the Massive Archive (“I have forgotten my umbrella” & tweeted about it)

I have argued elsewhere against the futility of the Infinite Archive – as expressed through various projects, many of them by google (like the desire to scan and digitize every book ever). But the futility of the Infinite Archive is built into the dream: its being is its perpetually unfinished becoming. The problem is thus not with the Infinite Archive (that at least can be thought and conceived. The problem, rather is with the Massive Archive.

Human beings can think infinity. We can grasp the concept. Sure there are vagaries that escape some and nuances that escape others. We are not all mathemagicians. But the infinitesimal and the massively massive are much more difficult entering into impossible. There are not infinite grains of sand on a beach. Planck length can be grasped mathematically but conceptually? As numbers approach the massively huge and minusculely small, we humans lose the ability to fully grasp their meaning.

Why does this matter? How does this relate to the archival project? Consider, if you will, the process of collecting the libraries, works, letters, files, papers, and documents of the notable. Various libraries and universities pride themselves on the collections that they possess and the research potential of those archives can, indeed, be tremendous. But what will happen to the collected papers of a contemporary figure? For some, it may be little different. But what about those who maintain a significant digital and social media presence? Who conduct research, writing, & public speech, etc. through those various platforms and the platforms to come? Will their archives necessarily include their Twitter feeds? What about deleted tweets? Saved but unpublished blog post drafts? The value of these archives is that they often include personal documents but how will we decide which private messages and private feeds are to be archived? How many of the endless stream of digital photos saved in ever cheaper digital storage? What part of our search histories (even the ones on incognito?)? Ironic and/or informative hashtags? Location data? What portion of the cloud? Will the NSA contribute what they have gathered?

The personal archive of a contemporary individual is not infinite. But the process of archiving a digital life in order that it might be useful and meaningful for later generations is going to involve a whole new form of culling and curation. Because surely keeping everything would make the archive unwieldy, spoiled for riches and thus starving because of its own excess. How can Nietzsche’s laundry lists compare to Istagramming our meals? But who decides what is archived and what is left to the digital landfill? Who decides which fragments and feeds might be relevant in a century or two? And what would that deciding look like?

There remains hope that the metadata of the future might resolve this issue down the line (for those down the line) but since the process of attaching appropriate metadata to current archiving and digitization projects is so complex and time-consuming at present, one wonders if that will provide much help to the present. One can conceive of a search capable of “finding what we are looking for” but is there a practical way of implementing such a vision? Keywords and tags are useful but certainly flawed.

Perhaps the solution lies in curation, perhaps in improved metadata, maybe in some really cool thing that I don’t even know about, but the issue of the Massive Archive remains and remains to be solved. And now, this.

plague, superbugs, & the sixth extinction

The other day I saw a headline about a septicemic plague fatality and that started this process. Yesterday, this phrase “(To discredit, promote distrust, disuade, deter, delay or disrupt)” jumped out at me from an article on The Intercept and I began reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction. This morning I was reminded that a bit of garlic, some onion or leek, copper, wine and oxgall can kill MRSA and gator blood is even more potent. I started watching The Last Ship. From these disparate points, I began a thought trail that led to this:

[This will be an exercise in hyperstition, heuretics, and thoryvological associative analysis. The following is not meant to be true but æffective, not inherently factual nor necessarily faithful to the original context/intent. The quotes are kept intact and in, for the most part, complete sentences but they are robbed of their originary order and context and juxtaposed in disparate dissonance and harmony with intent bound by the above impulses and ideas, marked by the passing of this the 23rd day of the month. It is not a question of what it means but what it can do.] 

 

 

 

***

This is a textual machine designed to produce other machines. What mattered here wasn’t the author(s) or the means of textual production at all, but rather the circulation and the effects of the text in the world. This is, of course, a demand for complicity. I insist on your freedom. Your tormentors will be purified.

