Ventriloquy and horror. Those strange little creatures always seem to be up to no good. Yes. They are a lot like us. But who is the master and who pulls the strings…..
“For Ventriloquy, or speaking from the bottom of the Belly, ’tis a thing I think as strange and difficult to be conceived as any thing in Witchcraft, nor can it, I believe, be performed in any distinctness of articulate sounds, without such assistance of the Spirits, that spoke out of the Daemoniacks.” From Joseph Glanvil’s Saducismus Triumphatus: Or, Full and Plain Evidence Concerning Witches and Apparitions (1681).
…In this manner I had to press forcibly upon the lid to keep it down while I secured it with nails; and I anticipated, of course, that as soon as these latter were removed, the top would fly off and the body up.
Having thus arranged the box, I marked, numbered, and addressed it as already told; and then writing a letter in the name of the wine merchants with whom Mr. Shuttleworthy dealt, I gave instructions to my servant to wheel the box to Mr. Goodfellow’s door, in a barrow, at a given signal from myself. For the words which I intended the corpse to speak, I confidently depended upon my ventriloquial abilities; for their effect, I counted upon the conscience of the murderous wretch. ( Poe )
… Perhaps ventriloquy is just a reflection of the surplus value of speech. Most conversation in polite bourgeois society is something of a leisure class pastime, an empty content free luxury. An exchange of inanities where everyone talks and says zilch. After all, language itself does not seem especially individualized, in that it is mostly generic burblings that are extensions of advertising, sit-coms and sports all plugged into the current buzz words of popular culture. Even in the boredom it is amusing in that much of it is in a ventriloquial drone: from the inanimate object different variations of hyperbolic sound effects which is sum, are pitiful imitations laced with inflections of the hysterical, all in the good name of personality and identity.
In this scenario the real transgressive act is how to steal back language, and either keep it for personal use, perhaps easier than a long quest to find its rightful owners. That is, the appropriation and explication of these conversational mileuses, dangerous spaces that by their sheer incomprehensibility and banality spawns perverse miscommunication and clings like shipwrecked sailors to the materiality of language which collapses all distinction between speaker and listener, resulting in verbal exchange as solipsism. Better not to get involved, since it would involve a participation in a world that merits subverting. It is tempting since participation is in itself subversive… But like those ventriloquist horror films, the off-limit areas explored by the dummies may invoke a new reality and imply some unwanted adventures…
…After the eighteenth-century Englightenment ventriloquism was absorbed into popular culture as entertainment. But the notion of the doll that finds a life of its own was also to have its own rebirth in gothic literature, grotesque thrillers and in the horror market /film industry. Read More:http://grotesque-observatory.blogspot.com/2011_10_01_archive.html
Stephen Connor: If this is true in general, there are plenty of complications and exceptions, ways in which technology rejoins the world of weight and hardness. After writing a book of a wearisome 4
ages on the history of ventriloquism and the disembodied voice, I was able to conclude what I should have been sensible enough to have seen from the start, namely that There Is No Disembodied Voice. The dissociation, discarnation, attentuation and redistribution of the voice has not in any sense made it less bodily or substantial. Indeed, it has emphasised these aspects, or made it possible to do it….
William Gaddis’s JR: …Adorno’s commentary on the speaking subject is pertinent to the contradictions implicit in the notion of “voice in the marketplace”: In an all-embracing system [such as, for Adorno, that of late capitalist economies], dialogue becomes ventriloquism. Everyone is his own Charlie McCarthy; hence his popularity. Words in their entirety come to resemble the formulae which formerly were reserved for greeting and leave-taking . . . Such determination of speech through adaptation, however, is its end: the relation between matter and expression is severed, and just as the concepts of the positivists are supposed to be mere counters, so those of positivistic humanity have become literally coins.
…For Adorno, form and content of language in contemporary society have become so thoroughly severed (in that “content” has virtually disappeared), and yet so fused together (in that “medium” and “message” of contemporary speech acts are one) that all forms of expression are
telegraphic ciphers, or traces of some “matter” that has been debased into coin, commodity. Hence, the source of this language–the individual speaker–becomes merely a mouthpiece, a “talking head,” a transmitter of messages already overheard and delivered; the repetition of these
messages might be thought of as the capitalized surplus of sheer message, or information for its own sake, in contemporary culture…. For fear that he might be recognized as a child in his business dealings, JR disguises his voice when he talks over the phone by muffling it with
the unfailingly filthy handkerchief that is one of his trademarks. His creation of an empire via the proxies of the telephone and Bast is an act of ventriloquy that reveals the wholly instrumental nature of his language and being. As an extension of the telephonic instrument–as a form of
human prothesis–JR is merely the garbled voice over the phone making connections between the disparate elements of his empire, thus acting as a kind of talking “switchboard”; this radical destabilizing of human agency via the telephone is perfectly complicit with “doing business”…
…Davidoff reads a press release into the phone while a secretary transcribes his remarks on the other end of the line: writing is thus converted by voice into writing again in a complex and circular series of exchanges wherein “voice” becomes, merely, the ventriloquizing of the already-written, just as Davidoff is merely the mouthpiece for organizational propaganda. If “voice,” this last illusory vestige of singularity or alterity, can be figured so, then what, if anything, does Gaddis leave us with? Is there any “escape” from the novel’s closed systems of
commodification and exchange? Read More:http://pmc.iath.virginia.edu/text-only/issue.191/odonne-1.191
Jimmy Cox:Although proof positive is wanting of the fact, it is fair to assume that many of the occurrences involving the assistance of an apparently super-natural voice, by which many of the old superstitions were fostered among the early races, were feats of ventriloquism.
At one time this belief in a “second voice,” or “familiar spirit,” as it was so often called, took the form of divination by which the supposed spirit was evoked and consulted as to the right course of conduct on important occasions; and this divination, which was practiced in a variety of ways among the different semi-barbaric races of the ancient world, can be traced through a long period of time.
By the Mosaic Law, which was given about fifteen hundred years before Christ, the Jews were forbidden from consulting those having familiar spirits. So accustomed, however, were the Hebrews, who had evidently become acquainted with the voice during their captivity in Egypt, with this mode of divination that one of their prophets compares it to the power of sanctified utterance where he says (Isaiah 29: 4): “And thy voice shall be as one that hath a familiar spirit out of the ground, and thy speech shall whisper out of the dust.”
Just where the Egyptians obtained their knowledge of the art is uncertain, but in the performance of the “mysteries” which accompanied their worship of Osiris, the judge of the dead in the lower world, a seemingly unearthly voice, proceeding either from the earth or from overhead, played no unimportant part. Inasmuch as the voices described were such as having always been peculiarly identified with ventriloquism, the practice of this art by unscrupulous priests would seem to afford a natural solution of the mystery….
…If there is any doubt as to the part ventriloquism played in this divination by a familiar spirit, there can be none in the method employed by the Greeks, which was termed gastromancy. In this the voice of the “spirit” made its oracular replies apparently from the priest ‘s belly, the diviner himself standing in the meanwhile with impassive countenance and immovable lips. Read More:http://www.ventriloquist-david-strassman.com/ventriloquism.html