Saturday, 21 August 2010
amusia, noise and the drive
The neurological condition of amusia is a form of agnosia, which is the disappearance, pathology or deviation of a highly selective aspect of one’s phenomenal model of reality (Metzinger). Amusia never concerns simply a case of tone deafness or indifference to music; it does not describe a world of silence so much as the perception of often agonizing noise where there is music. It is not the nonperception of music, but the perception of music as noise. The notion of amusia also therefore presupposes that music can disclose a fissure in the brain’s model of external reality that frames phenomenal experience, hinting at a reality outside that model: the unknown impulse that generates painful ‘amusic’. The ‘malfunction’ of the system of perception and aural object recognition, the disjunction between the brain and its reality, is betrayed by the a-musical repetition of noise. This essay appropriates this neurological notion for psychoanalytic, that is, nonbiological purposes. While science finds its consistency in repetition, a psychoanalytical notion of amusia concerns the irreducible specificity of this ‘malfunction’, of how music is experienced as a profound dissonance for some one that nevertheless discloses the limited nature of the (imaginary/symbolic) system that gives the phenomenal experience of music a semblance of meaning in so far as it is pleasurable.
Amusia is an example of associative agnosia ‘in which perception seems adequate to allow recognition, and yet recognition cannot take place’ (Farah). In Tauber’s phrase, it involves ‘a normal percept stripped of its meaning’. Agnosias like amusia are useful for neuroscience in ascertaining the contingent and modular (evolutionary) nature of perceptual apparatuses and neural ‘knowledge’ systems that abstract and pattern the object-‘stuff’ of perception. At the limit, the loss of certain phenomenal ‘qualities’ may imply the emergence of new forms, and indeed new forms of knowledge (Metzinger). A speculative psychoanalytic mode of amusianalysis would seek to trace the auto-emergence of a ‘sinthomic’ amusic that takes as its condition the incurable real of the amusical symptom that the negativity of musical form renders both singular and common. With reference to contemporary cultural examples, this essay considers the relationship between noise and the drive in the articulation of a specifically audio unconscious. It will argue that the move from oral to invocatory drive introduced by Lacan cannot be seen as purely an effect of language or of the alienation of demand in speech. Rather, it is an effect of binding with the locus of sound itself, a particulate system heterogeneous to the locus of the signifier that forms an audio unconscious equally heterogeneous to the one supposed to be structured like a language; it is this that turns the invocatory drive into a death drive that offers alternative amusical ways out of current models of symbolized reality in a movement that potentially – but only ever retrospectively – has aesthetic and political implications.
Abstract for Politics, Philosophy & Aesthetics of Noise edited by Michael Goddard and Benjamin Halligan