• Sarah Hayden

Teacher Voice Treatment Lecture 3, by Sarah Hayden

Teacher Voice Treatment, Lecture 3. Green writing on black background.

Introduction by Nisha Ramayya:

In Arjuna Neuman and Denise Ferreira da Silva’s tender-dispersing film Soot Breath, DFdS asks us to set aside Narcissus and his mirror stage and think ego otherwise, to find another image that might indicate our material sensibilities and shift focus from singular subjecthood to earthly enfolding. She offers Echo: ‘the acknowledgement of that deep implicancy existing in the world by already taking into account the fact that we are just one singular composition, made out of something that is also entering the composition of other things. […] Then I think Echo, who immediately – which is defined by, precisely the fact that she … (chuckles) … resonates, and that’s all she does.’ When I hear this – and, even more so, when I read the chuckling caption, nestled between gendered pronoun and sympathetic vibration – I think of Sarah. Against the traditionally “tragic lidlessness” of ears’ susceptibility to sound, as figured by certain philosophers and scholars with their everso odd anxieties about acous(ma)tically sticky fingers, SH unveils through layering the tragedy that buzzes right by such ears and remains out of range – that of the lid, of not hearing, of closing oneself to the messages, of swatting flies. You put your hand up to your ear to hear better, to feel through listening and listen through feeling, to vary the tuning without turning off (and I hope this sonic/haptic image, these mixed metaphors, gesture towards the many ways we might embody, experience, and understand ‘listening’ in our differently perceiving bodies).

Reading Sarah is like talking with her, is like thinking alongside her, the way that her voice, her style imbues, so that I gladly drape myself in asterisks, chatty compounds, snoring bearcreatures; I dream in density, in the ideas, artworks, and creative-critical invitations that SH bricolages; and, yes, I learn, I study with Sarah and Roland and Zap and Ellen and Tony in the spiralling classroom whose walls keep changing colour and transparency/opacity so that we may understand new things about focus, about the situatedness of the classroom within the world. Reflecting on the voice of the teacher/father/Father that lays out the law, whether ‘speaking well’ professorially or ‘excusing oneself for speaking’ pedagogically, to mix Barthes’s and SH’s terms, Sarah draws out the necessary presence of the student who intervenes even without speaking (or listening, or turning their camera on!). Whether in person or online, the classroom depends on the co-presence of teacher and student. As Barthes says: ‘the Other is always there, puncturing his discourse’. The same cannot be said for art galleries showcasing video-works that reproduce teaching scenarios, whose artists speak in Teacher Voice. Whether they mean to raise consciousness in earnest or subvert didacticism, the issue remains: the ‘essential co-presence, the confrontation’ between artist/teacher and viewer-listener/student is not required, is, in fact, unlikely. Authority, however ironically presented, remains unchallenged – impervious to intervention – when the artist recuses their presence no matter how well excused their speech. As Sarah asks: ‘What happens, then, when there is no risk of puncture?’

I think of a meeting with my former supervisor Kristen Kreider, who interrupted my flow to stand up, remove the white wall clock, and place it outside the room; Kristen ended time so that I could keep going on and on about Dictee, was how it felt. I think of all the teachers who have never marked my work, whose lines have triggered my fallings-in-love, who’ve dared Edmund and me to ring the chapel bell at Churchill, whose playing has sent my fingers eeling, who’ve answered my questions in farts. I think of all the teachers who know the openness of the score, the beautiful scam, that we’re studying across-ways, that they/we’ll never know everything and there’s so much to learn from us/you. Sarah begins this lecture-poem with effluvium and rub and ends with stickiness, the flows and feelz of her work not simply evoking but really doing pedagogical reciprocity – echo’s eternal, inevitable, essential resonance. We can’t/won’t answer her question, but send it spinning in more directions, taking further and further circumstances into account – universities, art galleries, poetic forms, messenger apps, parks, zines, all the official and unintelligible spaces where study is denied, takes place anyway, earthwormily struggling, kissing the rain, listening athwart. Polycentric tones like punctures in an expanding field; social rhythms anticipating total-body-hearing experiences; SH’s classroom entropics, mhm yes and and and –

You can read TVT Lecture 1 here, and TVT Lecture 2 here.


