Presence (liveness)/ Absence (deadness)

As an object of study in the humanities, is frequently discussed as existing (confusingly) in between and across the famous, ‘Deconstructionist era,’ dichotomies of presence and absence, liveness and deadness. Voice is at once something that signals the presence of someone or something (the being or thing that voiced), and it is generally assumed that the presence that voices is a live one (computers, smart phones, GPS, talking dolls and text to speech software uncannily complicate this deep-seated association of voice with living being by housing “dead” voices). By the same token, in its ability to be recorded (either in transcribed text or on an analog or digital sound file) voice also has the ability to make itself present in the absence of the original being or object that produced it. Complicating matters, voice travels and can be transmitted, and so can persist as a live phenomenon absented of or outside of its originating body. Voice can also be generated through a present being but outside of that being’s body, as in the case of artificial larynx users or individuals using TTS software. If these threads seem tangled, it’s because they are. These dichotomies (not so dichotomous it seems) were used originally to theorize texts and textuality. While it may no longer be useful to employ deconstructionist approaches to voice studies, it does seem pertinent to ask a larger question: why are questions of ontology (being) traditionally raised by the specter of voice? How do we expect voice to arbitrate questions of being, etc?

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