Sonic Rhetorics as Ethics in Action: Hidden Temporalities of Sound in Language(s)
1. Introduction: A Background of Sound
2. (Re)Introduction to Time in Rhetoric/Rhetoric as Time
- As Einstein postulated, time is a fourth dimension of space; but as String Theory and Quantum Entanglement (Greene 1986; Barad 2007) predict, there may be multiple, perhaps countless dimensions of space, and thus multiple dimensions of time—or no discernible difference between time and space at all. Size-wise, these extra dimensions of space could be the tiniest of pockets, to entire alternate universes, to all universes—a theory the late (Hawking 1988) also entertained.
- In his undefended but not published doctoral dissertation, the poet and philosopher T.S. Eliot (1989) argued that there are a least two dimensions of time: physical time, and temporal consciousness—time as we experience it. However, if these two dimensions are not in sync (and how can we know whether they are or not), the results are temporal crises in the history of empiricism and “objectivity” that parallel and rival the epistemological problems of language/thought and spatial referents which have haunted Western philosophy and science from Heraclitus to Quantum Entanglement (see Kerferd 1981; Barad 2007).
- We do not really know what time is. Unlike space, time is invisible. Like causality (Hume 1999), we only assume its potential, see its (chronological) effects. We do not see the law of causality and have no other experience of it. So too with time: we can’t see how it operates/acts. And unlike space, in which we move in three dimensions, it seems we can only move forward in time. In addition to its physical invisibility, time as a process of expansion toward death has been given a role in 20th century philosophy of ethics, where it becomes the “Event Horizon” for Dasein and a possible realization of fuller (human) being (Heidegger 2010a), or an eternal moral space for the discovery of Alterity—where meeting the Other becomes possible, and thus a primary grounds of a new ethics of relationships (Levinas 1969, 1987, 2000).
- We cannot stand still in time as we can do in space, even if we stand absolutely still in space (even in death we continue to decay, for most organic and inorganic entities until there is nothing left). We move in and through time, and time moves in and through us.
- Time may not only be a dimension; it also appears to be a force, a force that moves, a force that moves everything with it—a tremendously destructive force that slowly ravages everything, both animate and inanimate objects alike. (Hence the urgency we find in Being and Time for the fully cognizant human to recognize his/her own death, embrace it, and to give it and life full meaning.)
- But time also would seem to be a force that opens with space, not only for the otherwise anonymous self to move into aware subjectivity (Levinas 2001), or to move in space to a temporal position that makes possible an encounter with (an)Other (Levinas 1987) and perhaps ultimately—but never—G/d (Levinas 1969, 2000); but also in the physical expansion of the universe a million miles per second in every direction. The action of time as a force, then, is an expression in language (Steiner 2013; cf. Levinas 1981) of metaphysics as well as science—which makes and takes physical as well as ethical movement and consciousness outward and into the future even possible.
- Diane Davis (2010) argues that for Levinas ethical obligation is “preoriginary,” which “temporally” probably would place it before the big bang and before the creation of time and space, making language ‘sacred’ and rhetoric “first philosophy.” For Levinas (1981), this prelinguistic reality, a phenomenological “realm” of being that exists outside time and space “beyond essence” (Levinas 1981), is the ground of Alterity, the first possible “encounter” with (an)Other, and “inessential solidarity” (Davis 2010). A reading of Levinas’ earlier work (e.g., Levinas 1987, 2000, 2001) might imply that subsequently, without time (and space), whatever time is, we might not be able to move, morally or physically at all: we would be frozen in whatever space is, without motion—and if sentient, painfully naked consciousness shivering in a void. (But cf. Levinas 1981.)
- It is in the property of time as a physical force, as a movement ripping open space, opening the universe before us (or as local motions also at-a-distance–“Quantum Entanglement”) where we begin to hear tone, time, sound which (perhaps like ethics for Levinas), seems to arrive out of a primal ‘nothingness’ (Levinas 1981; Zuckerkandl 1956). But if we are looking to material time for a physical counterpart to the nonspatial, atemporal “preoriginary” basis for “inessential solidarity” as the potential ground of ethical relations (Davis 2010), time as a moralizing physical force may serve that role in Heidegger’s concept of Being, but it may not do so for Levinas. “The title and the content of Otherwise than Being or Beyond essence alert us to the priority Levinas gives to his ongoing contestation of Heideggerian thinking. Otherwise then Heideggerian being; beyond Heideggerian essence” (Cohen 1998, p. xiii; cf. Katz and Rhodes 2010). We will return to these issues at the end of the essay.) Regardless, it seems evident that nonlinguistic sonic experiences, from cosmic radiation from the Big Bang to music, whether ethical or not, reaches and affects us through language and the world, which acoustically command and ethically demand that we hear, listen, respond, and attend to sound, if not also to our ethical responsibility to (the) face (of) the Other (cf. Davis 2010). Time as a physical force opens up language and the world through science and poetry (see Heidegger 1971a, 1971b, 2010b, 2014).
