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.

“(everything comes down to the ear you are able to hear me with)”

– Jacques Derrida

In explaining his critical practice, Theodor Reik exhorted his fellow analysts to listen with their third ears. On the surface, this seems like a fairly standard pitch for trusting one’s intuition; a poetic turn of phrase akin to the metaphysically tinged ‘third eye.’ Yet, as we probe deeper, as we listen to “third ear” with our own third ears, we are confronted by 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. What might the third ear be? I mobilize the deconstructive logic of supplementarity and notions of psychical economy to support my contention that Reik, consciously or not, drew a link between listening and anality, and, in so doing, opened up to an understanding of bodily attunement1 with the surrounding world. Such an attunement necessarily troubles the interior/exterior binary of what Didier Anzieu, a pioneer in anatomically minded psychoanalysis, calls the “skin-ego,” “which arises [in mental life] in response to the need for a narcissistic wrapping and provides the psychical apparatus with a secure and consistent state.”2 The skin-ego is “a mental image used by the…Ego…to represent itself as an Ego containing psychical contents, based on its experience of the surface of the body”—the more or less taut cutaneous envelope provided by the skin.3

The anus has been a common area of research within psychoanalysis, especially in comparison to other fields, even within the humanities, and the varieties of anal-focused diagnoses, especially pertaining to anal-retentiveness/expulsiveness, have been well-researched and elaborated. I will spend, in this article, little time recapitulating these. I am considerably more interested in the (self-)structuring and (self-)constitution of the anus at a more ontological level, which is to say its functioning, appearance, and role in psychical life, particularly as this pertains to a resonance with Reik’s notion of the third ear, which will be explored in the following section. Yet “appearance” may strike us as a strange word. Absent the creation of a mirroring or video apparatus, our own anus remains mystical and obscured to us, an anatomical inversion of Adorno’s note that the most well-lit rooms are the secret domains of feces4 or Žižek’s humorous analysis of the structure of German, French, and English toilets, which encourage moments of reflection on excrement.5 (The desire for scientific and rational access to/domestication of the anus may account for the zeal with which many patients view videos of their own colonoscopy.) The characterization of the anus as occluded yet omnipresent will become important to us later, but for now, let us tarry with the extant literature on the topic.

The anus is a cavity that, as Anzieu noted, has “no hardened layer or cornea to act as a protective shield; its mucous membrane is exposed, its sensitivity and erogeneity.”6 It is surrounded by a ring, sometimes compared to a corona or sun, as in the cases of Daniel Paul Schreber and Georges Bataille, and, while it has no protective shielding, it is nevertheless partially obscured by the buttocks. The anus can be understood, to use Anzieu’s term, as “invaginated.”7 For Avital Ronell, the anus is not merely invaginated, but “often vaginized,”8 reversing momentarily Lou Andreas-Salomé’s notion that the vagina is “only rented” (“nur abgemietet”) from the anus, the more passive verb hinting at possible modalities of internalization.9 The body is shot through with the interiority of the various cavities that form aporias in the skin-ego, shattering the view of the subject as unified and discrete from its surroundings. This can be understood, of course, in both a literal (anatomical) and figurative sense; the anus “threatens bodily/psychic integrity.”10

The anus, however, naturally goes deeper than issues of bodily integrity. It “is so well hidden that it forms the subsoil of the individual…we only see our anus in the mirror of narcissism.”11 Despite the fact that the anus remains a cavity, it is also inseparable from self-constitution as ego, “enclosed somewhere between the sublime, rarefied air of the mind and the deep excremental swamp.”12 Moreover, the anal role in egoical constitution crosses all gender boundaries; while, in later courses of development, naturally different views of the anus and anal erogeneity will be held and projected depending on any number of social factors, absent certain fetishes, all fear shitting themselves, the exposing of the anus with the creation, quite literally, of soil.

