On the Listening Academy

general perspectives

What leads us to listening? And how does listening lead us? Where does it take us, and what does it enable? It is our interest to stay close to listening, and to stay close to the ways in which listening brings one within a process of discovery, negotiation, sensitivity, sharing, transformation. Listening prompts a critical and creative curiosity, a receptiveness and responsiveness, to what one may hear or encounter, see and feel, and also what such listening may give way to, from knowing and meaningful exchange, lazy thoughts and critical attention, to social debate and poetic imagination.

            If listening takes us somewhere it is into the ebbing and flowing of life, the deep pulse and resonant reach of becoming-with; it is toward intimacies and a world of touch, as well as to the edges of the familiar, what is unidentifiable yet no less present, from the invisible to the less-than-linguistic, the untold and the not-yet. Listening is so fragile, so tenuous and yet so powerful; it extends and stretches, it leaves one open and it opens space for others, from friends to strangers, the earthly to the cosmic. Listening can be beautiful, and it can be painful as well, whether in relation to the noises of the world, those voices and words that may hurt, that aim at hurting, or by way of the unlistenable cries of others, where listening is strained, made unbearable, or where we may miss hearing what we so long to hear. Listening invades and it may control – it is clearly part of a greater set of techniques for monitoring the borders of states and communities, as well as what helps create a safe space for lonely feelings, for being alone, and with each other. 

            Listening takes us in all these different directions, and in this way it becomes important to reflect upon where one places one’s listening, and how one’s listening is placed; what am I hearing around me, and what is left unsaid, unheard? Am I heard, and in what ways? Is listening given the time and space needed for its patient work? Can I refuse to be listened to, and does my listening also demand more than others can give? The sensorial politics shaping the flows of attention is deeply at play when it comes to listening, requiring a greater engagement with what listening may mean or do, and how it may question itself at times. 

            Following such complexity and curiosity, The Listening Academy (as part of the Biennial)  is concerned to open up to thinking further about listening and how we may come to foster its political and poetic potential, its material and imaginative shaping of things. To do so, the Academy is concerned to create opportunities for listening, and for thinking about listening in relation to human and more-than-human stories and encounters, and in what ways listening can contribute to crafting scenes of companionship, diplomacy, social movement and multi-species worlding. Through the research, practices, and engagement of participating contributors, we encounter strategies and methods, questions and answers, localities and longings, all of which speak toward ways of listening that are equally ways of thinking and living-with, where listening is never only about sound or the normative ear. Rather, it is made radically attentional, exuberant, tenacious and tender, inciting wayward paths and critical echoes in and around being-human. 

            Listening is put forward as what enables localized, intimate, and communal relationships as well as global and planetary views, where listening may sense beyond the apparent and the legible. As Anna Tsing poignantly suggests, listening wields a power by which to attend and align with greater ecological systems of life and their polyphonies. The Academy adopts such a transversal position in its pedagogical approach, lending to what we want to think about as “acoustic care,” where attention may be given not only to the listening one may individually enact, but also to facilitating the particular conditions in support of the listening others may do, or that we may do together. Acoustic care cares for the timings and spacings, the social arrangements and bodily gestures, the systems or structures needed to support a sensitivity for listening; an acoustic care that is not only bound to the audible, and the sounded, but equally concerns itself with a greater ecology of attention. From the vibrational commoning central to becoming-with to the reverberant circulation of views and viewpoints to the noisy intensities of creaturely life, acoustic care emerges as a craft, a civility, an invitation. It is less a performative approach, and more conductive, in terms of keeping our listening going.