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Acousmatic voices in literature

Des voix acousmates en littérature

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Published on Monday, June 27, 2016


Ce colloque international propose de partir à la recherche des voix délaissées par la critique, non pas les voix énonciatives ou narratives mais les voix plus énigmatiques et secrètes qui ne se donnent pas facilement à entendre ou à voir dans l’écriture. Car, selon Claude Jamain, pour trouver la voix, « il s’agit d’aller sous les apparences, sous la couverture des choses, peau, surface peinte ou langage pour retrouver les sons de l’origine » (Idée de la voix). Ainsi, le lecteur tel un disciple de Pythagore écoutant les leçons du maître dissimulé derrière un voile, est invité à percer le mystère des voix de l’écrit.


Date and place

International conference to be held on September 2017, 6-8th….. at the University of Rennes 2


This conference aims at studying neglected voices, not narrative voices but the more enigmatic and secret voices that are difficult to grasp, hear or see in the written text. Indeed, Claude Jamain explains that to find the/a voice, “one has to go beyond appearances, under the surface of things, like the skin, painted matter or language to get back to original sounds” (my translation, Idée de la voix). Thus, like Pythagorus’ disciple, the reader has to listen to the lessons of the master hidden behind a veil, ready to grasp the mystery of silent written voices. On the one hand, writing leads to the irrevocable loss of a sonorous and auditory voice. On the other hand, it attempts at making impenetrable noises beyond language visible and heard. Precisely, acousmatic writing would be a way of making readers listen to the “subtle noise of language” (Roland Barthes) to give voices back the potential they lost when buried in the rigid nature of conventional language.

Numerous writers chose the music of language, songs, discreet and veiled voices, reedy or whispering voices and all the acousmatic voices turned into poems (Eluard, Apollinaire). Many other writers allowed sound anomalies to come to the surface of the text or shout out loud (animal sounds or marginals’ mumbling in Flannery O’Connor’s stories). Voices remain hidden in the text, “acousmats” (from the Greek, “what we hear”) can be defined as “noises from human voices or instruments we imagine hearing in the air” (Dictionnaire de la langue française), “the negativity of the subject’s voice in language” (Anne-Christine Royère).

 It appears that writing is the vocal host of two contradictory categories: melodious or sonorous compositions and disturbing parasitic noises. Indeed, doesn’t Yves Bonnefoy assert that “your voice has fever fits within itself and wishes it could be music “ (La vie Errante, 1993, 131)? Between “fever” and music”, does the acousmatic voice leave in its wake painterly, pictorial, sound, visual traces or “musicalities”? Barbara Guest, an American poet from the New York School “seeks the air” to capture all these musicalities of nature in  her poetical partition, “a pearl snatched from a shell”, “ a chain of miniature birds”, “an elsewhere, a hiding place, a secondary form of speech (…) the little echo that haunts the poem” (Wounded Joy). Can we refer to acousmatic music that would reconcile the world’s noises with harmonious and relevant poetic rhythms?

In Patricia Eakins’ 20th century stories for instance, musical rhythms compensate for the indeterminate feature of her universe and support the meaning of her fantastic stories. Behind this acousmatic composition of the written page, can we detect a desire to go back to the idealized voice of childhood? Does it correspond to a totally physical experience of the rebirth of language which the subject needs?  (Quillier) or to the quest of a quasi edenic, pre-linguistic voice, closer to children or animal voices (Henri Michaux)?

What meaning should we give to acousmats, those hypothetical voices, songs from the dead, ‘shepherds who listen to angels’ words’ (Acousmate, Apollinaire)? Or disgraceful noises that break or interrupt the tranquility of the written page?

Are acousmatic voices, closer to hoarseness or to the sounds of a smooth melody? Should we differentiate between acousmats and acousmatic voices (cf. Brian Kane)? Is their goal aesthetic, poetic or philosophical? Are they aiming at carrying textual voices to make the unique and singular voice of the author heard? In other words, is the author’s style rooted in the acousmatic orchestration of the text? Can we find in the textual matter a place to locate an impossible voice or the voice, that is the author’s recognizable style? Instead of seeing a denial or refusal of orality in literature in the triumph of writing, can we consider the opportunity to listen to a subdued voice, hidden under the written text? This voice-over which is not on track or stifled when written, might conversely be the proof of the vividness of the written text and its poetic voice.

The lyrical quality of language might be recovered in acoustic or silent acousmats, these enigmatic places invented by the master (“acousmêtre”, Michel Chion’s neologism) who hides his message and face behind a veil so that he is listened to better. As the reader is partly blinded by the veil that hides the precise source of the voice, he seems more stimulated by another dimension: the sonorous aspect of the message, this disembodied mysterious voice, without a predefined host or origin.

Papers focusing on polyphonic disembodied voices (as used by Nathalie Sarraute) which do not arise from the narrative are welcome. It is for instance the jazzy rhythms that convey meaning in Barry Hannah’s obscure prose. Would the poetic voices reactivate our poetic link with the world thus re(explored, grasped in all its richness and confusion? How does literature use typography to make the vocal tonalities emerge? Does E.E. Cummings’s specific voice lie precisely in its anamorphic and unpronounceable poems? Can we decipher acousmats in the signs’ eccentricity?

