Saturday, January 5, 2013

5 of 95: Sing in me, Muse, and through me tell the story of many voices

5. People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

[Part 4]

One of the features of these theses is that they relate grammatically to each other. This makes for a bit of hermeneutics - or, as it is called by regular folks, looking at what the previous thesis had to say for itself: Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.

'This', as you can see, relates the open, natural and uncontrived human voice.

Where does 'this' leave us, then?



Human voices.

Have you ever heard yourself played back at you? You never really sound right, and there's always that feeling that other people tolerate rather than listen to your voice. That the thing sounding through the air can't possibly be you, no matter how much you rationally know that it is indeed you.

Have no fear. First off, the strangeness is caused by you being used to hearing yourself from the inside. If you manage to keep listening to yourself long enough, the strangeness will disappear and you'll get some distance to yourself. And, secondly, what other people hear is not even remotely as wrong as what you hear - they just hear you, and they moreover know you from the unmistakable sound of, well, youness.


This - indeed, 'this' - is a source of hope. Because if you can get used to the strangeness of having a voice, then you can get used to the even stranger notion of using it in unison, cooperation or educational cordial disagreement with other voices.

The reason this is a source of hope is less hopeful, though. The reason for this being a source of hope is that people don't.

We've danced around  a couple of concepts these last few days, and I feel it's been enough indirection for us to go straight at them. Not to worry - you already know these words, without knowing it yet. They are, in fact, three aspects of the same idea.

Spectacle, normalization, alienation.

The society of the spectacle is the society we live in. Where our main mode of interaction is with images and items rather than people; where it is more important to live up to the image of what it means to be a true x [true man/woman/christian/liberal/whatever] than it is to be human. Where it matters more what choices you make in regards to consumption rather than morality - indeed, where the notion of morality is subsumed into the notion of consumer habits.

It's immoral to eat meat, you know? Only vegans possess the true ethos of the ethical. - Or any other image one might put up, for that matter. In the spectacle, the image is of greater importance than people, and thus it tends to turn out that discussions on ethics attack and defend various images rather than try to help actually existing human beings.

Consume ethics. Consume the image.

Normalization is what happens when a large number of people are expected to conform to the same norm. What happens is, inevitably, that some pass flawlessly, some fail, and most fall somewhere in between with various degrees of anxiety. Where the main question in mind is - am I good enough?

Most of you will remember this from school. Most likely, from the experience of preparing for, doing and having done a test of some kind, and not knowing how it went. While preparing for it, you worry that you won't pass; while doing it, you constantly think about what kind of answer is given by such people who pass these tests, and try to conform to this image of passing people; and afterward, you most likely remember your answers and endlessly ponder what you could have done differently to perform better.

Normalization is this whole process of preparing, playacting and worrying. This process in and of itself changes you more than the actual test itself - if it works, it transforms you into someone who prepares, performs and succeeds at predetermined things. If it doesn't work - oh, it always works. And it's always at work.

People are very acute when it comes to picking up who does and doesn't live up to the standard.

Alienation, thus, lastly. When your thoughts and actions don't conform, you're alienated. You do things, but they don't seem right - they are not you, as it were. You go to work, go through the motions of being a worker, all the while thinking that this is not what you do - or, rather, that the image acted out by you is not an image of you, and that the charade you put is only endured by yourself out of social necessity.

I.e. one has to have a job. And having a job means doing strange, incomprehensible shit that only serves to make someone else money, with you serving  as a very replaceable part.

If we, with these concepts in mind, return to the notion of the human voice, we get a rather bleak picture. First off, the spectacle teaches us that the image is more important than the reality of the thing - that it is indeed better to appear than to be. Then, we're thrown into a long process of trying to adapt to an external norm that doesn't give too much of a damn about whether you succeed or not, and more often than not cannot be bothered to give you the tools you need to adapt. And, lastly, even if you happen to succeed in this endeavor, you'll find yourself alienated from your actually existing acting self, enduring your daily life as if you didn't matter.

Image, adaptation, discontent. Spectacle, normalization, alienation.

What place does the human voice have in a society where humans are instrumentalized to the point of not needing voices anymore?

It is a source of hope that people recognize each other by the sound of each other's voices. It means that there's still a possibility of cutting through the normalized spectacle of alienation and saying something to the effect of:


I'll see you again tomorrow for part six. Do take a gander over to Les and Eli for their thoughts on this thesis.


  1. "Have you ever heard yourself played back at you? You never really sound right, and there's always that feeling that other people tolerate rather than listen to your voice. That the thing sounding through the air can't possibly be you, no matter how much you rationally know that it is indeed you."

    I'm reading Douglas Hofstadter's "I Am A Strange Loop," this passage reminds me of that.

    1. Looking it up on the Wikipedia now. Sounds like something I might take a further look at. Thanks! :3