The anus is not exclusive, like the penis or the vagina, to one sex, to one type of body. Indeed, even aberrations of the penis and vagina, for instance in cases of intersexuality, are not inherently problematic to the logic of [attempts to think through the anus, to] read from behind. The anus is a key part of the human body, a remarkably complex organ that has significant symbolic potential, not least because of the numerous ways in which we have desperately tried to keep it repressed. It is also the organ that most makes many of us rather uncomfortable because of its alignment with abjection, dirtiness, shame…13

Listening with the Third Ear, published in 1948 (and in English, not Reik’s native Viennese German), is the product of a man out of space and out of time. Reik was exiled out of Europe by the rise of the Nazis, but, instead of finding a warm welcome, his lack of a medical degree led him to be shunned by most US-based psychoanalysts, who barred him from full membership in the New York Psychoanalytic Society, despite Freud’s rigorous defense of lay analysis14—which was, in fact, written originally to come to Reik’s aid. (For Reik’s part, he skewered these more “mainsteam,” credentialed practitioners as absent-mindedly speaking in “Psychoanalese” instead of engaging with the patients in their own uniqueness.) Reik was confronted in his new country by a sort of professional and existential homelessness, which he would later thematize in his work The Haunting Melody, one of the great, forgotten pieces of exile literature. Reik’s difficulties in attaining professional acceptance led him to found NPAP (National Psychological Association for Psychoanalysis) to train other lay analysts. However, his books sold well and were occasionally used as teaching texts. The difficulty of finding Reik a professional home has continued well after his death; his works are infrequently cited in psychoanalytic literature, and he remains an under-read figure, a status unlikely to change until there is a dedicated reissuing of his works, which are, by and large, long out of print or untranslated. The reasons for this ongoing exclusion are unclear. Jeremy Safran, convincingly, in my eyes, suggests that part of it has to do with Reik’s “somewhat colloquial writing style and wide popular readership,” though he may also have simply been “out of step.”15

Indeed, for Reik, being out of step was the norm. In his writings, time was out of joint as well. Many of his works are confessional to a large degree; Safran goes so far as to say Reik “devotes more of his writing than virtually any other analyst…to a type of confessional self-analysis.”16 Listening is no exception. His writings are overwhelmingly told in the past tense, especially the memories he has of Freud. As Phillippe Lacoue-Labarthe noted, “there is in Reik a kind of ‘autobiographical compulsion.’”17 Reik’s attachment to Freud as the singular actor within psychoanalysis also offers a marked contrast with many other theoreticians and practitioners, many of whom broke ranks with Freud during his lifetime, such as Sandor Ferenczi, or formulated strikingly unique elaborations of psychoanalytical concepts originally formulated by Freud. The above characteristics give Reik, of course, a great ability to speak, as it were, from a place uniquely suited to psychoanalysis.

However, more so perhaps than these simple qualifications and unique style, it is Reik’s perpetual exclusion, at which he often reacts bitterly, that may allow him to understand certain aspects of psychoanalysis acutely, even if perhaps unconsciously. To wit: Much like Reik’s life, sexuality is a mobile, roving reality, hardly affixed to mere genitality, occasionally violently and instantaneously shifting through nodes of the body and across uneasy temporalities. That the idea of the “third ear,” a term purloined from Nietzsche, should come from just such a metonymically oriented human ego, spread across time and space and various social spheres—namely that of Reik—should come as no surprise.

In all of this constant upheaval and various modalities of homelessness, perhaps even groundlessness, “Reik prefers to listen.”18 But with what does Reik listen? He’s rather cagey about it, despite his otobiographical compulsion, preferring to instantiate its use in extended bouts of self-analysis. The nebulousness of the third ear extends to its very earliest formulation in this text, where it is called “the organ of psychological observation…which observes, recognizes, and discovers what happens in us.”19 And, though it is “within” us, it “is not yet found.”20 Reik links this with the unconscious, yet it is clear that the third ear retains some physicality as well. It is capable of perception and is explicitly referred to as an organ. Contra Kyle Arnold’s reading of the third ear as a “system”21 and Lothane’s understanding of it as a mere simile or “instrument” vis-à-vis Otto Isakower,22 my contention is that this is not merely a metaphor here but a real, metonymic gesture toward the corporeality of this perceptive apparatus. The “third ear” is an organ that is not found, physical yet manifest only unconsciously; that it is not mentioned by name in this passage underscores the somewhat haunting character of its status and points yet further to a necessity of metonymic thinking—an investigation of the chain of signifiers. If Reik wishes to understand this organ, we here wish to find it. Reik himself gestures at just such a question in recounting an episode in his therapeutic practice; that is, in the use of the third ear (and not in attempting to elaborate it), when he asks himself the following question about how best to treat a patient: “’Now…I have the key to unlock the forbidden room, but where is the room?’”23 If we displace this question from the context of therapy and to the larger project of the book (a displacement suggested by the bracketing of this question as a quotation), we can see ourselves as picking up where Reik left off, at “the moment when an idea emerges from the unconscious.”24

