Notes for Roland Barthes “Listening”

(245) Hearing is a physiological phenomenon; listening is a psychological act.

The three types of listening; relate to Suchman situated actions and difficulty of AI theorists with natural language.

(246-247) This first listening might be called an alert. The second is a deciphering; what the ear tries to intercept are certain signs. Here, no doubt, begins the human: I listen the way I read, i.e., according to certain codes. Finally, the third listening, whose approach is entirely modern (which does not mean it supplants the other two), does not aim at – or await – certain determined, classified signs: not what is said or emitted, but who speaks, who emits: such listening is supposed to develop in an inter-subjective space where “I am listening” also means “listen to me”; what it seizes upon – in order to transform and restore to the endless interplay of transference – is a general “signifying” no longer conceivable without the determination of the unconscious.

(247) It is against the auditive background that
listening occurs, as if it were the exercise of a function of intelligence, i.e., of selection. . . . And indeed there is an audio-pollution which everyone, from hippie to pensioner, feels (through certain myths of nature) is deleterious to the living being's very intelligence, which is, stricto sensu, its power of communicating effectively with its Umwelt: pollution prevents listening.
(247) the raw material of listening is the index, because it either reveals danger or promises the satisfaction of need.
(249) By rhythm, too, listening ceases to be a purely supervisory activity and becomes creation.
(249) Listening is henceforth linked (in a thousand varied, indirect forms) to a hermeneutics: to listen is to adopt an attitude of decoding what is obscure, blurred, or mute, in order to make available to consciousness the “underside” of meaning (what is experienced, postulated, intentionalized as hidden). The communication implied by this second listening is religious: it
ligatures the listening subject to the hidden world of the gods, who, as everyone knows, speak a language of which only a few enigmatic fragments reach men, though it is vital – cruelly enough – for them to understand this language.
(250) What is it that listening, then, seeks to decipher? Essentially, it would appear, two things: the future (insofar as it belongs to the gods) or transgression (insofar is transgression is engendered by God's gaze).

Religious listening ligatures, seeking to decipher the future or transgression by taking soundings; for third type of listening, Foucault-like archaeology of interiority joins phenomenology of listening.

(250) But, also, listening is taking soundings. As soon as religion is internalized, what is plumbed by listening is intimacy, the heart's secret: Sin. A history and a phenomenology of interiority (which we perhaps lack) should here join a history and a phenomenology of listening.

Need psychoanalytic listening at point that listening has creative, interpellating function in encounter; the telephone invites new kind of subjectivity.

(251-252) The injunction to listen is the total interpellation of one subject by another: it places above everything else the quasi-physical contact of these subjects (by voice and ear): it creates transference: “listen to memeans touch me, know that I exist. . . . the order of listening which any telephonic communication inaugurates invites the Other to collect his whole body in his voice and announces that I am collecting all of myself in my ear. . . . listening speaks, one might say: it is at this (either historical or structural) stage that psychoanalytic listening intervenes.


Could we form our theory without a validating excursion into psychoanalysis?

(252-253) “The analyst must bend his own unconscious,” Freud writes, “like a receptive organ toward the emerging unconscious of the patient, must be as the receiver of the telephone to the disc. . . . It is, in effect, from unconscious to unconscious that psychoanalytic listening functions, from a speaking unconscious to another which is presumed to hear. . . . It will be seen, therefore, that the principle of evenly distributed attention is the necessary corollary to the demand on the patient to communicate everything that occurs to him without criticism or selection.
(253) An ideal rule, by which is is difficult if not impossible to abide. Freud himself derogates from it.
(254) What is thus designated as a major element offering itself to the psychoanalyst's listening is a term, a word, a group of letters referring to body movement: a signifier.
(256) The psychoanalyst, attempt to grasp the signifiers, learns to “speak” the language which is his patient's unconscious, just as the child, plunged into the bath of language, grasps the sounds, the syllables, the consonances, the words, and learns to speak. Listening is this means of trapping signifiers by which the
infans becomes a speaking being.

New listening is concerned with images, signifiers.

(256-257) The psychoanalytic relation is effected between two subjects. The recognition of the other's desire can therefore not be established in neutrality, kindliness, or liberality: to recognize this desire implies that one enters it, ultimately finding oneself there. . . . in writing them as such (the strictly medical observations are not written in narrative form), Freud did not act by chance, but according to the very theory of the new listening: it has concerned itself with images.

(258) For psychoanalysis – at least in its recent development, which takes it as far from a simple hermeneutics as from the location of an original trauma, a facile substitute for Sin – modifies whatever notion we can have of listening.
(258) today it is granted the power (and virtually the function) of playing over unknown spaces.

(258-259) In the second place, the roles implied by the act of listening no longer have the same fixity as in the past. . . . we must repeat, listening speaks.

Is Barthes listening to the shimmering signifiers like Chion reduced listening; Turkle and Hayles also employ shimmering signifiers to speak about electronic media.

(259-260) In the third place, what is listened to here and there (chiefly in the field of art, whose function is often utopian) is not the advent of a signified, object of a recognition or of a deciphering, but the very dispersion, the shimmering of signifiers, ceaselessly restored to a listening which ceaselessly produces new ones from them without ever arresting their meaning: this phenomenon of shimmering is called signifying [signifiance], as distinct from signification: “listening” to a piece of classical music, the listener is called upon to “decipher” this piece . . . but “listening” to a composition (taking the word here in its etymological sense) by John Cage, it is each sound one after the next that I listen to, not in its syntagmatic extension, but in its raw as as though vertical signifying: by deconstructing itself, listening is externalized, it compels the subject to renounce his “inwardness.” This is valid, mutatis mutandix, for many other forms of contemporary art, from “painting” to the “text”; and this, of course, does not proceed without some laceration; for no law can oblige the subject to take his pleasure where he does not want to go (whatever the reasons might be for his resistance), no law is in a position to constrain our listening: freedom of listening is as necessary as freedom of speech. That is why this apparently modest notion (listening does not figure in the encyclopedias of the past, it belongs to no acknowledged discipline) is finally like a little theater on whose stage those two modern deities, one bad and one good, confront each other: power and desire.

Barthes, Roland. “Listening.” The Responsibility of Forms. Ed. Richard Howard. CA: University of California Press, 1985. Print.