THE FACULTY OF THE VOICE
Saskia Kersenboom, University of Amsterdam
with FLASH Graphics by Thomas Voorter,
Several years ago I saw Peter Sellers in the movie Being There. In a most convincing manner he personified a gardener tending the garden of a huge mansion. His only contact with the world outside was a Television and its remote control. His garden was real, the world beyond a metaphor. Culture, to him, was indeed the original latin cultura derived from the verb colo- 'to plough; to till; to tend'. The soil, the seeds, the seasons and their harvest were his paradigm. The moment his master died he strolled into a universe he did not know; but he continued to measure even this human environment by the standards of his ecological pragmatism. His inversion of social reasoning was embraced as 'in-depth-understanding' cast into stunningly simple, lucid metaphors. For instance, he answered questions on economic recession calmly in the logic of his garden: after summer come fall and winter followed again by spring. Decay and seeming barrenness are absolutely necessary for the renewal of nature. His answer was simple: being there, you'll understand: you'll understand what happens, you'll understand what is necessary to do; it made him president.
The thrust of the argument is the observation that culture is a matter of 'being there', 'know-how', 'familiarity', 'acting skillfully and strategically'; it equals digging into the soil, planting the seeds, watching the weather, inferring the necessary and tending the processes of growth and fruition. Culture is a process, an ongoing concern, a praxis that takes its meaning only in application, in practices that chisel the presence of culture.
Human culture is such a praxis, rooted in practice and interaction as conditions for the fruition of human knowledge. In a kind of 'radical hermeneutics'  the humanities are cultivated in the open, among fellow human beings, taking as their vehicle the four dimensions of shared presence that unite time and place. Human time and human space, man-made presence, are the only rift into 'general, physical time' and 'general, physical space' that opens up to us. All that we can achieve or know, we perform in that 'clearing'; it constitutes our garden, our stage, our opportunity, This performance is the praxis of human culture. The clearing that is belabored here is not the rich soil of a garden, it is a stage. The harvest does not bring the products of the earth but the products of mankind: human cultures. The performance called 'human culture' is the effort to feel intuitively the hall around its stage and the audience that might be present there; it is our effort to express and open ourselves to an aswer. It is limited, in space, in time and in means; nevertheless, we try to make the best of this opportunity; it is ever unique, acute and fresh to our individual experience. On that stage of our life-time, lit by the lights of real-life circumstances, we chisel our presence with the limited means we can dispose of. Our bodies are quite capable of such performance: words, sounds and images are all we have, but how rich they are! They form the media of expression as well as the model for a successful reception of our urge. The space around the stage, however, remains dark; it can be felt but not assessed. Still, we act, reaching out with our lives for life, again and again exploring different trajectories. Human culture is a performing art. It dwells in the four dimensions of space and time. Only under these conditions can it unfold in full, in the course of performance.
In taking human culture as a performing art, we have to tackle several methodological and theoretical hurdles. The nature of the object of research, culture as performance, enfolds several implications. To begin with: performance is applied knowledge, it is doubly interactive involving senders and receivers, it unfolds within the dimensions of space and time and is mediated by the five senses; and, as a final feature: performance is goal oriented, therefore it is highly flexible and subject to change.
The live, organic nature of culture is a fact of almost banal, common sense proportions. Still, academic reflection has done close to everything to circumvent this basic given. It dares not tackle this phenomenon in its natural complexity but searches for different principles of organisation hidden in, behind or away from it. Why ? I would suggest two reasons that are intimately related: on the one hand, an outdated research agenda that was inherited by the humanities and social sciences, and on the other hand, the traditional media that continue to be employed for the purpose of representing academic knowledge. A 'Radical Hermeneutics' that can truly 'restore life to its original difficulty' needs to orient itself to exactly the opposite horizon that is cherished by the hermeneutics that are until today dominant in academic life. This means the inversion of Ricoeurs classical paradigm 'meaningful action considered as text' into 'text considered as meaningful action'. Asad employs Luria's term "synpraxic speech" in order to bring out the fact that in the process of translation, the grasping that precedes verbalisation, comes with learning to live a new mode of life not by learning about another mode of life (1986:159). In other words, moving away from the Faculty of Letters to the Faculty of the Voice, entails to learn to acquire the perspective that precedes verbalisation as well as the gradual develoment of becoming an eloquent 'speaker' of a mode of life.
