1.1. Practices of Listening

Fall 2018

Themes in this issue


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Please note that print copies of Practices of Listening are sold out until further notice.

We have also published articles written around the theme 'Practices of Listening', on the website.

Video made by Ksenia Dubrovskaya


Laura Pannekoek and Zoë Dankert
editors-in-chief 2018-19

In the keynote speech at the 2015 What Now? symposium,artist and audio investigator Lawrence Abu Hamdan argued that we have entered a new era of listening. Hamdan identifies a fundamental shift in forensic listening: the recording and storing of police interviews is being replaced by algorythmic tracking of incriminating keywords uttered online. All speech becomes liable,everywhere and at any time. While we may have always been talking, the conditions of listening are changing. We contend that this is consequential not only for the shape discourse takes, but also for the ways in which we relate to ourselves and the world. The essays gathered here in this first issue of Soapbox take seriously the idea that perhaps it is less what we say that affects our social and political condition, than the various ways in which what we call practices of listening take place.

To the Boundary of the Known World: Acousmatic Listening and Imagination in Derek Jarman's Blue

Andrea Avidad

This article argues that acousmatic listening may enkindle imaginative modes which gesture towards potentiality: what might be. Departing from Pierre Schaeffer’s conceptualization of acousmatic sound as autonomous sound object or ideal objectivity, it emphasizes the cognitive and epistemological dimensions of this modality of listening. It follows sound scholar Brian Kane’s theory of acousmaticity: the underdetermination of material source and causal event by sonic effect. One audio-visual artwork—Blue (Derek Jarman, 1993) — is analyzed as calling for a practice of acousmatic listening which includes the perception of unseen sounds and the imaginative production of sonic bodies. The article proposes that Blue has many different degrees of acousmaticity. Such richness of acousmaticity allows the piece to invoke a poetics of proximity: an(im) possible touch of incommensurable events, spaces, and temporalities, through and as sound. Blue’s acousmatic sounds, voices, and noises make a suggestion that can go in many different directions, depending on the listener’s imaginative capacities.

Andrea Avidad teaches Film Studies and Communication Studies at The Bronx Community College of The City University of New York.

Dragon NaturallySpeaking: Being Listened to and the Subservience of Speech

Eeke van der Wal

Through an analysis of the relation between the speech recognition software Dragon NaturallySpeaking and myself, as user, I argue in this paper for an understanding of listening as an active determinant in the relation between listener and speaker, instead of a conception that merely infers the act of receiving and obeying. I observe that although the software is marketed as a technology that would obey by listening to the user’s commands, my experience with the software points to another direction.

As a computer operating subject, I am dependent on Dragon’s recognition of speech. Drawing on Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, this paper argues that Dragon is an active participant in the relation between user and technology, rather than a mere tool. Following Karen Barad, I highlight the material-discursiveness of speech. Rather than focusing on meanings, Dragon attunes to—or listens for—the materiality of speech through its recognition of phonetic speech structures. As such, the article moves away from an anthropocentric understanding of listening.

Eeke van der Wal holds a master’s degree in Organisation, Change and Management (UU). Currently, she is completing a research masters Cultural Analysis (UvA). Fascinated by the (e)mergence of material-discursive practices, her recent research revolves primary around material encounters and the way in which they (re)configure, organise and resist (cultural and individual) understandings of self and other.

Radiant Language and Entangled Listening in Svetlana Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer

Niall Martin

Niall Martin mediates on the noisily entangled relations of listening, writing and our perception of culture in the aftermath of nuclear events. Thinking through the material traces, containment and waste of the Chernobyl disaster, Alexievich’s Chernobyl Prayer (1997) opens up a reconceptualization of the Chernobyl disaster as an event that alters the nature of testimony, challenging the lost sonic source of an event that is simultaneously in the past and yet to come. Chernobyl Prayer’s more than human perspective explores the exclusion zone as a sonic space in which radiation becomes audible through the silence of other species. In this way, sound extends itself to that which is present as well as absent. This reading of Chernobyl Prayer rethinks our understanding of sound as species-specific and in doing so acknowledges the displaced position of the auditor.

Niall Martin is an Assistant Professor in the department of Literary and Cultural Analysis at the University of Amsterdam. His research engages with the different ways in which concepts of noise interact with and produce our ideas of globalisation. Recently, Niall has been working with the concept of il/literacies, exploring how the il/literate extends questions of decolonisation into discussions of semiosis and new materialism.

