Phonophobia: The Dumb Devil of Stammering

Phonophobia: The Dumb Devil of Stammering

Steven Connor

A talk given, as ‘Giving Out Voice’, at the Giving Voice conference, University of Aberystwyth, 8 April, 2006

Viva Voce

What is the voice? The voice is always a dream voice, and we can never speak about the experience of the voice except in the register of fantasy, desire, dream, myth. Even, and perhaps especially when we may speak of the materiality of the voice, we evoke imaginary substance and mythical powers.

‘The voice is the body’s greatest power of emanation’ , Guy Rosolato has written (Rosolato 1974, 76; my translation). The voice goes out from the body as the body’s twin – as a body double. It took me six years of writing Dumbstruck (2000), a book I got into the habit of calling a ‘history of the disembodied voice’ to let on at last to myself and others that there is no disembodied voice –no voice that does not have somebody, something of somebody’s body, in it. As Mladen Dolar has recently written, ‘The voice is the flesh of the soul, its ineradicable materiality, by which the soul can never be rid of the body’ (Dolar 2006, 71).

All too often, the voice is experienced as the more-than-body, as the body projected, perfected. We live in an age of amplification, transmission, of voices that are larger-than-life, that are life itself enlarged. But the voice is also imagined as superlative in other ways – as the body refined, for example, or made more subtly sensitive, or more fluent. The voice is the body’s second life, something between a substance and a force – a fluency that is yet a form. The voice is lived and imagined as the life of its subject. Indeed, we may say that the very idea of life is derived in part from such magic fantasies of vigour and virility. The voice is so saturated by the anxious dream of our ‘life’, because it is itself one of the most important components of that will-to-life. The phantasm of the ‘living voice’ is the principal carrier of our hallucination of life. It is subject to a paradoxical vital economy. While drawing on the body for its force, and therefore subject to the vicissitudes of the body, it is nevertheless imagined to have the power to radiate new life back to the body from which it emanates. But, as a surrogate or supplement, the voice is also itself in need of supplementation – hence the anxious regimes of voice cultivation, nurture, hygiene and healing which have multiplied since the end of the eighteenth century.

Here, I want to focus on one particular form of vocal impediment, stammering or stuttering. For most of its history, stammering has been regarded as the result of some material or physical, rather than spiritual cause. At the same time, stammering has been the repository or occasion for the most extraordinary material fantasies, or phantasmal materialisms. The Hippocratic school of Kos held that stammering came from excessive dryness of the tongue. Galen, the principal authority for humoral theory in the medieval period, blamed excessive moisture. Galen’s views are preserved in the influential De proprietatibus rerum of Bartholomaeus Anglicus, here in the 1582 translation by Stephen Batman:

Galen sayth, that sometime it happeneth, that the tongue stutteth and stamereth by too much moisture when the stringes of the tongue may not stretch and spread into the utter parts thereof for too much moysture, as it fareth in dronken men, that stamer when they bee soe much in moisture in the braine. Therefore Galen sayth, that kindlye stamering men stamer through too much moisture of the braine, or else through too much moisting of the tongue, or for both. (Anglicus 1582, 46).

Engorgement of the tongue through alcoholic vapours was also blamed for causing stuttering:

The tounge that lyspeth or stamereth: declareth that persone to feare, to drynke wyne: and sumtyme he susteyneth debilitie of the brayne, and thereof it commeth, that the drounke do stammer, stut, or lyspe, because the vapoures of the wine dronke in, into that parte of the tounge named the sponge, enlarge the same, and chaunge it fro hys natural state and forme. (Cocles 1556, sig. C3v)

Francis Bacon also saw stuttering as a physical impediment, but blamed coldness rather than swelling:

