this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Category: Aesthetics

Some Disheveled Notes on OKCupid

Facebook from a certain perspective could be reduced to a sort of neoliberal bourgeois tool for producing the perfect consumer. It provides, creates, and sustains a limited space to define yourself by what you consume (movies, books, TV shows, and so on) while directing you into a milieu of advertisements both explicit (along sidebars) and implicit (groups, likes, etc). Even one’s FB friends structurally function as a means of redirecting one to other pages and groups and products.

While FB catapults us into these questions of the self, the other, and it’s relation to text, capital, and the social, OKCupid, as its name already signifies, uses language of desire, sexuality, and maturity. We are told we are entering a space where we can OK, on an individual level, our preferred specimen of desire. Playing the part of Cupid is like taking a shortcut, a childish impishness, cutting a corner—the adult world of seduction—and B lining it straight to the metaphorical release of self-security that can only be found in the orgasm of the other. The few who specify not wanting sex or a relationship merely seek to confirm what OKCupid is really about. Let no one fool you, OKCupid is about sexual desire, however neat, romantic, or dirty you like it.

Like your Facebook profile, the OKCupid profile includes various headings that seek to define “you” by consumption—movies, TV shows, books, etc. It also, however, includes a Self-Summary, What [you’re] doing with [your] life, what [you’re] really good at, and so on.  These are of course typical dating clichés that have “correct” answers. You exist within a Foucauldian regime of truth, a sphere of acceptable subjects to be, answers or accounts to give. The profile is consumed with investigating, revealing, representing “the truth” of the individual. Still, this is a certain openness—though a regime nonetheless, a broad-ish regime—not allowed by Facebook.

For instance my profile includes some answers where I attempt—and probably fail quite miserably—at upsetting the implied hegemony my answers are meant to reinforce and, co-extensively, produce “me.” Under “The first things people usually notice about me” I write,

my effeminate gait.

my words about which I gather.

my shame and fear and insecurity.

my shame and fear about people noticing my insecurity.

my incapacity to market myself.

positive thought: I guess I have a sense of style, an intellect, a maneuvering. who doesn’t strategize to find a way.

my broad shoulders and deep set eyes.

the way my body topples trying to identify itself with these words.

Okay I know I’m a pretentious ass and blah blah. Yet to answer the question according to its own guidelines is a sort of pretention too (whether or not my poem “succeeds” at addressing this is of course up for debate). It requires a siphoning of the self, a reduction to prescript and correct answers, a “knowable” or “genuine” self that I am meant to sacrifice my insincere, unknowable sel-f/-ves to. It’s like a perverse sacramentality—I must reduce my unknowable mystic erotic loveliness to a profane and knowable breadiness. I am not opaque to myself let alone others and I’ll be damned if you make me cover up my excesses and failures and seepage to a discourse that pretends people are all narratively complete, wrapped up in neat lil bows.

Which is I guess all I have to say about that. Cause really OKCupid is precisely like contemporary depictions of Cupid—something of an overweight adult with a Peter Pan complex. OKCupid refuses to assume “adult” ways of approaching sexual desire (typical dating structures, meeting up, bar hopping, etc), while yet providing a certain regime where only an “adult” self is OK’d—a secure, marketable, stable, employed, and so on self. I guess we see a space for the possibility of childishness, (in)sincerity, queerness, fragility, play, while yet all the old trappings of who counts and succeeds as a mature, civil subject. OKCupid has got a lotta shit that needs queering up, but at least there’s something like a space where it can begin.

reflexivity or something like it

23 and already the bags under

my eyes sag. st. stephen’s

face was white when he died. they

called him a saint.

 

consolation is beyond these

lines. like this day

 

it is much too white. camper’s chart of faces

puts the white skull next to the gods

whose faces were marble. of course the color

had long washed off and what

wasn’t was erased. it

was called renovation. i will

 

refresh and refresh this

page again until i learn to see

myself from the internet’s point of view. yes, we have

been here before, already someone’s

 

definition of irony. tonight let’s consign

all our synthetics to the ocean, this

 

residue deeper to marrow, and finally be

honest, waking up inside someone’s idea

of a poem, we wouldn’t

care to read it either

even the stars fall from the wall

even the stars fall from the wall

 

 

the first moon of the first year doesn’t have

a name anymore.