There were things in the text I hadn’t been expecting. Uncomfortable, complicating passages. The distortion of a text is not unlike a murder. The difficulty lies not in the execution of the deed but in the doing away with the traces. The thing is easily false. But the meaning, to this day, still escapes us. This is the lesson you forgot.

Of course, words fail.

***

I love you because there’s nothing else to do. A rage to live, an urge to goodness. Love.

The utterance threw them into confusion or rather angered them further, which often comes to the same thing. Who were these people who could live so placidly while the world fell into an acute global environmental crisis? In our era of natural disasters, climate change, global pandemics, and the ongoing specter of bioterror, we are continually invited to think about humanity in relation to its real, hypothetical, or speculative extinction. Yet to go back is to go forward into uncertainty and invention.

I think there’s still a small block of original quiet that exists in the world. Theory in itself did not free people to reach into a deeper area of sound. Noise also functions in the cybernetic sense, as a result of its viral functioning in the world.

On the universal face of the world, the grand old Pan, the son of all the dead, is dead. The previous habitation of space is a trace that may then go on to constitute it in the future, in its absence. No longer is there a here or appropriation; we live as transients or tenants, deprived of a fixed abode. There is no more space, no more history, no more time. In the end the black river would burst its banks to become a black sea whose centre was everywhere and circumference nowhere.

***

There is no stillness, only change. A movement unlocked my attention. It was a derelict. A relic of something nine-tenths collapsed. Nothing decays either, moreover; nothing truly perishes. In this case, chance as nonsense is visible in the very insignificance of its result. In neither case would one be left with anything except a radically dysfunctional wreck, terminally shut-down hardware.

***

There is nothing, and it cannot be known. Either I do not know the world, or I do not know myself. Nothing alive is ever quite in balance.

I know there is no boatman. It was incomprehensible to her: they didn’t want to know. By necessity there are other characteristics that are not accounted for, that are not measured, and that remain hidden and occulted. The shipwreck will preclude the apocalypse.

***

Without noise, all we do is repeat. The repetition of noise intoxicates as much as violence. Deep thick silence thundered from behind the closed door. And what he finds there is a terrifying abyss, where there is neither certitude nor knowledge, nor even a single thought – just a tenebrous, impassive silence. There was complete silence, intermittently broken by the faintest electronic sounds – something between a distant computer game and muffled speech software. It was like there was this hole in the quiet. Every living creature, animal and human both, was terrified by this cacophony.

***

Following the shaman into the cave. We’ve never lost any of that. We are swept on by a whirlwind which dates back to the dawn of time; and if this whirlwind has assumed the aspect of an order, it is only the better to do away with us. The world was spun out of a blade of grass: the world was spun out of a mind. Except never to see or feel that black river that cannot be crossed, but flows like a nothingness through the hole of you. Chaos? Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, chaos is being yourself. The seduction of the arbitrary alarms us. Thought that stumbles over itself, at the edge of an abyss. It is a kind of mysticism that can only be expressed in the dust of this planet. After having sought to be a sage such as never was, I am only a madman among the mad.

***

While looking for the light, you may suddenly be devoured by the darkness and find the true light. Our luminescent, naked bodies dissolve into a swarm of obscure creeping things, and we are a mass of glutinous coiling worms, endless. How we would conduct ourselves if dragged to its depths, where eternal darkness is punctured only by its bioluminescence, remains to be seen. We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity. Something strange slowly washed over and enveloped me like the black ink of an octopus, as I stood there in the stand, and I felt above all like screaming out the story of my experience, such as they were. The man who has never imagined his own annihilation, who has not anticipated recourse to the rope, the bullet, poison, or the sea, is a degraded galley slave or a worm crawling upon cosmic carrion. For now, at least, it is only with its help that we can hope to orient ourselves in the darkness of the abyss.

