Acoustic ecology, aesthetic moralism and the politics of silence

Thompson, Marie (2013) Acoustic ecology, aesthetic moralism and the politics of silence. In: Alterity, Intersubjectivity, Ethics, September 2013, University of Cambridge.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
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his paper looks to productively disrupt a conservative politics of silence, which is underlined by an aesthetic moralism that views noise as ‘bad’ to silence’s ‘good’. The work of Canadian acoustic ecologist, R. Murray Schafer is taken as exemplary of this position. For Schafer, silence is equated with rural, the rural is equated with the natural and the natural is equated with the good. Noise, by comparison, is equated with the urban, the urban is equated with the unnatural and the unnatural is equated with the bad. Whereas silence is associated with a positive affectivity – the capacity to heal, revive or rejuvenate – noise is associated with a negative affectivity – it is damaging, destructive and alienating.

This overarching ideological division between a pure and positive silence and an impure and negative noise contradicts Schafer’s own analytical focus on the particular, the contextual and the heterogeneous. Moreover, it fails to allow for those instances where silence is felt to be oppressive (for example, when silence is used as a torture device) or when noise is felt to be positive, providing a sense of connectivity and belonging.

Drawing upon the ethico-affective philosophy of Spinoza, this paper will propose an alternative ethics of noise. Rather than taking noise’s ‘unwantedness’ or ‘badness’ as constitutive, it will be suggested that noise’s ‘badness’ and silence’s ‘goodness’ are secondary, relational and contingent. In other words, it is argued that there is nothing inherently bad about noise or inherently good about silence: both noise and silence can be ‘good’ as well as ‘bad’, beneficial as well as harmful. This move from Schaferian moralism to Spinozist ethics thus makes space for noise that is pleasantly serendipitous, as well as a silence is destructive, without reducing such manifestations to exceptional deviations from a norm.

Keywords:Spinoza, Acoustic Ecology, Noise, Silence, Ethics, bmjholiday
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V500 Philosophy
W Creative Arts and Design > W300 Music
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Film & Media > Lincoln School of Film & Media (Media)
ID Code:16861
Deposited On:02 Mar 2015 21:45

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