Sonic Corporeality, Gendered Vocal Embodiment

The two readings for this week, Milla Tiainen’s Corporeal Voices, Sexual Differentiations and Anne Carson’s Gender of Sound discus the status of gendered sound and the role of sound in sexuality. This is a particularly interesting question for me because my interests center on cultural elements that are constructed (or ascribed) as being erotic. In research for my many papers on the topic including those involving fetishes, sadomasochism and pornography I have never run across any literature regarding the erotics of sound. I have seen numerous articles involving fetishes of materials (leather, latex, lycra, etc), of sensation (pain, tickling) and of imagery (nudity, various implementations of the gaze). For sound, nothing. One topic I was particularly interested in was the presentation of masculinity in queercore music, but that still wasn’t about sound, it became about imagery, sensation and a lyrical content analysis. There is a focus on the visual for western philosophy and feminism.

So what about sound? Why is it important? From the readings over the course of the previous weeks I have gathered a sense that voice matters because there is a lot of power in a voice, and as with most things of power it is typically regulated to favor males in hegemonic systems, although Taininen claims voices are “less codified by power than visual practices.” Perhaps the disparity between the feeling of importance and hegemonic regulation that I perceive in the articles and Taininen’s claim can be resolved through considering how it is that the visual has been given preference. If voice and sound are less codified, perhaps this is due to the treatment of sound by the hegemon is of a feminized modality which is disempowered by that lack of codification. I think back to some of Focault’s arguments regarding language and think that perhaps it is the lack of codification, the lack of language to discuss sound, that confines it to the space of a secondary sense.

The visual modality is restricted by the physical. To be made intelligible visually there must be some link or resemblance to material that is in the world, perhaps to something that the viewer has seen before or would have a sensory awareness of. Sound is not confined in such a way because it does not have to be “understood” as a whole to be meaningful. I have difficulty following the entire argument of either of the articles, but I recognize the distinction between visual materiality and the materiality of sound. To me it seems as though sound has the potential to be more material than visual stimuli because it retains more of its original corporeal properties. The vibrations set in motion are more “real” than the bouncing of photons. Sound has more in common with tactile senses than it does with anything visual.

Tiainen’s idea of micro-sexes bothers me. To sex an individual by an expressed corporeality whether it is vocal or genital is equally precarious. Biology may matter and corporeality may matter to some degree but I do not feel that it has any place in feminist literature. The body is oppressive due to the social abstraction of the body. I see no reason to feed another potential site of oppression back into the social system. Until the harshly guarded relationship between sex an gender is dissolved I cannot appreciate any reconceptualization of sex. More work must be done on gender, specifically in the area of fluidity.

Also, I must regard any work that references psychoanalysis with skepticism.