Diuers, we see, doe Stut. The Cause may be, (in most,) the Refrigeration of the Tongue; Whereby it is lesse apt to moue. And therfore we see, that Naturalls doe generally Stut: And we see that in those that Stut, if they drinke Wine moderately, they Stut lesse, because it heateth: And so we see, that they that Stut, doe Stut more in the first Offer to speake, than in Continuance; Because the Tongue is, by Motion, somewhat heated. In some also, it may be, (though rarely,) the Drinesse of the Tongue; which likewise maketh it lesse apt to moue, as well as Cold; For it is an Affect that commeth to some Wise and Great Men; As it did vnto Moses, who was Linguae prapedita; And many Stutters (we finde) are very Cholericke Men; Choler Enducing a Drinesse in the Tongue. (Bacon 1627,103)

Alexander Ross, who was as querulous as he was credulous, and made a career out of refuting writers like Bacon, Browne and Harvey, took issue with Bacon’s arguments. The stutterer’s speech is not congealed, but rather overheated, he thought:

He makes Refrigeration of the tongues the cause of stuttering. If this were so, then old men should stutter more then young men; for old men are colder. But we know the contrary, that not the coldnesse, but rather the over-heating of the tongue causeth stuttering, and this he acknowledgeth in the same Section, that many stutterers are very cholerick men. But choler is hot, then it seemes that both heat and cold is the cause of stuttering. But indeed the true cause in some is a bad habit or custom contracted from their infancy, in others eagernesse of disposition; for hasty and eager natures usually stutter, and whilst they make the more haste, they use the lesse speed; in others again stuttering proceeds from some infirmity or impedim[en]t in the tendon, muscles, or nerves of the tongue. As for drinking of wine moderatly, which he saith, will cause men stut lesse, is a thing I could never yet observe in those stutterers I have bin acquainted with. (Ross 250)

The replacement of humoral theory by mechanical theories of the body’s functioning encouraged efforts to account for stammering in terms of physiological failures, through the adoption of incorrect or inadequate methods of speech production. Some old ideas persisted bravely. William Abbotts’s Impediments of Speech was reprinted into the 1890s, despite, or perhaps because of blaming stammer in breathing through the mouth rather than nose, and thinking that the severity of stammer was related to the weather – ‘the majority of stammerers being worse during wet, cold weather than when the air is more dry and bracing’ (Abbotts 1879, 19).

Freud’s development of psychoanalytic theory encouraged a turn to psychogenic theories of the functioning of the stammer. Stammering seemed to be the perfect example of a physical disturbance that enacts contrary impulses – the impulse to speak, and the impulse to withhold speech. Different psychoanalytic theories emphasise different areas of anxious ambivalence. Fenichel thought that the stammerer was in the grip of an anal-sadistic impulse to utter obscenities. I.H. Coriat saw stammering as the unsuccessful account to manage oral anxieties relating to nursing (1927). Peter Glauber has suggested that the principal struggle in the mind and body of the stammerer is between his huge investment in ‘the magical omnipotence of words’ and the need to repress his own desire for verbal power. Stammering is thus, once again, represented as the enactment of castration anxiety: ‘to speak, or to speak well, means to be potent; to be unable to speak – to be castrated’ (Glauber 1958, 80).

Psychoanalysis comes closer to analysing the fantasies invested in the magical omnipotence and, we might add, the fearful failure, of the voice. But its own mythical apparatus of entities and energies participates in and prolongs that delusional apparatus rather than dissipating it. Psychoanalysis is therefore itself part of the cultural dreamwork which forms and deforms the voice.

Charles Kingsley, one of the nineteenth century’s many stammerers, wrote emphatically of the need for the stammerer to build up the fabric of his body in order to hold the diabolic voice at bay: ‘whosoever can afford an enervated body and an abject character, the stammerer cannot. With him it is a question of life and death. He must make a man of himself, or be liable to his tormentor to the last’ (Kingsley 1864, 25). Kingsley believes stammering is the effect of selfishness, of allowing too much of self into the voice, which ironically deprives the self of authority over its voice, and therefore makes over the voice to the diabolical vocality of the stammer:

