To, er, is human. To hmmm? is sublime

Collinson, Stewart (2012) To, er, is human. To hmmm? is sublime. In: John Cage: Man-Work-Paradox, 16-18 October 2012, Academy of Music, Krakow, Poland.

To, Er, is Human. To Hmmm? is Divine Sublime
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Krakow, 16-18 October 2012

To Er is Human.
To Hmmm? is Divine Sublime

Through reference to Seth Kim-Cohen’s discussion of John Cage’s Anechoic Epiphany, by way of Douglas Kahn and Jean-Francois Lyotard’s rethinking of the sublime, I wish to return to and circle the discursive relationship occurring between Cage and Joyce, reading through Cage’s reading through Joyce, through my reading of Colin McCabe and David Toop. Sound through text.

Joyce’s writing on/of sound is crucial, I think, to Cage’s thinking on/of sound. In many ways it prefigures or pre-echoes what Kahn identifies as a “third internal sound”, the “Hmmm..?” 1, in Cage's epiphany. In his book, “James Joyce and the Revolution of the Word”, discussing Ulysses, Colin McCabe describes the moment in “The Sirens” when the drinkers in the Ormond Bar listen to the shell brought back from Rostrevor Beach by Miss Kennedy.

“Those in the bar who listen to the shell and who are caught up in the experience of speech, locate the sound as present in the shell and originating in the sea. For us, however, guided by our writer Bloom,
the sound is produced by the process of listening..”2

McCabe elaborates this moment as a metaphor of discourse, as the source and site of the production of meaning. To elaborate further for the current context, it is in the convergence and interaction of the two spirals of the shell and the cochlea that a cohe(a)rence occurs, but it is the writer, Bloom, at a distance, who identifies it’s nature,

“The sea they think they hear. Singing. A roar. The blood is it. Souse in the ear sometimes. Well, it’s a sea. Corpuscle Islands.”3

Through the mediumship of his writing, David Toop raises the spectral quality of listening present in literature and painting where there can only be silence. Further exploring the interaction of the ear, (imagined) sound and thought, he articulates this space between and its potential for the uncanny and the sublime.

The presentation seeks to explore the interaction between sound, it's attenuation or absence, the ear and the perceiving mind. It seeks to consider that Sound – Art, as it expands, is a new universe created by the silent big bang of "that moment in the anechoic room", and that the potential for it's creation lay in the silent words in the writings of James Joyce.

©Stewart Collinson October 2012

1. KAHN D. (1999) Noise Water Meat (a history of sound in the arts) Cambridge Mass. MIT, quoted in
KIM-COHEN S. (2009) In the Blink of an Ear (toward a non-cochlear sonic art) London Continuum
2. McCABE C. (1983) James Joyce & the Revolution of the Word London Macmillan
3. JOYCE J. (1936) Ulysses London Bodley Head

Keywords:James Joyce, John Cage, Ulysses, Silence, Sound
Subjects:W Creative Arts and Design > W190 Fine Art not elsewhere classified
Divisions:College of Arts > Lincoln School of Art & Design
ID Code:6727
Deposited On:30 Oct 2012 07:05

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