 

you leant me margaret mead made me gay

which i started last night

under a new moon. we call the moon

new because of how it relates to the

sun. anne

 

hutchinson was called new even

while being accused of all the old heresies.

they called her a witch just like

they called midwives witches. the most

common thing midwives

were accused of was the desire to steal

men’s penises, and

 

they were drowned,

burned at the stake, or crushed under rock.

then and only then could obstetrics emerge

as a science,

that is, a male-only medical profession, with

likewise

the instruments of the male medicinal

imagination, the forceps, which would scoop

the child out, piece by piece if necessary,

while the mother, tied or chained,

lay down, making for easier

 

reach and less strain on the doctor,

who assured the woman that pain was her

natural and allotted curse in life. i read

 

about that the other day and it made

me think of you and those

things you said about

motherhood. i thought

a lot about my

mother and the things

that happened to her when she was

young, how

 

they really happened to me too, at least

in a way. when you

finally met her it was sad

and i was guilty cause how typical,

i mean, me a man, and you, and my mother,

and i don’t

really know why but i cried

 

when i drove home.

after, i couldn’t forgive

anyone about anything for weeks

 

*                             *                             *

 

last year

i fell asleep at eleven while everyone

else welcomed the new year. and,

 

i thought to

myself, that this must mean

something i said and you said you

thought it

probably did too and even though you

didn’t really mean it did, i agreed. i told

you

 

about my uncle then and how i like

twin peaks and how scared i am of open

windows

and you brought up the female

eunuch and i said something about

transphobia and

 

we agreed but that was earlier

in the sun when we changed

our shirts to sit

in the shade. things were so

peaceful then in tank-tops underneath the

californian

sun which is really

the same sun everywhere for

everyone on this

planet. god. this planet. like that really

means anything anymore after

everything

 

*                             *                             *

 

you told me over the phone

you went to a conference where

they wore shirts

that said esther

newton made me gay. that’s

pretty funny.

esther

 

talks a lot about camp and in mother camp she

says something about

coping or transforming the

suffering of others’ fear into a state of irony

or something. i never was very good

 

at that. when i was 6 my dad said chicken

and i asked is that the kind

of chicken you eat or the kind that

flies. the tao

 

says something

about no place for the horn

to enter. no penetration. it would be pretty camp

to be candy

 

darling for halloween

i think, but seeing as i wear a lot of women’s

clothing these

days and what with my identity issues and

fucked

up sexuality,

going as warhol is probably pretty camp

too. i miss you too. i used

 

to be the cop who got shot

when my brothers played

cops and robbers. i hate

 

writing i miss you.

no risk

in the writing. no self staring back in

the

risk of writing. no

crisis of

language. no sainthood or eternality of the

soul or bullshit and

no risk of

bullshit. chickens

 

can’t even fly.

i hate

myself writing like this

 

*                             *                             *

 

i reallymiss how you sucked

my nipples. some

people say the

male nipple is useless. fuck

them and their

teleological bullshit. it was that sort of thinking

that led to clitoridectomies on “hysteric”

women with “erotic tendencies.” if

the 18th century

male bourgeoisie really took themselves

seriously

they’d never stop castrating

themselves. at least they’d

still have

 

nipples. i’d like

 

to think somewhere

there’s a picture of the little

christ child suckling away

at the tit of joseph. i’d like to think

 

it’d be easy to ask

someone to suck my nipples

 

*                             *                             *

 

later, you whispered something of a

new year (you must take this he once

said, and

 

maybe he too

will pass into night. forgotten

 

all implication and finally

be free) but

 

what could i say. for years he

visited me in the dead of night with

sad sad eyes like

 

the eyes of the american

night kerouac loved so much, and

 

i would dream about

those eyes and how they floated in

the bathroom

 

window, even though we lived on a

second-floor,

and how, even from an early age, i

 

wondered anyone got up so high, and

what it was about me and about

 

knowing, about fucking and all the

usual suspects

buried deep down inside. and,

 

here with you, and tonight, i just

really wish I knew

 

