the units of signification, but in such a way that the specific signifying distinctions are irrelevant, their only importance being that they take place, not what they might be. The phonemes lack substance, they are completely reducible to form, according to one of the most famous of Saussure's dictums, and they lack any signification of their own. They are just senseless quasi-algebraic elements in a formal matrix of combinations, and it is ultimately only to them that the Saussurean definition of sign fully applies (such will be Jakobson's criticism of Saussure): they are the only stratum of language which is entirely made of purely negative quantities, their identity is "a pure alterity" (Jakobson 1963, 111, 116). They are the senseless atoms that in their combination "make sense." Phonology, defined in such a way, was ordained to take a preeminent place in structural linguistics. Indeed, it was soon to turn into its showcase, the paramount demonstration of its abilities and explanatory strength. Some decades had to elapse for it to reach its fully developed form in Troubetskoy's Grundzüge der Phonologie (1939) and in Jakobson's Fundamentals of Language (1956). Some criticism had to be made of the Saussurean presuppositions (Jakobson's critique of Saussure's dogma about the linear nature of the signifier), some respect had to be duly paid to its other predecessors (Baudouin de Courtenay, Henry Sweet, etc.), but its course was secure. All the sounds of a language could be described in a purely logical way; they could be placed into a logical table based just on the presence or absence of some minimal distinctive features, ruled entirely by one elementary key, the binary code. In this way, most of the oppositions of traditional phonetics were reproduced (voiced/voiceless, nasal/oral, compact/diffuse, grave/acute, labial/dental, etc.), but all these were now recreated as functions of logical oppositions, the conceptual deduction of the empirical, not as an empirical description of sounds that one has found. As the ultimate exhibit, one could present the phonological triangle as the simple deductive matrix of all phonemes and their "elementary structures of kinship," the device that will reach some notorious fame in the heyday of structuralism. Having dismantled sounds into mere bundles of differential oppositions, phonology could then also account for the surplus that is necessarily added to purely phonemic distinctive features—prosody, intonation, and accent, melody, redundant elements, variations, and so on. The bones, flesh, and blood of the voice were divided without remainder into a web of structural traits, the checklist of presences and absences. The inaugural gesture of phonology was thus the total reduction of the voice as the substance of language. Phonology, true to its apocryphal etymology, was about killing the voice—at its origin, there is the Greek phon?, voice, but one can also quite appropriately hear phonos, murder.
Let us now make a somewhat abrupt jump to Lacan. In the famous graph of desire (figure 1), one can find, maybe rather surprisingly, a line that runs from the signifier on the left to the voice on the right (Lacan 1989, 306): there is the signifying chain, reduced to its minimal features, which yields, as a result or as a leftover, the voice. A certain reversal has taken place: the voice is not taken as a hypothetical or something of mythical origin that the analysis would have to break down into distinctive traits, not a diffuse substance to be reduced to structure, but rather the opposite—it stands as the outcome of the structural operation. We can put aside, for our particular purpose, the specific nature of the operation that Lacan tries to demonstrate—the retroactive production of meaning, the "quilting point," the nature of the subject involved in it, and so on. So why is there voice as the outcome? Why does the signifier run out into voice as its result? And which voice do we find there—the one that phonology has killed? If it was successfully murdered, why does it recur? Does it not know that it is dead? Maybe we can sum up this curious recurrence in a Lacanian thesis: the reduction of the voice that phonology has attempted—phonology as the paradigmatic showcase of structural analysis—has nevertheless left a remainder: not as any positive feature that couldn't be reduced or entirely dissolved into its binary logical web, not as some seductive imaginary quality that would escape this operation, but precisely as the object in the Lacanian sense. It is only the reduction of the voice—in all of its positivity, lock, stock, and barrel—that produces the voice as the object. This dimension of the voice is difficult to cope with. It cannot be broken down into differential oppositions, since it was this dissolution that produced it in the first place. So there is no meaning that could be assigned to it, since meaning springs only from those oppositions. It is not a function of the signifier, since it presents precisely a nonsignifying remainder, something resistant to the signifying operations, a leftover heterogeneous in relation to the structural logic which includes it.