The power of the third ear is precisely that it is not necessarily bound by temporal concerns and will release its sensory data only when prompted. The circumstances of this releasement, paradoxically related by Reik to a clenching movement, are various. The analyst should be “susceptible, as a mimosa is to the touch.”25 In pursuit of releasement, Reik performs dream analysis and recounts parts of his life. However, it can simply happen; Reik refers to this as a “slipping down into”26 or “glid[ing] down,”27 a rather sensual characterization evocative of smoothness, slipperiness, and sexuality (in this contemporary era, one is reminded of Astroglide). In any case, “the goal is to ‘go down’ inside the body, to shift the interior gravity center from the head to the body,” similar to breathing exercises that encourage a respiration that “becomes abdominal.”28

One modality of this releasement would be encapsulated by Reik “hear[ing] [him]self thinking.” Reik relates this to the voice of his father, but only after he markedly did not identify the source of this hearing, referring to it only as “like” a “delayed echo of something heard long ago.”29 Focusing on the idea of the echo necessarily means that we are dealing with an organ related to a cavernous, open space. That it is delayed, of course, would seem to point directly to the Freudian idea of Nachträglichkeit (or afterwardsness). In this selection, the word “like” takes on a great deal of weight, as it implies that there is, in fact, difference somewhere in his formulation, signifying perhaps an immediacy of the experience of a “‘past’ that has never been present.”30 This delay and this “like” is what Lacoue-Labarthe might refer to as the “echo of the subject.”31 However this paradox may be worked out, it tells us a great deal about the third ear, namely that it functions according to a metonymic logic and either has the physical characteristic of resonance or opens onto a resonant space—accordingly, this would be a type of listening where unmediated access to the source of what is heard is impossible and can only be approached via the play of free association. This free associative practice takes us into “the dark abyss…the netherworld”—which Reik evocatively links to a “Negro spiritual,” namely “There’s No Hiding Place Down Here,” which he misquotes as “down dere,” evoking Black forbiddenness and, in substituting “here” for “dere,” semiotic, racial, and topological displacement.32 The third ear, in other words, functions as and ontologically is present according to a logic of deferral and displacement: “The deeper psychological meaning of what we experience is always beyond our reach; access is always forbidden to the more intimate regions of the ego. What others are and experience may often appear indistinct to us and often incomprehensible, like a map on which there are wide unexplored tracts.”33 That the map itself would already be an abstraction cannot but reveal to us the shakiness of access—always “down dere.”

Displacement and the concomitant impossibility of unmediated access are further developed by Reik in his comparison of the third ear, still not yet by name, to the radio, upon which he quite possibly heard his spiritual. Shifting modalities from self-analysis to therapeutic methodologies, Reik says we must “turn the dial and…hear the noises and voices of another station.”34 (This technological metaphor naturally is reminiscent of Freud’s not-infrequent deployment of similar figurations, such as the microphone, telephone, etc.) The third ear is “a fine apparatus that can apprehend the emotional and thought processes of others…alive to every little quiver and slightest movement in the lines of unconscious communication…[It] can receive messages from their own subterranean stations as well as from others.”35 Again and again, there are references to a topological understanding of the third ear, which is positioned somewhere “beneath,” an association with the underground. In this particular case, as opposed to, say, the metaphysically tinged “netherworld,” “subterranean” is intensely material, rich with associations of earth, soil, rock. But this space is also one of broadcasting—hence always at a distance from its recipient. Once more, we are left with the peculiar understanding of the third ear as opening up onto a resonant space, a cavern, but an accessible one, insofar as we excavate “like Heinrich Schliemann.”36

Reik’s discussion of the unconscious transfer of information seems on the razor’s edge of lapsing into metaphysics (he even mentions telepathy). Yet, he is insistent that this type of communication “must ultimately be traced back to some sense-perception.”37 And Reik further dissociates himself from vulgar accusations of telepathy and base empathy by noting that we are not directly taking in the other as the subject of analysis or as a passive subject of knowledge acquisition but resonating with them. “The resonance comes [not from alien experience but] from the unconscious memory” of one’s past life.38 It is a taking into but then a concomitant, inherent warping still yet prior to possible conceptualization/theorization. The third ear, per Reik, is somewhere in the body as an organ, capable of “endopsychic perception.”39 Indeed, the perceptual apparatus of this organ can, according to Reik, be honed or (following the example of the radio) tuned. But it remains fundamentally inaccessible and at a remove—echoic. The nebulous nature of this apparatus continues to present a sticking point for taking us beyond mere figurative metaphor.

