Listening, hearing, is intrinsically linked to the ear, just as watching, seeing, is linked to the eye (the I). The culture of the West is based predominantly on the visual – you might say at the end of all this: I see what he means. You might not. What was that? What was that we just heard”
“Whatever else there is in life, so-called ‘experiences’ – which of us has sufficient earnestness for them? Or sufficient time? Present experience has, I am afraid, always found us ‘absent-minded’: we cannot give our hearts to it – not even our ears! Rather, as one divinely preoccupied and immersed in himself, into Whose ear the bell has just boomed with all its strength the twelve beats of noon, and who suddenly starts up and asks himself: ‘what really was that which just struck?’ so we sometimes rub our ears AFTERWARD and ask, latterly surprised and disconcerted, ‘what really was that which we have just experienced?, and moreover: ‘who ARE we really?’ and, afterward as aforesaid, count the twelve trembling bell-strokes of our experience, our life, our BEING and alas! miscount them.”
What was that? What was that we just heard?
Sometimes it seems that there is a slight lag between what we hear and our understanding of what we have just heard, that our acknowledgment of a sound only occurs an instant, or a lifetime, after we have actually heard it – we hear a sound, an unusual one or one we have heard all our lives, and suddenly, or- not so suddenly as the case may be, we register its existence, we listen to it, and a moment later we are compelled to ask: what WAS that?
We do not hear or listen to sounds in-themselves, sounds as-such, and this is a function of language, among other things – in order to understand or hold onto the evanescence of a sound, we give it a symbolic or metaphoric name: clock … experience … What are our ears after all but holes in the head? A phrase that has become all but a cliche: we have no earlids … Who said that? What was that we just heard?
There is no silence. It is impossible to hear everything- All around us, constantly, there is sound, experience … albeit sight smell touch taste, but Nietzsche chose sound as his metaphor. Why sound? Sound … experience … Let’s say we’re walking along a beach, we can see the town hall clock, DER RATHAUS UHR – a quarter to twelve… we meander along, thinking of this and that not much very little nothing at all, jellyfish … and then for some reason the sound of the waves breaks into our thoughts. Our absent-minded ears. The waves and their sounds have been there all the time, of course, but we weren’t listening, they may as well not have existed … but then we perceive the sounds, we become aware of them, for whatever reason they have become a part of our consciousness, our experience… a moment of hearing, listening, “auditive marking” if you like, the sounds are rescued INTO time, “pulled up onto the shore into dry conceptual daylight”, as someone once said … there is no silence … it is impossible to hear everything … what really was that which we have just experienced Who ARE we really?
We hear a shout, it sounds like someone calling our name. We turn around, but it is a stranger with their- back to us, waving at someone else … Like sound, our experience of life is intangible, impermanent, abstract and often mistaken … profuse, manifold … A brief word from Spinoza via Deleuze: “As conscious beings, we never apprehend anything but the EFFECTS of composition and decomposition we are in a condition such that we only take in ‘what happens’ to our body, ‘what happens’ to our mind, the effect of a body on our body, the effect of an idea on our idea … The conditions under which we know things and are conscious of ourselves condemn us TO HAVE ONLY INADEQUATE IDEAS, ideas that are confused and mutilated, effects seperated from their real causes …” And a word from Nietzsche himself: “Everything that enters consciousness as ‘unity’ is already tremendously complex: we always have only a semblance of unity.”
