Listening for Noise in Political Thought

By Buchan, Bruce | Cultural Studies Review, December 2012 | Go to article overview

Listening for Noise in Political Thought


Buchan, Bruce, Cultural Studies Review


...the most noble and profitable invention of all other, was that of SPEECH ... whereby men register their Thoughts; recall them when they are past; and also declare them one to another for mutual utility and conversation; without which, there had been amongst men, neither Commonwealth, nor Society, nor Contract, nor Peace, no more amongst Lyons, Bears, and Wolves.

Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan1

-INTRODUCTION

The association of sound and political philosophy is venerable, but usually only silently invoked in metaphor or analogy, as in Cicero's likening 'concord' among the citizens of the republic to 'harmony in song', or John of Salisbury's image of rulership as 'producing the sweetest consonance of dissonances' by 'stretching or relaxing' the variety of 'strings' in the commonwealth.2 These musical metaphors have at least two important implications for our understanding of how political ideas are communicated in the Western tradition of political thought. First, their antiquity implies that political ideas have frequently been communicated, even in written texts, by means of specific reference to the noise of ideas resonating in music, in speech, or in dialogue. Second, they also imply that the communication of political ideas takes place by means of purposive and meaningful 'sound' (of the orchestrated harmony of music in this analogy) rather than invasive and irritating 'noise' (to stretch the same analogy, in discordant strumming or tuneless chanting). These two implications deserve further investigation if only because political theorists have often been deaf to the ways in which the invocation of noise has been used in written texts to underscore the meaning of political ideas.

A 'widely accepted definition' of noise is that provided in Clay's Handbook of Environmental Health, which asserts that noise is any 'sound which is undesired by the recipient', typically including machinery, traffic or industrial noises.3 Noise is here associated with sonic phenomena that penetrate, that invade and pervade the spaces occupied by subjects who do not wish to hear them, and in being thus subjected, those subjects are rendered 'passive' by noise.4 This negative definition of noise as unwanted sound is challenged by those for whom noise is also a relational phenomenon linking different subjects together in shared spaces and in interactive and often purposive noise generation in speech, in music, or other sonic signs and gestures.5 While noise unites and links, it is also subject to situational variables where architectural or geographic spaces may amplify, modulate or sharpen the pitch, tone or resonance of noise to levels that may be wanted (or just tolerated) by some, unwanted by others. Indeed, the context in which hearing takes place may itself determine when the pleasurable sound of overheard music in an apartment, for example, becomes the punishing sound of interminable music employed as 'standard operating procedure' by military prison interrogators.6 The perception of noise is determined not only by such variables, but also by the mediation and inscription of meaning through language. In other words, the pounding of waves upon a shoreline is not usually heard simply as noise, but as the workings of tides, or as the pounding of surf. This linguistic inscription of meaning operates by means of the formal grammar and syntax of language, and by the variable forms of speech appropriate to particular contexts, whether in the home, classroom, public square, coffee house or on the floor of parliament. In this way, language mediates the individual's sonic experience, imposing, as Nancy would have it, the rationality of 'hearing' on the pure sensation and corporeality of 'listening'.7

Political ideas are typically heard in this sense. The linguistic inscription of meaning mediates between the ideas being communicated and the subjects who hear them. Ideas of liberty, justice or equality, for example, are heard not as noise, but as ideas in the purposive sound of political debate, pedagogic dialogue or the stump speeches of campaigners. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Listening for Noise in Political Thought
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.