 

***

Once again he felt that he had crossed over into a space where the real world had taken on all the qualities of a dream, becoming as glossy and surreal, as unlikely and beautiful, as stuffed to a dark sheen with ungraspable meaning. What spell had been cast around me to make my hold on reality feel so tenuous? I didn’t know if the noise had been part of some dream I’d been having or a real, external thing. A world whose margins would become capricious, but this caprice would not refer to any hidden intention. Rather, it involves the generation of memory outside of and apart from any possible experiential event. Dark traces of the past lay in his soul, ready to break through into the regions of consciousness. That interference covers the sense with non-sense by scrambling it and making his words into waste, or by covering it up with other words. It was as if I was in a madness and a frenzy and a depression that older and wiser peoples may once have denominated the descent of a god, which seized me and for which, though I had no control, I am nevertheless to blame.This truth law has no more reality than the world. Roaring dreams take place in a perfectly silent mind. Now that we know this, throw the raft away.

***

Flux is.

***

Do you think the emptiness of the sky will ever crumble away?

***

***

Sources (in the order by which I claimed them):

Kim Stanley Robinson, Forty Signs of Rain

Justin Clemens & Helen Johnson, The Black River

Michel Serres, Malfeasance

Critical Art Ensemble, Marching Plague

Vilém Flusser, Vampyroteuthis Infernalis

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization

E.M. Cioran, A Short History of Decay

Jack Kerouac, The Scripture of the Golden Eternity

Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism

Eugene Thacker, An Ideal for Living

Quentin Meillassoux, Science Fiction and Extro-Science Fiction

Ed Keller, Nicola Masciandaro, Eugene Thacker (eds.), Leper Creativity

Quentin Meillassoux, The Number and the Siren

Joe Morris, Perpetual Frontier

Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

Steven Hall, The Raw Shark Texts

Eugene Thacker, In The Dust of This Planet

Eugene Thacker, Starry Speculative Corpse

Eugene Thacker, Tentacles Longer Than Night

neither an oppressor nor a victim be …

In my previous post, I made some effort to address what I see as a root failing in American educational outlook, in what we, as a society, consider education to be for or what, which is perhaps more pertinent, we use it for in the majority of cases (funneling bodies into jobs). That was the most salient point of the article as I first read it: that students don’t want to be challenged but coddled in the most cursory (and illusory) for of ‘acceptance.’

 

That was not, and is not, what seems to be generating the most controversy around essay. A brief glance would say that the reaction to the post was proof of its contents (there are many that are too quick to be victimized or too quick to be oppressors or both). That is not sufficiently nuanced.

 

The essay itself had a number of troubling points for me. This is why I, initially, focused on what I did leaving the misinformed and inaccurate (but aren’t they always) barbs of ‘nihilism’ alone, leaving the disparaging view of cultural studies alone, not bothering to critique the signature of anonymity, not fully questioning the foolish approach of critiquing Twitter posts for being insufficiently nuanced, etc.

 

Perhaps that is necessary.

 

I am a nihilist. There are many nihilisms, but this one is mine: the universe is indifferent. Welcome to the Infinite Perspective Vortex. When the Abyss gazes back, it gazes not stares because staring is rude and the Abyss isn’t looking at you, you aren’t important as far as the Abyss is concerned (which is isn’t because it isn’t anthropomorphic).

 

There is a reason this note comes first. It removes all appeals to authority.

 

The views on nihilism that the references but does not define (treating it as a universally abhorred bogeyman) are superficial at best. They just upset me.

 

Cultural Studies did not create a world of victims or oppressors. It is necessary, given that culture is all we have a humans, to look at what we use to define ourselves, to critique it and, often, to attempt to change it. Culture is not opposed to Nature. Cultural Studies is not opposed to Science (or science). There is no nature, there is no divide between nature and culture. There is the world and we are embedded. Science is wholly part of culture and they are all manifestations of anthropogenic noise marking our territory in an unimpressed cosmos. Is science biased towards the Patriarchy? Yes. It is part of the culture and paradigm of science as it has developed in the Western World and remains as part of the legacy of science in the world today. Does that invalidate science as a whole? No. And it certainly does not invalidate the scientific method. What it does instead is demand a challenging (look we are back to this) of the assumptions and paradigms of science, its factishes and practices. That would be the point of Science Studies and the philosophy of science. They do good work, I like Stengers and Latour. That a Twitter post was unable to convey the nuance of monographs and journal articles of academic science studies research is so patently obvious that the point should be irrelevant.