The traces of the voices or their effects (or more accurately the lack of voice, their loss or subversion) might be a blessing, like ‘little tongue tips which strive to capture the sun’ (Jacques Rancière, La Chair des Mots, 76). It is precisely in the accidents, fertile failures or erasures of the voice, in the chaos and heterogeneity of acousmats that language reveals and recovers ‘this logic of invention’ (Merleau-Ponty). Thus Flannery O’Connor shows how “the vocalic uncanny” (Steven Connor) in her short stories, i.e., marginal noises, peacock and animal sounds, are used as ironical tools to reveal the spiritual poverty of her characters. Through literary acousmats the deaf and hard of hearing could be shouted at to make them understand an otherwise inaccessible message.

Selective bibliography

  • Roland Barthes S/Z, Paris, le seuil, réed points essais, 1970.
  • Roland Barthes ‘Le Bruissement de la langue’, Essais Critiques IV, Seuil, 1984.
  • Yves Bonnefoy,  La Vie errante, suivi de Remarques sur le dessin, Poésie/Gallimard, 1993 
  • Michel Chion – La Voix au cinéma, Ed : Cahiers du Cinéma, 1982.
  • Steven  Connor in Myth, Modernity and the Vocalic Uncanny, in Myth and the Making of Modernity, the Problem of Grounding in early 20th c Literature, Rodopi, 1998,
  • Mladen Dolar, A voice and Nothing More, Short  Circuit series, edited by Slavoj Zizek, The MIT Press, 2006.
  • Stewart Garrett, Reading voices, literature and the phonotext, Garrett Stewart, California, University of California Press, 1990.
  • Jean Paul Goux, La Voix sans repos, esprits libres, éditions du rocher, 2003.  
  • Jean-Paul Goux, La Fabrique du Continu, Essai sur la Prose, Champ Vallon, recueil, 1999.
  • Claude Jamain, La Voix sous le Texte, Actes du colloque d’Angers, 2000
  • Claude Jamain, Idée de la Voix, Etudes sur le Lyrisme occidental, PUR, 2004
  • Brian Kane, “Acousmate: history and de-visualised sound in the Schaefferian tradition,” Organised Sound 17:2 (Fall 2012): 179–188.
  • Jean-Pierre Martin, La Bande Sonore, José Corti, 1998
  • Merleau-Ponty, La Prose du Monde, Paris, Gallimard, 1969.
  • Henri Meschonnic,  ‘Qu’entendez-vous par oralité ?,’ Langue Française, n°56, décembre 1982, 6-23.
  • Patrick Quillier, « Pour une acousmatique du signe : éloge du nomadisme de la voix », Lampe-tempête, « Espaces, lieux, figures », no 4, décembre, 2007 
  • Patrick Quillier,  ‘Entre bruit et silence : Yves Bonnefoy, Maître de Chapelle ? (esquisses acroamatiques),Littérature,  Année 2002  Volume 127, n°3, L’Oreille, La Voix, 3-18.
  • Jacques Rancière, La Chair des Mots, , Politiques de l’écriture, Galilée, 1998.
  • Marie-Albane Rioux-Watine, La Voix et la frontière, sur Claude Simon, Honoré Champion, collection Littérature d e notre siècle dirigée par Jean Yves  Guérin, Paris, 2007.
  • A-Christine Royère, Henri Michaux, Voix et imaginaire des signes, Paris : Presses Sorbonne Nouvelle, 2010.
  • A-Christine Royère,  « La voix acousmate :‘dans l’acoustique du trou oblique’ (Henri Michaux et Ghérasim Luca) », in Oralités subversives, Presses Universitaires de Rennes, 2004, Anne Douaire (dir).
  • A-Christine Royère « “Des chemins parallèles n’excluent pas flirts, tendresses, violences et passions” : poésie sonore et musique électro-acoustique », ces deux derniers articles ayant été coécrits avec Gaëlle Théval, à paraître.
  • Laurence  Tibi in La Lyre Désenchantée, l’Instrument de Musique et la Voix Humaine dans la Litérature Française du 19ième siècle, Honoré Champion, Paris, 2003,
  • Denis Vasse, l’Ombilic et la Voix : Deux Enfants en Analyse, Le Champ Freudien, Seuil, 1974


Conference to be held in English and French

Guest speaker (confirmed)

  • Claude Jamain, Lille 3  
  • Jean-Paul Goux,
  • Jean-Pierre Martin,

Submission guidelines

Submissions (of roughly 500 words) should be sent to  Sylvie Bauer, sylvie.bauer@univ-rennes2.fr and Claudia Desblaches claudia.desblaches@univ-rennes2.fr

by December, 31st,  2016

Notification of acceptance: March, 1st, 2017.



  • Université De Rennes 2,France Campus Villejean Place du recteur Henri Le Moal CS 24307, Cedex
    Rennes, France (35043)


  • Saturday, December 31, 2016


  • voix, énigme, pré-linguistique, bruit, verbe, acousmate, poème, trace picturale, sonore, visuelle, voix off, musicalité, prose, musique, acousmatique, écrit, orchestration


  • Claudia Desblaches
    courriel : claudia [dot] desblaches [at] univ-rennes2 [dot] fr

Information source

  • Claudia Desblaches
    courriel : claudia [dot] desblaches [at] univ-rennes2 [dot] fr


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« Acousmatic voices in literature », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, June 27, 2016, https://calenda.org/371171

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