*                             *                             *

 

night emissions are what

they called it in

the glory days of 1970s freudian mumbo jumbo

america. this unconscious selffucking was

stranded somewhere on the

wire tight

between shitting and pissing oneself, not

quite as

 

juvenile as (or so they would

say) female clitoral

stimulation, but not quite the anti-social

pathology

of full conscious solo male fucking either. but

that’s what i want to do with this

night, in the heat of it, just fuck

it right out and fuck you

right out

and for once and finally be fucked in

two. of

 

course, we could take this to

mean that semen is like nighttime, emitted

from deep down inside

from some primordial sleeping granddaddy

erection, and every time dusk rolls

around it’s cause some

boy had a big wet one, bringing down both

the stars and moon on us all

 

*                             *                             *

 

in beginners, ewan

mcgregor

summarizes his fetish with spray

painting public property as historical

consciousness. mike mills

directed beginners

and also has a fetish with spray painting

 

public property. this says something

about the

artist and art and what it is to have an

audience and

shit like that. anyway i think

 

that’s what this is. historical

consciousness. you once told me

anthropology wasn’t creative and i

felt really sorry for you then, because

the truth is poetry is just like

ethnography but

with less research. when

 

you said you were

supposed to spend a year

doing research outside of

your own culture i missed you. i mean.

to take the lid

off the thing is beautiful

and liberation is all

we have left, but resonance is

enclosure. also

preservation, health. to uncover is to expose

or enculture, to invite bacteria

and all sort of life. to be

open to the possibility

of life. to bend your ass

bare to the sky. to risk

being fucked

in the fucking. sometimes

 

i admit i don’t know the difference but

 

it was sad when you

left and i got that line from the

poetics of space stuck in my head, how the world

would be a better place if pots

and lids

always stayed together

and i wanted you back

 

*                             *                             *

 

we’re supposed to be

making love. damn that patronizing

sexedup alvie singer.

 

there are some things you can’t

swallow without

gagging. i was

 

annie then, wanting to

be fucked into nothing. you were

nico or jack kerouac maybe,

always ahead of

some careening. we made love

 

the night you

left. it was beautiful in a way. the

semen pooled

onto my chest

in the night. the coolness

 

there. the discharge. the sense of

self

found in the rubbing and

in the loss. you can

never really lose everything

 

you said. when our

broad shoulders touched

and your hands

were on mine

and you

told me about the iliac

crest, it

was the world that

was guilty. when i

couldn’t, the towel

swallowed your cum

 

*                             *                             *

 

maybe

you had to have

something or someone to forgive

unconditionally.

maybe you forgive lovepoems

 

too even though

you have

such a hard time with

people who say the word love like

it has

definite contours.

some people can’t

imagine

 

love spilling out

of itself. that’s

why god killed

onan. such a god lacks the imagination

to love without shame. moses

could only see god’s ass

who was so

afraid that moses would catch

him in

the buff and laugh

at the shame of it. i was kicked

by a bunch of

boys in the balls once in p.e.

and the teacher laughed. i

was obese which

meant i was sick which meant

it was funny to kick me

in the balls. i never

 

really got

the logic but the point is i imagine that’s

how god felt surrounded by

moses and with his

ass sticking out like that i feel

bad for him but

then again

what with the whole creator of everything

bit i kinda expect a little more out

of god

 

*                             *                             *

 

sadeyed lady of the lowlands

came on the other day and i

thought of how we never

listened to blonde on blonde while we

fucked

 

and how germaine

greer said the sadeyed lady and

the girl from north country were

eunuchs but

what does she know about dylan and the

beauty of the soul. when

orson welles

says he’s not a magician but an actor playing

the part of a magician he means

artifice is the only

magic this side of heaven.