 

Then there is the signature of anonymity (pseudonymity). What does it mean to sign with a false signature? What does it mean to sign with a false signature but then quote with a Twitter handle (which are occasionally their own brand of pseudonymous signatures but I do not believe that was the case here). There were accusations of hiding, of cowardice. Is it cowardice to sign falsely? To sign falsely while not allowing others to do the same? If the pseudonymity was out of fear of reprisal did not the author consider the reprisal that the Twitter author would (and did) receive? I will not address questions of the right to quote (with attribution) from Twitter. Quotation without permission is a staple of the free use of copyright necessary for academic freedom (this is the proper MLA format for citing a tweet).

 

Dealing with those issues then brings me to my brief conclusions. There are a recent changes in media and discourse (social media, text messages and their brevity, tv punditry, etc, etc) that have given society over to an increase of seeing life in the binaries of oppressor/victim, us/them, offensive/accepting. There are no binaries save the ones that voltage gates allow in computers, et al, and that is only through an express limiting of analog continuity. Are more people seeing themselves as victims and/or oppressors? It seems like it. But the internet makes everything louder and seemingly more prominent. Is that binary (and the others) a bad thing? Yes. Will pseudonymously complaining about it change much? Doubtful. Especially when that complaining refuses to embrace the comforts of nihilism that demand that we solve our own problems because we are otherwise alone.

 

We are embedded in this world (despite all claims to dominance and separation) and only through embracing that embeddedness, the non-binaristic greyscale, the nihilism, can we cut through the useless blather and banter and come to understand the underlying chaos and un/hyper/differentiated realities of which we are only a small (but significant to ourselves – highly recommended by owner) part.

the genesis of the parasitic pollution (noise in Serres)

Serres begins his work on the parasite with a parable. Perhaps we shall too. A stolen parable, the work and words of another. But a false and fictional other, a man outside of and beyond time. The ever unique Philip J. Fry:

It’s just like the story of the grasshopper and the octopus. All year long, the grasshopper kept burying acorns for the winter, while the octopus mooched off his girlfriend and watched TV. But then the winter came, and the grasshopper died, and the octopus ate all his acorns. And also he got a racecar. Is any of this getting through to you?

Futurama 1×07, “My Three Suns”

What can be said of such a parasite as he speeds off in his racecar?

And with such noise…

 

In the beginning was the noise.

And so we begin. Noise is an important issue for Serres. He crosses boundaries, disciplines, raising questions, questioning methods. And noise runs through it. Like a river. Let’s fly fish.

Noise destroys and noise can produce.

[…]

Silence, a discrete tenant by contrast, is only a momentary lull.

Serres draws the closest to the theorization of noise that I seek. As he transgresses boundaries, writes in parables, and waxes poetic he approaches the essence of the complex composite that is noise.

Noise is a question of wealth and power:

The more wealth a man or a collectivity amasses, the more noise they make, soft but also hard; the louder the noise and the racket, the further their visual and acoustic productions or excrements will spread, the more hard power they have.

or waste”

Now everywhere and all the time we hear sound waste, the rubbish and refuse of engines, ventilators, air conditioning, waste disposal units, reactors, grinders, tuners that saturate the old pugnacious cesspit world of the owners. 

disruption:

The noise temporarily stops the system, makes it oscillate indefinitely.

complexity:

Theorem: noise gives rise to a new system, an order that is more complex than the simple chain.

the relation to chaos:

In the beginning is the noise; the noise never stops. It is our apperception of chaos, our apprehension of disorder, or only link to the scattered distribution of things. 

the background of information:

The noise, the background noise, that incessant hubbub, our signals, our messages, our speech and our words are but a fleeting high surf, over its perpetual swell.

