Noise

Since noise seems to manifest regularly in my work, reference to Nicholas Chare’s psychoanalytic meditation on noise, grounded in Julia Kristeva’s notion of the abject, seems apposite. What follows is from Chare’s book Auschwitz and Afterimages: Abjection, Witnessing and Representation.

[The] collapsing of boundaries embodied by the scream is accompanied by a crisis of signification. The sign disintegrates as V.N. Vološinov recognized in his description of the “animal cry.” Vološinov wrote that “the animal cry, the pure response to pain in the organism, is bereft of accent; it is a purely natural phenomenon. For such a cry, the social atmosphere is irrelevant, and therefore it does not contain even the germ of the sign formation.” It is something exterior to ideology and outside the shape of the sign. It is the outing of the inner. It is an intermediary between the insides and the outside, yet it also exceeds intermediation. It is neither inside nor outside, nor is it both inside and outside, it is beyond inside and outside. It is the “beyond- of-the-signified” from out of which the signified emerged. Lacan calls it the Thing, das Ding. It could also be referred to as noise.
Lacan wrote that the Thing is inaccessible to us, that is has always been inaccessible. It can never be known. The self has no memory of this before self which persists around and beneath it. The before is the noise from which the self figures itself out. It lines the outline. It is the surround to shapes. It is the paper beneath the type. Attali understands noise to be a formless form of interruption that initiates change through its powers of censorship, through its capacity to annul the existing meanings of a given moment and open up a meaningless field out of which to create “a new order on another level of organization.”

Babies exist in and as noise before they are born, encompassed by and being the roar of bodily functions. This clamour continues after birth. Didier Anzieu suggests that the alimentary and digestive activities “turn the body into a resonant cavern whose noises are all the more disquieting for the baby since they cannot be localized.” Anzieu is correct to emphasize the non-localizability of this noise. Noise comes from everywhere and nowhere. It does not originate. Origin arises from noise. Noise and sound as discrete phenomena, as different things, emerge from the undifferentiated Thing that is noise. It is the Thing before the two. Outside inside and outside, beyond closeness and distance, it is extimacy. Noise is the intimate unknowable that gives the self its edge and puts it on edge. The closest we come to noise is through the abject, that which “lies there quite close” but “cannot be assimilated.” Julia Kristeva understands the abject to be that which we banish in order to be, that which, from its no-place of banishment beseeches “a crying out.” She explains that in the writings of Louis-Ferdinand Céline the “narrative yields to a ‘crying-out theme’ that, when it tends to coincide with the incandescent states of boundary-subjectivity that I have called abjection, is the crying-out theme of suffering-horror.” The theme of suffering-horror is “the ultimate evidence of ( … ) states of abjection within a narrative representation.” This crying-out theme of suffering-horror is the scream in Study after Velázquez. It is the pain of the desire to touch the untouchable. It is the knowledge of the impossibility of fulfilling this desire. It is the wanting.

Abjection, if not noise, is perhaps on the path back to noise. It is the experience of an unsound self, the experience of losing experience, of losing the shape that is an experience, of almost attaining the non-experience of unbecoming. It is a falling back towards the annihilation of self but a not quite arriving there. The abject is not the objet petit a, nor is it an object, it is a border. It is the border between the I and that which was before it. It is the brink of the I’s history. The abject marks the moment when an I “that is taking shape is constantly straying.” The abject is the hinge. It forms the process of separation. It is not an afterwards but comprises of a ‘during’. It is, as discussed previously, the requisite rejection for recognition to take place. Abjection is before the time of mirrors; acoustic, visual or otherwise. It is the precondition without which no identification with an Other can take place. Abjection is a tenuous shaping that permits the self to take shape in an outside of itself. It is simultaneously the rejection of senseless noise and the seeking out of signs.

The actions of mewling and puking in its mother’s arms form the beginning of the infant’s journey towards an outside of the mother Thing. By screaming, the infant expels a part of itself from the confines of the maternal embrace. Screaming is a kind of shitting out (be that of fear, or of self). Mikhail Bakhtin writes that the gaping mouth is “related to the lower stratum; it is the open gate leading downward into the bodily underworld.” The screaming mouth is a second anus. In the beginning there is the scream out of which “screams” emerge, in the beginning there is the pain from which “pains” arise. In the beginning there is noise. Noise is the background to self and sense. Perception and its objects issue from the noise and through their issuance muffe it. In the beginning, we retch and wrench ourselves out of this noise. The nausea within noise, the gagging and vomiting, starts to pull us out of noise, or push noise out of us. Pulling and pushing, oppositions, separations—provisional at first but then fastening as experiences—slowly become sounds. The screaming baby is carrying out an exhaustive disgorging of noise. It is propelling noise outside the outside, abjecting it.

Mario Cutajar, “O” from the artist’s book through.