you said

 

you weren’t really liberated

until you tasted your own menstrual

blood. well,

germaine, i don’t have menstrual blood okay

the best i can do is taste my

semen which is hardly the same thing. but

 

it’s been getting

sweeter lately. god, even i’m a

 

man. a piece of shit playing

the part of a man. sometimes even

an actor playing shit playing  the part of a

man. i’m

trying to tell you i’m sorry. i’m

 

trying to put this somewhere

 

*                             *                             *

 

the planet’s going to finally die someday

and of course type-1 diabetics will

 

still have diabetes in heaven and

martyrs always wear their scars like

trophies in

icons at the getty so you didn’t

see why diabetics shouldn’t proudly display

 

insertionsite scars and pumps

alongside st bartholomew and his heap of

flayedflesh. and we thought

this was beautiful, and that maybe

somewhere

the world’s flesh might be hung up to dry on

 

some temple wall someday and the

people genuflect and wonder what a world

we must’ve been and what a

death we suffered and what a beauty it all was

before heaven

so wonderfully dispersed its grace like

 

so many tiny bombs and the world fell

asleep in angelic wonder

and never woke up until the following year

sometime past midnight, clear-eyed and

 

fresh and ready

to begin again

as if for the first time in forever

 

*                             *                             *

 

you held me tightly there.

you fucked me

like a man fucks. ground me

down to a pulp of myself.

i wore a

 

love conquers hate

shirt for days. loving

oneself is like being

blind but not like the flower girl

in city lights with her christ imagery

and madonna silence. there’s

something so canned when

chaplin’s mouth gapes open

as wide as his eyes

and those sounds pour out

in a

proper english. but

 

how can you not cry watching the great

dictator

and even laugh when

he fucks the world he blew. you

know anything really

can save this world

except killing it.

 

when you visited

i missed you

and when you left

i missed you. even in kyoto

i long for kyoto goes a hass

translation of basho.

i guess there

is always something lost. even the

 

nightmares

of my uncle and the shit

he did and the night and the fear

of it and all of everything

burns out after awhile. and you get

left with something

Queer Poetry and the Aesthetics of Failure

I am just finishing up a rather long poem/collection-of-poems. I feel really exposed with these poems but not so much because I am naked or vulnerably honest or “in” them in any unusual way but rather because they are incomplete—rather a meditation on incompleteness. In this way I feel it’s my most queer work. Just as the social powers that be project an image of incompleteness onto the queer family (as “lacking” mother or father, fulfillment, etc) so too I feel these poems as an embracing of incompleteness or failure. Which is why it has been SO HARD to edit for me. It’s like editing a giant premature ejaculation.

Premature. That’s really what I hope these poems to be—when I finally upload them—like the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck but de-centered. Elided. In other words TOTALLY NOT the giant patriarchal heterosexual capitalist fuck at all. Premature. Incomplete. Queer. Failure. But it’s this sort of “failure” that needs voicing—narratives which not only deconstruct the supposed completeness of say the hetero-monogamous family unit but that revel in the “incompleteness” of queer sexual and asexual lives and narratives. The problem isn’t “prematurity” but a projected hegemonic “maturity”—the complete, grand, heterosexual, patriarchal fuck.

By writing narratives of (sexual) failure or incompleteness this not only radicalizes these narratives by occupying and commandeering public discourse on (sexual) normativity but also in turn liberates the oppression the oppressors have built about themselves. Queer narratives “queer” heterosexuality. Anyone who is attracted to diverse gender expressions knows the shit that you get when dating someone society deems as “appropriate”—if a queer man and woman end up in say a marriage-relationship they are constructed as “appropriate,” that is their individuality is appropriated towards the furtherance of a compulsory heterosexuality. Society defines not just queer lives as “other,” but also straightens queer lives into sameness. Sadly the queer community can even join in the shaming of such a couple as a “betrayal,” i.e., a failure of being “queer” according to this or that community’s definition of queerness.