 turbulence:

Noise is a turbulence, it is order and disorder at the same time, order revolving on itself through repetition and redundancy, disorder through chance occurrences, through the drawing of lots at the crossroads, and through the global meandering, unpredictable and crazy. An arborescent and turbulent rumor.

the trace:

Noise, you see, is also the trace of the observer. There is noise in the subject, there is noise in the object. Meddling in the phenomenon, the receiver introduces or produces a certain noise there, his own, for no one can live without noise.

and without contradictory:

Noise has no contradictory. The contradiction of a noise is a noise. The noise has no contrary. The space of a noise has no complementary, no outside. Logic is drowned in the noise. Of the prelogical or the antepredicative I know only the noise. And the fury.

Noise for Serres is an infinitely useful, infinitely mutable concept/construct. It flows, it ripples, it disrupts. It is the parasite, the pollution, the genesis. It is the background of all things, the necessary of relations, the corruption of power and the power of corruption. If not for Serres poetic language (and perhaps some translation barriers) it might be that he suggests some of the answers to the question of noise as such/in itself.  He certainly is able to put the term, the concept, the metaphor to use. So what then of the octopus, his girlfriend, and that racecar?

We must introduce into philosophy the concept of chaos, a mythical concept until this morning, and despised by rationality to the point of being used nowadays only for discourses on madness.

 

quotes from:

Serres, Michel. Genesis. Trans. Geneviève James and James Nielson. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995. Print.

___. Malfeasance: Appropriation Through Pollution?. Trans. Anne-Marie Feenberg-DibonStanford, California: Stanford University Press, 2011. Print.

___. The Parasite. Trans. Lawrence R. Schehr. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007. Print.

without listening.

There is no sound, no noise, no silence, even, without listening.

Paul Hegarty closes his excellent work Noise/Music (a direct heir of Attali) with a chapter headed with the above quote. This is, unfortunately, a stance on sound studies that I cannot agree with. The tree falling in the forest does not need me or any other listening subject to fall. To make the claim that the sound pressure levels or the vibrations created by said fall must be somehow null and void because no actor was on scene to ‘listen’ is beyond what I am willing to claim. There has been (and continues to be) debate in philosophy about correlationalsim (cf. Meillassoux) and about what might exist or fail to exist or fail to be recognized as existing outside of the human subject to think it existence. Noise theory seems to have skirted the edges of much of this theorizing, ignored because noise is, at root, the ignored, the suppressed, the excluded.

But despite Hegarty’s correlationalist stance, much can be made of his work:

What exactly noise is, or what it should do, alters through history, and this means that any account of noise is a history of disruptions and disturbances.

Disruption and disturbance are inherently political terms. They can be used to multiple ends and can, indeed, be ends in themselves.

As well as this disruptive element, noise must also be thought of as constantly failing – failing to stay noise, as it becomes familiar, or acceptable practice.

The failure to stay noise, as well, remains a constant issue in noise theory. Stemming from Attali’s judgments of noise as a moving target as the avant garde that forces the political, noise always fails to be itself. It disrupts until that disruption is normalized, it offends until the offense becomes commonplace, one man’s noise becomes his kid’s music. Certainly the question of annoyance echoes regularly in the failure of noise to stay noise (how long is it annoying, is it still noise so long as one remains annoyed?). But that seems a secondary issue to the role of noise in motion (constant vibration, unable to be pinned down).

But what Hegarty keeps circling back to is the listener. Noise demands a listener. Noise is nothing, noise does not and cannot exist without listening.

First, even in this model, noise needs a listener – probably some sort of animal or a non-organic machine with hearing capacities (both can be classified as ‘hearing machines’), in the vicinity of the noise so that the soundwaves can be heard. The sound then has to be perceived as dangerous to the functioning of the hearing machine. Without these two moments, we might have a sound, but we do not have noise.

