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Open Access Publications from the University of California

I'm (Not) Listening: Rhetoric and Political Rationalities of Self and Other

  • Author(s): Hunt, Richard L.
  • Advisor(s): Nunley, Vorris L
  • et al.

In “I'm (Not) Listening: Rhetoric and Political Rationalities of Self and Other,” my primary aim is to explore and theorize the collective, social nature of listening, with a particular emphasis on the role that power plays in shaping listening processes and practices. While a robust body of scholarship is currently being developed around numerous aspects of listening, few of these studies seek to understand the social, political, and ontological forces shaping the processes of public, collective, democratic listening. Over four chapters, I attempt to make legible these forces and their effects through analyzing various representations and instances of listening in a wide variety of subject matter, including (in this order) poetry, science fiction novels, African-American rhetoric, and public discourse surrounding race. Centrally, I investigate the possibilities of communication across perceived differences, such as those of race, gender, and culture, emphasizing how our very understandings of the nature of human being govern which persons and groups are commonly given a listening and whose voices are effectively rendered inaudible in the public sphere and everyday life.

A central aim of my dissertation is to analyze key political rationalities in public discourse that govern what it means to listen and what is sayable, as well as who is authorized to speak and under what terms. In this vein, I argue that listening must be understood as not merely a physiological effect, but as thoroughly ontological, always-already historically situated, and invariably inflected by power. And if indeed listening must be understood as ontological, as bound up with particular understandings of being and the human, then any given conception of listening plays a role in constituting a particular kind of subjectivity and buttressing that subject’s borders against the ontologies of the other. In one important sense, then, to listen is to necessarily expose the self to some measure of risk and to expose one’s ontology to the possibility of transformation. This project overall, therefore, works to outline the fundamentals of a grammar of listening and to analyze the complex interrelationships among language, listening, subjectivity, and human sociality.

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