Metaphor/ Figure

For many folks who work with voice day in and day out, the persistent use of voice as a figure or metaphor is tiring and cliché. Voice is something we do, our voice practice is complex, and frequently has little to do with how voice, as a metaphor, is batted around in common understanding. What is ‘the voice of the people’ besides a democratic truism? How does ‘giving voice’ to minoritized communities actually counter real, structural inequalities? The general objection to the use of voice as metaphor is that such figures of speech don’t account for the real, on the ground cultural work voice does. For example, metaphor alone can’t explain how Oum Kalthoum’s voice came to galvanize a particular brand of Egyptian Nationalism. In reaction to a strain of scholarship that has, particularly since the literary turn, thought little of the voice beyond its discursive life, a number of scholars of late have begun to concentrate on the material voice, or voice (and the many persons and things that voice) as a lived and performed entity. What are the material dimensions of voice? How were these dimensions assembled? How to they function and what do they produce? While these questions are of paramount importance in refocusing humanistic discussions around voice, I think metaphor also deserves a second glance. How is metaphor made? Surely all metaphors have material beginnings, or vice versa. How does voice, as an entity with a representational or metaphoric life, intervene in/engage with/negotiate the material realities of figures that speak? Restated, I think the current challenge in Voice Studies is to think how the discursive (generally thought in the Humanities) and the material (generally thought in the Sciences) co-form voice.

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