‘he said “theyre students they come regularly every day students come into school they sit down and you can talk to them” and i thought this was so freaky I said “wow”’.[i]


A hand holds an alphabet card for the letter ‘I’ behind a small potted plant. The plant sits on a small round table before a brick wall.

Rancière, in th'oddity that is The Ignorant Schoolmaster, figures ‘the childlike minds of the people’ – the would-be, could-be learners – as ‘fragile young plants’.[ii] Though not, I think, a knowing reference, Baldessari’s Teaching a Plant the Alphabet (1972) makes th'analogy manifest.

Perhaps, indeed, they are a pale shade of grey. The b&w open reel video of 1972 leaves this to your private imaginings

Th’artist works methodically through a pack of alphabet cards, employing the pedagogical principle of trebled demonstration: phoneme/symbol/image – to teach a small banana plant that sits on a small round table, in front of a wall of schooldays-summoning white or whiteish breezeblocks.

…much as how Stuart Hall* held onto Gramsci’s organic (botanic?) intellectual ‘because I think it puts a shadow across intellectual work’

The plant does not look especially scholarly. But Jacquetot and Rancière would, I think, have liked it like this. What the plant does do is cast its shadow over the alphabet cards.

For Jacquelyn Ardam, this video is the Cal-Arts post-studio king’s somewhat smug parody of the sorry fate his (no syllabus, no assessment, no subject) teaching escaped — fate of the punitive pedagogue that found him anyway, elsewhere, in I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art.[iii]

It is most audibly in the letters least amenable to easy repeating that we are reminded there’s a real human body behind that voice

In JB’s image of plant pedagogy, we see the repetition that is teaching. We hear it, too. Still more so. ‘A’, it says. Then ‘A’ again & ‘A’gain. And so consistent, so steady is he (mosttimes) that he might be mistaken for an automated voice: mechanical teaching machine. In listening, I visualise the finger held to depress a button. Its even intervals = the predetermined gaps between each uttered sound.

Occasionally, the voice wavers, so-slightly, like the hand that sometimes makes the card flap, also-so-slightly. But then the Baldessarian body makes itself heard in the lip-tongueflesh-palate congestion that arises when the same mouth must try to re-launch, re-peatingly ‘wwwww’.

Each flashcard is much bigger than the plant, and displays the letter in both upper and lower case, as well as providing a few examples of usages

The curriculum is set by the order of the alphabet.

…since, indeed, otherwise the banana tree might never know how differently the same letter can behave within different words

The teaching philosophy is really, unrelentingly rote, and the students never respond.

…or none, at least, that can be felt. And none, either, that could be quantified, assessed and submitted as a Distinct Learning Outcome

This is instruction without joy, without change, without result : a futility beyond Beuys’ explication of pictures to a dead hare.

A seated Joseph Beuys, in metallic facepaint, gestures professorially while cradling a dead hare in the crook of his other arm

Beside what benefits accrue plantward, this furry unfortunate can only be materially degraded (howsoever documented) by posthumous fondling

If Prouvost’s film throws us back into the student seat, the chaos of failing learning, Baldessari’s film evokes the existential horror of teaching as a suffering of the blankness of vegetal student bodies.

The artists’ murmurings are for everyone but the creature intended as the merest of foils to the artist’s metallic makeup. Better, indeed, to be a plant.

Or maybe it’s a just-er allegory for all teaching, as experienced from the POV of instructor, whose situation (however lofty) can (rightly) never disclose a view onto the interiors of the listening students.

We don’t know what’s happening in the listening student’s brain, any more than we understand what is afoot within xylem & phloem

To teach is always to teach banana plants: beings of other ilks, their responses unknowable.