It is germane here to turn to Derrida’s différance to describe this modality of sense-perception. With its constant mediation, its lack of direct presence, “[différance] is never offered to the present.…In every exposition it would be exposed to disappearing as disappearance.”40 It is both present and absent, a simultaneous difference and deferral—“deferred presence.”41 Listening with the third ear, as related to free-association, “irreducibly polysemic,” functioning simultaneously according to registers of metaphoricity, metonymy, and Reik’s insistence on the third ear’s existence as an organ displaced away from the ears of the otic cavities, yet nevertheless functioning as sense-organ.42 An ear, the same as any other ear. A memory, an event. “The same, which is not identical…[T]he same…as the displaced and equivocal passage of one different thing to another.”43

The nebulousness of the third ear extends to the text itself; except for the cover (no small exception), the “third ear” makes its bodily debut only one quarter (nearly precisely a quarter, in fact—25.08%) of the way through the book, which, considering the length of nearly 600 pages, is hardly insignificant. Kyle Arnold noted the similarities between Reikian theory and “the deconstructionist notion of the marginal,” and, with this observation of the book itself, the character of the third ear as functioning according to a logic of supplementarity and marginality is materially literalized in the text. Per deconstruction, the supplement is both the extra piece and the necessary missing piece; the third ear’s relationship to the supplement and the marginal is not merely present in the text but inherent in its very name, which marks it as the third figure in a traditional dyad.

The third ear, shot through with polysemy and overdetermination, can only be understood with reference to the supplement and the marginal, since, according to Reik the third ear is engaged with “receiving…‘asides,’ which are whispered between sentences and without sentences.”44 We ought to be especially attentive to the diacritics here, the scare quotes which house “asides,” as if to set them yet even farther apart from normative modalities of communication, as if Reik were referring to the ghostly presence of the signifier “third ear” on the cover, which casts its pall over the whole book, whispering and wending. As the diacritical marks interrupt the “normal” flow of words on the page, so too do these asides (including the book itself?) irrupt normatively understood narrative flow. This links them not only to free-associative practice, which aims at overcoming traditional (self-)narration, but also to a certain surplus, which can be understood figuratively. It may also be understood as being irruptive and with a surplus character anatomically, given that Reik links the third ear directly to the functioning of the bodily ears. “In one ear, out the other, and in the third.”45 In this disruption of the narrative of the body, the coherence of the bodily self, we are confronted by a hidden entrance in a hitherto unidentified cycle of bodily operations. This cycle is rhythmic in nature and we find our knowledge of it “aris[ing] from our commonly unconscious vibration in time with the instinctive rhythm with the other.”46

The supplementary and irruptive character and logic of the third ear is underscored by Reik, who notes that it “will appear to many not only as an anatomical, but also as a psychological, abnormality.”47 That is to say, it is something outside of the norm. It is important here to insist of the radical thingness of the third ear; it is an abnormality, not merely abnormal adjectivally. The prefix ab- here is related also to the releasement that we noted earlier (consider, e.g. “ab-scond”), and it is also related to lack or an open space, via the Greek prefix ἁπό- (apo-), root of aporia. Again, we have an uncanny simultaneity of material presence and lack, upsetting the binaristic logic of the either/or (what is also called the law of non-contradiction). This fits quite well with some earlier research that has found that accessing “intuition” (Reik would blanche at the term, but the researchers are heavily indebted to his theorizations) is oftentimes both feeling like one has an interior “column,” “deeply rooted…in the hips and legs” (material presence) and an “opening up,” where “the perception of the limits between the interior space and the body [we might prefer skin-ego] becomes more indistinct, and even disappears” (lack/absence).48 Because of its unsettling of binary judgments, it is not shocking that we also find a revolutionary character in this third ear, in its apparently inherent transgressiveness. Its very existence unsettles norms, and, though apparently suppressed (or repressed), nevertheless remains accessible, at the very least in psychoanalytical practice and in self-analysis; we might, following Reik, call it a hunch. But if we listen to Reik himself with the third ear, his obsession with “hunches” may point us clearly to the resonant consonance with haunches.

