H.C. Andersen’s fairy tale “The Nightingale” has often been approached via its relationship to German Romanticism, and certainly Andersen’s tale bears an obvious relationship to the Romanticism of his contemporaries. The central tensions that structure the narrative are those of Romanticism itself: nature vs. civilization, real vs. copy, truth vs. falsehood, and the list might be multiplied. What has not been dealt with substantively is Andersen’s interest in the audible as the medium through which the ineffable is conveyed or transmitted. This too, of course, is rooted in a Romantic interest in the medium of music. In my paper, I would like to explore the figure of the singing nightingale, however, as not just a seemingly naive Romantic trope, extolling the power of music and its capacity to convey truth. Rather, I would like to abstract Andersen’s figure to the notion of voice, and see Andersen’s tale as not just exploring music as a medium of communication or even as aesthetic experience, but as bound up in the voice as psychoanalytic object. Using Mladen Dolar’s exploration of the voice as Lacanian object cause, I intend to look at Andersen’s fairy tale as vested in the complexity of signifying practices of the voice situated as it is at the intersection of language and the body. In its “inbetweeness,” the voice becomes an uncanny experience, and thus one capable of disrupting, on the one hand, the desire for unambiguous presence but one that also, on the other hand, does not signify only lack or void. Andersen’s tale then, far from simply recouping the notion of the ineffable, presents us with both its possibility and its impossibility.
Submit an update or correction to this abstract.