Or, as Graham Allen puts it, ‘There is no guarantee. No calculability in one’s texts and, by implication, one’s teaching’.[iv] A humbler, warmer lesson for all instructors.


Portrait, in profile, of the heavily moustachioed Friedrich Nietzsche. Overlaid on top: a screenshot closeup of his very small ear

Nietzsche prided himself on his small ears. He was especially angsty about the primacy of the aural vocal interface within 19th c. German higher ed. Horrified that the channel linking individual and university should be that of the ear, that it should be ‘as a hearer’ that the student’s role was construed.

And so he raged, in his lectures On the Future of our Education Institutions, against th' ‘acroamatic’ method of teaching.

Contra all tiresome consternation in sound studies about the ear’s tragic lidlessness, for Nietzsche, what makes the ear such a preposterous point of connection between individual and institution is, precisely, its capacity to be (metaphorically if not membranically) closed, such that: ‘He’ (for his student, of course, can only ever be a he) ‘himself may choose what he is to listen to; he is not bound to believe what is said; he may close his ears if he does not care to hear’.[v]

Here: academic freedom is a ‘double independence’. Generated, diabolically, in the circuit linking a mouth that is free to speak what and as it will & ears that blink open and closed, on nothing more than a whim: th' opposite of the ‘obedience [...] subordination [...] discipline [...] subjection’ quadrumvirate that Nietzsche (being Nietzsche) holds as prerequisites for culture proper.[vi]

What’s worse, by his reckoning, is that the disastrously independent student is left free to 'withhold all belief and authority from what he hears’.[vii] Nietzsche’s students languish for the lack of a leader, and in the absence of appropriate guidance, develop ears both long and floppy enough to, unknowing, unnoticingly, receive thereby the invidious, treacherous voice of the state.

Derrida’s reformulation of Nietzsche’s paranoia drives the latter’s oto-analogy into still deeper, fleshier territory: way past the threshholding portals of ear and mouth and all the way to an ‘umbilicus’ that ‘dictates to you the very thing that passes through your ear and travels the length of the cord all the way down to your stenography’.[viii] It is in its conjoining of the bodily and the machinic that this analogy gets most interesting, as Derrida goes on: ‘The writing links you, like a leash in the form of an umbilical cord, to the paternal belly of the State. Your pen is its pen, you hold its teleprinter’. (…!)

Connor reminds of the stomachiness of early ventriloquism, audible still in th'engastrimythos: ‘a particular manner of speech which gave rise to the illusion of a voice proceeding from elsewhere than the person of the utterer’.[ix]

As Derrida also observes, ‘it is a hypocritical hound, which, like the Church, claims that its voice comes out of the “belly of reality”’ (JD 34)

Here, too, the voice that cannot be seen to be orally produced claims powers (& knowledge) beyond normal human ken. Bouncing us back (on blackboard?) to the first lecture in this series: the voice emitted straight from the stomach bypasses the articulation system that would index it to a single body and grants it the possibility of being apprehended as transcendent truth.

The weird thing afoot here registers on both ends. The voice that never passed through a mouth is also received otherwise than by the ear. Or, thinking in less aurally-bound terms, via

any sensory organ of perception. Kant’s pure philosopher is presumed to hear ‘before he needs physical ears, and from within a pure interior where his hearing organs are, in any case, cut off — disembodied’.[x] Dawn McCance ties it up neatly: ‘He is supposed to hear reason speak (in words) immediately, that is, before there has been any movement to the outside, and before a material signifier, a figure, has intervened’.[xi]

ID: Dual screen installation of Weir’s video at the Institute of Physics, with stools and headphones. Both screens show hands at work with pencils.