Let him, therefore, eschew all base perturbations of mind; all cowardice, servility, meanness, vanity, and hankering after admiration; for these all will make many a man, by a just judgement, stammer on the spot. Let him, for the same reason, eschew all anger, peevishness, haste, even pardonable eagerness. In a word , let him eschew the root of all evil, selfishness and self-seeking; for he will surely find that whensoever he begins thinking about himself, then is the dumb devil of stammering close at his elbow. (Kingsley 1864, 25)

For Kingsley, the debility and diabolical mutilation of the voice that are the stammer can only be combated by a remorseless regime of bodily conservation and reinforcement, endlessly vigilant to any threat of collapse or weakening:

Let him betake himself to all manly exercises, which will put him into wind, and keep him in it….Let him play rackets, and fives, row, and box; for all these amusements strengthen those muscles of the chest and abdomen which are certain to be in his case weak… And let him, now in these very days, join a rifle-club, and learn in it to carry himself with the erect and noble port which is all but peculiar to the soldier, but ought to be the common habit of every man; let him learn to march; and more, to trot under arms without losing breath; and by such means make himself an active, healthy, and valiant man (Kingsley 1864, 26, 27)

Most of the many forms of therapy that were developed in the nineteenth century depended on and encouraged the conviction that the gap between the self and its voice could be healed by repairing speech from the outside in – through the regularisation of rhythm, encouraging attention to verbal patterns, focussing and channelling force, construing speaking as a kind of singing, and so on. The very fact that such methods often seemed to meet with success encouraged a concern that speech might not be a mere external accessory; its suggestion that the voice could indeed be rebuilt from the outside itself cast doubt upon the innerness of the voice, the belief in the innate bond between self and voice.


There is a strong association between vocal and other kinds of impediment, especially of the gait. Roger Ascham complained in 1545 that

yf a man nowe a dayes have two sonnes, the one impotent, weke, sickly, lispynge, stuttynge, and stamerynge, or havnge any misshape in his bodye: what doth the father of suche one commonlye saye? This boy is fit for nothynge els, but to set to lernyng and make a prest of, as who would say, ye outcastes of the worlde, havyng neyther countenaunce tounge nor wit (for of a perverse body cumeth commonly a perverse mind) be good ynough to make those men of, whiche shall be appoynted to preache Goddes holye woorde… (Ascham 1545, Xiv-Xiir)

Marc Shell observes that Moses had difficulty walking as well as talking (Shell 2005, 109-12). Limping is a kind of tipsy lisping of the legs. ‘Stamerynge, yn speche’ and ‘Stamerynge, in goyng’ are associated in the Promptorium parvulorum, an Anglo-Latin lexicon of 1440 (472). Up to the middle of the nineteenth century, for a horse to ‘stammer’ was for it to stagger. Titubation, meaning toppling or reeling progress, was a common synonym for stammering. For the Freud of Beyond the Pleasure Principle, the limp is the expression of the strange syncopations of the life-instinct, which wishes always to go forward, to keep on keeping on, and the death instinct, which wishes to tarry, procrastinate, or return to less exacting earlier state of things. The painful syncopations of the stammerer, in which anxious pause and spilling profusion alternate, seem to be governed by this rhythm. Freud in fact ends his text with the words ‘Es ist keine Sünde zu verhinken’ – ‘it is no sin to limp’ (Freud 1953-73, 18.64). The pulse of poetry itself has sometimes been associated with the lopsided walk of the limper – as in the character at the beginning of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman who clumps down the stairs in iambic pentameters. Though Freud makes no strong association between speaking and limping, he might from time to time have recalled the odd facility demonstrated by his first master Charcot in imitating the irregular gaits characteristic of different kinds of neurological damage; Charcot taught his students the accents of their damaged cadence, schooling them to listen for his patients’ signature lurches and shuffles.