If noise is to be defined relationally this quote remains valid. If the human subject is the whole of knowledge, if there is no knowledge or thought beyond the thinking and knowing subject, then clearly this is the whole of knowable noise. But I would venture further. The philosophers of OOO and speculative realism have tread this ground before me (with much better reasoning and citation) so I’ll not go too deep into the theory. But the fact remains that the world exists beyond the capacity of the human subject. Sound withdraws, noise withdraws, those objects that emit or cause to emit sound and noise withdraw. And the human subject itself withdraws. We cannot fully know the object. Nor it us or other objects. But I do not want to make the claim that sound is only noise in relation to an offended subject. That sound itself might not exist as such without a listening subject. Sound pressure waves are things. Noise is a thing. Noise is an object. And it withdraws.

Noise is negative: it is unwanted, other, not something ordered. It is negatively defined – i.e. by what it is not (not acceptable sound, not music, not valid, not a message or a meaning), but it is also a negativity.

Noise is not just volume, but the spread, dissemination and dispersal of its non-message.

All quotes from:

Hegarty, Paul. Noise/Music: A History. New York: Bloomsbury, 2007. Print.

the humor of truth: Isabelle Stengers’ Cosmopolitics I

the power to talk about the world independently of the relationships of knowledge that humans create.

Isabelle Stengers’ Cosmopolitics I has only one review on Amazon that basically amounts to: “this shit is hard.” That a single two-star review might be steering potential readers away from the work is disappointing because, while Stengers is dense, the text is incredibly rewarding.

The question of the relationship between a text on science studies and a stumbling progression towards a Paranoiac Noise Theory may not be obvious from the surface but the links, indeed, are present. Science is a question of knowledge and authority. And thus:

If learning to think is learning to resist a future that presents itself as obvious, plausible, and normal, we cannot do so either by evoking an abstract future, from which everything subject to our disapproval has been swept aside, or by referring to a distant cause that we could and should imagine to be free of any compromise. To resist a likely future in the present is to gamble that the present still provides substance for resistance, that it is populated by practices that remain vital even if non of them has escaped the generalize parasitism that implicates them all.

What is noise but knowledge that is unrecuperated into the system? Knowledge that resists the “obvious, plausible, and normal?” What is paranoia but a means of recuperating noise, of finding significance in that which is defined as insignificant? And thus noise and paranoia gamble on the present just as Stengers suggests.

Let us use our illusion.

Every living being may be approached in terms of the question of the requirements on which no only its survival but also its activity depend, and which define its “milieu.” And every living being brings into existence obligations that qualify what we refer to as its behavior: not all milieus or all behaviors are equal from the point of view of the living; and the difference is especially relevant when we address those obligations we impose on the living in the name of some knowledge we wish to obtain.

The question that Stengers brings up (not knowingly, perhaps) is a question of use and misuse. In directly questioning the move from experimental physics to theoretical physics is opened to the approach of the paranoiac.

There are no neutral narratives.

Can one appropriate her discourse? Rip, remix, and rewrite her questions of knowledge production and authority outside the scope of science and science studies? To take her work and, as a fellow philosophical refugee, use it (amplified through an 8×10 stack) to question other discourses, other authorities, other modes of knowledge production?

Are the means I give myself, the approach to practices in terms of requirements and obligations, appropriate to the problem I want to bring into existent practices, namely, the escape from a generalize polemic that puts every practice in a position of disqualifying and/or in danger of being disqualified?

Because, as she notes:

The true subject of description is now a disorderly multitude.

And conducting that disorderly multitude towards a revolution (articulating Dr. Gonzo’s rising sound) is a question that must remain open, that cannot be closed, that recuperates the remainder even as it (inevitably) excludes, selects, and chooses.

Nevertheless, they are strange poets indeed, for the power they have of asking questions that, by right, should be of interest to all humans, of making discoveries on our behalf, and announcing the truth of the shared world, obviously constitutes on component of their passion.

all quotes from:

Stengers, Isabelle. Cosmopolitics I. Trans. Robert Bononno. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2010. Print.

Helmhotz appears.