This, I think, is what’s going on in Grace Weir’s Time Tries All Things (2019): a 2 channel video installation in which we watch two theoretical physicists at their (nostalgic, rather nicelooking) professorial ‘duties’ – writing, diagram sketching, window-gazing as long prelude to note-making. We hear, meanwhile, their voices but never glimpse any audiovisual synch-up.

the technology does not quite exist to enable this full sensory bypass
As a hexample: ‘The general consensus about the human perception of the arrow of time is through thermodynamics, which says that entropy grows’

Weir’s work acousmatizes the teacher voice after the fact: effecting a throwing of voices in time rather than space.

Weir fantasizes a model of pure pedagogical communication in which the teacher could bypass the mouth to beam in truth about time.

History teaches: all artists love entropy, always

That’s knowledge, from the belly (or brain), right into the student ear (& consciousness).


Five peepholes cut from a black background. Through three of these, blurry human figures can be seen.

In 1973, Nancy Holt set up another of her circle-centric experiments. For Going Around in Circles, a site was chosen, and the camera trained onto it from a height some floors above. Movement scripts and walkie-talkies were issued to the participants on the ground: 5 Oneonta art students who moved between points marked with 5 rocks on an open field that contained a steep hill. (5 rocks lining up with 5 apertures in a board placed over the camera lens upstairs).

Watching now the teacher’s view of the action, the students commentate on their experiences thereof from new spatiotemporal situation

Operating the camera and watching from a window, Holt zooms in and out on this perceptually flattened space. She covers and uncovers various of these circular holes in the cardboard. Meanwhile, down below, the students bustle (across slipperily wet grass) between points of viewability, disappearing from one circle to turn up somewhere else. In Going Around in Circles, we watch footage of this experiment. We watch, crucially, with the participants and we all (across time) watch the fieldwork twice. Meanwhile, what we hear is the artist in conversation with the students. The effect is something like that of a DVD extra ‘making of’ documentary: albeit a rather raggedy-edged homemade one.

But what interests me more than any of the circleplay or artfrat japes caught within the circles is the work’s modelling of something like seminar teaching. It’s there in the repetition: the re-iteration of the video playback so as to harvest every possible learning opportunity. It’s there too (and maybe most obviously) in the relative altitudes of students and artist/teacher/puppetmaster while the going around in circles is going on.

At one point, Holt alludes to how, from the window, she was both looking down upon the field and down onto the monitor, so that ‘my whole vision, all the time, was a downward vision’. And the students allude to how ‘all you saw was a window, and much of Nancy’s face ....’ towards which they were ‘always looking up’.

Moreso, though, the seminar situation subtends in what is instantiated between their voices.

The artist’s clearings of discursive space can be anticipatory and they can be tacitly forgiving, too

Holt’s, here, is the voice of the seminar teacher: Pushing, coaching, pressing, commending, setting the students up to speak.

Witness: the pause she lets fall around a flurry of giddy shared laughter before moving on; the teacher’s voice that holds its reprimand in check

Her questions combine the general and the specific with, sometimes, a performance of solicitude that another critic might call motherly…

Dragging rhetorical springboards into sentences so as to encourage them to hold forth : ‘I wonder how the people who were there on the ground felt about this. How did you feel, Bruce, when you were walking around?’.

…I will diagnose it, instead, as a running together of seminar management and the artist’s anxious questions to audience friends after th’event

Just as the teacher performs overt interest in the students’ opinions, so the students flatter the instructor’s prompts. When one introduces an unanticipated angle, the artist graciously admits her surprise, exclaiming ‘I hadn’t considered that before’. The artist-teacher’s pleasure in their learning warms, lifts her teaching voice to confirm and commend: ‘That’s right! Yes! that’s right’.

‘the songbirds try out sounds. one pipes up, pitch a little off. others add in notes. this doesn’t ever hold for long but there are moments of real song’.[xii]

Someone asks: ‘Is being the biopower of the enlightenment truly better than this?’[xiii] / Someone answers: <obvs, no>.