So much of our fantasy of being the privileged beneficiaries of life is invested in the voice that the deficit of the voice can often seem like a mortal injury, a gash in the soul itself. The speech of the stammerer or the lisper is the aural enactment of the wound borne by the castrato. And yet castration has also been linked to a release or enhancement of vocal power. The voices of castrati exhibited not just the capacity to inhabit the higher registers denied to the broken male voice, but also an amazing, preternatural strength or ‘body’, as though the robustness of the sexual life had been channeled into the voice. As the minor or symbolic form of castration, circumcision is also associated with the unloosing rather than the inhibition of speech. Moses protests to the Lord God in Exodus 4.10 ‘I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue’. A little later he says ‘Ani aral s’fatayim’ – ‘I am of uncircumcised lips’ (Exodus 6.12, 6.30). A legend of the childhood of Moses explains that as a child he was subjected to a test which involved a hot coal being applied to his lips, hence his subsequent vocal disability. This story reappears in the prophet Isaiah’s account of how his ‘unclean lips’ are made clean by a seraph who touches them with a hot coal (Isaiah 6.5-7). The circumcision that Freud and others have thought of as a sacrificial wounding is also conceived in Judaism as an opening, and can thus be applied to the heart (Leviticus 26.41) or ears as well as to the mouth or the penis: ‘Their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken’, the Lord complains in Jeremiah 6.10, and his words are repeated in the New Testament: ‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit‘(Acts 7.51).

It is not just the tongue that is twisted for the stammerer. The voice of the stammerer is imagined as twisted, tangled, contorted, a body closed in or folded over on itself. During the nineteenth century, the fantasy of a voice that has got tangled up in or closed over on itself produced efforts literally to excise stammerer’s knot of speech. A German physician called J.F. Dieffenbach, encouraged by the success of a procedure to rectify Strabismus or squint by cutting through recessed or over-taut eye tendons, extended the principle to stammerers. (Along with limping, squinting is one of the forms of suspicious bodily wryness upon which history has regularly looked askance – Lee 1841.) Dieffenbach makes clear the extent of his horror at the predicament his procedure is designed to remedy. His account of the sufferings of the stammering boy for whom he developed his operation offers a term which might be used to characterise how own and others’ revulsion at the imperfect voice – phonophobia:

The presence of a stranger invariably affected him in a manner most painful to behold. His face became distorted; the alae of the nose worked convulsively; his lips moved quiveringly up and down; his eyelids were expanded into a wild and eager stare; the tongue was now stiff, now played convulsively within the mouth; and the muscles of the throat, larynx and trachea were sympathetically affected. Thus, after terrible efforts, the boy gave utterance to a mangled and imperfect word; – now for a time was his speech free, and words chased one another with incredible velocity, till confusion ensued amidst the thronging sounds; and the same painful scene was thus again and again renewed. The peculiar physical horror which constitutes a stutterer, and which is excited by the effort to speak, is very similar to that which gives rise to the excitement and spasm of the hydrophobic patient at the sight of water. This internal movement might, on that account, be called phonophobia. (Dieffenbach 1841, 11-12)

The boy’s struggles at speech are represented as a painful, repeated parturition, in which speech is the agency of death rather than the witness of life. The boy is taken up into his paralysed voice, and the ‘mangled and imperfect speech’ that is its product is a doubling of the grotesquely maimed voice-body that he has become. He is at once alienated from his own speech and imprisoned in it. Dieffenbach was not the only writer to suspect the tongue of getting in the way of clear speech. William Abbotts advised that ‘The tongue is not so necessary to speech as is commonly supposed. In the case of stammerers, indeed, it is apt to become a cause of impediment, through getting into a wrong position for pronouncing various sounds’ (Abbotts 1879, 27). The point here seems to be that the voice is itself the agency of its own blockage: it is not just a constricted voice, but a vox constrictor in whose toils the boy struggles.