Immersed in Multiplicity: Subjective Time in a Time Crystal

Emilio Aguilar

In this paper I look at 'Peace for Triple Piano', a video which represents a musical canon both in sound and image. I call this peculiar form, whose structure is endowed with symmetry in both time and space together, an audiovisual canon. Such a structure is what in physics is known as a time crystal. I argue that this time crystal creates a temporal interference because, in this video, objects relate simultaneously to each other beyond the boundaries of what we commonly perceive as presence. Through a reading of Michel Serres, I propose a model to integrate this multiplicity of time based on hearing as opposed to listening. Finally, through Serres's concept of quasi-object, I argue that this video, by making its audience integrate multiple networks, constructs a quasi-audience.

Emilio Aguilar is a singer specialized in the performance of music from the fourteenth to the seventeenth century. He currently combines his professional work with an interdisciplinary project between the University of Amsterdam (Cultural Analysis) and the Conservatory of Amsterdam (Early Music Singing) in which he researches material-discursive practices to bridge the gap between the speaking-thinking and singing-performing body.

On How to Pry Beyond the Image Frame with CC (Closed Captions)

Stepan Lipatov and Sissel Møller

Text and image—understood separately—are the bread and butter of graphic design. However, typography, when well executed, can also turn text to image. Rejecting this distinction, therefore, paves the way to forms of listening without sound. With this in mind, for this first issue of Soapbox, we have prepared a collection of images with borrowed captions, the combination inspired by closed captioning (CC): the transcription of non-speech sounds in television for hearing impaired people. In our opinion, this phenomenon is interesting not only because of the image and text relation, but also because of how it transforms sound to text.

Sissel Vejby Møller (1994) and Stepan Lipatov (1989) are both graduating students at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. As graphic designers they experiment with the language between text and image.

One Megaphone and Two Thousand Bottles: Listening to Frames of a Mistransmitted Protest

Erica Moukarzel

This essay de-listens to the dominant voice of a politician addressing 2000 protesters through a comparison of depictions by two media channels. It positions the image of the politician's power in the loudness of his voice, so easily broadcasted on TV screens across the nation, as it upstages and speaks over the main subject of the story: the protesters' precarious position. By translating their voices—expressions of their precarity—into visible objects, the essay works to balance out the power play of the protest, equalizing the voices in the space and showing how they made themselves heard on a visual scale. It uses the concept of the frame to dive into the vulnerabilities of the singular politician and the plural alliance in the space of protest, playing with their depictions to restore power and voice to those whose voice the image corrupted.

Erica Moukarzel (1993) is a Lebanese writer and researcher based in Amsterdam. Her work centers on the intersection of cultural memory and urban space, aiming to weave gaps left by past spatial divisions using long forgotten memories and stories. She recently obtained a Research Master's in Cultural Analysis from the University of Amsterdam and currently works as Curatorial Assistant at the Oude Kerk.

Decolonial Listening

An Interview with Rolando Vázquez

How do practices of decolonial listening help us move towards a more ethical relation to the world and to others? In his work and teaching, Rolando Vázquez has been developing practices of decolonial thinking and listening that seek to form relational worlds beyond the hegemonic framework of Western modernity. In this interview —what better way of talking about practices of listening—we talk about the required humbling of modernity, about the (im)possiblities of listening to those who have been silenced and about the necessity of thinking in dialogue with others.

Rolando Vázquez is associate professor of Sociology at University College Roosevelt and Utrecht University. Together with Walter Mignolo, he has coordinated the Decolonial Summer School at UCR since 2010. Vázquez belongs to the movement of Decolonial Thought and Aesthesis and, in 2016, wrote with Gloria Wekker et. al. the report of the Diversity Commission of the University of Amsterdam.

Earwitnessing the Assembly: Listening to the Voice of the People in the Gezi Park Protests

Duygu Erbil

This paper investigates practices seen and heard during the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, highlighting how an assembly constituted itself through the sonification of opposition. As an alternative to representationalist accounts of the poetics of these protests, this analysis models a practice of earwitnessing: attuning to the demonstrations’ sonics and noise to hear the voice of the people. Consequently, it is argued that an assembly was formed performatively—one that exceeded the creative class milieu that has been the focus of much recent writing. Unlike analyses that focus on the visual, this earwitnessing approaches the memory of activism to articulate an under-theorized form of critical listening. Attentive to the cultural memory in activism, earwitnessing means listening to betweenness—that relational space where bodies enact interdependency.