What keeps Holt's interlocutors speaking are these re-assurances of discursive hospitality, rhetorical invitations re-offered that renew the vocational vow to provide a safe and receptive landing place for the voice of the student. In return for her teacherly assiduousness, they seem to stretch themselves towards more artful constructions. If listening hard, we might also discern another kind of terribly teacherly pause, a missed beat or two or three that precedes the apt word towards which a sentence strains.

From the sound of things, Holt’s position here is something like that of the visiting/guest tutor: counterbalancing generosity with readiness to temper and redirect the students’ assertions. This balancing, maybe, is the crux of the seminar format. So Holt deploys copious calculated ‘mhms’ and other audible indicators of receipt without agreement, responding ‘mhm yeah well there was a “patterning” but also I think there was a certain kind of chance....’.

This gap (this live thinking) anticipates the approach of the mot juste: cushion onto which the word, once found, can land

Seminar-teaching-voices run on ‘mhm and’ constructions: <<Mhm yes I hear you and appreciate your contribution. And (but) there’s more that you haven’t encompassed in your response>>.

so ordered does it seem that she appears to telegraph <even I, your teacher, might be momentarily misled. This voice, even, might misstep>

Seminar speech is appreciable in Holt’s in-phrase self-corrections: ‘the ordered’, she says, and then revises, ‘the seemingly ordered system’. We can hear this either as self-auditing autocorrect or, as concerted performance thereof. For, while the second phrase alone might have sufficed, the combination of the two — the ordered and the seemingly ordered —anticipates and underlines just how misleading this semblance might be. <<it’s a mistake anyone could make; look, see me nearly make it too, so you don’t have to>>. Not ordered, but seeming to be so.

So, Holt half-makes mistakes in order to audibly correct them. And from this, presumably, the student learns how carefully, self awarely, they must learn (in language, or in their perception) to tread. And in this way, teacher voices model habits of thinking and talking that we learn & reproduce thereafter.

Throughout, Holt’s phatic hesitations, her langorous ahs and uhms sonorize her live thinking, in convocation with other voices, other minds that countersign her mental/emotional as well as physical presence: communicating responsivity. <<Here I am with you, among you>>, says this voice, before it says anything at all. <<And your interjections and contributions are eliciting my responses>>. The distancing here is enacted upon us, but not, notably, on the space between students and teacher. Shut out of the thrust and parry of their classroom speech, we are onlookers and eavesdroppers both on the scene of interlocutory instruction.

Meanwhile, out in the field: the recordings, the interminable uploads, the lossy formats, the little boxes, the new ways of working. What hope then (though) for the lecture, the thing (is it over? it’s nearly over) itself?


A vivid red rectangle, bearing the title of Cokes’s Testament A video in white caps, as well as the date (01.19.2018) of Eshun’s memorial lecture

For his 2019 Testament A (MF FKA K-P X KE RIP), Tony Cokes took the Memorial Lecture delivered by theorist-artist-educator Kodwo Eshun on the occasion of the first anniversary of the death of theorist-writer-educator at large, Mark Fisher.

This capacity to exist within & outside the academy is registered by his being aka K-punk, title of his blog, now re-memorialized in Cokes’s title

I will admit, here, to having adjuncted in Goldsmiths VC in my academi-youth and to having been not unaffected by this potent structure of feeling

Eshun’s lecture was delivered at the institution at which he and Fisher had worked. An academic institution with an unusual and particularly vivid profile. Which is really to say that a particular structure of feeling is shared (placentally) among its student body, its faculty and, maybe most notably, among its alumni.

Within this institution, and very far beyond, Fisher was-is-was hugely huge. And Eshun’s lecture, propulsive & powerful, amplifies Fisher’s role as an instigator-incubator of movements.

In frantic slidebys through departmental corridors, I witnessed how Mark Fisher excited in his students a deep and lifting keenness to be doing thinking

Eshun’s lecture about Fisher’s teaching-talking-thinking declaims an inventory of movements it catalysed, nurtured or, as KE puts it later in the lecture, movements for whom Fisher ‘was a midwife’ — ‘the Afro-Futurists / That hack the systems / of chrono-power / And chronograph. / The Speculative Realists / that dismantle the barriers to the great outside. The Hauntologists [...]’.

