Sunday, February 04, 2007

What Sound Immediately Reveals

Cavarero quotes Hans Jonas: "what sound immediately reveals is not an object but a dynamic event in the place of an object" (from The Phenomenon of Life, quoted in For More than One Voice, p. 37; I've ordered some books by Hans Jonas with the intention of blogging about him; in the meantime, I'll just look at Cavarero's riff on Jonas.) We hear the barking and not the dog, Cavarero says. Is it true that one does not immediately hear the dog, that the dog can only be inferred? In my mind barking is already semantically +dog. If we didn't hear the dog in the barking, it would not be barking but some (other) kind of noise. Perhaps this example of the barking dog is merely a poor illustration of an idea. "What characterizes sound is not being but becoming," Cavarero says. If that were true, though, it should be evident in the phenomenon of the barking dog.

The larger task here for Cavarero is to critique a metaphysics of presence based on analogy with the visual, a "strange history of the devocalization of the logos" (p. 40).

The entire philosophical lexicon in fact finds its base in the objectivity and presence of things, which is guaranteed by this detached gaze. This starts above all with Plato, who uses the term theoria to mean "the contemplation of real, lasting, immobile things" whose truth lies in being visible, in being ideas. The decisive element is, of course, presence. This presence refers both to the spatial dimension that is typical of the object that lies in front of the onlooker, and to the temporal dimension of a simultaneous "now" that is eternalized by the contemplator. The only reason that hearing does not occupy a more fundamental place in this conceptual structure is that sounds are perceived in succession rather than simultaneously: "sounds exist in a sequence where each 'now' disappears into the past as soon as it happens."

(p. 38)

My neighbor's dog has quit barking. I'm not sure that I've ever seen that particular dog. There are many dogs in the neighborhood. But I know that dog's bark. I don't particularly question the dog's permanence even though I can't hear it at the moment. On what basis do I assign the permanence that belongs to being a dog to the event of a dog's barking? I can't quite believe that the history of metaphysics is misleading me on this point. On the contrary, I'm inclined to believe that we do in fact hear objects, and that these are immediate facts of experience.

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posted by Fido the Yak at 12:05 PM.


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