Is anyone still listening? Does anyone still perceive all this? Or, to put it another way: Can there still be anything like a ‘deeper’ listening into the matters that surround us – in view of a social-medial, incessantly intensifying swarm of discourse with overlapping messages of what is already well known?
The crisis mode in which our (Western) societies have found themselves for some time now does not necessarily make it easier to ‘listen’. On the contrary, the alarmism and (civilian) exceptionalism that currently dominate social and political events virtually prevent us from responding to, or being open to anything other than preconceived opinions. In this context, listening becomes an almost impossible task: a race against algorithmically solidifying walls of a perpetual murmuring, from which a more complex understanding, no matter what, can hardly be wrested.
Phenomenologically, hearing is a tricky business: On the one hand, one cannot deliberately close one’s ears; on the other, a more profound listening – a kind of “deep listening” – is also subject to physiological limits. Not every frequency, every nuance, every subtext is immediately accessible to the ear. Between being able to ‘listen away’ and having to ‘listen up’, especially when the incomprehensible happens, there is a significant vagueness of adequate reception modes, for whose critical shaping the right means must first be found. The universally available ‘smart’ technologies are of little help here, even if they pretend to open our senses to the whole world and everything beyond it. What remains to be feared is that more in-depth modes of perception will find less and less anchorage in the subjective or individual precisely because of their increasingly technological formatting.
Forms of perception are distributed institutionally in different ways and weighted differently depending on the field. In the world of art, the primacy of vision or ‘the visual’ has long been an unquestioned basic assumption. It is true that there has been repeated criticism of so-called ‘ocularcentrism’ or, more generally, of the construction of our view of the world according to optical coordinates. But this questioning has never really been pursued consistently, especially beyond the narrower context of visual art. Rarely, too, has there been any attempt to shift the kind of receptivity that inevitably underlies any understanding of art and culture to a sensory basis other than that of vision.
All this is reason enough to ask about the conditions, indeed the necessity, of an ‘art of listening’. After all, it is evident in many contemporary conflict zones that people are simply no longer listening. Social and political disputes have become a prime example of particularistic or sectarian bossiness. The networked subject, despite all its supposed openness to the world through social media, is predominantly trapped in the echo of its own voice. And the diversity propagated in many fields of culture experiences is put to the test when it comes to actually listening to ‘the other’. If one wanted to establish a community of the heterogeneous, one would first have to try to hear – to perceive – the voices and other manifestations of the foreign and non-identical. Without knowing from the outset what the other can, wants to, must or should do.
Listening, or learning to listen, as a complex, community-building practice: the articles in this issue explore this experimental scenario, from considerations of perception theory and media to the big question which possibilities of understanding (not to say agreement) might be identified in the global confusion of voices. The thematic part is framed by discussions of two particularly acute contemporary theaters of violence. At the beginning, in a montage of conversations compiled by Hannah Jacobi, we hear how the current events in Iran are commented on from the point of view – and the listening range – of five selected cultural figures. Keti Chukhrov’s concluding contribution, in which the decisive phases of the Putinist takeover are recapitulated with regard to the Russian artistic and cultural gears, also attempts to further a kind of ‘remote perception’ through the voices of those affected by war and violence.
Embedded in-between are essays and interviews dedicated to an emancipatory theory of listening. In this regard, musicologist Nina Sun Eidsheim asserts a collective moment that compares listening cultures to the structures of trees and subterranean fungal networks. Cord Riechelmann has made it his task to listen into diverse animal worlds in order to derive corrective measures for our philosophical view of the world from there, as he explains in conversation with Pascal Jurt. The essays by Marcus Boon and Salomé Voegelin attempt to think of vibration and sound differently from our conventional understanding of music and acoustics: both understand sound as a kind of portal to expanded, multisensory spaces of experience. Finally, Ricarda Denzer’s image-text montage assembles building blocks of such a potentially ‘freer’ perceptual space in a polyphonic way.
All of this continues to be overshadowed by the horrendous events less than 1,000 kilometers from where this magazine is edited. “The war is no longer declared, but continued. The unheard has become commonplace,” wrote Ingeborg Bachmann 70 years ago in her poem “Alle Tage”. Tracing this ‘unheard’ in all its complexity and ambiguity represents a major motif of critical contemporary analysis. With this issue, we hope to make it a little more tangible.