Body, Voice

  • Stephen Heath
Part of the Communications and Culture book series (COMMCU)


The term ‘auditor’ for hearing does not correspond with the term voyeur for seeing: on the one hand, the person engaged in what has usually been described as perverse activity; on the other, the ordinary hearer or listener, the simple unproblematic activity of listening. Typically, and influentially, Freud, in the Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality has a fair amount to say on scopophilia — pleasure in seeing — and voyeurism, nothing on whatever the equivalent would be for pleasure and fixation in listening (precisely the word is missing, does not come easily to mind as ‘voyeurism’ does). As against which, one might recall Sade’s comment that, for the true libertine, it is ‘the sensations communicated by the organ of hearing which are the more gratifying and whose impressions are the keenest’1 (thus his libertines listen to long narratives, construct machines to amplify sound, achieve orgasm on hearing cries). As against which too, perhaps, seen through the door of a London sex-shop close to the offices of Screen, a notice advertising ‘Films now showing: silent £1, sound £1.50’.


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  1. 1.
    Marquis de Sade, Les 120 Journées de Sodome vol. 1 (Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions, 1975) p. 52.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Cf. Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire livre XI (Paris: Seuil, 1973) pp. 96, 108, 182; translation, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (London: Hogarth Press, 1977) pp. 104, 118, 200.Google Scholar
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    Lincoln F. Johnson, Film: Space, Time, Light, and Sound (New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1974) pp. 169–79; Johnson gives a short account of each of these ‘functions of sound’.Google Scholar
  4. 5.
    Jacques Lacan, Le Séminaire livre II (Paris: Seuil, 1978) p. 315.Google Scholar
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    A. J. Greimas, Sémantique structurale (Paris: Larousse, 1966) pp. 172–91.Google Scholar
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    Sylvie Pierre, ‘Éléments pour une théorie du photogramme’, Cahiers du cinéma no. 226–7 (January—February 1971) p. 81.Google Scholar
  7. 8.
    ‘You don’t really have the opportunity to know married women otherwise than by the perspective of three-quarters of the images in this film. Images that date, that increasingly, I’m sure, are not very good; but all the same quite a lot of them are there, as though in a police report presented as such. Me, I’d very much like there to be at least films like that on men, for example … ’. J.-L. Godard, Introduction â une véritable histoire du cinéma vol. 1 (Paris: Albatros, 1980) p. 110. Godard seems conscious here that it is above all women who have been the focus of his intellectual — ‘police report’ — personifications.Google Scholar
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    S. Freud, ‘Fetishism’ (1927), The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works vol. XXI (London: Hogarth Press, 1961) p. 157.Google Scholar
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    Lillian Gish, The Movies, Mr. Griffith, and Me (London: W. H. Allen, 1969) pp. 59–60.Google Scholar
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    Jacques Lacan, Écrits (Paris: Seuil, 1966) p. 694; translation, Écrits: A Selection (London Tavistock, 1977) pp. 289–90.Google Scholar
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    Since for the analyst the phallus is the universal signifier of desire, any abandonment of the masquerade is supposedly the worrying disturbance of a fundamental economy: ‘When women give up the masquerade, what do they find in bed? Women analysts, how do they provoke erections? This difficulty is the price they pay when they leave the masquerade.’ Irene Diamantis, ‘Entrevue avec Moustapha Safouan’, Ornicar? no. 9 (April 1977) p. 104. Luce Irigaray has well described the perspective and the functioning of the trap of the masquerade and its psychoanalytic account: ‘The psychoanalysts say that the masquerade corresponds to woman’s desire. This does not seem to me to be correct. I think it has to be understood as what women do in order to recover something of desire, in order to participate in man’s desire, but at the cost of giving up their own. In the masquerade, they submit to the dominant economy of desire, so as to keep themselves after all on the “market”. What do I understand by masquerade? In particular what Freud calls “femininity”. Believing, for example, that one has to become a woman, and what is more a “normal” woman, whereas the man is a man from the outset. He only has to accomplish his man-being, while the woman has to become a normal woman, that is, to enter into the masquerade of femininity.’ Ce Sexe qui n’en est pas un (Paris: Minuit, 1977) pp. 131–2.Google Scholar
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    M. Safouan, La Sexualité féminine (Paris: Seuil, 1976) p. 70.Google Scholar
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    O. Mannoni, Clefs pour l’imaginaire (Paris: Seuil, 1969) p. 180.Google Scholar
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    Guy Rosolato, ‘La voix entre corps et langage’, Revue française de Psychanalyse 1 (1974) p. 83.Google Scholar
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    Jean-Luc Godard and Jean-Pierre Gorin, ‘Enquête sur une image’, Tel Quel no. 52 (Winter 1972) p. 84.Google Scholar

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© Stephen Heath 1981

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  • Stephen Heath

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