This of course misses the entire beauty of queering shit up. It’s all about allowing people to equally make their own decisions and express their own desires without massive systemic compulsion. There is no way to “fail” properly. That’s why it’s failure. And that’s really the uncomfortability with this/these poem(s). It’s like naming my closet, the contours of hetero-hegemony, and yet stepping out of those contours by naming them as incomplete—and being okay with that. I hope when I finally upload it, it proves to be as much of a failure as I think it is.

Doubt

It starts first in subtler
ways, suspect of the arms
as they pull out from under
you, doubting from the
get-go these two wobbly
things called ‘legs’ can
really carry you at all,
wondering whose they are
even—next you doubt them,
of course, whether or not
their sense of security is
that at all or something
entirely else, you begin
dismissing the words they
use, words like ‘not yours’
or ‘bad, bad, bad,’ until
you outright don’t listen
altogether. Soon you’re
doubting people you’ve
heard of, the tooth-fairy
or Santa Clause for instance
until you move right on
to doubting the very structure
of things as you know them,
the so-called grander words
like ‘god’ or ‘saint,’ things
which can’t be ‘real’ you say,
until you find yourself
in more complicated
situations, whether or
not his portrayal of the
Kennedy’s or Oscar Wilde
is ‘real’ for instance, you
start doubting the poet
or poem—who wants to live
in a world where the poem
is ‘real’ after all, what with
the sort of responsibility
that entails, ‘who wants
that kind of world’ you say,
casting aside equally the capital-‘N’
novel alongside the night you
finally told her or him what
you did and how you cried
and cried and couldn’t speak
another word, no point in
remembering now all those
terrifyingly not so real things
you said and did to those
you loved or said you loved,
no point in saying that name
you nearly forgot too that felt
like so many strands of cotton
candy when perched on
your pursed lips, better to
let these things be unreal for
awhile, to close your eyes and
realize reality is something that
happens, that you have so little
to contribute, and begin to enjoy
something of these pleasures.

8.14.11, 8:34 am

There is no hiding here.

White porcelain, steam, the inevitable drip and spill over the edge of it.

 

Somewhere they are swimming past objects of ocean and shell—

there is a shore too, and faces beyond the fog,

eager, waiting.

 

This is the first morning.

I am sorry.

 

Off the coast the breeze (dried leaves

of late summer caught in the current there)

is nothing if not a sighing, faint

moisture in exhalation, the sometime

openness of a world arrested in its giving, its

bounty of sadnesses. You know—you begin,

a sounding of water lapping on

the sand and stone—I think we’re doing okay. I really

think we’re going to be just fine. No need

to respond, just finish your cup

and make your way home.

poem, forgive me

I’ve decided to post my commentary after my poems rather than before from hereon out as this gives you the opportunity to form your own thoughts about the poem. After all, I am just as much a commentator on the poem as you. Being the author doesn’t entitle me to anything.

 
poem forgive me

Never held to the weight
of that anchorage. But
then again
                  relating can
be more fucking, the
reeming out of skin, till,
bearing the fullness of
the body you stand
naked
             and unashamed
(as the saying goes)–
two fingers
                   bound tight
and right
                to the cusp of
the wall–skin folded
back on skin to redden
the lip of that flesh,
                      the tearing
and rawness there.
                                 Prop
yourself up: this is something
you must do for yourself.

 

A comment on the poem:

I think the notion of “forgiveness” is an odd one. Feeling like one needs to be forgiven is to be alienated, out of place, to not be in one’s own body. We turn to, of all people, the ones we hurt and expect them to be able to put us back in our body. What a strange thing. Where do we get off feeling the entitlement to make the one’s we hurt responsible for such a thing? It struck me that this is similar to what we look for in love. Sex puts one in one’s body precisely by putting oneself out and into someone(s) else’s. We make another responsible, the one we displace into, to put us back in place. Strange.

