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’My voice shall ring in your ears’: the acousmatic voice and the timbral sublime in the Gothic Romance

Foley, M (2016) ’My voice shall ring in your ears’: the acousmatic voice and the timbral sublime in the Gothic Romance. Horror Studies, 7 (2). pp. 173-188. ISSN 2040-3275

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Abstract

Many studies of the Gothic Romance have argued for the importance of sight and obscurity to its aesthetic forms; however, its soundscapes have been considered more scarcely, with only Dale Townshend reading, in any extended sense, the sonic dimensions of the originate Gothic of the late eighteenth century. As this article argues by drawing from Mladen Dolar’s psychoanalytic formulations of the object voice, the obscured or sourceless voice as a means of auditory persecution is an important mechanism in both horror Gothic and in the Radcliffean school of terror. An example of the horror or ‘male’ Gothic of the early nineteenth century, Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) stages a series of persecutory voices that invoke the negative, timbral sublime – an overwhelming textual/auditory excess and a representation of what, theoretically, Dolar has described as ‘the voice beyond logos, the voice beyond law’. It is precisely through such an invocation of a negative sublime that the interrogative voices of Melmoth attempt to dominate those to whom they call. Yet, in Ann Radcliffe’s literature of terror, the disembodied voice is shown, consistently, to lack the authority of law: it is often mistrusted and its source misplaced. Thus the acoustic dimensions of the Gothic Romance, I argue in this chapter, are shaped in part by the distinctive ways in which the terror and horror literatures of the period negotiate and stage the inherent alterity of the troubled and troubling voices that echo throughout their pages.

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