Composed while listening to Fishtank Ensemble, Woman in Sin.

A certain delirium: on Noise, Water, Meat

The trouble is that noises are never just sounds and the sounds they mask are never just sounds: they are also ideas of noise.

So begins a series of meetings, approaches, interactions with texts, with noise, paranoia, truth, control, and authority. As I work my way through these texts towards my exams and dissertation, I will be working through associations, links, commonalities, and synchronicities. Noises, one might say, that cannot help but signify (when played loud enough).

Douglas Kahn lays out in his introduction to Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts a definition of sound that is rather broad and encompassing:

By sound I mean sounds, voices, and aurality – all that might fall within or touch on auditive phenomena, whether this involves actual sonic or auditive events or ideas about sound or listening; sounds actually heard or heard in myth, idea, or implication; sounds heard by everyone or imagined by one person alone; or sounds as they fuse with the sensorium as a whole.

This argument has a certain hollow ring to it (if one might be permitted to play with it, or strike it forcefully with a mallet). It seems constructed, as introductions often are, to tie together disparate elements of a text that would not be otherwise unified, to project into the text a clarity that the text itself lacks. To wit, Kahn’s text is long and sprawling. To what end do the questions of water and meat add to the question of noise? To what end are William Burroughs’ writing on the word virus and Artaud’s screams connected to noise? To noise as the suppressed, the outside, the unwanted, the meaningless that maintains meaning? Why are imagined sounds and ideas of sound treated as part of Kahn’s definition when, despite the length of the text, actual sonic events and practices are not fully explored? It is not that the connections are not there or the associations lack meaning and import, but there is a question of focus, of scope. There are limitations, but if one wants to philosophize with an amp@11 one must begin where one can.

Noises haunt. For Douglas Kahn, noises haunt the arts as they are suppressed, sought, elevated, silenced, and imagined. There is, indeed, a spectral reality to noise, a shifting hauntology, an absent presence that once found, once remarked upon signifies and thus fails to be noise after all.

it is only what is made of noise, of the history of noise, that must explain itself in the face of the possibility that there is no such thing as noise.

But what then is noise?

The existence of noise implies a mutable world through an unruly intrusion of an other, an other that attracts difference, heterogeneity, and productive confusion; moreover, it implies a genesis of mutability itself.

But what then is noise?

This repeated question is not meant to diminish Kahn’s work. For he does, indeed, offer several working definitions of noise. It is meant, rather, to highlight that definitions of noise are always working definitions, contextual, situational, limited.

So the definition of noise might be regarded as of far less importance that what can be done with noise, how noise might be used to challenge norms, regimes, power structures (those that would impose a definition and enforce an exclusion).

Thus, the grinding sound of power relations are heard here in the way noises contain the other, in both senses of the word.

Though the rhetoric of emancipation is an easy trap.

Subvert the Norms! Noise for Everyone! Democracy is Noisy! 

The statements are true in the way that slogan are always true and never falsifiable. Can noise be emancipatory? Certainly. Is it inherently? Not in the least (c.f. the LRAD).

Kahn is aware of this and goes to great lengths to point out the subversion of emancipatory rhetoric in one of the Great Saints of Noise: John Cage.

When he hears individual affect or social situation as an exercise in reduction, it is just as easy to hear their complexity. When he hears music everywhere, other phenomena go unheard. When he celebrates noise, he also promulgates noise abatement. When he speaks of silence, he also speaks of silencing.

Noise is a tool. Noise is a metaphor. For Kahn, it is a means of understanding a certain period of avant garde art that he seems particularly taken with (his water and meat metaphors are less developed though still focused on a particular subset of the arts). Kahn does however challenge several sacred cows (making fine steaks), give a detailed (if sprawling) overview of the possibility of noise and silence, and serves as an important introduction to the theory of noises and Noise Theory.

 

 

all quotes from:

Kahn, Douglas. Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2001. Print.

Helmhotz appears.

Composed while listening to KTL, IV.