A term used by Roland Barthes to describe the materiality of the embodied voice: “The ‘grain’ is the body of the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs” (1972). The grain is what is nonlinguistic about the voice, and in a way marks its uniqueness (somewhat like Barthes’ punctum). According to Barthes, much popular singing lacks grain, as though the grain of the popular voice has been burnished to absolute, textureless smoothness. Many critics have taken issue with Barthes’ formulation of “grain,” accusing him of romanticism and the like. Those who believe the voice to be fundamentally ventriloquial will doubtless find this notion hard to swallow.

UC Humanities Network Logo
UC Humanities Research Institute
UCLA Center for Digital Humanities