3. The Prosody of Time and Ethics
“What the hell’s happening out there in space?Believe me, there’s no man-made climate change!My people tell me it’s a big disgrace!”
“Mar’s next—best people—I don’t care race.A Space Force will also be tremendous.So what the hell is happening in space?”
“They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime—that face!We have no borders; they’re laughing at us!Many say it’s a terrible disgrace.”
“The Putin witch hunt is a huge mistake.If you’re listening, let’s be friends, Russia.(But what the hell is going on in space?)”
“The news is all made up, totally fake!There’s no obstruction, no collusion, no quid pro quo.It’s a hoax, witch hunt, disaster, disgrace!”
“No puppet, no puppet: I will invade,any sh’ holes with oil if they don’t have white folks.Just look what’s happening in outer space.”
“I’m like a genius—a very high IQ—smarter than, than my generals!Who knew it would be so complex?Fine people on both sides: it’s a disgrace.”
“I’m shutting down the government, closing the border, will separatefamilies to prevent more American carnage.And also what happens in outer space.”
“We need to build that wall; but who will pay?Mexico!! Our nation’s being overrun by savages!It’s a sin, what’s happening, a disgrace.”
“I read somewhere, and I’ll say it again:Wouldn’t it be great if Putin were our friend?Then what the hell is happening in space?Whatever. It’s a total disgrace.”
- The villanelle reveals things that would not be revealed in prose or any other poetic form.
- The villanelle’s overall form, the repetition of refrains and lines, the restricted rhyme scheme, and the usually tight syllabic line lengths (10 syllables) or meter (iambic pentameter) are all temporal elements that do sonic and rhetorical work.
- Because of the constantly recurring lines (the first line of the first tercet reappears as the end line of stanzas 1, 3, and 5, and the penultimate line of the quatrain; the last line of the first tercet reappears as the end line of stanzas 2 and 4, and the last line of the quatrain), and to some degree a lack of variation, the villanelle is the perfect form to capture and reproduce a speaker’s own penchant for repeating whole phrases, as well as using circular logic.
- This villanelle is longer than the traditional villanelle of five tercets and a quatrain. Instead of six stanzas, it has ten. This poem physically recreates a speaker who “runs over time,” goes off-script, adlibs, all the while circling around and repeating himself, almost verbatim. We see this in the line length too, in places where, in conjunction with content, the lines deliberately “run over” the meter.
- If line length as duration constitutes temporal ethical criticism, Lines 1–13 are in perfect syllabic meter for the villanelle: ten syllables each, establishing the standard. However, the syllabic meter of the villanelle form allows lines to run over and amok (especially noticeable when the line runs way over), exposing the ramble, ruckus, and rot (see L14, where line length calls attention to the fabrication, and L19, where line length calls attention to itself as an empty, stupid boast. L22 and L26 create similar sonic/temporal effects).
- L4 and L7, in maintaining the 10-syllable count, force some other figures of omission (Quinn 1995), in this case ellipses, to linguistically and temporally unconceal prejudice, as well as broken grammar and non-sequiturs.
- There also are lines where the form of the speaker (temporally if not physically, as it were) come up “short” (nine or less syllables), as in L20 and L31, thus critiquing the statement that time ethically undermines.
- A high level of generality and limited diction of the poem is highlighted by the traditional villanelle’s syllabic metrical count and recurring refrains and lines.
- Rhyme (sound in time), along with rhythm and meter (time in sound) are temporal dimensions par excellence. In this villanelle, the rhyme of the two refrain lines are fairly consistent: “space,” and “disgrace,” two words that are constantly repeated, creating something like obsession. But all “b” rhymes throughout the poem, although clever, introduce sour rhyme into the temporal scheme: “change,” “tremendous,” “us,” “Russia,” “folks” “complex,” “carnage,” “savages…” The off-end rhyme, sometimes rather distant, jangles across the time-space of these lines, as well as within and across lines [internal rhyme].
