LINGUIST List 12.411

Thu Feb 15 2001

Books: Ventriloquism

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  1. Kimberly Kahn, Ventriloquism: Dumbstruck by S. Connor

Message 1: Ventriloquism: Dumbstruck by S. Connor

Date: Mon, 12 Feb 2001 12:28:50 -0500
From: Kimberly Kahn <KRKOUP-USA.ORG>
Subject: Ventriloquism: Dumbstruck by S. Connor

DUMBSTRUCK: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism
Steven Connor, Birkbeck College, University of London

Ventriloquism, the art of "seeming to speak where one is not", speaks
so resonantly to our contemporary technological condition. We now
think nothing of hearing voices--our own and others'--propelled over
intercoms, cellphones, and answering machines. Yet, why can none of
us hear our own recorded voice without wincing? Why is the telephone
still full of such spookiness and erotic possibility? And why does
the magician's trick of speaking through a dummy entertain as well as
disturb us? These are the kind of questions which impel Dumbstruck,
Steven Connor's wide-ranging, relentlessly inquisitive history of
ventriloquism and the disembodied voice.
Connor follows his subject from its early beginnings in ancient Israel
and Greece, through the outcries of early Christian writers against
the unholy (and, they believed, obscenely produced) practices of pagan
divination. Surprisingly, he finds that women like the sibyls of
Delphi were the key voices in these male-dominated times. Connor then
turns to the aberrations of the voice in mysticism, witchcraft and
possession, and the strange cultural obsession with the vagrant figure
of the ventriloquist, newly conceived as male rather than female, that
flourished during the Enlightenment. He retells the stories of some of
the most popular and versatile ventriloquists and polyphonists of the
nineteenth century, and investigates the survival of ventriloquial
delusions and desires in spiritualism and the 'vocalic uncanny' of
technologies like the telephone, radio, film, and the internet.
Brimming with anecdote and insight, Dumbstruck is a provocative
archeology of a seemingly trivial yet profoundly relevant presence in
human history. Its pages overflow with virtuoso philosophical and
psychological reflections on the problems and astonishments, the
raptures and absurdities of the unhoused voice.

January 2001 472 pp.; 15 halftones
0-19-818433-6 $35.00
Oxford University Press
Kimberly Kahn
Oxford University Press, 198 Madison Avenue, New
York, NY 10016
Phone: (212) 726-6086 Fax: (212) 726-6442 E-mail:
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Tuesday, February 06, 2001