The 'Faculty of the Voice' is lucky. It draws its vitality from linguistic anthropology, musicology, theaterscience and communication sciences. Linguistics-at-large proves to be a generous field: it is willing to encompass language both in its verbal and its non-verbal aspects. Willingness, however, did not always correspond to capability: to record, describe and analyse non-verbal expressions was impossible on paper. In consequence the major part of practical knowledge and knowledge of familiarity was lost. This type of knowledge remained indeed 'tacit', true to the label it has received in cognitive sciences. But, today, linguistics can finally accept the full challenge of its mission with analytical rigour, representational nunace and theoretical daring as never before. The 'Faculty of the Voice' takes one step further into language and investigates linguistic performance as 'communicative behaviour', that is, stylised behaviour performed through words, sound and images. It aims to familiarise itself with the 'languages of cultures', to train the human voice to 'by-heart' their basic grammatical structures, to apply these in 'cultural utterances' and to build up a 'repertoire' and 'perform these' in order to acquire deeper understanding of their cognitive and theoretical potential. It tries to do so by actively testing these languages, by applying them on a 'stage' set by real time and space, in 'dialogical investigation', in truly interactive communications between senders and receivers.
In retrospect, two great minds saw a similar mission very clearly. In contrast to the widely spread notion that exactly these two giants were the masterminds behind structuralism in its most static forms, the original writings of Ferdinand de Saussure and Roman Jakobson show a different type of structuralism, full of dynamism and organic complexity. Around 1926 Roman Jakobson formulated the imperative research agenda that he envisaged for the twentieth century as follows: 'the overcoming of statics, the expulsion of the absolute - here is the essential turn for the new era, the burning question of today'. This fire was ignited by his reading of de Saussure's theory on the antinomy between a state and a change of language, that is, between synchrony and diachrony.
A close reading of de Saussure reveals that his intellectual agenda was much larger and far more nuanced than the static forms of structuralism that have emerged long after his Cours de linguistique générale (de Saussure 1931 ). His analytic concepts of langue 'language system' and parole 'applied language system, speech' do not stand alone. A third, overarching concept was posited by de Saussure but received relatively little attention. This concept, langage, was supposed to be the grand target of linguistics. In chapter two (ibid.:20-22) on the subject matter and task of linguistics, de Saussure states 'la matière de linguistique est constituée d'abord par toutes les manifestations du langage humain (...) toutes les formes d'expression', and further 'dans la vie des individus et des sociétés, le langage est un facteur plus important qu'aucun autre'. Here we get a glimpse of the synergetic potential of 'synpraxic speech'. However, he realises the difficulty in tackling the subject matter of langage. First of all he sees langage as 'multiforme et hétéroclite', whereas langue can be considered homogeneous.(ibid.:25) Therefore he sees no other intitial step than the gradual exploration of langage along the systematicity of langue; that is, langue as a sign system that unites an acoustic image with a mental image. Its systematicity is considered to be a long term social product of the human faculty of language, an ensemble of conventions that forms a principle of classification.(ibid.) This presumed homogeneity should gradually tame the heterogeneity of the grand project langage. De Saussure admits, however, that historically speaking, speech -parole- always precedes system -langue-; it is from the soil of speech that system evolves. At the same time he points out that there is nothing collective to be found in speech; its manifestations are individual and momentaneous. (ibid.:37-8) As a result, it seems, in contemporary terms, that both speech -parole- and langage share a basic quality of heterogeneity moulded by specific temporal and spatial conditions. They also share a basic physical reality, a factual, sensuous presence. It is the actual, individual occurrence of speech that allows us to trace the trajectory of parole.(ibid.:27) This trajectory is meant to lead us ultimately into the territory of the social non-corporeal fact, the psychical entity langue. This amorphous entity is to be elicited from a mass of individual events; thus it is imagined to transcend the dimensions of space and time into a realm of systematic homogenesis.
That realm, however, is a matter of belief or wishful thinking, not of fact; as stated above, the real, concrete base for langue, its data to be precise, is parole; but, according to the worst fears of de Saussure 'there is nothing collective to be found in speech; it manifestations are individual and mometaneous'.