When we give someone that whole weight (“forgive me because I can’t forgive myself” or “make love to me because I am insecure about my body”)  there is something terrible about it. Just think of the unfortunately typical problem of heterosexual male entitlement. He does not find his own body erotic, because, after all, if he actually enjoyed masturbating it would be homosexual or not masculine or some such bullshit. For Lacan this would mean his masturbation is not a Symptom–an obsessive, insatiable pleasure (an unfillable desire)–but rather a “s”ymptom–something which is simply pleasurable in its own right (one kind of sex among many). Because of this, during intercourse the woman must bear the erotic weight of both bodies, she must both be presentable as an object(-to-be-viewed) and make his body erotic. She must not only give him her body (“make love to me”) but must put him in his own body as well (“but also make me lovable”).

This happens with forgiveness as well–expecting the one we hurt to forgive us, not just for the wrong we did, but for the person we are. The injunction is not simply “forgive me,” but also “make me forgivable.” This is also what we often force upon a text, thus the title of my poem. We expect the novel or poem or movie to not only become an object for us but to make us into a good and comfortable reader or viewer. Just as this is misogynistic and cruel in the case of the hypothetical couple above, so too this is to place a terrible burden on the text. Sometimes you have to woo the text. You have to forgive and love and accept yourself before the novel can accept you as a reader. Here we touch on shame. I don’t think you can love someone very well if you are ashamed. You need to be comfortable in your body before you can be comfortable entrusting it to someone else. It’s too much weight to expect them to touch it and make you comfortable being an object of touch.

Or maybe that’s just me. Anywho. Hope that clarified the poem some without completely and thoroughly spoiling it.

“I am this urgency I make” & On the Death of the Author

Beyond the God of Light

Beyond the God of Light: Re-Reading Pseudo-Dionysios the Areopagite

 

Lead us up beyond unknowing and light,

up to the farthest, highest peak

of mystic scripture,

where the mysteries of god’s word

lie simple, absolute and unchangeable

in the brilliant darkness of a hidden silence.[1]


St. Bonaventure, following classical Greek thought, makes the claim that “we can contemplate [the] god not only outside us and within us but also above us: outside through his vestiges, inside through his image, and above through the light.”[2] For the sake of this post I’m going to read Bonaventure against Pseudo-Dionysius which, granted, isn’t terribly fair, but Bonaventure is clearly following a discourse of Western metaphysical thinking which Pseudo-Dionysius outright rejects, particularly in The Mystical Theology.

First point to note about Bonaventure’s tri-fold distinction is it is wrapped up strictly in the language of sight—we see the “vestiges” of the god outside of us, the “image” of the god within us, and the “light” of the god above us. Bonaventure later propounds the classical notion of sight as a mingling of lights—the light from the object mingling with the light of the viewer. This tri-fold knowledge of god then is ultimately the Western understanding of the trinity: god the father as the vestige (the god “without” or outside us), god the son as the image of the vestige (the god “within,” the one who became like unto us), and the third which appears between the two lights, namely the holy spirit (what god-as-without looks like from the perspective of humanity through the god-within), the mingling of these two lights.

This is all very neat and tidy—too neat and tidy. For this sort of ocularcentric-theology, god is as knowable and understandable as the book in front of my face. In other words, the only kind of doubt for god I can have is doubt of her or his existence not of his or her (a-)metaphysical “makeup.” Just as doubting whether or not the book in my hand “exists” takes for granted a whole metaphysics of what a book is as such and what eyes are and how they work and the makeup of these things, etc., so too a god of pure knowing and access, of light, takes for granted a metaphysics. This ocularcentric god is one for whom existence is either possible or impossible, and all questions as to what she or he is are assumed and never called into doubt.

Enter Pseudo-Dionysius who begins his “letter to Timothy” with,

“my advice to you as you look for a sight […] is to leave behind you everything perceived and understood, everything perceptible and understandable, all that is not and all that is, […] strive upward as much as you can toward union with him who is beyond all being and knowledge.”

In other words, sight in the mystical sense for Pseudo-Dionysius, is a glimpse of something beyond sight—a unification with the beyond precisely in not “seeing” it. Although god takes on names, as Pseudo-Dionysius works out in The Divine Names, “our words are [always] confined to the ideas we are capable of forming.” Our words never leave behind the language of sight, that is to use Bonaventure’s categories, the language of mingling. In yet other words, there is no light from the god abovethere is no god who knows—there is no god who cares.

