In explaining his critical practice, Theodor Reik exhorted his fellow analysts to listen with their third ears. An attempt to discern the meaning of the “third ear” confronts us with a web of associations that point ineluctably to an attempt to decenter the sense of hearing away from the otic cavities. This would point toward more holistic understanding of listening as a bodily phenomenon, on the edge of psychoanalysis and phenomenology—a terrain that Reik, the autobiographical and otobiographical obsessive, frequently traversed over the course of his long career.

My contention is that Reik, consciously or not, drew a link between listening and anality, and, in so doing, opened up to an understanding of bodily attunement with the surrounding world, one that necessarily troubles the interior/exterior binary of what Didier Anzieu, a pioneer in anatomically minded psychoanalysis, calls the “skin-ego.” To explore these questions, this paper will have a fourfold structure. It will begin with an introduction of anality, followed by an explication of Reik’s third ear and an exploration of the oto-anal connection in this light, before finally elaborating on some of the implications of this research.

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