Notes for Steven Connor “The Modern Auditory I”

(203) The epistemized self which takes itself as an object of self-knowledge also constitutes itself in terms of the epistemological regime of the eye which has become increasingly dominant in the West since the Renaissance.

(205) The advent of the telephone seemed to promise a regime of the auditory, in which distances and separations were collapsed in an uncannily intimate proximity. Early commentators on the telephone were fascinated, not so much by its capacity to convey messages and information as by its faithful preservation of the individuating tones and accidents of speech and even the non-verbal sounds of the body.

Telephony has been ignored by philosophy despite its potential effect on sense of self.

(206) The telephone offers a quasi-controlled collapse of boundaries, in which the listening self can be pervaded by the vocal body of another while yet remaining at a distance from it.

Plural, permeated space versus atemporal, distanced visual comportment.

(206-207) These small examples point to what is perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of auditory experience, namely its capacity to disintegrate and reconfigure space. . . . Where auditory experience is dominant, we may say, singular, perspectival gives way to plural, permeated space.

Synaesthesia before the fascination with cybernetics.

(207) The electrodynamic principles of the telephone, phonograph and microphone were the scientific equivalents of the principle of synaesthesia, or the correspondence of the different senses, which held such fascination for late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century artistic culture.
(208) Marinetti's claims for the radiomorphic sensibility of La Radia anticipate some of the claims made more recently for the cybernetic sensibility of postmodernism.
(208) The new art of Marinetti is also formed on the model of a new kind of human subjectivity, which is continuously being traversed, dissolved and remade.

(209) Undoubtedly, the world has got vastly noisier since the onset of industrialization. . . . The vulnerability to the alterity of sound – or to sound as the sign of alterity – is a vulnerability to the doubled self of the man-made; man-made sound emanates from 'us', but assails and pervades us from an enigmatically indefinite 'out there'.
(210) the figure of the flaneur reasserts visual distance against perceptual and affective conditions that assail the immunity of the eye.
(211) Unlike fixed hi-fi headphones, the Walkman does not remove its user from his or her environment; rather, its portability deepens the experience of the body as it moves through an urban scene transformed by the cadences and colorations of the inner sound-track. . . . Like Ruttmann's sound film,
the Walkman auditizes the urban.

(212) All of these effects are interpreted and amplified by that steadily deepening suspicion of the eye in philosophy and social theory in the twentieth century which Martin Jay has described as '
(213) Rick Altman remarks aptly that 'fundamental to the cinema experience is a process – which we might call the
sound hermeneuticwhereby the sound asks where? And the image responds here!'
(213-214) How can the modern psyche be said to be organized around an otology which is so regularly defined as the deficit of ontology? . . . Anzieu suggests that chief among a number of imaginary containing volumes parallel to the skin-ego is the experience of a 'sonorous envelope', or bath of sounds, especially those of the mother's voice, that surrounds the infant, soothing, supporting and stabilizing it. This imaginary envelope is the auditory equivalent of Lacan's mirror-stage, in that it gives the child a unity from the outside.

Psychoanalysis gives some explanations for role of auditory despite its lack of ontology.

(214) All these conditions are summed up, says Lecourt, in its quality of 'omnipresent simultaneity'.

Sound reproduction technologies had to arrive before noise could be colonized, whereas image reproduction technologies existed long before.

(215) This analysis coheres well with Jacques Attali's explication o the larger cultural process whereby noise is captured, socially ordered and then, as music, used to order social life. . . . Attali suggests that the most important factor in the move from noise to music, which he sees in Adornian fashion as an important part of the coming of the wholly administered society, is the development of technologies for reproduction.
(216) But Attali's analysis of the remorseless colonization of noise by formalized music is insufficiently attentive to the intertwining of auditory rapture and acoustic capture at the levels both of psyche and society. The two alternatives are dramatized in the contrast between the telephone and the phonograph, in their respectively diffusive and reproductive capacities.

Telephone and phonograph perform two different operations that seem masculine and feminine according to Attali.