Duygu Erbil is completing her RMA in Comparative Literary Studies at Utrecht University. Her research interests primarily focus on critical posthumanisms and new materialism. She is currently working on an analysis of autobiography in the context of prison activism and experience in the United States.

Learning Listening

Mieke Bal

Reflecting back on the articulation of the methodological framework for the practice of cultural analysis and the founding of ASCA over twenty years ago, Mieke Bal explores a practice of listening through her own installation Nothing is Missing. The videos presented in the installation featured mothers of migrants being interviewed by a person close to them. This resulted in confronting dialogues that have the potential to offer the attentive viewer — and listener — new perspectives on familial relationships, migration and interculturalism. Ultimately, through her analysis, Bal demonstrates the enduring pertinence of the notion that ‘the object speaks back’.

Read the extended version online.

Mieke Bal is a cultural theorist, critic, video artist and occasional curator. She works in cultural analysis, focusing on gender, migratory culture, psychoanalysis and the critique of capitalism. Her books include a trilogy on political art. Her video Madame B, with Michelle Williams Gamaker, is widely exhibited. Her most recent film is Reasonable Doubt, on René Descartes and Queen Kristina (2016).

Other Printed Matter

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

January 17, 2023

Call for Papers: 5.0: SWAMPED! Muddied Environments and the Ecology of Being Bogged Down

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young researchers and established scholars alike to submit academic essays or creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting extended proposals (500-1000 words) that follow consistent and complete formatting and referencing style to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st, 2023.

While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone. A space in which water and land merge, swamps have long represented an area in which the earth resists being controlled, and have functioned as areas of resistance in many Indigenous epistemes and folklores. Swamps, then, are areas that resist human control, and epitomise agency of the natural world, doing so too on a conceptual level (Wilson 1). At the same time, it has been co-opted semantically, as the term “swamped” has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed - whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. As a result, swamps have become spaces of contestation and transition both as physical environments, and as linguistic ones. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Swamps as they exist in cultural imagination(s).

Swamps speak to the imagination. They feature prominently in folklore and provide fertile soil for myriad mythical creatures: from the nine-headed hydra in ancient Greek mythology, to the South-African grootslang, to the numerous global configurations of the will-o’-wisp. These narratives largely hinge on the swamp’s liminal positioning that makes it hard to traverse, inhabit, or otherwise tame. To this day, when swamps are featured in pop-culture, they are often mythologized to house the monstrous or, at the very least, the off-beat (e.g. Shrek, or the Man-Thing in Marvel comics, or the entire cast of characters in Karen Russell’s Swamplandia!). 

In addition to housing imagined creatures, the swamp is also a famously rich archeological site where we can find many well-preserved traces of past human life. Most notable are the so-called bog bodies, eerily intact corpses that date back as far as the holocene. These findings add to the swamp’s mythical appeal, but are also hypothesised to, in some cases, originate from it. A particularly large amount of bog bodies dating back to the iron age were found in Northern Europe, and the bulk of these corpses bear traces of ritualistic human sacrifice. This has led historians to believe that, at the time, the swamp was seen as a transition space, not just between land and water, but also as a gateway between different worlds (Randsborg). 

So, the swamp is charged with a rich cultural history and subject to wide-ranging meaning-making practices. We invite you to delve further into this and open it up. What stories do we tell about swamps? Which narratives are remembered? And, what does that ultimately say about us? 

The swamp as it appears in political rhetoric.

Since its first use in 1881 by Helen Hunt Jackson in her polemical text, A Century of Dishonor, the concept of the swamp as an area to be overcome has resurfaced repeatedly as a powerful metaphor in the arena of political discussion and rhetoric (most often in the context of US federal politics). Arguing against the so-called ‘Indian Appropriations Act’ of 1871, which rendered Indigenous peoples as wards of the state and, therefore, eligible for forcible relocation, Jackson argued that such panacean responses were immoral and did not address the needs and concerns, of Native peoples, nor did it strive towards the reparations that Indigenous nations deserved. Rather than debate the specifics of individual policy decisions, Jackson argued that ceasing to cheat, rob, break promises, and extending ‘the protection of the law to the Indian's rights of property’ (342) would be the most appropriate first course of action. To illustrate this, Jackson presented the following scenario:

When pioneers in a new country find a tract of poisonous and swampy wilderness to be reclaimed, they do not withhold their hands from fire and axe till they see clearly which way roads should run, where good water will spring, and what crops will best grow on the redeemed land. They first clear the swamp. So with this poisonous and baffling part of the domain of our national affairs — let us first "clear the swamp”. (341).

