This essay offers a reconsideration of Giambattista Vico’s work for scholars interested in history, sound, and aurality. It takes as its point of departure the chronological table that stands at the opening of The New Science , homing in on its blind spots, raw absences, and tangled claims to objectivity. Vico’s understanding of history relies—this essay goes on to argue—on a lively world of aural metaphors involved in the act of its writing: imaginary sounds, meaningless speech, false listenings, along with invented onomatopoeic etymologies. Such unruly sounds lead us to a crucial paradox of Viconian history, one that must confront all historians invested in retrieving and rewriting the stories of those who are lost, erased, and unrepresented: what role does imagination play in the writing of history? Can human invention, imagination, and even falsehood lead us toward new historical findings? The essay closes with a gloss of Vico’s nascent theory of the physical and aural phenomenon of laughter, presented in the Vici vindiciae as a complex pathway between humanity and animality and, what’s more, as a historical interface between incommensurable stages of creaturely life.
On 19 November 1969, two members of Milan’s neofolk music collective the Nuovo Canzoniere Italiano (NCI) armed themselves with portable sound recorders and wandered amongst a crowd of demonstrators near Milan’s Duomo. The resulting LP, I fatti di Milano (The events of Milan), is a puzzling hybrid of artistic and political intent. As the sleeve note explains, the demonstration degenerated into a riot and resulted in the violent—and to this day legally unresolved—death of a police officer. The NCI members presented the recording as sonic evidence of the day’s events, hoping to help the case of the demonstrators accused of murdering the policeman. The record thus constitutes not only a swerve from “music” to “sound” in the collective’s output but also a move from aesthetic artifact to sound document, indeed, to putative forensic evidence. And yet, the evidence grows inexorably murkier with every listening. This essay homes in on the contradiction between I fatti di Milano ’s declared purpose and the sound recording it mobilizes toward that end. Drawing on both sound studies and Italian political philosophy, the essay argues that the record embodies and actively stages idiosyncratic but highly contemporary relationships between music and soundscape, between sound event and its technological reproduction, and ultimately between political event and the act of writing history.