Each of these are, in Eshun’s language, ‘the names of, and for, aesthetico-political positions / That operate by disagreements, and differentiations / That make claims, that must be argued / Each of these is not so much a term, as a war, / Of, and over, interpretation’. They are, he says, ‘Theories that are embodied / Theories that live in us, and through us, / and with us, and on us’. Movements that manifest via audible and legible interactions between voices.

Throughout, as is his wont, Cokes abbreviates Mark Fisher to his initials …

In the years since Fade to Black, Cokes’ aesthetic has been refined to a tight audio-visual signature, one neatly described by Christoph Cox as ‘highly saturated monochromes [...] over which animated texts scrolled, appearing as blocks, or flashed word by word [...] essays on video’.[xiv] The words that appear, like the sounds, are found, appropriated, "versioned".

…producing thereby a reversal of the process by which idiosyncratically shorthand lecture notes expand in the mouth when uttered

Cokes' work about Eshun’s work about Fisher’s work was commissioned for the Tony Cokes show at CCA Goldsmiths ... and so when Cokes’ Testament A (MF FKA K-P X KE RIP) was installed in London in 2019, it was projected into a site ripe for this eulogy.

vowels, like tiny towels

For a lecture emptied of lecture. For the return of these words in new form, into another (and yet fractally, foldingly overlapping) kind of space.

…leaving what? Not the object voice, but something not entirely unlike that

Precisely because of who he was and what it is, Goldsmiths made an a/v recording of Eshun’s memorial lecture available on YouTube. I watched this only later. After Cokes. Through Cokes. Via Testament A.

Or, more, I listened. And what hit, hard & first, is how the tell of Eshun’s grief and its inscription in the muscles and posture of Eshun’s body, the torquing of torso wrought of his awareness of the responsibility of elegy, this elegy, is audible in the tightness of breath that produces, at the outset, these very terse phrases.

I’ve learnt, see, from Holt’s delayed autocorrect

Cokes’ process effects the transubstantiation of one type of vocal materiality for another. And the dub-track Cokes overlays over his kineticized text: this, too, begins with a lot of ultrabare vocal sound that is breathy, No, that is just breath, just audible exhalation, <<sighs>> and somewhat effortful, weak prevocal sounds, anticipatory breathing.

Later, when snatches of actual singing start to mass, these sighs continue to puncture the soundtracking, letting th’air out of the th’audio

Kodwo Eshun standing at a lectern, before a white brick background. Peripheral details indicate that the image is a screenshot from a YouTube video

The fairly low-fi & unadorned YouTube video of Eshun’s lecture takes in some white breezeblocks, the edge of a whiteboard, some fiddly lighting controls, and a slice of print/poster of some kind, in red and beige, with Eshun in black suit jacket.

and wonderful white black geometric print shirt with red highlights that summon, to these eyes, Steyerl’s resolution target

We see also the microphone, but not the lectern proper; the visual branding of the space is cropped out by the crowd.

a crop to the eternal consternation, I’m sure, of some institutional ‘partner’ in profile & reputation management

and this is a decision Cokes routinely carries out: the slicing, the compressing, that he calls ‘versioning’

Cokes’s film is 35’22 and wholly a candycontrast of magenta+yellow; Eshun’s lecture, with the wandering intro by AF that must necessarily precede such a thing, takes 55’06 YouTube minutes and seconds includes a longish disquisition on Arthur Jafa that Cokes decides to eschew from his re-version.

After its end, Testament A runs on, post-credits, for some minutes, with music alone, and a blank screen.

There are ultra-obvious ways to read this blankness, emptiness, the gap left

Th'artist talks of having been attracted to Eshun’s lecture in part because he wanted to work with the rhythms of his vocal rendition, his oral delivery. And the product of Cokes’s process here is visually unremarkable within his rediscovered corpus. Testament A looks v.much like many of his other works that ‘version’ (TC’s term) found written texts.