Dieffenbach’s operation consisted in excising a deep wedge ¾ of an inch wide from the root of the boy’s tongue. He coolly warned amateur surgeons of the sanguinary consequences: ‘That the hemorrhage was considerable, may be imagined from the nature of the operation, which should not be attempted by all persons indiscriminately’ ((Dieffenbach 1841, 13). Nevertheless, he claimed complete success:

At the present time, not the slightest trace of stuttering remains, not the slightest vibration of the muscles of the face, not the most inconsiderable play of the lips. His speech is throughout clear, well-toned, even, and flowing. Neither inward emotions, nor unexpected external impressions, produce the slightest hesitation; he can speak, read, and entertain himself, indifferently with friends or strangers. (Dieffenbach 1841, 14).

He looks forward with hilariously grisly relish to more of this kind of procedure:

Amidst the prevailing rage for modifying operations, I foresee that my having described the three principal available methods, cannot fail to open to Surgeons a vast field for the discovery of modifications, and the creation of instruments. We shall have conical and oblique incisions, from the surface and under the skin! Actual and potential cautery! We shall have knives and scissars [sic] with improved curves, and a thousand variously fashioned forceps and hooks. They will set the blades at angles with the handles to allow of a better light falling into the mouth. Opportunity is likewise afforded to professional antiquarians to hunt after a name for this operation. To them I freely make over the right of baptism. (26-7)

There is a hint of religious revelation here. Baptism (which in a sense replaces circumcision as the New Testament), suggests the coming of new life in the conferring of a voice, and here seems to be an answer to the hydrophobia to which Dieffenbach has earlier compared the patient’s phonophobic condition. In Isaiah, revelation is explicitly and influentially characterised as vocal as well as optical abnubilation; with the coming of ‘the eyes of them that see shall not be dim, and the ears of them that hear shall hearken…and the tongue of the stammerers shall be ready to speak plainly’ (Isaiah 32.3-4) A recent book on the theology of Black American slave narratives alludes in its title to this tradition – Cut Loose Your Stammering Tongue (Hopkins and Cummings 1991).

Marshall McLuhan once remarked that ‘language is a form of organised stutter’. It may be that the phenomenon of voice is best thought of as a kind of stutter in the order of things – an obstacle, a black hole, a convulsive interval – in which life holds back from itself and turns to voice. It is against this apprehension that efforts to shore up and indemnify the voice against the death, or the myriad petits morts which it comprises. The history of stammer and efforts to rectify it are an attempt to bind up a wound in the idea of voice itself, and thus an attempt to quarantine the freedom and life of the voice from the baseness and deathliness that can invade it.

But if stuttering is an impediment, it is also oddly generative. Stutterers tend to become skilful synonymisers, trick-recyclists, unbelievers in the church of the mot juste. For the stutterer, there are always too many words, and yet never quite enough. As a stutterer, Charles Dodgson was well-equipped to appreciate the sentiments he articulated during the Mad-Hatter’s Tea-Party: ‘ “[y]ou should say what you mean,” the March Hare went on. “I do,” Alice hastily replied; “at least – at least I mean what I say – that’s the same thing, you know.” “Not the same thing a bit!” said the Hatter’ (Carroll 1976, 95)

Indeed, though stuttering is usually an affliction, it can also be a temptation, a tipsy sin of the tongue to complement what Augustine defined as ‘voluptates aurium’, the ‘ravishings of the ear’ (Confessions X.33). Plutarch also warns against injudicious listening, in the course of an essay on how to hear poetry. Somebody with properly instructed judgement can ‘both heare and read any Poemes without hurt and danger’, as it is put in Philemon Holland’s rendering. But one must beware of a less judicious kind of listening, which leads one apt to be infected by ugliness and deformity. Such listeners are’ like unto those disciples who counterfeited to be crump shouldred and buncht backe like their master Plato, or woulds needs stut, stammer and maffle as Aristotle did: surely such a one will take no great heed, but soone apprehend and interteine many evill things’ (Plutarch 1603, 34). (I think this passage may be the origin of the rumour that the Stagyrite himself was a stammerer.) The nineteenth-century physiologist John Good advised that ‘Children …ought never to be intrusted in the company of a stutterer, till their speech has become steady and confirmed’ (Good 1822, I.566) An adorable stammerer in my class at school caused an epidemic of libidinous mimicry among her would-be consorts. There is a paradoxical polyphiloprogenitiveness in the ways in which stutter can multiply and transmit itself.