These and other “names” are all analogies at best and only true as regards a contextual mingling, i.e. god’s interaction with certain creatures at a certain place and at a certain time. We can make affirmations from these contexts, name the mingling-of-lights, but, “more appropriately, we should negate all these affirmations,” because “the cause of all is considerably prior to all this, beyond privations, beyond every denial, beyond every assertion.” Every negation is the other side of an affirmation and, further, there are unknown names withdrawn from our context because this god is a god who is “beyond everything (emphasis mine).” We can only describe god from this side of the infinite, i.e. the finite—therefore no name for god is lasting.

To worship the name is to worship an idol in a quite formal sense—to worship the ideas of our own language above that which is beyond it. In the names we give god we find at best icons—finite, tendential means of accessing something beyond them, and, at worst, idols. In this way theology as a naming, and I mean no slight, is strictly an aesthetics. It is only by entering the habitat, the non-presence of this god always beyond, the habitat Pseudo-Dionysius describes as pure darkness and silence, that:

“being neither oneself nor someone else, one is supremely united to the completely unknown by an inactivity of knowledge, and knows beyond the mind by knowing nothing.”


[1] All Pseudo-Dionysius’ quotations from The Mystical Theology

[2] The Soul’s Journey into God, Ch. V

What is Listening, prt. II

When did I first listen? This question can have no definitive answer and is as unfruitful a question as “what and when was the first word spoken?” From the moment I had ears to hear within the womb my body heard and vibrated to the natural rhythm of my mother’s pulse. It was from the womb I first experienced aural space, reverberation, the echo, and “entered” into listening. The ethnomusicologist John Blacking notes that just as the child never had to learn the formal structure of language before he began speaking, so too the child responds to aural organization “before he has been taught to recognize” the sounds as such. From our very first memories we are creatures that listen.

Listening is a finding-an-order to sounds, a making sense of the natural depth of the world around us. Because we have listened from such a young age and have learned what to listen for, we often take for granted how complex this finding-an-order is. Dr. Oliver Sacks in his recent book Musicophilia expounds upon the phenomenon of musical hallucinations, when music sounds to an individual seemingly out of nowhere. These hallucinations are usually brought on by a hearing loss and can last for many years—the patient constantly hearing the playing of music, often spontaneous and “composed,” for his or her entire conscious existence. Such hallucinations can also temporarily be induced by stroke, ischemic attacks, or cerebral aneurysms.

Although Dr. Sacks says little in the way of interpreting this phenomenon or what it “means” to how we as human beings listen, one patient does comment that when mowing the lawn, “a motif starts up in my head which I recognize as only happening when the mower is on.” Many of the patients experience similar occurrences, like a high ringing before slowly changing into a recurring theme. The hallucinatory music then is a finding-an-order but to a cognitively dissonant extreme. Whereas most of us notice musicality in sounds, the rhythm and loud voice of the lawn mower for instance, the patient literally transcribes or arranges these sounds into music. Just as visual hallucinations are a way of “making sense” of disconcerting visual phenomena, so too musical hallucinations are an ordering of sound that reveal how listening is an ordering of sound.

Sounds not only arouse the cerebellum, basal ganglia, or any other one portion of the brain, but like language, vast portions of it. These sounds in turn lead to rhythmic motor function, whether that be playing or singing along with the music, tapping, or even sitting still—for listening attunes us to what we are listening to, we vibrate to it, reverberate it back. These aural rhythms felt throughout our body are in turn taken up by the mind. We take up musical structures both on the psychological level of anticipation/fulfillment or appropriation/denial, as well as on the neurological level. Our motor rhythms influence the rhythm that our neurons fire in, taking the rhythms up as a temporal template. Listening as finding-an-order literally influences how our brains “move” in time. As in Plato’s Republic the “rhythm and harmony [of music] permeate the inner part of the soul,” ordering our thoughts and the sounds of the world around us.