aural flâneur
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The Sound of Biopolitics

Forthcoming with Fordham University Press in the Commonalities series, ed. Timothy Campbell

What does biopolitics sound like? How is listening implicated in theories of sovereignty and neoliberal governmentality? If politics is, in Jacques Rancière’s well-known phrase, “the distribution of the sensible,” then politics is always already a politics of sounda decision between what is audible and what is inaudible. Biopolitics, meanwhile, intervenes in life itself, deciding on the boundary between the livable and the unlivable. The sound of biopolitics is what happens wherever these two distributions of audibility and livability intersect. This book theorizes the tangent where the politics of sound and listening touches upon the politics of life, rigorously interrogating what is at stake in this point of contact.

To speak of the sound of biopolitics means thinking this genitive in multiple ways: (1) as sound that is co-opted and wielded as an instrument of biopolitics; (2) as sonic signatures of the theatre of security; (3) as a death knell that excludes life on the basis of audibility; and finally, (4) as an tintinnabulum that promises to ward off philosophy’s evil spirits, a vibration of the commons that makes biopolitics resonate until, like a glass, it shatters. Ultimately, this book argues, building upon Jean-Luc Nancy’s work, that sound and listening provide an alternate paradigm for thinking singularity and community beyond the inclusive exclusion that defines biopolitics. In this way, the book responds to both a growing interest in sound’s political dimension and also to the sonic turn in the theoretical humanities. The book’s novel contribution is to intervene in these debates by bringing out the biopolitical dimension of sound and the sonic dimension of biopolitics.

Alongside close readings of philosophical texts by Derrida, Nancy, Agamben, and Malabou, the book examines the ways in which sound activism offers a critique of the biopolitical use of sound. It examines the work of multimedia artist Lawrence Abu Hamdan who examines the role that juridical listening plays in the geopolitics of migration around the globe and in the politics of racial discrimination and gun violence in the US. The book also discusses how sound art collective Ultra-red has developed a community-based practice of militant sound investigations whereby residents attune their ears to the socio-economic issues they confront in order to develop collectively strategies for grassroots organizing.

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