(217-219) One can see a psychocultural response to this kind of threat in the attempt to separate out the two techno-acoustic aspects represented by the telephone and the phonograph, distinguishing the active and excursive self-augmentation of the voice from the deathly passivity of its mechanical replication; these two aspects are strongly gendered as masculine and feminine respectively. . . . This opposition between the fantasy of androtelephonic as opposed to gynophonographic sound is found in different forms throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. . . . In running together a history of the coming of sound to the cinema with a narrative about the technical manufacture of a female voice, a file like Singin' in the Rain establishes the close relation between gender and technology in the production of the voice.


Emphasis on participation, process, and embodiment; compare to conclusion of Keller and Grontokowski.

(219) Certainly, the idea of the auditory self provides a way of positing and beginning to experience a subjectivity organized around the principles of openness, responsiveness and acknowledgement of the world rather than violent alienation from it. The auditory self discovers itself in the midst of the world and the manner of its inherence in it, not least because the act of hearing seems to take place in and through the body. The auditory self is an attentive rather than an investigatory self, which takes part in the world rather than taking aim at it. For this reason, the auditory self has been an important part of phenomenology's attempt to redescribe subjectivity in terms of its embodiedness.

Acoustic experience fits postmodern subject and remains open to raptuorous exorbitance.

(219-220) But I have further suggested that acoustic experience is also experienced as a principle of rapturous exorbitance, as what goes beyond, or may not be encompassed in the regimes of sight and demonstrability. . . . As such, the notion of the auditory self prepares the way for many of the claims for the disintegrated, libidinized, pulsive self argued for by Lyotard, Kristeva, Barthes and others. But we have seen that the auditory is also an insufficiency, in that the auditory always leads to, or requires completion by the other senses.
(220) In my view, by contrast, the utopian potential of the acoustic lies in its intensified mimicry of the process of exchange itself, now the mark not of seriality and the subordination of commodities to the single abstract equivalence of the money-form, but the anticipation in the interior and exterior reorganization of the senses of a more polymorphous transformation of value.
(220-221) So, bizarrely, the most far-reaching effects of the return of the acoustic may be in the transformations it has allowed in visual concepts and ways of feeling. To give only one example: the development among geographers and social theorists of new concepts of produced or social space, especially overlaid, multiple spaces of city experience, in opposition to the flat rationality of Cartesian cartography, seems to employ the resources of the ear to give density and dimension to its accounts of social space.

Virtual reality as fulfillment of synaesthesia dreams, musical Socrates, possibility of remediating linear, visual texts in experimental auditory fields.

(221) Where early modern technologies extended and amplified the powers of ear and eye, contemporary technologies offer the prospect of sensory recombination and transformation as well. The digitization and consequent universal convertibility of information may make the synaesthesias dreamt of by the late nineteenth and early centuries a common actuality, creating new aggregations of the visual, auditory, haptic and olfactory senses.
(221-222) We might expect a modern self to understand itself as what Chion calls an
acousmetre, which he defines in cinematic terms as an acoustic agency whose position with respect to the screen is undecidable, in that it is present and audible and effective within the visible scene, but is not seen to speak.
(222) To begin to experience
oneself as an acousmetric phenomenon could be either anguish or enlargement, or both. Such experiences are forecast in some of the works of late modernism, which begins to explore the consequences of the eye's diminished privilege. One example might be Joyce's Finnegans Wake (1939), whose punning, overloaded 'soundspeech' multiplies the collisions and coalescences of eye and ear and, particularly in Book III, Chapter 3, anticipates the switchboard effect of the modern auditory-technological imagination. . . . It is not merely, a Joyce and his readers have sometimes claimed, that the book has a kind of acoustic rather than semantic intelligibility; it is that the force of sound is made so pervasive as to interfere with the processes of visualization that are otherwise to the fore in reading.

Examples in literature of the acoustic usurping vision dominant epistemological position.

(223) Read from the perspective of the still incipient future of the displaced eye, The Unnamable seems like a kind of premonition of what it might be like, not only to suffer, but also to have found a means of subsistence and self-invention in the condition of ontological insufficiency consequent upon the demotion of the eye and the values associated with it.

Connor, Steven. “The Modern Auditory I.” Rewriting the Self:Histories from the Renaissance to the Present. Ed. Roy Porter. New York: Routledge. 1997. 203-223. Print.