The Obscenity Of Your Own Voice




You never read a poem out loud when you’re writing it?


No. That seems obscene to me. I don’t want to hear the sound of my own voice. It’s the sound of something in me, but it’s not my voice. It isn’t a literal voice – at all. But there is a murmuring.

The Paris Review, Eilleen Myles, The Art of Poetry No.99

Before you flagellate yourself for using “yeah” or “um” too much (guilty), and that’s before you flagellate yourself when you hear your own voice,  a lot of linguistic devices don’t necessarily undermine what you’re saying.

The psychology of what makes us cringe is up for the taking. Is it a shock of self-consciousness? In a 2006 paper on embarrassment, researchers wrote that in moments of disruption, “such as in illness, clumsiness, or exposure to the judgments of other people, the lived body becomes an object of our attention. In these moments, the body appears as the corporeal body. … The corporeal body can therefore be conceptualized as the body-subject turned toward itself as a body-object. Embarrassment and the “self-conscious” emotions seem to always occur within dynamics in which the lived body is momentarily reduced to the corporeal body.”

Maybe every cringe-induced playback, whether it be by phone or video should be accompanied by a transcript: these things are much more bearable that way. Second, do we dial back the hyperbole? Nah, I’m always in danger of falling immediately to the floor in the fetal position for these grand life occurrences.

The thing is, language, our ownership and understanding of it, must evolve in order for us to survive. Like the dysfunctional belief in colorblind race relations, ignoring it will not make it “go away”. Language fits that marker. For example, the word “cringe” is one of my favorites, but the actual words that make me cringe are: moist, phlegm, panties, ointment, velvet, weeping and so on. If I had to hear myself say all of those tongue twisters in quick succession played back, I’m sure I’d elicit a very visceral reaction in me (and you) —  the linguistic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard.

Which brings me back to hearing our own voices. To put it in more technical terms, you’re adding bone conduction to air conduction when you speak with your own voice. Bone-conducted sound is when you activate your vocal cords and vibrations are set off through your skull, eventually reaching your inner ear. The acoustics in your skull lower the frequency of those vibrations along the way, essentially adding some bass tones.

As a result, the voice we hear inside our heads is lower, richer and more dulcet because of these extra rumblings, and hearing it come from outside ourselves (on a video for example) makes it sound tinny and alien.

Parker J. Palmer — founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal — cautioned that what we hear might not always be a mellifluous serenade by our highest selves — but giving voice to the parts of ourselves we least like is essential to the process:

My life is not only about my strengths and virtues; it is also about my liabilities and my limits, my trespasses and my shadow. An inevitable though often ignored dimension of the quest for “wholeness” is that we must embrace what we dislike or find shameful about ourselves as well as what we are confident and proud of.


source: Rachel Cadman|I Love LA




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