This quality of heterogeneity and physicality may be dear to our present research agenda but it forced de Saussure to retrace his steps to the more intellectually 'solid ground' of homogeneous principles at work in presumed language systems. His trepidation to tackle his original grand object was caused by the fact that 'le langage échappant le plus souvent a l'observation...' (ibid.:20) made 'le tout global du langage inconnaissable...' (ibid.:38). His working solution for the first problem was '...le linguiste devra tenir compte des textes écrits...' and to the second '...parce qu'il n'est pas homogène tandis la distinction et subordination proposéés (i.e. various langue systems, SK) éclairent tout'.
In short, in spite of observing the dynamic, complex nature of speech, of language-in-performance, de Saussure opts for another research trajectory. Faced by the constraints of collecting and representing data in a lasting manner, followed by their integral analysis, he turns his analytic eye away from the living phenomenon. He does so at the risk of loss of cognitive complexity, dynamic multiformity, purposeful interactivity and empirical experiment. The orignial object of investigation, langage, most often escapes his observation. Nevertheless, he continues to consider langage the most important factor in the lives of individuals and societies. Nowadays, the problem that de Saussure had to face can be diagnosed as a basic problem of the representation of knowledge. Apart from the academic preference of homogeneity over heterogeneity current in his times, de Saussure had to work with those representations of living phenomena that were available to him. That means, that next to real time, real space primary events, only representations on paper were available for reflection. As a consequence his inferential base was a two dimensional reduction of four dimensional phenomena. Any physicist, biologist or medical researcher would shudder at this irretrievable loss of synthetic complexity, information, know-how, intimacy on the level of data and of empirical accessibility. The Humanities and Social Sciences at large should be equally apalled.
Today's challenge is exactly that richness and complexity that becomes manifest in the performance of human culture. Performance constitutes the ideal 'analogon' of the human condition; especially in its sophisticated, strategic art forms. The advent of multimedia has made it possible to capture performances of human culture in full. In Saussurian terms, parole no longer escapes our observation, we can record it, digitalise it and can return to it as often as we might wish. Word, sound and (moving) image, that form the core-formula of multimedia, constitute at least three manifestations and elements of parole that make up langage; through multimedial recordings they are now accessible for accurate analysis and reflection. These data capture verbal and non-verbal expressions. Thus 'tacit' knowledge remains visible, audible and articulate. Such digitalised, 'secondary performance' still reveals itself -in multimedial representations- as embedded in durable praxis, and, as united by its natural, umbilical cord to its world, society and performer. To study such a document, to author it or to comment upon it demands a hermeneutics that is as radical as its primary, live, real-space, real-time original. It takes 'the faculty of the voice' to grasp, appreciate and explicate its argument in multimedial representations. The larger concept posited by de Saussure, langage, is taking a contemporary label in the environment of multimedial representation. Now, the study of communication, can be tackled, analysed and understood from the more abstract point of view of durable but flexible structures and strategies as well as in its concrete manifold, repeated, individual performances. An anthropology that embraces communication-in-performance can finally tread the soil of the grand target of langage.
In prospect of such new, academic endeavours the epistemic horizon resumes importance. Do we proceed, even now by the turn of this century, with the aspiration for homogeneity or dare we stay right here where life seems to be, and take up the challenge of heterogeneity?
The Faculty of the Voice demands an immersion in heterogeneity, in the world of applied knowledge, of practices that, perpetuate and reformulate a culture. Such Anthropology demands a truly 'doubly interactive', 'dialogical', open confrontation with those who live there, creating their world, sharing time and space in a committed presence. This attitude will free us from the accusation of an 'anthropological sleep'. Foucault diagnoses the 'critical analysis of what man is in his essence' as a condition of sleep - a sleep 'so deep that thought experiences it paradoxically as vigilance', drawing into its analytic dream everything that can, in general, be represented to man's experience (Foucault 1970:341). This is the fata morgana of homogenesis. He envisages a solution in the destruction of the 'anthropological quadrilateral' in its very foundations; in the tearing ourselves free from all 'ismic' prejudices, that were formed in splendid isolation, away from the dimensions space and time, and that represent a lapse into complete sollipsism by the workings of entropy. The promised land that stretches behind these feats of growing up is 'nothing more and nothing less, than the unfolding of a space in which it is once more possible to think' - which, in fact, shuttles us back right to the start of modernity. His 'questions about the limits of thought' as well as 'general critiques of reason' are formed out of the same propositional temperament, single interactivity and epistemic aims and are committed to similar forms of representation. Perhaps it is not possible to think radically different thoughts as long as the underlying activity and media of representation remain unaltered. In contrast to purely discursive thought, Anthropology is one of the disciplines that takes us to the field, to the real-time, real-place confrontation with the Other. The enigmatic presence of Foucault's void may turn out to be the vital presence of the Other. The unfolding of the space to think may be revealed in the practices of the Other, in interaction, labour and suffering. Practice and practising the performances of cultures may turn out to be a conditio sine qua non to crack the self-confinement in inherited, cherished concepts and to open up the experience of the 'Beyond'; that is, beyond formalisation, codification and even articulation.
