Electronic Voice Phenomena       


Munster Page Habit 2 by Mark Leahy

Posted 18 May 2013 by | Comments Off


on being spoken through as conduit for sticky words

[For Muster Page Habit 2, I propose an intersection of speech / thought and vocalisation that teases together a sensing of language as speaking through the body, that performs a talking that is thrown from the speaker outwards to a public / for a public / making public in the hope of hearing by hearers. The project considers agency and subjecthood as audited in textual representation. Tracking through word and sound it crosses Beckett's Lucky, the novels of Christine Brooke-Rose, William James' writing on consciousness and speech, the essays of Heinrich von Kleist, and Avital Ronell's The Telephone Book.]

Who do we hear here in this speaker? Who/what makes this public speech phenomenon? In saying I am hearing, I hear and say what adheres to and modulates what is heard. The performer’s body conducts electric speech converted from digital data derived from text input, his mouth an outlet for noise at the end of a looping transmission process. Are we (but) speakers? Am I (today) the same (speaker), that I was yesterday? Am I a mouthpiece for / of tropes and strings of given language that stream through me, through my processing centres and sound formation structures and means of amplification.

No one can hear a word except inside my head and in the spheric empty space immediately around. The acoustics cork the space, the microphone has died, the sound-waves can’t get through the layers of my atmosphere. I talk in silent bubbles like a goldfish in a bowl, contort myself in gestures but the crowd soon tire of circles, triangles and squares. (Brooke-Rose, Such, 249)

The speaking human (I) that is listened to (heard) conveys linguistic matter gathered elsewhere (not-I) and delivers this to (you) the listening (hearing) public. Projected or thrown in your direction, lassoed from beyond from before from above outside otherwhere, clinging to a marionette wire charged oppositionally pulling to it threads of textual detritus traces of talk or transcribed strands.

As if languages loved each other behind their own façades, despite alles was man denkt darüber davon dazu. As if words fraternised silently behind the syntax, finding each other funny and delicious in a Misch-Masch of tender fornication, inside the bombed out hallowed structures and the rigid steel glass modern edifices of the brain. (Brooke-Rose, Between, 447)

Materials of telephony, telegraphy, translations, transmission, emission, occupy the performer’s body. That body is present to the audience as a speaking device modulating and relaying talk talk that has become sticky smeared by traffic through webby clouds and tagging nets. This talk talk rewords the adherence of web association linking and noding that colours the public face faced outward or trailed behind for later readers or immediate reception.

divine aphasia loves us dearly with some exceptions for reasons unknown but time will tell and suffers like the divine Miranda with those who for reasons unknown but time will tell are plunged in torment plunged in fire whose fire flames (Beckett, 42)

Lucky in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is a figure of speech, producing speech on command, apparently as product and evidence of thinking, as “pensée parlée” (or “spoken thought”) as Andre Breton describes it in his first Surrealist Manifesto. This speech is switched on or off depending on whether Lucky is or is not wearing his hat. Its form may draw on automatic writing and the speech of aphasics or others whose use of language manifests ‘formal thought disorder’. (c.f. Sardin and Germoni, 742)

if that continues and who can doubt it will fire the firmament that is to say blast hell to heaven so blue still and calm so calm with a calm which even though intermittent is better than nothing but not so fast and considering what is more that as a result of the labours left unfinished crowned (Beckett, 42)

In Brooke-Rose’s Between the central character, the voice or observer whom we as readers spend most time with, operates in and across languages, repeating patterns of activity and thought in shifting environments that differ in their language and auditory texture.

At any moment now some bright or elderly sour no young and buxom chambermaid in black and white will come in with a breakfast-tray, put it down on the table in the dark and draw back the curtains unless open the shutters and say buenos días, Morgen or kalimera who knows, it all depends where sleeping has occurred out of what dream shaken up with non merci nein danke no thank you in a long-lost terror of someone offering etwas anderes, not ordered. (Between, 396)

She moves about Europe and elsewhere, as brand names, signs, instructions and directions pop into focus or come to notice. And then the text moves on, turning over different currencies, different taps and bathroom arrangements for conducting liquids and carrying away waste. Grammatical relations are considered, and linguistic theory folded into gendered intercourse.