This metaphorical call to clear, or to drain, the swamp was then exercised by socialist and left-leaning politicians and political commentators such as Winfield R. Gaylord and Victor L. Berger who petitioned for draining the swamp of capitalism (Gaylord 8, Berger 107). In 1966, civil rights activists A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin employed the phrase in A Freedom Budget for All Americans, a policy proposal that, among other things, sought to eradicate poverty (14-15). Ronald Reagan’s use of the phrase in 1982 when authorising the Grace Commision (which investigated inefficiency within the Federal Government), dragged the phrase across the political aisle. Where it had once illustrated a progressive politics, it henceforth became tethered to conceptions of government waste, cronyism and distrust in Capitol Hill, a claim bolstered by the fact of Washington, D.C.,’s construction on supposed marshlands between the Potomac and the Anacostia rivers. From Reagan’s usage  onwards, calls to drain the swamp were almost exclusively directed towards Washington, D.C., as a locus of political venality. The phrase’s most recent, and perhaps most memorable, usage was by former President Donald Trump, who repeatedly uttered the phrase at rallies, during interviews, and in countless tweets. 

The invocation and the power of this phrase can be seen across various areas of cultural and political discourse and analysis; its intent and meaning wavering from progressive to reactionary throughout its history. So begs the question, what does it mean to drain a swamp? Metaphorically speaking, what is the impact of identifying spaces as swamps to be drained? Who does the draining, or the promise of draining, serve? In reality, what are the implications of identifying and draining a swamp? Who does the draining itself? Think of the thousands of people displaced by Benito Mussolini’s draining of the Pontine Marshes, and the many more thousands of workers who were subject to backbreaking manual labour and exposure to malaria and disease (Snowden 155-6). What bubbles to the surface when we delve into the history, use, and the real-world implications of this charged phrase?

The affective experience of being swamped.

But to be swamped is also to feel swamped; to be overwhelmed with work, a sensory overload, stress and clutter. Infrastructures can be swamped; systems too; and spaces can swamp you with stimuli. How does one endure a state of swampedness, feel one’s way through it, resist it or find rest in it? Can objects or texts be swamped? To disconnect, go offline, turn to self-help books, and take time off work – all these are responses to feeling swamped. But then: who can afford to respond like this, and who is unable to withdraw? Or can information overload – to stay with the swamp – be creatively productive or critical? This is the muddy matrix that feeling swamped opens in theory; a space of excessive encounter between ecologies and affects, where swamps become metaphors, and metaphors swamp. 

Thought on the feeling of being swamped and its social-political relationalities are everywhere: from Jonathan Crary’s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep to Byung-Chul Han’s The Burnout Society to Lauren Berlant’s Cruel Optimism. So too the desire to escape overwhelm has recently been re-conceptualized in edited volumes like Politics of Withdrawal. But “swamp” as a metaphor has not yet passed the floodgates. We invite you to think with this swamp, feel through its conceptual implication. 

We encourage submissions relating to the themes above, as well as, but not limited to, the following: 

  • Critical engagements with/investigations into environments that could be described as marshlands, wetlands, fens, bogs, moors, etc. 
  • Practices of re-wilding and re-swamping.
  • Cultural ethnographies of muddied environments.
  • Environmental humanities and ecocritical approaches to swamps.
  • Investigations into swamps as liminal, transitional, or mutable sites.
  • Swamps as sites of decay (e.g. die-off and algal bloom) and repair (e.g. as fertile sites of regeneration).
  • Socio-cultural explorations of what it means to feel swamped, its implications, and who this affect can belong to.
  • Socio-economic approaches investigating issues such as: 
  • Who is relegated to the swamp?
  • Who has access to the swamp?
  • What are the social impacts of swamped environments on individuals and groups?
  • Investigations of the function of swamps in political rhetoric.
  • Pieces that investigate swamps as veiled, uncharted, or otherred locales or those that approach swamps as spaces to be traversed.

