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Vocal effect and resonance: voice in Henry James's "The Bostonians"


Straumann, Barbara (2008). Vocal effect and resonance: voice in Henry James's "The Bostonians". English Text Construction, 1(1):83-96.

Abstract

In its theoretical framework, my paper participates in the debate over voice ‘after’ Derrida. Drawing on other poststructuralist and phenomenological approaches as well as recent contributions in the area of performance and cultural studies, I claim that the voice can be treated as an effect of resonance. Inherently performative and dialogic, the voice emerges by resonating with something else as well as by effecting resonances elsewhere. In Henry James’s The Bostonians (1886), this figuration is epitomized by the charismatic speaker Verena Tarrant. Her extraordinary public voice is read, manipulated and spoken by various figures of authority, who treat her as a stake in their struggle for power and publicity. Possessed by her vocal gift, they seek in turn to take possession of it. Yet while she lends her voice to others by echoeing their ideas and phrases, catchwords and clichés, Verena simultaneously produces an impact on her audiences which eludes full appropriation. Her impersonal voice may express neither self-presence nor agency, but its effect is one of powerful resonance. Exceeding the text’s satire of the feminist movement and publicity culture, Verena’s doubly mesmeric voice refers us to an ambiguous and unresolvable fascination, both highlighted and performed by The Bostonians, for the voice in general and the public voice of modernity in particular.

In its theoretical framework, my paper participates in the debate over voice ‘after’ Derrida. Drawing on other poststructuralist and phenomenological approaches as well as recent contributions in the area of performance and cultural studies, I claim that the voice can be treated as an effect of resonance. Inherently performative and dialogic, the voice emerges by resonating with something else as well as by effecting resonances elsewhere. In Henry James’s The Bostonians (1886), this figuration is epitomized by the charismatic speaker Verena Tarrant. Her extraordinary public voice is read, manipulated and spoken by various figures of authority, who treat her as a stake in their struggle for power and publicity. Possessed by her vocal gift, they seek in turn to take possession of it. Yet while she lends her voice to others by echoeing their ideas and phrases, catchwords and clichés, Verena simultaneously produces an impact on her audiences which eludes full appropriation. Her impersonal voice may express neither self-presence nor agency, but its effect is one of powerful resonance. Exceeding the text’s satire of the feminist movement and publicity culture, Verena’s doubly mesmeric voice refers us to an ambiguous and unresolvable fascination, both highlighted and performed by The Bostonians, for the voice in general and the public voice of modernity in particular.

Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:06 Faculty of Arts > English Department
Dewey Decimal Classification:820 English & Old English literatures
Language:English
Date:March 2008
Deposited On:27 Feb 2009 13:50
Last Modified:11 May 2016 09:53
Publisher:John Benjamins
ISSN:1874-8767
Official URL:http://www.benjamins.com/cgi-bin/t_articles.cgi?bookid=ETC%201%3A1&artid=3116979

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