Articulate voices
in Medieval literary voices
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The racialisation of voice precedes the invention of race in the fifteenth century. Its most salient form within late medieval, Christian Europe is the comparison of the voices of non-Christian peoples to those of nonhuman animals, and the characterisation of their voices as inarticulata (unintelligible), drawing on the influential, fourfold categorisation of vox (voice) made by the late antique grammarians Donatus and Priscian. The hierarchical sorting of voices into the human and the bestial, the human and the barbaric, the intelligible and the unintelligible still shapes the way that we hear a supposed ‘essence’ of race in voices today. In Geoffrey Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale, Canacee’s ability to understand birdsong connects the human and the nonhuman by figuring a nonhuman voice as vox articulata (articulate, intelligible). Giorgio Agamben names this point of conjunction and separation between the human and the animal a ‘caesura’, and urges that we must seek to understand the historical construction of the conflict between the animality and the humanity of man in order to address the violent political and social consequences of that separation. Poetry’s origins in in-spiration , breath, invites us to put race and poetics together at a moment in US and global history when Black people are struggling to breathe.

Medieval literary voices

Embodiment, materiality and performance


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