4. Deep Sound, Time, and Ethics
“φέρε δή, εἴ τις περιέλοι τῆς ποιήσεως πάσης τό τε μέλος καὶ τὸν ῥυθμὸν καὶ τὸ μέτρον, ἄλλο τι ἢ λόγοι γίγνονται τὸ λειπόμενον”
(phere dē, ei tis perieloi tēs poiēseōs pasēs to te melos kai ton rhythmon kai to metron, allo ti ē logoi gignontai to leipomenon)
“[I]f you strip [περιέλοι” (perriéloi); inf. Περιαιρέω] poetry of its music and rhythm and meter, wouldn’t what remains be nothing but speech?”
5. Ethical Letters and the Sonic Creation of Time
[T]he [yud is in a] state of concealment and obscurity, before it develops into a state of expansion and revelation in comprehension and understanding. When the “point” evolves into a state of expansion and revelation […] it is then contained and represented in the letter ה [hey]. The shape of the letter ה [hey] has dimension, expansion, breadth […] to indicate extension and flow downward to the concealed worlds. In the next stage this extension and flow are drawn still lower into the revealed worlds […]. This stage of extension is contained and represented in the final letters [vov] and ה [hey …]. [vov], in shape a vertical line, indicates downward extension.(Zalman, qtd. In Haralick 1995, p. 156)
And God said: “Let there be light.” And there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day. And God said: “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” And God made the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day.Bereshith (Genesis) 1:1–1:8
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The old Baconian questions and philosophical qualms concerning not only objectivity but whether we ever “get out of” language, bodies, minds, limited senses, human consciousness, have not gone away. The issue of how we perceive (hear), relate to, and know external reality would seem to be particularly important in questions concerning nonlinguistic being and the nonhuman world. This is not the same issue about the relation of posthumanism to humanism (see (Braidotti 2013; Wolfe 2013). Cf. an interesting and sophisticated debate between Richard Boyd (1993) and Thomas Kuhn (1993) about the role of metaphor in the construction of scientific fields, and whether or not metaphors in science lead researchers out to causal structures of the physical world [see Appendix A]). The issue is ontological as well as epistemological. The as is about the undeniable fact that at different levels we (and other things too) are constituted in relatively stable bodies and minds (more on this below), from which we perceive and “know.” As the Copenhagen School of quantum mechanics was good at pointing out, despite technological development, our limitations as human beings persist, and the ‘human variable’ may always have to factor into any probability equation (Heisenberg 1958; Bohr 2010; cf. Katz 1996). Despite Entanglement Theory in new materialism, and a corresponding “demoting” of the power of language (see Barad 2007, esp. chp. 7), most of our thinking and discussion about sonic rhetorics take place in language (the echo of the origin of the (re)sound is located in the ear, depending for its mediation in the limited human sense of hearing). We may need to (re)remember that almost everything we do as humans is in and through the agency of language as “symbolic action” (see (Burke 1952, 1966, 1969; cf. LaBelle 2018); see Katz (2015b); Katz and Rivers (2017) for a more nuanced discussion of Burke in relation to posthumanism).
The question of how humans know is a decidedly postmodern one, focused as it is back on the human and on language—a take with which most scholars in sonic rhetorics today would probably take umbrage. But to some degree, on what I call ‘the spectrum of linguistic determinacy’, language influence thought, from a little to a lot. Derrida (1982) asserted that all philosophy is metaphor, and even Heidegger focused in on the role of language (Heidegger 2010b), sound in language (Heidegger 1971a), and poetry itself (Heidegger 1971b, 2014) in the construction of his philosophy of Being (Heidegger 2010a). A couple of related issues are pertinent to the study of sound and ethics, the purview of this essay. First, one is somewhat pressed to find discussions of sound as or in relation to ideology, such as the uses of sonic rhetorics for propaganda purposes, past, present, or future (cf. Birdsall 2012; Goodman 2012; Haynes 2016; LaBelle 2018). Second, one is seemingly less hard-pressed to find discussion of sound in relation to an ethical consideration of phronesis, or “ends.” Scholarship concerned with teaching seems to consider ethics more (although that is a generalization [see Morton, passim]). One suspects that the ideology of sound, like sound itself, are assumed to be “natural,” and thus “neutral” if not “wholesome,” and therefore are already and always good. How much of “the value” of sound as pedagogy and praxis is driven by “naturalism,” “metaphysical empiricism,” or “technological imperatives”? In the past I have argued that even “social-epistemic” rhetoric is not ideologically neutral or necessarily good (Katz 1992, 1993; cf. Moses and Katz 2006; Katz and Rhodes 2010); the same may be said about sonic rhetorics. A wonderful new proclivity in sound studies is to regard ideology and ethics as questions of “access” and “circulation”—“praxis”—in advocating and using sound to teach environmental awareness, social justice, and equality (e.g., Ceraso 2018; Danforth et al. 2018; Gries and Brooke 2018; Hawk 2018a). Elenchi. Should we inquire about phronesis (ends) as well as praxis (means)? Can we keep sonic issues from being about technological values only, the way Hawk (2018b), or Ahern and Mehlenbacher (2019) do? Should we question phronesis itself? And what about our belief that we can overcome any perceived “deficiencies” of human bodies by medical/pharmaceutical means, genetical manipulation, or prosthetic enhancements? I am not talking about “Ableism” here, but existential election: the point at which the ‘healthy’ posthuman morphs into transhuman, with its new attendant ontological, epistemological, and physical alterations and commitments, none of which are ideologically or ethically neutral.