I’m Getting Mixed

But the voice is more than the body’s excursus, its way of going out from itself. For the voice can also sicken, thicken, ail, age, go awry, be thwarted, contaminated. There is an oneirism of the defective voice which is every bit as intense and sustained as the strange, sad, stubborn dream of the living voice.

For the voice to fail is not only for it to wane, weaken, or be broken, to become less itself. It is mixing as well as dimming. For the voice to fail is for it to become adulterated, more than what it was. As the body’s greatest power of emanation, the voice has become the bearer of a fantasy, not just of reach, but of endurance. In going out from the body, we imagine, the voice persists.

But that voice is never entire, and the uploading of body into voice is never perfect. It is surprising for example how often animals and other foreign bodies insinuate themselves into less than perfect utterance. Like the deaf, stutterers are compared to animals. As Marc Shell astutely observes, when animals were given human speech in animated film, they often, like Donald Duck, or Porky Pig, suffered from speech impediments (Shell 2005, 99-101 ). I have a frog in my throat. I have a harelip. I am speaking with a forked tongue – or the cat has got my tongue. To ‘buzz’ means to speak emptily or unintelligibly, as though with the vociferation of a mere insect – and ‘stut’ is also recorded as an alternative name for a gnat.. There is always the possibility of a fly in the ointment of the voice. Cuckoos were sometimes described as stuttering birds. Robert Arthur’s story The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot (1964) also suggests that there is an affinity between the voiceless creature and bestial form of vocality. And the following joke about a stuttering gambler implicates poultry in the stutterer’s vocalisation:

A Gentleman who did greatly stut & stammer in his speech, playing at Mawe, laid downe a winning card, and then said vnto his partener: How sa-ay ye now, wa-was not this ca-ca-ard pa-as-assing we-we-well la-a-ayd: Yes (answered th’other) It is well layd, but yet it needs not halfe this cackling. (Copley 1595, 49)

Again like deafness, stuttering has sometimes been thought of as a kind of alienation from the human – a condition in which one wrestles with what has become a foreign tongue. Its victims, or exponents, are thought of as lispers, babblers, or barbarians, the jeering echolalia with which the Greeks designated those beyond the Hellenic pale. The word ‘Hottentot’ is an onomatopoeic mockery of stuttering that early Dutch colonists in South Africa thought they heard in the speech of the local people. The speech of others often appears to be not merely unintelligible, but also offensive, a maimed imposture of speech, which mocks the meaningfulness of the logos. (Oddly, though, it was also frequently suggested by linguistic investigators in the nineteenth century that stammering was extremely unusual among non-European peoples, a belief which led to the explanation of stammer as a disease of civilisation.)

Mladen Dolar (2006) makes much of the otherness of the voice, of the fact that when we speak, something else – law, desire, the unconscious – speaks in our stead, or midst. For Dolar, the voice is everywhere apparent yet nowhere fully apprehensible as such. ‘Phonology’ sounds as if it ought to be the science of voices, but in fact the voice evades even its grasp, concerned as it is only with the patterns of differentiation that can be abstracted from particular voices. The voice ‘makes the utterance possible, but it disappears in it, goes up in smoke in the meaning being produced’ (Dolar 2006, 15). But for Dolar, the otherness of the voice is what he might call a big otherness, an intact otherness, an otherness with a profile, point and a purpose. There is an ecstatic tradition which embraces this otherness, affirming itself in its own self-immolation. The screams of Antonin Artaud and of Diamanda Galas belong to this tradition of vocal virility defiantly and triumphantly achieved amid the inundation of the voice by animality, noise, dirt. To this tradition too belongs the ‘extended voices’ work of Trevor Wishart, of Luciano Berio and Pauline Oliveros, for example in her ‘Sound Patterns’.