This type of anthropology does not aspire to unravel what 'man essentially is' cast in terms of universals and general "meta-systems" but rather what man can be in concrete particulars. Instead of the fixation of 'universal' truths, it needs adequate analogons of presences, of their phenomenal complexity; it needs devices for practice, instruments and occasions for interactivity in order to experience and appreciate the infinite variety of existing 'truths'. To analyse, describe and interpret phenomena is no longer enough: to synthesise them again, in representations that are in accordance with their natural, inner logic, and with their working order in their cultural context, forms today solid proof for understanding. Such representations allow users repeated experiments until they can imagine and reason along with the organic processes of the phenomenon. Instead of dictating 'general, universal, objective' rules of the performance of human culture, such representations generate a sense of the performance of human culture. It is such sense of human culture that results in apt anticipation, flexible application and improvisation. An expertise like that is a contemporary demand.
The challenge of a 'Faculty of the Voice' is in its différant ways of collecting, analysing and representing data. Just like the expert gardener who can look forward to a rich crop, the anthropologist who practises in the field of human culture, harvests a rich understanding of cultural performance. So-called participant observation' is no longer enough, only 'participant participation' can make us familiar with the actual making, the praxes and aspirations of human cultures. The vocabulary of methods and techniques of research into the 'Voice' includes now drills, skills and competences. These 'objectively' enable us to appreciate and analyse cultural performances. Such attitutde puts us where we are as researchers at the stage of fieldwork, namely, as apprentices of another presence of culture. It returns authority and empowerment to the hereditary practitioners of particular cultural performances. We can interpret cultures and improvise on any theoretical implications only on the basis of gradual affinity through practising such performances. No meaning, no authority without practise. No myth comes true without its rite. Participant participation as a faculty of the researcher, the faculty of his or her voice, constitutes such a rite. The challenge of today's interactive multimedia is in the différant ways of storing, representing and using human knowledge. They offer the Humanities and Social Sciences new chances to engage themselves in fieldwork and to present their data; the words, sounds and images at play in performance come closer to langage and parole than any knowledge representation outside the human body ever could. Modern multimedia do not only store these parallel processes of performance, they also provide their analyses of form and content as well as commentaries in space and time. At this moment, they are multimedial, dynamic and interactive; the next step will be their increased flexibility.
Today, the demand for flexibility, posited some eighty years ago by Roman Jakobson, generates many, basically heterogeneous approaches to knowledge. First of all, the recognition that human cognition is only for a small part rooted in the familiar verbal stratum. The written word excells in 'propositional knowledge'; whereas non-verbal, so-called 'tacit knowledge' reigns supreme as practical knowledge and knowledge of familiarity. Next to the word, the media of sound and (moving) image regain their place of importance along with the other sensory inroads of perception such as smell, taste and touch. Second, no representation of human knowledge is expected to be 'conclusive', but should, ideally speaking, remain open to 'updating'. Ultimate authority is in the process of applying human knowledge in the world and in the performance of human culture.
The real challenge lies in the world, here and now. Good research should take place there, draw its data from there, in all their complexity. Good representations of knowledge should take us back right there, well prepared, well practised, to experience for ourselves. Culture, once again resumes its free, organic nature. The human 'clearing' into 'general, physical space' and 'general , physical time' is subjected to intensive human labour. Culture as a performing art keeps us busy. A Faculty of the Voice keeps us awake and alert, as receivers and as senders. It is both theory and method in its praxis, ever cast in the flux of life. What matters is: Being There !
