Vio(len)ce Part 3: "Stand Up Straight and Speak Boy!"

“Stand Up Straight and Speak Up Boy!”


Violence is always an effective way to control and order persons. But an even better mode of control and conformity is to ask a person to control, discipline and punish him or her self.  It is in this sense that the role of the voice, speech, is an intensive locus of societal control. “Stand up straight, don’t breathe, don’t eat - speak! Tell us what we want to hear!” Assigning speech to voice is akin to assigning oedipalized tyrannies to neuroses. For the young speaker, speech is a “form of systemization, transferred to them as criteria to human aspiration.” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2012, p.88. My emphasis) Every aspiration, from our lungs through our damaged choke hazard an up to our two-tube vocal tract, is required to be sonically imbued with the signature phonic resonances of the evolutionary head smash; “quantal vowels such as /i/, /a/ and /u/” (Fitch, 2000, from abstract). And further, one must perform absurd labial/dental acrobatics, consonants must be conjured up by biting, lisping, clucking and gibbering our exhalations into strings of signs the authorities demand. Indeed when it comes to automatic disciplining and violence the voice is an inherently personal and widespread example.

The prevalence of songs and chants in theological histories (the major control mechanics before capitalism) and the role they play in educational and military organisations are all exemplary histories that elucidate how voice is a locus of societal control and organization. Further to this, as I outlined previously, voice is also a contemporary locus of the control mechanisms implicit in technologically mediated existence under late capitalism. For the moment I will not linger on the prevalence and particular dynamics of voice, speech, song and chant in these areas of societal organization, be it under theological or capitalist regimes, but I will draw attention to one particular aspect. The role of voice in western organised religions, as well as educational and military structures, illustrates precisely how voice is a dominant manifestation of how people are required to discipline and punish themselves when asked. The disciplining of oneself into voice and speaking is my focus here. But the crucial aspect of such disciplining is when it starts. The premier of auto-disciplining via vocal violence does not happen in school, the military, the church or the office; this phonic self-flagellation begins at birth. The core of the violence of voice is cultivated at birth. It is later that more phonocentrically complex, elaborate and systematized collective mechanisms of violent control emerge, but these are nonetheless derivatives from the infantile genesis.


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