As can be seen in our survey of the extant literature, the orality of the anus is often emphasized, whereas I would like to focus on its aurality.49 Beyond associations with what might be called an excremental logic (focusing on exteriorizing), Jean Laplanche noted that the anus and other bodily orifices “are by their nature sites of passage…they are…places of exchange with the outside.”50 The interiorizing aspect of the anus is a central locus of the neurosis surrounding Freud’s Rat Man: that some things can “[bore] their way in,” exchanging socially typical anal usage (excretory) for and “taking into,” the persistence of notions of anal permeability into adulthood.51 The notion of exchange here is key, as it brings to the fore the ultimate possibility of economies, understood both anatomically and metonymically. The dual nature of the anus, which is the site of the earliest notion of the other wholly52 within the self—excrement—is best understood in terms of a psychical economy, as Laplanche’s use of the term “exchange” implies that this early experience with otherness as an interiority would simultaneously prime the anus as a site of interiorization—serving, in other words, a function not just similar to the oral cavity but also hearing, viz. a taking in of sonic phenomena. It is precisely in the sense of a taking in of something exterior that, even while discussing the anal voice, Goodwin can note that the anus “reminds us of the alien within.”53 “Alien” may, in fact, be too precise; we might, alongside Andreas-Salomé, speak of simply a “not-we.”54 Whilst Goodwin and others speak of the intimacy of our anus to us, an intimacy so intimate that it becomes estranged and hidden in Adorno’s well-lit rooms, we can hear, of course, that it is not just us in there.

With all of this indeterminacy in mind, we can follow Freud in saying that “the anal zone is well suited by its position to act as a medium through which sexuality,” here used in the broadest possible sense, i.e., the manifold of existence, “may attach itself to other somatic functions.”55 Andreas-Salomé further notes that, “while the formative work [Erziehungswerk] within the anal sphere is, in an actual [tatsächlichen] sense, soon finished, it stays…perpetually, in a metonymic [übertragenen, literally “transferential” or “carrying-over,” the word is also used as “broadcast” or “translated”—some form of semantic movement is at play here] sense full of meaning [bedeutungsvoll].”56 The similarities between the anus in the psychoanalytic literature surveyed in the first section and the Reikian conception of the third ear are astounding. To cite Reik’s text on masochism, linked so closely with the anus: “In the course of development, however, this hidden thing squeezes through more and more and penetrates the darkness. What was audible previously only to the third ear is plainly audible now.”57 Indeed, are we not listening with our third ear when we attune ourselves to this idea of “squeezing”? But this is not a squeezing out, rather it is a squeezing in—a penetrative, internalizing action. When Freud’s Rat Man speaks of a fear of rats boring into his anus, we should be cognizant of the “Rat” in the original “Ratte,” referring to advice and counsel.58 In the words of Avital Ronell, “bordering on auditory psychosis, Rat Man’s invaginated organ of reception translates utterances by transforming them.”59 Ronell does not name this “invaginated organ,” but it is related to psychosis, which often leads to confusion, displacement, and overdetermination. We presume this organ to be the anus, but its relationship to différance, its lack of a name in Ronell’s figuration, prevents this simple judgment; is it too much to say that Ronell is touching on the third ear qua anus without naming Reik? Moreover, would this transformation not be consistent with the acoustics (even akoumenology, to purloin a term of F. J. Smith60) of the echo—itself always functioning according to a schizophonic61 logic of transformation? Here, with the Rat Man, at the beginning of the study of anal neuroses, we find, if we listen with our own third ears, an otic reference that cannot be ignored. Through this work thus far, we have elucidated twinned paths into the self, the third ear and the anus—the same path examined from two perspectives.

There are, also, of course, obvious biological/anatomical similarities between the ear proper and the anus, namely its status as a porous site in the skin-ego, a site of exchange, a hole, an orifice, open yet obscured by exterior forms (the ear that “sticks out” from the head and the buttocks); in other words, all the similarities one would expect from a similar intrauterine development, viz. the (self-)construction of the endoderm that occurs during gastrula formation. This is the earliest possible level of interiority and marks the connection between all orifices, be they typically associated with internalizing or externalizing processes.