See also Cokes’s B4 & After the Studio Pt.2 (Everythingism) (2019), which includes a screen reading ‘SLIDE 18, BLANK’

But what struck me in watching Eshun’s lecture and reading against it Cokes’ text/essay/film was the realization that what the artist is using here, as his source material, is so emphatically Eshun’s oral lecture. Rather than, say, a pre-existing transcript: a deadletter text. And this essential difference can be discerned not just because of those images/slides that display a trace of its vocalization (pause, sigh) but because the phrasing here is quite exactly that of Eshun’s notably segmented, pneumatically peripateticized cadence.

Also: the <Laughter> slide registering the audience’s tense, vicariously nervous titter at his forewarning as to length

The linebreaks of Testament A are absolutely those of Eshun’s lecture, as delivered by his (grieving, overcome but professional, pushing itself onward, finding its cadence, really there, really present) teacher’s voice.

Cokes's cuts between screens are, as I hear them, visualizations of the linebreaks of love, of loss. Making Cokes’s redelivery of text match and memorialize not just, and in fact much more than, the semantic content of Eshun’s lecture. Testament A records and reanimates too the affective, embodied manner of his performance. Such that, in encountering Testament A, we encounter an intensely athorybal poetics.

Athorybos is the term that neologomân(e) Chion gives ‘to any object or movement in the image that could — either in reality or in the imagination — produce sound but which is not accompanied by any sound’. [xv] His contention is that all the writing we read in a film image that is not accompanied by an utterance, or is not the source or ‘launchpad’ for an utterance, merits this term. And what he goes on to describe is how, in reading such words, the viewer automatically causes them to sound, internally, inside their reading mind. Much as how, in th’inverse situation, Peter Middleton suggests that ‘a sound heard as the voice of another also produces virtual responses throughout the bodies of the audience. When the speaker utters the poem, the listeners also speak it in virtuality’.[xvi]

Anxieties of oto/acoustic lidlessness aside: The word that is read gets inside us too. It is also, necessarily, a word that is voiced — if only internally — via the inner voice, of which Denise Riley writes: ‘I want to say that I “hear” it; there's no exact verb for this peculiar kind of hearing something which isn't actually sounded, and which evades any measurement of articulation. Yet a kind of hearing it surely is’.[xvii]

We can presume that for most modern readers, the experience of silent reading is less threatening of psychic disaggregation, than for the ancient Greeks for whom, says Svenbro, ‘reading felt invasive because they imagined that to read was to lend one’s voice and become ‘the instrument necessary for the text to be realized’ [....] in what they sometimes understood as an almost sexual penetration of the self’[xviii]. Reading the transcript of a speech you have heard delivered reactivates from memory its sonorities and its rhythms and infuses your reading with this ghostly re-vocality.

And there is much, beyond raw grain, that allows us to recognize familiar voices — much as we can recognise the prose style or stylistic ‘voice’ of a particular text. Patterns of flow and pause, lexicon, syntax, punctuation, grammatical idiosyncrasies: all of this conspires, in the sequential text system of Testament A, to produce the impression that we are in the presence of a distinct if self-effacing, non-sonorous voice.

‘now colleges are not all the same and an art college is not the same as any other’.[xix]

I am not trying to suggest that every experience of encountering Tony Cokes produces this effect.  That particularity, precisely, is the point

Future viewers will encounter Testament A much as they do other works by Cokes. But those who encounter it within the communal, affective space of Goldsmiths within aural memory of their acquaintance with or study under Eshun, and most especially those who were present whether full-physically or virtually at the memorial lecture itself, will experience in their reading-viewing of this work a profoundly particular experience of athorybal vocality: a concatenation of what happens between language, the body, syntax, the sonic, the mnemonic, the attitudinal, the rhetorical, the rhythmic and a very unusual sort of site-specificity. As consequence: Cokes’ version of Eshun’s talk about Fisher’s midwifery of collectives, will bring a new one into being, into convocation. Experience of the work will be inflected, enhanced by a sort of internal ear athorybal soundbleed: from the lecture that was into the legible artwork that is.