Further, how much is the absence/presence of ideology/ethics in sonic rhetorics connected to if not the result of the dismissal of language (“the nonlinguistic turn”) and a decentering of the human (the “nonhuman-turn”). I see some danger here, but also justifications and value: sonic rhetorics are rightly focused on ecology—not only on acoustic ecology, but on damaged ecology—on the polluted environment, on human-made global warming, and on violent climate change in the Anthropocene (see Comstock and Hock 2016; Morton 2009; Pilsch 2017; Propen 2018; Zylinska 2014). Even when the study of the human and language is precluded, these scholars/studies rightly see sound studies as a way of enhancing our awareness of the nonhuman physical world and our effects on it through increased attention to sound. But even though we may be “entangled” with all living and nonliving things, we are still constituted at several levels of physicality, with bodily awareness and consciousness. Even though we are also part of the random flux, we are beings who mostly use language to negotiate and reconstruct the material world (Burke, passim; cf. Katz and Rivers 2017). So when we develop theories, are we merely extending metaphors (whether “active” or “passive” epistemic access [Boyd 1993; see Appendix A])? As I have asked before, can we continue to develop indeterminate methods to work with sound as well as affect (Katz 1996; cf. Katz 2015a)? Can we transcend current human consciousness (Katz 2015b, 2017; Katz and Rhodes 2010; Katz and Rivers 2017)?
How do we research and talk about time without destroying it by our literary and rhetorical methods of analysis and practice, which seem to always remain grounded in Newtonian space-time modes of consciousness, just as New Physics is? (Katz 1996, 2015b). In keeping with both Heidegger and Levinas, I would say that the first ethical action that sound (whether natural, voice, musical instruments, machines, writing) demands of us as conscious beings is the imperative to listen attentively, to really hear, to respond in kind, to perform, to practice in life. One answer to the question how to avoid destroying time (and affect) with our methods is to ground our methods in poetry (Heidegger 1971b, 2010b, 2014), although in terms of ethics and essence I think that Levinas as well reveals the paradoxicality of this proposition (e.g., Levinas 1981).
|Prosodic Element||Sound-Time Equivalent|
|Image||“Tone is an image of time…a time image” (Zuckerkandl 1956)|
|Assonance, consonance, alliteration, rhyme||Repetition of sounds in time|
|Rhythm and meter||Repetition of time in sound|
|Figures of speech|
|–repetitions, variations, substitutions, additions, omissions of sounds see (Quinn 1995; Meyer 1956; Katz 1996)|
|Form Musical organization (Elbow 2006)|
|LSJ||Middle Liddell||↓||According to the Increasing Velocity of the “Rhetorical Act”|
|take away something that surrounds||to take off something that surrounds||take away something that surrounds|
|strip off||take off an outer coat||take off something that surrounds|
|remove||take away||take off an outer coat|
|A.2.||strip off||take away|
|make void||II. PASSIVE||remove|
|cancel a vow||II. Pass. Also acc.||To be stripped of a thing|
|A.3.||to be stript (sic) of a thing||stripped off|
|cancel an item in an account|
|to be stripped of a thing|
|have a thing taken off or away from one|
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Katz, S.B. Sonic Rhetorics as Ethics in Action: Hidden Temporalities of Sound in Language(s). Humanities 2020, 9, 13. https://doi.org/10.3390/h9010013
Katz SB. Sonic Rhetorics as Ethics in Action: Hidden Temporalities of Sound in Language(s). Humanities. 2020; 9(1):13. https://doi.org/10.3390/h9010013Chicago/Turabian Style
Katz, Steven B. 2020. "Sonic Rhetorics as Ethics in Action: Hidden Temporalities of Sound in Language(s)" Humanities 9, no. 1: 13. https://doi.org/10.3390/h9010013