Furthermore, this remnant has nothing to do with some irreducible individuality of the voice, the personal surplus over the standard mold, the unmistakable individual flavor or timbre that makes each voice instantly recognizable. Nor is it reducible to what Barthes has called "the grain of the voice"—"the materiality of a body speaking its mother-tongue," "the body in the singing voice" (1982, 238, 243). For to attach the voice to the body and to endow it with materiality involves all kinds of obstacles—one is ultimately faced with an unbridgeable gap, since the trouble is that the object never fits the body. And further, it cannot be tackled by introducing the singing voice, the music, as the proper dimension of voice, one that would transcend the narrow framework of speech and would retain the ineffable realm of expression beyond signification. For music, with all its seductive force and irresistible appeal, is rather an attempt to domesticate the object, to turn it into an object of aesthetic pleasure, to put up a screen against what is unbearable in it. "If we make music and listen to it, ... it is in order to silence what deserves to be called the voice as the object a" (Miller 1989, 184). But, one should add (we shall come back to this later at some length), this gesture is always ambiguous: music evokes the voice and conceals it, it fetishizes it, but also opens the gap that cannot be filled.
The remnant, not being differential and not concurring to signification, seems to present a sort of counterweight to differentiality, since the differential logic always refers to absence, while the voice seems to embody the presence, a firm background for differential traits, a positive basis for their inherent negativity. Although its positivity appears to be very elusive—just vibrations of the air, which are gone as soon as they are produced, a pure passing, not something that could be fixed or that one could hold on to, since one can only fix the differences, as phonology has so exhaustively done. In a more specific Lacanian sense, in the context of the graph, one could say that it presents the counterweight, not just to differentiality, but also, and in the first place, to the subject. For the graph was, among other things, constructed to demonstrate that the minimal signifying operation necessarily yields the subject as a purely negative entity that is produced in the retroactive vector, an entity gliding along the chain since it doesn't possess a signifier of its own—the subject is always only represented by a signifier for another signifier, as the famous dictum goes. In itself it is without foundation and without a substance; it is a lack, an empty space necessarily implied by the nature of the signifier—such was for Lacan, as it is well known, the nature of the subject that can be assigned to structure. So the voice seems to endow this empty and negative entity with a counterpart, its "missing half," so to speak, a "supplement" that would enable this negative being to acquire some hold in positivity, a "substance," a relationship to presence.
So is the voice as the residue, the remnant of the phonological operation, to be related to presence? Does it offer a privileged, although admittedly elusive, evocation of the present, thus counteracting the purely negative differential features, the Saussurean determination in absentia, which ultimately always gets the upper hand over presence as soon as we use language? Does the object voice, which Lacan has pinpointed as the necessary implication of the structural intervention, run into the notorious "metaphysics of presence" as its most recent and most insidious variation?
Obviously, the entire phonological enterprise was heavily biased, as Derrida has convincingly shown. There was a prejudice at its core—the prejudice that it shared with the bulk of metaphysical tradition from which it has unwittingly inherited it, the prejudice that, maybe, defined that tradition as metaphysical, that is, as "phonocentric." It consisted in the simple and seemingly self-evident assumption that the voice is indeed the basic element of language, its natural embodiment, and is consubstantial with it, whereas writing presents its derivative, auxiliary, and parasitic supplement, at the same time secondary and dangerous. Or so the story goes.
By this account, the remainder is not to be looked for on the side of the voice at all—quite the contrary. If the entire metaphysical tradition "spontaneously" and consistently espoused the priority of the voice, it was because the voice always presented the privileged point of auto-affection, self-transparency, the hold in the presence. The voice offered the illusion that one could get immediate access to an unalloyed presence, an origin not tarnished by externality, a firm rock against the elusive interplay of signs, which are anyway surrogates by their very nature and always point to an absence. So if there is indeed a remainder, it has to be sought on the side of writing, the dead letter that disrupts the living voice, the supplement that usurps its subsidiary place to tarnish presence. And ultimately, it is not the writing in its positive and empirical appearance that is at stake, but more fundamentally the trace, the trace of alterity that has "always already" dislocated the origin. Saussure himself was torn between two opposing tendencies: on the one hand, the tendency that prolonged the traditional stance and made him condemn writing as secondary to voice but as threatening nonetheless to "usurp the leading role" (Saussure 1972, 45), and on the other hand his insight that "the essence of language ... is alien to the phonic character of the linguistic sign" (21). The subsequent fate of phonology was thus to be caught between the two as well: between, on one hand, its unquestionable prejudice that the voice was the natural matter of language and thus the evident place to start, and, on the other, its operations, which dismantled the living presence of the voice into the lifeless differential matrix—except for the residue that Lacan took to be the paradoxical object voice.