However, we should not overlook the many comparative (dare we say, literary) similarities between Reik’s third ear and the anus. This is, naturally, the metonymic perspective that Freud and Andreas-Salomé gestured toward with the idea that the anus can serve as a locus of “attachment” to other bodily functions, and that Laplanche deepened with the idea of “exchange.” There are apparent clusters of associations that crop up between the third ear and the anus, especially references to topoi that might best be characterized by their “beneathness.” Crucial among these would be the numerous references to soil—dark soil, particularly. There is also the matter of the third ear’s connection with the unconsciousness. Reik even refers to this type of knowledge, at one point, as we noted, as “forbidden,” mimicking the social prohibition on discussing topics of the anus and anal functions. The third ear was called abnormal, but why? It serves a counterintuitive function—it is the anus taking something in. Unlike Lacan and Derrida, who “introduce rigorous fecal and evacuative metaphors to further their arguments,” Reik, seemingly unconsciously, takes a similar track, only from the other side.62 The anus serves as a resonant cavity, into which one whispers or sends signals, where we encounter the other precisely at the level of a very deep listening. The radical supplementarity of the third ear is that it points to an extra bodily function that introduces us to a far more (inter)active inner life taking place at the psychical level of the anus. That Freud connects the Rat Man’s anally linked neurosis to his childhood would seem to correspond perfectly with Reik’s idea that the third ear resonates with memory. In the experience of listening, “memory-traces are of far greater importance than conscious knowledge.”63 The anus as echoplex would help us understand the formation of these traces, fragmentary echoes throughout the body, perceivable by the third ear. It is not a stretch to also speak of traces of the other (or, at the very least, encounters with the other), and a trace, after all, is something “posterior to itself.”64 The traces of the other that resound in the anus, the posterior (both anatomically and temporally), would then fertilize the possibilities of thought through expulsiveness. “Reminiscence is thus an externalization.”65 The analyst, the analized listener, can squeeze this in.

We encounter the third ear as the aporia at the bottom of the bodily column so associated with “intuition” and the unconscious, undecidable between functions and even simple judgments of interior/exterior, fundamentally upsetting the dynamics of “normal,” quotidian hearing. Taking all of the above into account, if Reik wishes to speak of the third ear as related to a receiving station, we might, after Chuck Tingle, say “the call is coming from inside your butt.”66

Understanding the third ear qua anus (or anus qua third ear) may help us reckon with some of the exhortations of Barnaby B. Barratt, who urges analysts and other scholars of psychoanalysis to embrace the free-associative praxis of the early Freud.67 Indeed, Barratt references Reik’s “third ear” directly in his recounting of a sample of free-associative discourse. If we understand anal-expulsiveness as a general aversion to systems of control (similar in character, indeed even taken anatomically, to what in Gaston Bachelard is termed an “epistemological rupture”68) in conjunction with the oto-anal connection developed in this paper, we can understand listening not merely as a receptive process but also a generative one, especially given that we are already dealing with metonymies and supplementarity, with radical implications for both analyst and analysand. To quote the epigraph to Freud’s Traumdeutung: “acheronta movebo” (“I stir up the underworld”). What I mean, precisely, is that not only would listening with the third ear qua anus more keenly understand narrative slippages and gaps (i.e., expulsiveness), thematized by the aporetic structure of the bodily anus itself and the graphosomatic presencing of digressive parentheses (as in this article’s title), within the narrative coherence, understood both bodily and figuratively, of the analysand, it would also encourage analytical reflection of that same latent free-association on the part of the analyst, helping us to elucidate transferential and countertransferential relationships within practice, as well as gesturing toward a critical world outlook around the de-coherence and dehiscence of the subject and its orientation toward the world. Barratt, upon further reflection on the case study in which he references Reik, draws attention to “an erotic bodilyness that pervades both the course of associative thinking-speaking and…the connectedness of patient and psychoanalyst,” a mutual interiorizing that is a “deeply shared flow of erotic sensibility.”69 The patient in question, transferentially, relates an idea of traveling with his analyst through a “luscious countryside.” Barratt connects to the generativeness of the feminine, which is a valid point to be sure, but one that ignores or represses the fact that the luscious countryside no doubt smells of manure or loam.

Reik notes that the proper analytic response to a patient encompasses “the reaction of the analyst to the communications, words, gestures, pauses, and so forth, of the analyzed person.”70 This response is “the dark soil” of psychical life—and there is but one source of dark soil in the human body. “The most fertile ground for wider psychoanalytical research is first and above all within us.”71 The analyst, listening with the third ear, draws the anal-expulsiveness of the analysand into the bodily interior, around which it echoes as, to borrow a phrase from composer Edgard Varèse (and later picked up by Jean-Luc Marion), a “sonorous mass,” forming a uniquely fertilized connection within the psychoanalytic field.72 Reik is clear that this, the taking of the other into the self, properly, though suggestively, speaking, is an “introjection.”73 Hence the importance Reik places on a radical openness; “the withdrawal of the intellectual censor is as important for the analyst…as for the patient.”74 Thus, in a chapter titled “It Works Both Ways,” Reik develops the idea of “reciprocal illumination of unconscious knowledge,” which essentially derives from the fact that “the analysis of another person may…lead, in a peculiar and indirect way, to the conjecture of secret processes in our [the analyst’s] own ego.”75 This fertilization he may have inherited from his master, Freud, who, in his groundbreaking, excavatory collaboration with Josef Breuer that formed the germ of psychoanalysis “was content to be the passive, fertilized one.”76 This fertilization, this listening at the level of anality, may, indeed, be at the heart of the entire psychoanalytic enterprise.

