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Tristam Vivian Adams — Realizing Dichotomies In The History Of Voice: The Ill-Founded Metaphysical Schizopus (Synthetic Schisms)

Realizing Dichotomies in the history of Voice: The Ill-founded metaphysical schizopus (synthetic schisms)

Recent vococentric surveys have focused on the presupposition of a dichotomy ‘being’ voice [1]. Voice as a bi-product [2], a forced illusion of polarization. This schism initially grew from a false premise, a dishonest sentiment, but then became intrinsic to the dominance of logos and reasoning in western metaphysical thought (the mechanics of the tyranny of logos). By simple fact: for logos, for the word of law to dominate over the natural and corporeal it needed to be separate from nature and instinct. Reasoning and meanings ‘needed’ to be autonomous from nature, sound, instinct and corporeality. This political ‘necessity’ fanned and fuelled the fire of voco-schism to such a degree that it created a large chasm in the theoretical and metaphysical topology of voice, where once it was just one sublime plain.

Whilst I do not refute the long history of convenient categorizations I believe that rather than build theories around an illusion or construct elaborate means to unravel this long and potted metaphysical/socio-corporeal history we can instead boldly transport ourselves back to the genesis of the dichotomy and negate the original premise of vocalic schism. To imagine this schizopial vocal history in dendroidian topological terms I opt to knot and throttle the roots of logos’ tyranny (to death) rather than going about the task by performing a series of delicate pruning techniques and psychoanalytically governed branch ties.

First we must briefly consider this supposed dichotomy. The dichotomy in voice, can be thought of as:

Phone V Logos

Sonics V Semantics

Sound V Meanings

Music V Law

Corporeal V Logical

As Mladen Dolar expertly navigates (Dolar, 2006, pp. 42-56) these poles have been maintained and entrenched for millennia; there has been a metaphysical tradition of seeing Logos in opposition to Phone. Plato is arguably the father of this schism. His writings on the dangers of the Dionysian dithyramb in music in relation to law and societal order are well documented [3] yet it was his actions, his practice of working that reinforced the synthetic schism of Phone V Logos as much as any explicit statement in his works. Yet at the same time there is a key scene in Plato’s Symposium that divulges the political synthesis of such vocalic dichotomies, we can covertly excavate the kernel of how there is no dichotomy. There is no X V Y.

The actions of an inebriated Grecian allow our covert operation. At the end of Plato’s Symposium Alcibiades makes a calamitous entrance, “Drunk with wine, Alcibiades makes a huge racket; he is in the grips of a bacchic frenzy, the Dionysian inebriation that is linked to the orgiastic rhythm of the flute. In keeping with this rhythm, Alcibiades stumbles his way into the room “half-carried by the flute girl.”” (Cavarero, 2005, pp. 69). Alcibiades goes on to tell the story of Marsyas (or Pan), and how he was flayed alive as punishment for both challenging Apollo and losing to him. Marsyas’ “skin was torn off whilst his mouth, no longer intent on blowing into the flute, emitted tremendous cries of pain.” (ibid). The flautist [4] “renounces speech and evokes a world in which the acoustic sphere and expressions of corporeality predominate. It is the world of the Dionysian dithyramb, where the flute modulates rhythms that accompany an orgiastic dance. Nothing is further from the videocentric comportment of the philosophical logos. And yet Alcibiades thesis is that Socrates, the great teacher of Plato, is similar to none other than Marsyas.”(ibid). If a great orator like Socrates (the teacher of the logocentric scriber Plato) can be likened to the Dionysian dithyramb of the flute then Plato’s idol of reason is one and the same as that which defies logic, threatens states and yields all the Dionysian potency of nature in spring. In short, what makes Socratean Logos/Semantics/Reasoning so persuasive and so important is also, but not just and always Phone, Sonics and the corporeal.

Alcibiades went as far as to assert: “Socrates is an even more amazing [thaumasioteros] flute player [auletes] than Marsyas” (Cavarero, 2005, pp. 70). In Alcibiades assertion there are three vital details to consider. Firstly, as previously stated, that Socrates is not pure phone; he is not a voice and nothing more – he is an enchantingly sonorous fountain of wisdom, a ‘dyadic’ speaker of both vocalic musicality and semantic reasoning. Secondly we must consider the Platonic bias behind the text, it is Plato’s story afterall. Yet the logocentricist student of Socrates cannot liken his teacher directly to the flute; his task must be completed by proxy. Thirdly, and most intriguingly, is that this assertion by Alcibiades (covertly by Plato) opens up the possibility that the noetic reception of wisdom is via the sinful, natural sonics outside of logos:

“Just as Marsyas puts the flute to his mouth and produces a sound that bewitches his listeners, so too Socrates makes his own mouth into a flute from which come bewitching discourses.
This is not pure phone, voice and sound. Given that Socrates speaks, it is of course phone semantike. And yet what is at stake is not (at least not explicity) the contraposition of speech and writing. At stake rather, is the seductive effect that Socratic speech shares with the acoustic-or, more precisely, the musical. Indeed, according to Plato, the flute represents the very worst of the musical sphere. For music does not solicit the noetic part of the soul, but rather stimulates the passions and the instincts. As the true instrument of Dionysus, music leads to a loss of judgment. Flaying Marsyas alive was an act of justice- indeed a divine one. (…) Plato is totally convinced of the justness of this punishment. In order to flay Socrates, his beloved teacher, he thus decides to mimic himself under the mask of Alcibiades” (Cavarero, 2005, pp. 71)

It is no wonder that Plato’s operation of exploring implicit noetic validity through (in part) phone is a subject best handled by proxy, especially after his previous sentiments in the symposium:

“let us dispense with the flute-girl who just made her entrance; let her play for herself or, if she prefers for the women in the house. Let us instead spend our evening in conversation.” (Plato, 1978, Symposium 176e).

Plato’s logocentricism and his corporeal/sonic based love for his teacher open a rupture, a schism his thought is dyadic, he is torn, schizophrenic. This synthetic schism has haunted voice for so long that it is hard to re-think Voice as anything but a dyadic extimacy. It is difficult to un-think such fossilized metaphysics however forced or dishonest their foundations may be.

The theoretical chink in the Platonic armor of logos’ genesis, it’s validity questionable as the masculine, occularcentric, noetic and de-corporeal mode of communication, undermines the crude dichotomies of logos and phone, semantics and sonics etc that have been enforced for millennia. It is tempting to quip that the father of the tyranny of logos (arguably Plato) held the key to its dissolution all along, he knew it all along, he just couldn’t write it down under his own name! He couldn’t commit this sentiment to a permanent string of morbid hieroglyphics (a la Derridean markings of un-presence), but he knew it in his soul – and hence we have a diegesis of sorts, a thin film of Platonic removal from a subject he would not confront directly: that the opportunity of Socratean wisdom (noetics) is ‘formed’ of presence, sonics, corporeality and phone as much as it is ‘formed’ of logos, reasoning or semantics. After all, Socrates did not write but preferred dialogue as a mode of pedagogy.

[1] See Mladen Dolar, 2006. A Voice and Nothing More (Short Circuits). Edition. The MIT Press.

[2] A dyadic extimacy, an ‘ineradictable extimacy’ (Dolar, 2006, pp. 56)

[3] A comprehensive list of these sentiments can be found at: (last accessed 19/05/2012)

[4] The flute is traditionally regarded as an avatar for the natural, corporeal, sinful, un reasonable a-logos, pure phone realm. Plato and Aristotle both make direct criticism to the flute:
“…and there was a forth, the dithyramb, as it was called, dealing, if I am not mistaken, with the birth of Dionysus. (…) Possessed by a frantic and unhallowed lust for pleasure, they contaminated laments with hymns and paeans with dithyrambs, actually imitated the strains of the flute on the harp, and created a universal confusion of forms.” (Plato, Laws, 700a-701c)
“Bacchic frenzy and all similar emotions are most suitably expressed by the flute… “(Aristotle, 2001, Politics VIII, 1342b 5-6).
Marsyas was a Satyre, a spirit of nature and a companion to Dionysus. Marsyas and Pan are sometimes identified as one another as there are accounts of both of them challenging Apollo to a musical duel. Both are associated with nature, Dionysus and bacchic orgy. Pans aesthetic and symbolism was later mutated into a neo-pagan symbol of male virility. His legend morphed into a horned and priapic Edwardian Satan.


Aristotle, 2001, The Basic Writings of Aristotle. New York: Modern Library
Adriana Cavarero, 2005. For More than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression. 1 Edition: Stanford University Press.
Derrida, 1982. Signature, Event, Context. Available at: (last accessed 16/04/2012)
Mladen Dolar, 2006. A Voice and Nothing More (Short Circuits). Edition. The MIT Press.
Plato, 1997, Complete Works. Ed John M Cooper. Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett
Plato, 1956. Symposium. Ed. And trans Benjamin Jowett. Available at: (last accessed 16/04/2012)

File under — writing

Tristam Vivian Adams is a writer and researcher in the Department of Visual Cultures, Goldsmiths College, University of London.

This writing that deals with history, language, mythology and voice was presented at MK Gallery, Milton Keynes as part of ‘Symposium’. Other artists included were Dave Charlesworth, Jack Brindley & Tim Dixon, Jack Strange, Luke McCreadie and Zac Gvi.