The Derridean turn has thus, by a very different way, made the voice the preeminent object of philosophical inquiry, demonstrating its complicity with the principal metaphysical preoccupations. If metaphysics, in this rather overarching view, is carried by the propensity to disavow the part of alterity, the trace of the other, to hold on to some ultimate signified against the disruptive play of differences, to maintain purity of the origin against supplementarity, it can only do so by clinging to the privilege of the voice as a source of an originary self-presence. The divide between the interior and the exterior, the model of all other metaphysical divides, derives from there:
The voice is heard (understood)—that undoubtedly is what is called conscience—closest to the self as the absolute effacement of the signifier: pure auto-affection that necessarily has the form of time and which does not borrow from outside of itself, in the world or in "reality," any accessory signifier, any substance of expression foreign to its own spontaneity. It is the unique experience of the signified producing itself spontaneously, from within the self. (Derrida 1976, 20)
This illusion—the illusion par excellence—is thus constitutive of interiority and ultimately of consciousness, the self, and autonomy. S'entendre parler—to hear oneself speak—is maybe the minimal definition of consciousness. I will not dwell on the well-known numerous, ramified, and rather spectacular consequences that Derrida has drawn from there.
To hear oneself speak—or just simply to hear oneself—can be seen as an elementary formula of narcissism that is needed to produce a minimal form of a self. Lacan spent much time, in his younger days, meditating over another elementary narcissistic device, the mirror. The mirror was to fulfill the same function—to provide the minimal support needed to produce a self-recognition, the imaginary completion offered to the multiple body, the imaginary blinding that goes along with it, the recognition that is intrinsically a miscognition, the constitution of an "I" as well as the matrix of a relationship to one's equals, the ambiguous source of love and aggression—all the well-known panoply of the notorious mirror phase. Lacan was later to isolate the gaze and the voice as the two paramount embodiments of the object a, but his early theory has given an unquestionable privilege to the gaze as the paradigmatic instance of the Imaginary, elevating it into a model. Yet the voice can be seen as in some sense even more striking and more elementary—for isn't the voice the first manifestation of life and, thus, isn't hearing oneself, and recognizing one's voice, an experience that precedes the recognition in the mirror? And isn't the mother's voice the first problematic connection to the Other, the immaterial tie that comes to replace the umbilical cord and shapes much of the fate of the earliest stages of life? Doesn't the recognition of one's voice produce the same jubilatory effects in the infant as those accompanying the recognition in the mirror?
There is a rudimentary form of narcissism attached to the voice that is difficult to delineate since it seemingly lacks any outside support. It is the first "self-referring" or "self-reflective" move, but as pure auto-affection at the closest of oneself—an auto-affection that is not re-flection, since it is seemingly without a screen that would return the voice, a pure immediacy, where one is both sender and receiver in one's pure interiority. In a deceptive self-transparency one coincides in both roles without a gap and without a need for any exterior mediation. One can speak of an acoustic mirror, as it were (cf. Silverman 1988), only there is no mirror. There is no need for recognition in one's external image, and one can see there the kernel of consciousness prior to any reflection. For if there is a surface that returns the voice, the voice acquires an autonomy of its own and enters into the dimension of the Other, it becomes a deferred voice, and the narcissism crumbles. The best witness is, after all, Narcissus himself, whose story, maybe not surprisingly, involves both the gaze and the voice. But his curious "affair" with the nymph Echo, who could only echo his words and couldn't speak by herself, is a story of a failed love and a failed narcissism—the voice returned is not his own voice, and he would rather die than abandon himself to the other ("'Ante,' ait, 'emoriar, quam sit tibi copia nostri,'" says Ovid). And when the nymph dies, only her voice is left, which still makes echo to our own, the voice without a body, the remainder, the trace of the object.
Excerpted from Gaze and Voice as Love Objects by Renata Salecl, Slavoj Zizek. Copyright © 1996 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Renata Salecl is Researcher at the Institute for Criminology at the Faculty of Law, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics. She is the author of The Spoils of Freedom and Sexuation (published by Duke University Press).
Slavoj Žižek is Senior Researcher at the Institute for Social Sciences at the University of Ljubljana, Slovenia. His latest books include Tarrying with the Negative (Duke University Press) and The Indivisible Remainder.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews
Appears from a wall. I have a black hood over my head.
(You should advertize again)
She wonders around the halls aimlessly.