Vio(len)ce Part 5: The Voice of Objection

The Voice of Objection.

To begin understanding the psychological implications of the violence and trauma of acquiring voice it is necessary to relate each physiological change in the infant to their subjectivity. I state this for two reasons. Firstly, the genesis of voice ought to be framed in relation to contingent psychological implications. Secondly I propose that to render the centrality of voice to contemporary control regimes, to understand why voice maintains itself as a locus of violence, an appreciation of the journey of wedding voice to subjectivity must be garnered.

It is crucial to begin at the precise emergence of voice. The pause after the distress cry, the moment when the infant learns of the presence of the caregiver and enters into socially formatted turn taking, is crucial. As previously detailed, this is the emergence of voice. As soon as the reflexive distress cry is re-formatted as socialized, intentional turn taking and calling the animalistic cry becomes voice. Appreciation of such an instances harmony with the Aristotlean definition of voice (as “a kind of sound with meaning, and not, like a cough, just of the in breathed air” (Aristotle, 1986, p.179)) is the platform from where a question of subjectivity emerges. The infant must, on some level, have a concept of it being a subject; a subject surrounded by objects that provide care and nourishment and alleviate distress. The turn taking, the call, the intent for the call and the wait, the listening all point towards subjectivity. On closer scrutiny the moment when a cry becomes a subject’s call, becomes a voice, is defined by silence, listening and absence. The silent wait that follows a brief distress cry marks the cry as a call from a being of awareness and subjectivity. It is at this juncture where the biological necessity becoming curiosity, the cry becoming voice, the animalistic sound becoming a human subjects calling, folds back into the psychoanalytic.

The Lacanian concept of the inaudible object voice is key here. Dolar states how:

“As soon as the object, both as gaze and as voice, appears at the pivotal point of narcissistic self-apprehension, it introduces a rupture at the core of self presence. It is something that cannot itself be present, although the whole notion of presence is constructed around it and can only be established only by its elision. So the subject, far from being constituted by self apprehension in the clarity of its presence to itself, emerges only in the impossible relation to that bit which cannot be present. (…) The voice may well be the key to the presence of the present and to an unalloyed interiority, but it conceals in its bosom that inaudible object voice which disrupts both.” (Dolar, 2006, p.42).

This passage illustrates the subject in relation to the object voice. The subject emerges bathed in the glow of an absence – this is the moment of ceasing to cry and commencing the silent act of listening that constitutes the cry as becoming voice. The self apprehension required for a coming subjectivity does not occur during the cry, but precisely when the silence of listening ruptures the sonic affect, the cry. Likewise, the unalloyed interiority of the crying being and its present presence are utterly defined and dependent upon the rupture brought upon by the object voice, the wait and deafening silence of listening. Auto-affection, the genesis of subjectivity, happens in the silence of the object voice in conjunction with listening and waiting. This follows Derrida’s concept of auto-affection; precisely in how thinking oneself is immediately a differ-encing action of thinking oneself through the other: “hark… is care coming to me?” In Derridean terms this is auto-affection as always already hetero-affection. In Lacanian terms it is a rupture that refers to a void. It is precisely this void (to reconcile Derridean concepts with Lacanian concepts I suggest the void between auto-affection and hetero-affection) where the pause of the newborns cry, creates voice(s) by bi-poiesis, reteroactively imbuing the cry with intent and turning it into voice and also flooding the silence of listening with the “inaudible and unbearable object voice” (Dolar, 1996, p.16). It is in this sense that the silent waiting and listening of the infant is the premier performative act par excellence of how the object voice “embodies the very impossibility of attaining auto-affection; it introduces a scission, a rupture in the middle of full presence, and refers it to a void- but a void which is not simply a lack, an empty space; it is a void in which the voice comes to resonate.” (Dolar, 2006, p.42, my emphasis).

Thus, just as Derrida states that “the “voice of being” (..) is silent, mute, insonorous, wordless, originarily a-phonic” (Derrida, 1998, p.22) and as Zizek states how “the object voice par excellence, of course, is silence. (…) and what effectively reverberates is the void: resonance always takes place in a vacuum” the consistency across both thinkers conceptions of subjectivity in relation to voice is precisely the silence of subjectivity, the object voice echoing in the void between auto and hetero-affection.

 The pause of the infant that signals both the seed of subjectivity and the coming of voice is violence, because this is the first of many instances of socialization and subjectivity ordering the reflexive impulses of the body, to cease the sound of distress requires strength, control and discipline – as any one who has caught their shin in a hushed cinema will attest to. The infant’s pause is a violent act of socializing and subject forming, but unlike potty training, the educational system and later modes of control and conformity it is a locus of self-flagellation. The simultaneous coming of voice and subjectivity is the first act of self-discipline. After the auto-violence of voice and subjectivity come further acts, tracking analogously with the fall of the larynx. The learning of language, the breaking of the voice in puberty etc all follow from a precedent set by the trauma of the infantile object voice. It is from this basis, of voice as a locus and genesis of violence and marks of trauma, that I wish to approach the contemporary context of voice in relation to technology and late capitalism.

Spectrogram of an infant's cry.


Adorno, T.W and Horkheimer, M. 2012. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Verso. London

Aristotle. 1986. De Anima (On The Soul). Penguin. London.

Burroughs, W. 2010. The Soft Machine. Fourth Estate. London.

Cavarero, A. 2005. For More than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression. USA. Stanford University Press.

Chion, M. 1999. The Voice in Cinema. USA. Columbia University Press.

Derrida, J. 1998. Of Grammatology. USA. The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Dolar, M 2006. A Voice and Nothing More (Short Circuits). USA. The MIT Press.

Dolar, M. 1996. ‘The Object Voice’ in Gaze and Voice As Love Objects (Series: SIC 1). Salecl, R., Zizek, S. (Ed.) 1996. Duke University Press Books, pp.7-31.

Fitch, W. 2000. Vocal production in nonhuman mammals: Implications for the evolution of speech.  (available at:, last accessed. 07/11/2013)

Karpf, A. 2007. The Human Voice: The Story of a Remarkable Talent. Bloomsbury. London.

McGill. The Brain From Top To Bottom Project. (available at: last accessed 07/11/2013)

Pinker, S. 1994. The Language Instinct. Penguin Books. London

Tomatis, A. A. 1996. The Ear and Language. Moulin Publishing. Ontario.

Zizek, S. 1996. ‘I Hear You With My Eyes’ in Gaze and Voice As Love Objects (Series: SIC 1). Salecl, R., Zizek, S. (Ed.) 1996. Duke University Press Books, pp.90-126.


  1. hi, I read the first chapther, very well written. is this up here the entire bibliography for all the 5 chapters? i'm eager to read the rest and more about voice.

  2. Hi, nice blog! Yes, the bibliography is for all five parts.

    You may be interested in some of the posts at Vocalities blog: - I post there too and it is all about voice