But there is another tradition for which the otherness of the voice may be a much more contingent thing – literally contingent, or touched. Like flypaper, the voice gathers things on the way, lilts, leanings, aches, eccentricities, accents. It is interfered with, picks up interference, as though it were an organ of listening as well as of transmission, impression as well as expression. Alongside the tradition of the horrifyingly, heroically failed or maimed voice, there is another tradition, which embraces the voice’s condition of what Michel Serres calls a ‘mixed body’.

There is no better enactment of this principle of the voice becoming mixed than Alvin Lucier’s astonishing I Am Sitting In A Room of 1969. As the voice is played, recorded, re-played and re-recorded, the voice and the room blend. By iteratively enhancing the resonant frequencies of the room, Lucier manages to let us hear the sound of how the room listens to the voice. What emerges is a new voice, an extraordinary, literally unheard of ‘mixed body’, the body of the voice as it always anyway, inaudibly is, amid things. Sound engineers for film and radio plays will often record silence on the set, in order to have available a stock of ‘room-tone’ into which other sounds may be embedded. Inundated by its own room-tone, the voice ends up ventriloquising the room. In the process, Lucier’s stammer, audible in the original recording particularly in the ripple he effects in pronouncing the word ‘rh-rh-rhythm’, is progressively repaired by the accretions of room-resonance.

Joyce’s Finnegans Wake gives us in the voice of the river something like the sound of the voice passing out. There are two remarkable parallel evocations of this process. One is the end of the ‘Anna Livia Plurabelle’ section, in which two washerwomen are exchanging rivalrous ribaldries across the banks of the Liffey. But, since their voice is also the voice of the river itself, they seem also to be moving downstream, and so moving farther apart as the river widens. The ambient noise of flowing water, and squeaking bats and fieldmice, begins to drown out their speech. At the same time, they are losing their physical definition: one of them is turning into a tree, and the other into a stone:

Can’t hear with the waters of. The chittering waters of. Flittering bats, fieldmice bawk talk. Ho! Are you not gone ahome? What Thom Malone? Can’t hear with bawk of bats, all thim liffeying waters of. Ho, talk save us! My foos won’t moos. I feel as old as yonder elm. A tale told of Shaun or Shem? All Livia’s daughtersons. Dark hawks hear us. Night! Night! My ho head halls. I feel as heavy as yonder stone. (Joyce 215.31-6-216.1)

This movement is repeated at the end of the book, when we hear the voice of the Liffey itself pouring into the sea, gathering density as it loses impetus and direction, and the fresh water of the river swirls together with the brine of the incoming tide:

I wisht I had better glances to peer to you through this baylight’s growing. But you’re changing, acoolsha, you’re changing from me, I can feel. Or is it me is? I’m getting mixed. Brightening up and tightening down. Yes, you’re changing, sonhusband, and you’re turning. (Joyce 626. 34-6-627.1-2:)

The voice is the vehicle and the arena of this agon between dissipation and replenishment. .Our celebrations of the voice are too monotonously pitched in the register of fullness, richness, clarity and penetrativeness, the privilege is too regularly accorded to the energetic out-loud and the ‘haute voix’. The autumnal, deciduous voice, which is heard in illness, fatigue, ague and age, is not epically shredded by passion, but rather silted with lilting circumstance. It is a voice becoming distinct in the very accidents whereby it loses its difference and distinctness. As Aristotle wrote, only creatures that have life can give voice, but not everything that is in the voice, or given utterance by it, is alive. In coughs, whispers, drawls, hisses, hesitations, laughs, stammers the noise of the voice, the voice meets and mingles with what it is not – indeed is, in the end, nothing more than this mingling. The pathos and the finesse of the voice that gives out, gives way, comes not from the virile figure it cuts against the ground of things, but rather from its suggestion of a persona, a being that has its being ‘through sound’ that, is, like our own bodies, rather than our dream of those bodies, a fluent mélange in which what it is and what it is not commingle and converse.


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