Claire Launchbury – Douleurs exquises: Tears, Telephones and Music transgressed in Duras, La Musica deuxième and Cocteau/Poulenc La Voix humaine

The Humanities and Arts Research Centre at Royal Holloway University of London (HARC)

Event Date: Friday 11 June, 2010 – 10am-6pm

The Boardroom, 2 Gower Street, London


Unsettling Scores: A Study Day on French Musico-Poetics from Banville to Duras

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Claire Launchbury (RHUL):

Douleurs exquises: Tears, Telephones and Music transgressed in Duras, La Musica deuxième and Cocteau/Poulenc La Voix humaine

By exploring the thresholds of love and separation, the voice and the gaze, and, indeed, of text and music via the symbolic intrusion of the telephone, this paper assesses the critical, clinical and musical implications of narratives of exquisite, yet profound suffering. In Poulenc’s setting of Cocteau’s play, La Voix humaine (1958), Elle is linked to her former lover in one last phone call. Echoing the truth of her lies, the telephone itself becomes a metonym for the absent lover as her voice is disembodied in the suicidal stranglehold of the telephone wire; pushed to the ultimate limits of her strength by the one diegetic intrusion of music in the opera. Music is then discussed as operating as an exorbitant metaphor for unutterable suffering in Marguerite Duras’s La Musica deuxième (1985), where a couple are reunited three years after their separation for their final divorce hearing. While it is realised, in spite of the interruptions of telephone calls from new lovers, that this end is merely a beginning, the resistance to resolution and the resonance of elliptically unsaid emotion presents a challenge to clinical discourses themselves famously reluctant to engage with music.

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