Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject

Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject. Contemporary Music Review, Vol. 31, Nos. 5–6, October–December 2012, pp. 439–447

Abstract: This essay introduces the reader to Jean-Luc Nancy’s writing on listening, by focusing on his use of two French verbs that both mean ‘to listen’, namely entendre and écouter. By playing close attention to way that Nancy differentiates these verbs, and the historical context in which they have played a role, one discovers an entryway into Nancy’s challenging thinking about sound, sense, and subjectivity. Écouter and entendre are discussed in relation to the phenomenological theories of listening of Pierre Schaeffer. Schaeffer emphasizes entendre, which is etymologically related to word intentionality, as the privileged mode of listening to the sound object, an intentional object, whose sense is grounded on the closed reference back to the listening subject. Nancy critiques this mode of listening—and the implicit subject posited—by emphasizing écouter, which holds open the threshold between sense and signification. Listening reveals sound as a structure of resonance—an infinite sending and resending. Nancy’s analyses also reveal that resonance is the structure of the subject and of sense.

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