1) This term is used by me in the interactive, highly flexible setting of the oral tradition of South Indian lyrical poetry, see S.C. Kersenboom (1995); John Caputo (1987) has chosen 'radical hermeneutics' as the title of his work, intending to 'restore life to its original difficulty'. back
2) Cf. Kersenboom, 1995, p.8-16 for the model of the text of Ricoeur compared to the model of the Tamil performative text. back
3) See Kersenboom, 2000, p. 323 fig.1, depicting the Synpraxis of Speech as a triangle that relates Word, Sound and Image while the Subject is positioned in the middle. back
4) See www.parampara.nl/faculty/ for the Faculty of the Voice, a dynamic graphic model designed by Kersenboom and realised in FLASH software by Drs. Thomas Voorter where the human Voice develops gradually through the stages of Script, to Utterance, to Role to performing this role on a Stage set in specific time and space. back
5) Jakobson, R., On Language, ed. Linda R. Waugh and Monique Monville-Burston, p.165, quoting his own writings Iskusstvo ('Art'), 1919, p.30. back
6) For a synoptic graph of the 'synergy' of synpraxic speech see Kersenboom, 2000, p.325, Fig.2, and also the dynamic FLASH graphics Faculty of the Voice at:www.parampara.nl/faculty/ as a whole. back
7) Cf. Kersenboom & Voorter, in www.parampara.nl/faculty/ for: Script - here the grammatical structures (of langue) are in dialectic tension with their phenomenological processes (of parole). back
8) Cf. Kersenboom & Voorter, the overall graph develops into five triangles pointing downward and four triangles upward. This dynamic graph was desgined on the basis of the meditational diagram, the Sri Yantra, where the first triangle points downward indicating the concrete, phenomenological appearance of life, immediately followed by reflection and abstraction. In the Faculty of the voice this movement upward, is seen as the force of abstraction expressed as Theory; this expression is answered by conrete application through Praxis which in turn again calls for new reflection and so on. In this milieu parole, manifest speech and praxis are first and last. back
9) See Kersenboom & Voorter, in www.parampara.nl/faculty/ for Utterance. back
10) See Kersenboom & Voorter, in www.parampara.nl/faculty/ for Role and Stage where structures and processes come together in the interactive environment of senders and receivers. back
11) See Kersenboom & Voorter, in www.parampara.nl/faculty/for the phenomenological perspective as the dot in the centre of the dynamic graph. The original model of the Sri Yantra is visualised as a two dimensional graph, as a thre dimensional model and as a four dimensional mediational practice that moves in both directions: from inside to outside and v.v. , from down to up v.v. and from concentrated single to manifest diversified and v.v.. In this way the Subject evolves into his or her world and within the same framework of reference from his or her world into self-consciousness. back
12) And so it is, at least to those who contributed to Writing Culture, The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George Marcus (1986). back
13) Compare today's multimedial digital records with the courageous attempts of Dennis Tedlock (1983): performable texts' and oscillograms of the voice of his informant story teller. back
14) Pierre Bourdieu has coined an excellent working concept for this circular but flexible presence of culture in the term habitus. His notion of habitus is his reinterpretation of the concept habitus as found in the vast Aristotelian and Thomist heritage. Bourdieu's Outline of a Theory of Practice (1990 7th edn.) finds a methodological follow up in William Hanks (1996), and, in the Design of my own multimedial publication the Compact Disc Interactive Bhairavi Varnam inserted into the folio publication Word, Sound, Image, Kersenboom (1995). Following Multimedia experiments are 'Devadasi Murai, Remembering Devadasis (1997), especially the interactive chart of the temple ground uniting the categories, ritual time, ritual space and ritual offerings and the Shri Yantra design for the Faculty of the Voice, Kersenboom & Voorter (2001). back
15) Derrida, J. (1978), plays with the notion that 'writing' , that is to say 'absence', creates a cognitive shift 'différance' that opens different possibilities from the possibilities that inhere 'real presence'; the central argument of this paper, that is the epistemic ferility of performance and of its roots in praxis, challenges Derrida's notion of 'writing and difference' by studying 'presence' through presence and writing 'presence' in a multimedial absent yet present way. As a result of new modes of 'writing' reflection, interaction, hermeneutics and the fruition of understanding enter a new era of conceptualisation. back
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Here you can download the Marapu - Voice of Tradition Flash demo.
In order to operate the demo you need a Flash standalone player, which is also provided for on this page.
Marapu - Voice of Tradition Flash demo
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