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Precis Essay

821 words - 4 pages

The voice and its signification have been in question since Roland Barthes first published his seminal work “The Grain of the Voice” in 1972 (published again in English in 1977). For Barthes, the “grain” appears at the precise moment in which sound and language converge; the exact moment when the actual physiological production of both become audible. To illustrate his point, Barthes discusses the differences between two singers, Charles Panzéra and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Barthes comes to the conclusion that he prefers Panzéra, but not because of any technical superiority over Fischer-Dieskau. Instead, Barthes prefers Panzéra’s voice and singing because Panzéra’s voice provides the “grain.”
While we might accept Barthes’ conclusion, Jonathan Dunsby’s article, “Roland Barthes and the Grain of Panzéra’s Voice,” challenges the very notion that Barthes definitively explained what creates the “grain.” Dunsby does not set out to disprove Barthes’ theory about the “grain of the voice,” but he presents a unique perspective that complicates the finality of Barthes’ conclusion. From Dunsby’s perspective, he draws out a particular divide in vocal training between Fischer-Dieskau and Panzéra, citing the inherent differences in singing approaches between the German (Fischer-Dieskau) and the French (Panzéra) styles. Furthermore, Dunsby comments on Panzéra’s own writings about vocal pedagogy and highlights Panzéra’s partiality towards the physicality of vocal pedagogy, a characteristic of French pedagogical tradition. Thus, Dunsby contributes Barthes’ penchant for the physicality of the voice to his French nationality.
Linking Barthes’ affinity for Panzéra’s voice to his nationality teases out a perspective on voice and identification; in particular, the identification of the listener and the voice. Katherine Meizel elaborates on this point in her article “A Powerful Voice: Investigating Vocality and Identity.” Within her article, Meizel describes how vocal sound with identity-specific meaning can serve as a source of pride, but it can also carry negative connotations. Describing the negative effects of marking the differences between specific nationalities and cultures’ vocal production, Meizel cites a peculiar paper written by laryngologist Sir G. Duncan Gibb. Published in 1867, his paper discusses his findings that there are distinct physiological characteristics that create the different vocal sounds between races. Furthermore, Gibb compared the voices of Asia and Africa with the nations of Europe. Here, Gibb describes the European voice as the superior voice based on physiological reasons. However, in an article that highlighted the...

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