There is no silence … it is impossible to hear everything … Jacques Derrida has this to say about the ear,: “Uncanny is the ear: what it is double; what it can become — large or small; what it can make or let happen – and we can say ‘let’ since the ear is the most obliging, the most open organ, as Freud points out, the only one the infant cannot close …” we have no earlids … How is it we could describe the ear as “double”? Perhaps because the ear hears both our own voice – the twelve trembling bell-strokes of our experience, our life, our BEING and the voices of the so-called “other”,. the waves on the beach, a casual case of mistaken identity the subject/object “you” listening to the concealed and enunciated “I”, or the sort of schizo/phonia that takes place when anyone listens back to a recording of their own voice
Or perhaps the ear is double because it plays its part in the kinesthetics of active and reactive/passive forces Church and State, ear and mouth In the beginning was the word, and the word, it would seem, was RESSENTIMENT ear and mouth, mouth and ear …
Nietzsche calls the State the coldest of all cold monsters, and lies such as “I, the State, am the people” and “On earth there is nothing greater than I: the ordering finger of God am I” – such lies crawl out of the mouth of the State and into our ears the dog at the phonograph, listening to His Master’s Voice …
“And when I came out of my solitude and crossed over this bridge for the first time I did not trust my eyes and looked and looked again, and said at last, “An ear! An eat, as big as a man!” I looked still more closely – and indeed, underneath the ear something was moving, something pitifully small and wretched and slender. And, no doubt of it, the tremendous ear was attached to a small, thin stalk – but this stalk was a human being! If one used a magnifying glass one could even recognise a tiny envious face; also, that a bloated little soul was dangling from the stalk. The people, however, told me that this great ear was not only a human being, but a great one, a genius. But I never believed the people when they spoke of great men; and I maintained my belief that it was an inverse cripple who had too little of everything and too much of one thing.”
The ear would seem a perfect receiver for the voice issuing from the mouth of Church and State, for spoken messages regarding morality and whisperous forgetting … we have no earlids But what sort of force, active or reactive, is producing this meaning for the ear? it doesn’t do to merely refuse to listen – that would seem to be the course of RESSENTIMENT – and after all, it is the ear that often alerts us to experience, even if we are not always sure what that experience is or what to do with it. What we need is an actively forgetting ear to counteract the memory required Of us by the voices of Church and State … what was that we just heard? There is no silence it is impossible to hear everything …
The student, the professor, believe themselves deaf to the voice of the State, safe behind the soundproof walls of the academy. But an umbilicus, a transmission line, which for Derrida resembles an ear, a mouth, a writing implement, links the student securely to the rumbling belly of the State. There is a polemic of Nietzsche’s that centres the supposedly autonomous ear of the student and the supposedly innocent mouth of the professor firmly within the supposedly disinterested body of the State-. his elderly Philosopher of Midnight comments ironically: “When a foreigner wants to understand our university system, he first asks earnestly: ‘how is the student connected with the university?’. We answer: ‘By the ear, as a listener.’ The foreigner is taken aback: ‘Only by the ear’?’ he reapeats. ‘Only by the ear-,’ we again reply. The student listens … Quite often, the student writes as he listens; and it is only in these rare moments that he dangles by the umbilical cord of the university … He himself may choose what he is to listen to; he is not bound to believe what he hears; he may close his ears if he does not care to listen . . . ” ear, and mouth, mouth and eat, . . .
The ear can be passive, receptive it can be active, alert and critical of sounds and experiences active forgetting. We do not want to allow ourselves to become dwarfed by the ear,, to become one of Nietzsche’s inverse cripples indeed, Nietzsche exhorts us to question his own works and values, the works and values of others, the works and values of ourselves we also have to question the how and why of our own questioning it is not always easy to draw a conclusion. “Common usage, everyday thought, is precisely noncritical thought, which entails the very neutralization of interpretation: this is thought which succumbs to the will of the group”, as someone once said. And as Nietzsche himself once said-. “‘The ear, the organ of fear, could have evolved as greatly as it has only in the night and twilight of obscure caves and woods, in accordance with the mode of life of the age of timidity, that is to say, the longest human age there has ever been: in bright daylight the ear is less necessary” … we do not yet live in Nietzsche’s bright daylight …
“As for the rest of life – so–called “experience” – who among us is serious enough for, that? Or, has time enough? When it comes to such matters, our heart is simply not in it – we don’t even lend our ear. Rather, as a man divinely abstracted and self-absorbed into whose ears the bell has just drummed the twelve strokes of noon will suddenly awake with a start and ask himself what hour has actually struck, we sometimes rub our ears after the event and ask ourselves, astonished and at a loss, “What have we really experienced?” – or rather, “Who are we, really?” And we recount the twelve tremulous strokes of out- experience, our life, our being, but unfortunately count wrong.