We invite extended proposals (500-1000 words) to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by February 21st 2023. Following conditional acceptance, an initial draft version (3000 words) will be due two weeks after receiving the acceptance email. The editing process will take place throughout Spring/Summer 2023. If you have any questions regarding your submission, do not hesitate to contact us at info@soapboxjournal.net. Editing and peer review guidelines will be sent to authors individually upon acceptance of their submission. For full submission guidelines, see our website.

Guidelines for creative submissions are more flexible and can be finished works, but please keep in mind spatial limitations: there is usually room for one longer or two shorter pieces in the print version. A sense of the formatting possibilities can be garnered from previous issues (open-access pdf versions are available on our website).

We also accept submissions for our website all year round. We encourage a variety of styles and formats, including short-form essays (around 2000 words), reviews, experimental writing and multimedia. These can engage with the theme of the upcoming issue but are not limited to it. Please get in touch to pitch new ideas or existing projects that you would like to have published by reading our submission guidelines and filling in the form.

Works cited.

Berger, Victor L. Berger’s Broadsides, Social-Democratic Publishing Company, 1912.

Berlant, Lauren. Cruel Optimism. Duke University Press 2011.

Crary, Jonathan. 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep. Verso, 2014. 

Gaylord, Winfield R. “Gaylord Makes a Statement.” Daily Northwestern [Oshkosh: WI], 10 Oct. 1903, p. 8.

Han, Byung-Chul. The Burnout Society. Stanford University Press, 2015.

Hesselberth, Pepita., and Joost de Bloois, editors. Politics of Withdrawal: Media, Arts, Theory. Rowman and Littlefield, 2020.

Jackson, Helen Hunt. A Century of Dishonor: A Sketch of the United State’s Government’s Dealings with Some of the Indian Tribes. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1881.

Randolph, A. Philip, and Bayard Rustin. A Freedom Budget for All Americans: A Summary. A Philip Randolph Institute, 1967.

Randsborg, Klavs. Roman Reflections: Iron Age to Viking Age in Northern Europe. Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015.

Snowden, Frank M. The Conquest of Malaria: Italy, 1900-1962. Yale University Press, 2006.

Wilson, Anthony. Swamp: Nature and Culture. Reaktion Books Ltd, 2018.

Call for Creative Work - 5.0: SWAMPED!

October 2, 2023

For the upcoming issue of Soapbox, a graduate peer-reviewed journal for cultural analysis, we invite young artists to submit creative works that critically engage with the theme of swamped. We are inviting proposals or finished works to be submitted to submissions@soapboxjournal.net by October 10th, 2023.

Swamps speak to the imagination. While it may first be thought of as a space of stagnation, the swamp is also a transition zone: an area in which water and land merge, a space where the earth resists being controlled. In addition to its geographical referent, the swamp also covers less tangible—though equally murky—semantic ground. It has become associated with systems, both of society and signification, that are overwhelmed—whether in terms of a job market being swamped, or in the politically loaded draining of “the swamp” as a network of corruption. Where the former strand of signification uses the swamp to highlight agency, the latter points out a lack of it. How do these strands of meaning diverge, and where do they come together?

Guidelines for creative submissions are flexible: poems, short-stories (up to 5000 words), visual art pieces, collages, drawings, comics, anything as long as it's printable! Feel free to take a look at our previous issues for inspiration.

Open Board Positions 2023

We are currently looking to expand our team. Soapbox is a student-run journal focused on promoting voices that creatively engage with concepts and cultural objects in the broadest sense, through publishing academic, artistic, and interdisciplinary works. Soapbox is a collaborative effort in gaining experience and experimenting with running a small publishing platform. All members take part in actively shaping what Soapbox is by weighing in on editorial decisions and take part in any aspects of publishing (both online and in print). 

In general, the time commitment expected is between four and six hrs/week, including a weekly two-hour meeting. The journal is run on a voluntary basis. For all roles, applicants should be based in the Amsterdam area and available for weekly meetings for at least the remaining academic year (until June 2024).

If you're interested, please email info@soapboxjournal.net with the particular role(s) you are interested in and a few words of motivation.

Deadline: Sunday, October 15th


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