A Journal of Rhetoric, Writing, and Culture

Carried from Home on the Thread of a Tune: Listening for Misunderstanding

Andrew Crook, Pierce College

Jeremy Cushman, Western Washington University

Shannon Kelly, Michigan State University

Published March 25, 2022

Carried From Home On The Thread Of A Tune:
A Framework; Or, Perhaps, an Artists’ Statement

Can I transmit my listening, as unique as it is?
-Nicole Brittingham Furlon

“Carried From Home On The Thread Of A Tune,” for us, is a attempt to surface our unfolding and ongoing response to Kate Lacey’s beautiful and critical observation: ‘“Noise is immaterial, yet it can invade the body and colonize the mind…. Sensitivity to sound varies through time, across cultures, and between classes, and so the ways in which soundscape is perceived and managed says much about the structuring of social relations” (72). Here, we do our best to listen to our structuring listening practices.

What we want, then, is to listen better. Somewhere in our conversations and our work together, we accepted listening as a practice. A practice that seems to disappear in its use. Can listening, we wondered with Nicole Brittingham Furlong, be a practice we can listen to? (102). Frustrating as this can feel, we’re learning that listening functions as a kind of mechanism that allows us to understand the worlds in which we act—the worlds that are disclosed to us—but listening cannot at the same time be part of that understanding. When we talked with each other about our listening practices, we also (and implicitly) talked about the ways we ordered our worlds—about the ways our practices of listening molds and shapes our listening. It all gets too circular. That is, listening is a practice of a different sort than, say, reading. We can understand reading as an accomplishment, or as a skill of deciphering a code that we once were taught and that we can continue to learn. Listening, whether that means the sensation of sound waves entering our ear, interpreting the movement of hands, deciphering sound, or feeling vibrational waves pass through our body, is not the same kind of skill as reading because it belongs to language acquisition itself (Lacey, 32). It can’t be an accomplishment because it’s already there, from the start. It’s already an entangled practice that’s difficult (impossible?) to separate out from that which it discloses. And in that way, we finally accepted listening as a rather powerful rhetorical practice, impressing upon us as much as we work to better practice it.

We hope “Carried From Home On The Thread Of A Tune” reflects our productive (if circular) conversations about wanting to listen better, while also offering you, dear listener, the chance to experience listening as practice. What we’re after is the production of a felt difficulty, an affective response of which any careful articulations remain unsatisfying—as not enough somehow. So, we make claims here that are easily discernible, yes. And then we layer those claims into perhaps less easily discernible design decisions. There’s certainly some work required of a listening practice. We hope “Carried From Home On The Thread of A Tune” offers listeners such work.

As you work to listen, you’ll encounter:

  • The “authors’” voices responding to each other without speaking to each other. This is something other than listening to a (Burkean) conversation you’re welcome to join and leave
  • Student voices reflecting on their own work with sound and meaning
  • Interruptions and strange musical juxtapositions designed to support and/or question listening practices
  • Multiple references and, maybe more importantly, illusions to religious practices, particularly Western Protestant practices. These religious practices, we think, surface a kind of unrecognized tension between ‘ordering’ a message’s meaning and yet practicing in ways that assume a (practically) inaccessible force still speaks in ways that require more and different listening. To be a glib, when does the bush stop burning?
  • A slower pace of argumentation that even frustrates us as we keep learning to listen better with this project.

Works Cited

Arroyo, Sarah. Participatory Composition: Video Culture, Writing, and Electracy. Southern Illinois University Press, 2013.

Blue Dot Sessions. “Dirty Wallpaper.” Free Music Archive, http://freemusicarchive.org/music/Blue_Dot_Sessions/Lemuel/Dirty_Wallpaper, 2018.

Brittingham, Nicole Furlonge. Race Sounds: the Art of Listening in African American Literature. University of Iowa Press, 2018.

Copland, Aaron. “Appalachian Spring.” Copland Conducts Copland, Heritage Records, 2014.

Deleuze, Giles, and Feliz Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism & Schizophrenia. The Athlone Press, 2001.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. Bloomsbury Academic, 2013.

Heidegger, Martin. Poetry, Language, Thought. Harper & Row, 1971.

Hochmuth, Marie. “I.A. Richards and the New Rhetoric.” Quarterly Journal of Speech, vol. 44, no. 1, 1958, pp. 1-16

Humphreys, Adam L. Group of College Students in Classroom, freesound.org, 26 Feb. 2011. WAV file

Kennedy, George. “A Hoot in the Dark: The Evolution of General Rhetoric.” Philosophy and Rhetoric, vol. 25, no. 1, 1992, pp. 1-21.

Lacey, Kate. Listening Publics: the Politics of Audiences in the Media Age. John Wiley & Sons, 2013.

Lipari, Lisbeth. Listening, Thinking, Being: Toward an Ethics of Attunement. Pennsylvania State University Press, 2014.

Lyotard, Jen-Francois & Jean-Loup Thebaud. Just Gaming. University of Minnesota Press, 1985.

Pettman, Dominic. Sonic Intimacy: Voices, Species, Technics (Or, How to Listen to the World). Stanford University Press, 2017.

Ratcliffe, Krista. “Rhetorical Listening: A Trope for Interpretative Invention and a ‘Code of Cross-Cultural Conduct.” College Composition and Communication, vol. 51, no. 2, 1999, pp. 195-224.

Woolf, Virginia. To the Lighthouse. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1991.