Et comme l’a si bien dit Saussure, la langue peut se contenter de l’opposition de quelque chose avec rien. The marked term on the one hand, say feminine, grande, the unmarked on the other, say, the masculine, grand. Mais notez bien que le non-marqué peut dériver du marqué par retranchement, by subtraction, par une absence qui signifie. Je répète, une absence qui signifie eine Abwesenheit die simultaneously etwas bedeutet. (Between, 426)

The interpreter works in and with these languages, but in a sense they pass through her, leaving little trace behind.

How do you mean everything? Oh, archeology, medicine, irrigation, economic aid for the under-developed areas and so forth. Goodness, do you work it up in advance? A bit, yes. At least the relevant jargon. But one soon learns, and then forgets, you see one has to understand immediately because the thing understood slips away, together with the need to understand. (Between, 468)

And she is left somewhat adrift in this international multilingual environment of hotels and airports and conference centres, anchorless, disconnected.

Where when and to whose heart did one do that? Do what and what difference does it make? None except by subtraction from the marked masculine and unmarked feminine or vice versa as the language of a long lost code of zones lying forgotten under layers of thickening sensibilities creeps up from down the years into no more than the distant brain way up to tickle an idle thought such as where when and to whose heart did one do that? (Between, 468)

In Such, the central figure has ‘died’ and recovered, and in his revival must renegotiate his functioning in and interface with language.

They cannot hear the words that rebound in my head but I can hear their grumbles, groans, hisses, yells, their slow clapping and stamping of feet. Then the bull comes in, hoofing up cosmic dust, aiming straight at me with his huge and pointed horns. I hold my terror out at him and plead with sentences that curl around him and bounce off the crowd in rhythm like a drum. I contort myself, create situations, strike attitudes and make circular gestures in wild colours. (Such, 249)

He re-encounters friends and family, the familiar now foreign, and struggles to articulate the verbal textual exoskeleton that supports his knowing / unknowing of them.

Yet something emanates out of his small corona in the mad morse of neural cells that races round in no space, no privacy, his silence says, and receives at once the radiated objection well, you didn’t have to enter during my presence or let your scientific skin get peeled away. I know, however, how it happens, the worms in your head squirm as the world you see in even the gentlest creature sharpens its beak, so that the programme in your giant computer-mind gets blocked, goes blank of calculations, cries like a child of three. (Such, 270)

Referencing his wife’s work as a scientist, and the studies of colleagues from different academic disciplines, and his own practice as an analyst, the language environment through which Larry, the central figure, must navigate, tracks through a mesmerising swirl of associations.

We do our best, he says. We tap the silent telephones of outer space, we bounce our questions on the galaxies which answer out of aeons. But they give no names, no explanations, only infinities of calculations. You on the other hand give names to the complex geometries of the soul, you explain perhaps, but do you heal, within space-time I mean. These maps represent something, certainly, but not the ultimate mystery of the first creation that has gone forever with its scar inside one huge unstable atom. You can’t photograph such means of communication. (Such, 271)

When entered onto the web, made public, published, to any utterance will attach associations and expectations of the hearers / speakers, and to any input / output online will attach associations and expectations of the search and/or transmission codes utilised. These adherences cluster to the text as data, as records, as traces and histories, and are read by a receiver (conscious or not) and come to form part of the public persona(lity) in digital exchange encounters. Who is this ‘I’ that sends this message, that enters this search, that responds to this suggestion? Is this a human ‘I’? Is this trace trail left by a ‘person’ distinct from that of a ‘bot’, of a device, of a set of commands? The person generates a public face in language that is an expansion of the text gesture they make, that move that gathers flocking to it like dust to a charged wand, a bar of acrylic given static by vigorous rubbing. This is what we perform to register as someone, the lint of expression made present in public (speaking)(being).


Beckett, Samuel, The Complete Dramatic Works. London: Faber and Faber, 1986.

Brooke-Rose, Christine, from Such (1966) and Between (1968), in The Christine Brooke-Rose Omnibus, Manchester: Carcanet, 1986.

James, William, The Principles of Psychology. London: Harvard University Press, 1981. Vol 1. Chapter 9.

Ronell, Avital, The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia, Electric Speech, Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1989.

Sardin, Pascale and Karine Germoni, ‘”Scarcely Disfigured”: Beckett’s Surrealist Translations’, in Modernism/modernity, 18.4, November 2011, pp. 739-753

von Kleist, Heinrich, Selected Writings, ed. by David Constantine, London: J. M. Dent, 1997


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