But what about this listening outside of the psychoanalytical field between analyst and analysand? As noted, Reik memorably began Listening with the Third Ear as a quest to understand self-analysis, broadly in line with his other frequently confessional works, such as The Haunting Melody or the openly autobiographical Fragment of a Great Confession; moreover, his targets as a “lay analyst” reasonably differ from his more purely medically minded colleagues (a fact that caused him no small amount of professional grief). Barratt similarly gestures beyond: “The method of psychoanalysis involves listening to these incomprehensible messages, enigmatic signifiers, thing-presentations, traces, and unrepresentable feelings…that occur insistently and persistently within our lived experiences.”77 We, therefore, analyze the lived experience of listening, while keeping in mind that this listening, an anal listening, is also generative, involving the fertilizing power of excrement. It should, then, not surprise us that Reik engages heavily with his own experiencing of cultural objects, especially music, theater, and literature (Mahler, Goethe, Anatole France, and the lesser-known Richard Beer-Hofmann are favorites), approaching them with his analytical ear, laying the groundwork for a critical outlook toward society (which is to say capitalist society) centered around a listening that is also generative, fertilizing. Small wonder that in opening a Festschrift for Reik’s 65th birthday, Robert Lindner takes pains to emphasize “Reik’s amazing fertility.”78

This fertility, in addition to its relationship with critique, can have sociopolitical implications. Guy Hocquenghem noted—and it is as true today as when it was originally written—that “the anus is over-invested individually because its investment is withdrawn socially.”79 What this means is that the essential occlusion of the anus (even from the self) marks it as the most private of organs, completely withdrawn from being socially elaborated.80 “Every man has an anus which is truly his own, in the most secret depths of his own person.”81 The absence of a social relationship of the anus in typical interpersonal modalities over-invests the individual within (and through) the anus; “the desiring use of the anus is inversely proportional to social anality.”82 But the radicality of the anus, especially listening anally, following Reik’s metonymic fertility, would emerge with a reconfiguration of our views on it as a social organ. “To reinvest the anus collectively and libidinally would involve a proportional weakening of the great phallic signifier,” which can be broadened to say phallogocentrism, the privileging of both the phallus and the spoken voice83 (although Hocquenghem calls it, with an eye toward politics, “phallocratic”); this reinvestment would be fundamentally deconstructive in nature, its practice (which is to say listening “with the anus”) constructive socially of subtle relations with(in) the world, such that one’s self is attuned to its surroundings.84 In much simpler terms, “since we all have an anus,” recentering listening and being-in-the-world toward the anus and anality in a Reikian mode “contains a utopian potential…that is inherently inclusive.”85

In contemporary, capitalist society, “[productivity] came to smack of repression or its philistine glorification: It connotes the resentful defamation of rest, indulgence, receptivity—the triumph over the ‘lower depths’ of the mind and body, the taming of the [drives]86 by exploitative reason.”87 This exploitative reason follows the same narratology that one overcomes by free-associative discourse, but it is also that which suppresses the sociality (and thus receptivity) of the anus. Given the bracketing of “lower depths,” linked not just to the mind (i.e., the unconscious or id) but to the body, in scare quotes, can we exclude the anus—and its receptivity—from Marcuse’s figuration here? Marcuse would seem to be gesturing directly toward a reclamation of the “lower depths.” But not merely a reclamation, a use in the practice of receptivity, which is inherently social (and, within capitalism, inherently critical). Marcuse and Hocquenghem are operating on a similar wavelength, to keep with Reik’s technological reference to the subterranean radio, when it comes to the reinvestment of sociality in the anus (such that it might lead to socialism or beyond), and they are caught up in the same revolutionary praxis defended by Barratt—that necessary overcoming of narrative and hierarchical ordering of the mind and body.

