LMYE Guides: The Politics of Voice

In many current debates a consideration of the politics of speech tends to open up a conversation about the politics of voice: who can speak and be heard, who speaks and is not heard, what it means to ‘give voice’ or to take it away. Whose voices are or are not heard is a central question of our times and one which returns time and again in this collection, in ways that often – helpfully – push the debate beyond metaphor and into the real, lived experiences that depend on voice and voicelessness. ‘Can law listen?’ is one of the most pregnant questions asked by Danilo Mandic and Sara Ramshaw in their Salon addressing the relationship between the legal and the sonic, and engages some interesting considerations about the elasticity of the institution and its capacity to ‘improvise’.

As we remake, demolish and rebuild our institutions – especially following a year like 2020 marked by global vulnerability and a push towards a decolonisation of our entire institutional infrastructure – how might we expect to chisel the terms ‘listening’ and ‘hearing’ within the confines of the legal institute? What might this operation yield? 

Activism is central also to Jane Boston and Deelee Dubé’s course on decolonising voice, hosted as a series in its own right in the auralia.space collection.
Utilising the format of the audio-meditation and taking advantage of its capacity to engage the listener as an active player, Dube and Boston allow us to sense (Jean-Luc Nancy’s focus in the book Listening on ‘sentir’ as a multi-sensorial verb appears at various turns on this website) the enormous potential of the Black voice in UK voice studies as a discipline, critiquing it and generously helping to widen its area of study at the same time.

The words and sounds we have and the words and sounds we need are not the same words, and work in voice and education has an (institutional) responsibility to find them or invent them. As Fred Moten teaches us in his meditation on the moan in his pivotal In The Break: ‘new word, new world’ (2003: 211).  


Most explicitly and forcefully into the voice=power debate, The Unspoken Project’s Laboratory on The Voice Monologues (2018) addresses the issue of voicelessness in Alternative and Augmented Communication (AAC) users: if we insist on living by the idea of voice as capacity to exist and act in the public sphere, what of those who are born without one?

The performance illuminates the danger of metaphorising in a very real way, and learning about the creative process from its maker Kate Caryer gives more food for thought about concretely realisable solutions.  


Finally into hardcore political speech and its debilitating performativity, Nic Green’s performance Cock and Bull (2015) shows up how words are stones, starkly exposing through seriality and repetition the violence of political speech and its effects on everyday life: Green explains her reasons behind and methods for dismantling the language of the UK Conservatives 2012 conference in fine detail in her Laboratory, and leaves the listener/viewer with a set of haunting earworms we might all want to make sure we have ringing in our ears next time we walk into a polling station.

Institutional deafness is also at the core of South African collective The Fall’s Laboratory, which offers a privileged gaze into the tour de force of making one of the world’s most significant pieces of theatre activism of recent years. Tankiso Mamabolo and Thando Mangcu invite us into the experience of being both activists in the Rhodes Must Fall movement of 2015 and making a performance about it at the same time and at the same institution, University of Cape Town, writing a thrilling page in a kind of agit-prop that might return to matter for the 21st century.
Similarly – but differently – Valentijn Dhaenens ‘talks back’ 2,500 years of oration in his BigmoutH (2011) which is spoken of at length in his Gallery interview with Duška Radosavljević.

The show is an intuitive journey through iconic speeches which, because of its use of intuition (a word used by Dhaenens himself) manages to get under the skin of how the story of how history has crystallised into our memories. Again ‘sensing’ is a key word here: through this work and others, via a process of listening and re-voicing that has its starting point in intuition, Dhanaens sets on fire the centrality of feeling in how we come to understand our canonical history, geopolitical events, dominant cultures, wars, and the oratory practices that have given them a language.

Works Cited 

Moten, Fred (2003) In the Break: the Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 

Nancy, Jean-Luc (2007) Listening, trans. Charlotte Mandell, New York: Fordham University Press. 

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