Voice and Voicelessness
“Abelard and Heloise between Voice and Silence”
In my paper I will discuss the multifaceted notion of voice and silence in the love letters, written as a set of texts in the shape of a dialogue, between Abelard and Heloise. In a more general sense I will raise the issue of the relationship between historicist models of subjectivity and the restrained use of language, silence and voice within twelfth-century rhetorical models.
This relation, between the subject and its voice, has changed in history. We have a notion, from Augustine onwards, that the confessional voice exists as a part of the human condition. The tone of this confessional voice may essentially represent the desire for a self-absorbing account, as there is no explanation of the sustainability concerning the uttering subject grounded in the course of events. I will argue that the effect of the confusion about sustainability of the subject is that we need to think about new categories of the historical voice, no matter what this voice happens to be speaking about – love, events, ethics, or monastic values. By raising a tension between voice and method that is less preoccupied with the correctness or wrongness of arguments and disputations (such as an intellectual error, which might eventually be corrected) and more with a nondiscursive and metaphysical voice, I will discuss that the act of a dynamic reading of historical sources will allow for new approaches in an interdisciplinary understanding of medieval culture. This nondiscursive voice is one that is deeply interested in how silence and the margins of speech inflect the sustainability of models of subjectivity in history. By exploring the notion of ‘voice’ according to the contemporary American philosopher Stanley Cavell, my paper will discuss how the ‘dialogue’ between Abelard and Heloise, mostly read by scholars in a semi-confessional mode, can be linked to the question of whether the split between voice and voicelessness was subjectified, and to what became of the rhetorical figure of le silence d’Héloïse as coined by Peter von Moos in the 1970s. These notions of the ‘silence of Heloise’ followed by a ‘listening to Heloise’ represent the nucleus of the scholarly debate that continues to dominate notions of ‘wrongness’ and ‘correctness’, ‘dominance’ and ‘submission’ in the love letters between Abelard and Heloise up to the present day.