Taking the new materialist and climate change themes of Ashley Fure’s The Force of Things: an Opera for Objects as a departure point, this article examines sound studies’ recent invocations of new materialist philosophy alongside this philosophy's foundational concern toward the Anthropocene ecological crisis. I argue that new materialist sonic thought retraces new materialism’s dubious ethical program by deriving equivalencies of moral standing from logically prior ontological equivalencies of material entities and social actors rooted in their shared capacities to vibrate. Some sonic thought thus amplifies what scholars in Black and Indigenous decolonial critique have exposed as the homogenizing, assimilative character of new materialism’s superficially inclusional and optimistic ontological imaginary, which includes tendencies to obscure the ongoingness of racial inequality and settler-colonial exploitation in favor of theorizing difference as a superfice or illusion. As I argue in a sonic reading of Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks, some of new materialism’s favored analytical and ecological terms such as objecthood, vibrationality, and connection to the Earth are also terms through which anti-Blackness, colonial desire, and the universalization of Whiteness have historically been routed. This historical amnesia in new materialism enables its powerfully obfuscating premises. As a result, I argue that new materialist sound studies and philosophy risk amplifying the Anthropocene’s similarly homogenizing rhetorics, which often propound a mythic planetary oneness while concealing racial and colonial climate inequities. If sound studies and the sonic arts are to have illuminating perspectives on the Anthropocene, they must oppose rather than affirm its homogenizing logics.
Vibration, Difference, and Solidarity in the Anthropocene: Ethical Difficulties of New Materialist Sound Studies and Some Alternatives
Andrew J. Chung is assistant professor of music theory at the University of North Texas. His work specializes in 21st-century music and sound art, focusing on their connections to contemporary philosophy and sonic theory. His work interrogates questions of sonic violence, the music-language metaphor, and coloniality in the Anthropocene.
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Andrew J. Chung; Vibration, Difference, and Solidarity in the Anthropocene: Ethical Difficulties of New Materialist Sound Studies and Some Alternatives. Resonance 1 June 2021; 2 (2): 218–241. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/res.2021.2.2.218
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