In a recent interview with Cokes, Kerry Tribe notes that ‘reading in your work takes on a distinctly embodied sensibility’.[xx] For those who have heard the lecture, whether onsite at the memorial, or since then via the video, Cokes’ ‘certain re-siting’[xxi] of Eshun’s voicing of Fisher’s thought will produce everafter, I think, an embodied, internally projected re-play of Eshun’s voice and Fisher’s thought that the listener-viewer will experience, in that instant, as inside of themselves.

As the teacher voice internalised, the lesson / / the language / / that sticks.

thank you x 3

[i] Antin, David, ‘is this the right place’, How Long is the Present: Selected Talk Poems of David Antin, p.9.

[ii] Rancière, The Ignorant Schoolmaster, p.132.

[iii] Ardam, Jacquelyn, 2018. ‘On Not Teaching Art: Baldessari, Pedagogy, and Conceptualism’, ASAP/Journal, Volume 3(1), pp. 143-171, p.165. Available at: 10.1353/asa.2018.0006.

[iv] Allen, Graham, 2012. 'Otogogy, or friendship, teaching and the ear of the other', in Critical Communities and Aesthetic Practices: Dialogues with Tony O Connor on Society, Art, and Friendship, ed. Francis Halsell, Julia Jansen and Sinéad Murphy (Dordrecht and New York : Springer).

[v] Nietzsche, Friedrich, 1872. ‘On the Future of our Educational Institutions’, Lecture 5, March 23rd.

[vi] Nietzsche, Lecture 5.

[vii] Nietzsche, Lecture 5.

[viii] Derrida, Jacques, 1985. ‘Otobiographies: The Teaching of Nietzsche and the Politics of the Proper Name’, trans. by Avital Ronell, The Ear of the Other. Otobiography,Transference, Translation. Texts and Discussions with Jacques Derrida, ed. by Christie McDonald. A Translation by Peggy Kamuf of the French edition edited by Claude Levesque and Christie McDonald (Lincoln & London: University of Nebraska Press), p.35-36.

[ix] Connor, p.50.

[x] McCance, Dawn, 2004. Medusa’s Ear: University Foundings from Kant to Chora L (NY: SUNY Press), p.44.

[xi] McCance, Medusa’s Ear, p.44.

[xii] Dillon, Ellen, 2021. ‘Definite article (in one mouth)’, Morsel May Sleep, p.12.

[xiii] Harney & Moten, ‘The University and the Undercommons’, p.27.

[xiv] Cox, Christoph, 2019. ‘The Author as Selector: Tony Cokes’ Iconoclasm’, Tony Cokes: If UR Reading This, It’s 2 Late, ed. By Natasha Hoare (London: Goldsmiths Press), p.39.

[xv] Chion, Michel, 2017. Words on Screen, trans. By Claudia Gorbman (NY: Columbia UP), p.60.

[xvi] Middleton, Peter, 2005. Distant Reading: Performance, Readership, and Consumption in Contemporary Poetry (Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press), p.57.

[xvii] Riley, Denise, 2005. ‘ “A Voice Without A Mouth”: Inner Speech’, Qui Parle, Volume 14 (2), pp.57-104, p.59.

[xviii] Svenbro, Jesper, qtd Middleton, p.83-84.

[xix] Antin, ‘is this the right place’, p.6.

[xx] Tribe, Kerry, 2019. ‘Tony Cokes and Kerry Tribe: Selected Texts’, Tony Cokes: If UR Reading This, Then It’s 2 Late, p.81.

[xxi] Cokes, Tony, 2019. ‘Tony Cokes and Kerry Tribe: Selected Texts’, p.83.


Text: Sarah Hayden

Published: 1/8/21