Deconstructing voice

  • Mladen Dolar
Keywords: voice, writing, deconstruction, pharmakon, logos, Plato, St. Augustine, church music


The paper takes its starting point in Derrida's famous essay 'Plato's Pharmacy',  one of the birthplaces of deconstruction. After briefly delineating Derrida's argument about phonocentrism and the pharmakon as both the poison and the cure, it tries to argue for a different view about the relationship of voice and writing. If one takes a closer look at Plato's conception of music, one can see that Plato sees the danger not only in the supplementarity of writing, but also in the voice itself. The voice, if it strays away from the firm footing in the word, in logos, has the perilous property of presenting the pure frivolous enjoyment, it threatens to mollify the spirit by its sensuality and effemination and thus to undermine the very bases of social and moral structures. Thus it appears that the analysis of pharmakon can apply equally, or even more appropriately, to the voice as to writing. A long tradition followed in Plato's footsteps and the paper briefly examines St. Augustine, the problems that the voice presented for church music and finally the French revolution, which tried to legislate in musical matters unwittingly following Plato's recipes. So throughout the metaphysical tradition the voice was not merely seen as the safeguard of phonocentrism and the 'metaphysics of presence', but presented also the perilous underside of dislocating the presence, not merely supporting the logos, but also dismantling it. The history of music massively testifies to the inherent ambiguity of the voice itself. So the problem is not just deconstructing the voice as the pledge of phonocentrism, but also of the voice being itself deconstructive of the presence. Hence the ambiguity of the title.


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How to Cite
DolarM. (2005). Deconstructing voice. Musicological Annual, 41(2), 7-18.