We might, then, reverse the equation famously theorized by Funkadelic. One might not “free [their] mind” such that their “ass will follow,” but, rather, free their ass such that their mind will follow. Acheronta movebo, indeed. The goal of listening with the third ear is partially to unlock “the problem of rhythm…its psychological significance,” for “rhythm is a universal vital function.”88 To recapitulate an earlier point: “Knowledge [gleaned by listening with the third ear] arises from our commonly unconscious vibration in time with the instinctive rhythm of the other.”89 Assuredly, we can see that the experience of rhythm (provided we do not invest it with musicological strictures based only on Western thought and historical practice) is thus universal, but its individual manifestations vary across individuals, and it is that variance to which the third ear is attuned. There is, in other words, a profoundly existential element to understanding the third ear. In studying the ways in which the third ear qua anus functions, we can also begin to understand engagements with the other—analysand or not, human or not—that cross the boundaries of the skin-ego in such a way that we can approach the fragmentary experience of sonicity that accompanies being-in-the-world.

When the poetic voice claims, diegetically, in the song that opens the Butthole Surfers’ Hairway to Steven, that they are reality and death, they point to a very real constellation of experience, a flash of intuition capable of overcoming the boundaries of (capitalist) narratology.90 To put it another way, to bring the Butthole Surfers into insolent, impious conversation with Mallarmé perhaps for the first time, with their invocation of absence, the void of the butthole and death, they provide the same “occasion for the poet’s noting or producing certain kinds of presence” that Leo Bersani identifies in “Une dentelle s’abolit…”91 Just what that presence might be—a hunch, a haunch, or even, drawing once more from the logic of différance, a haun(t)ch?—remains to be seen, but Reik exhorts us to keep our ears, all of them, open. To return to our epigraph, in a circular, coronal moment, tracing in this article an anal form prior to the final expulsion of a fecal conclusion after an intellectual meal, Derrida, investing his own plea for a sociality, in tune with Marcuse, Hocquenghem, and Reik, within the textual anus of parentheses, “(everything comes down to the ear you are able to hear me with).”92

To squeeze one more thing in (or out), I would like to, first of all, insist that I am not claiming that we, in fact, listen with our anuses, however much of a butthole surfer we might be. However, I believe it is important to draw attention to the heretofore rather neglected oto-anal relationship, particularly in the (also rather neglected) work of Theodor Reik. Where the “third ear” may appear at first to be airy fairy metaphysics, akin to the mythical third eye so popular among the New Agers of that already old movement, with further analysis—and it is analysis, not a rescue operation for Reik, with his penchant for referencing ESP—it gestures toward some strange remainder or remaining, what Derrida might call restance. What is the potential of considering the anality of listening? And how can we train our third ears—assuming we can? Was there something about Reik in particular that led him to this metonymic chain? These are questions that we have merely broached in this brief piece. Much work will need to be done to continue to elaborate on the anality of listening, its mechanics (and, on the same telephone line, its relations to technology), its ontological meaning(s), and its resonance with other fields, especially given that we may be living through an era of, in the words of Martin Jay, “antiocularcentrism.”93 I merely hope that this represents an acceptable first foray toward answering some of these questions.


“Attunement” is something of a loaded term. It is a central notion of Heidegger, especially in Being and Time, though it can just as easily refer to a simple harmonic relationship. Time and space do not allow for a thorough accounting of the germaneness of Heideggerian thought for the current article, especially given the historical antipathy between psychoanalysis and phenomenology. Suffice it to say that I, personally, view it as potentially quite fruitful and have pursued similar tracks in my own work in the past. James Kopf, “Investigations Concerning Music and the Soundscape: Heidegger, Ingarden, Reik” (PhD diss., Pennsylvania State University, 2021).


Didier Anzieu, The Skin-Ego, trans. Naomi Segal (London: Routledge, 2016), 43.


Anzieu, The Skin-Ego, 43.


Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, trans. E. F. N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 2005), 59.


Slavoj Žižek, “Knee-Deep,” London Review of Books 26, no. 17 (2002), online.


Anzieu, The Skin-Ego, 10.


Anzieu, The Skin-Ego, 10.


Avital Ronell, “Le Sujet Suppositair: Freud and Rat Man,” in Culler, On Puns: The Foundation of Letters (New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988), 115–39; 119.


Lou Andreas-Salomé, “‘Anal’ und ‘Sexual,’” Imago 4, no. 5 (1916): 249–73; 259. This and subsequent, translation mine.


Jon Hodge, “The Agency of the Anus in the Letter or, Reason since Freud,” American Imago 56, no. 2 (1999): 145–80; 147.


Guy Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993), 100.


Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, 100.


Jonathan A. Allan, Reading from Behind: A Cultural Analysis of the Anus (Regina, UK: University of Regina Press, 2016), 27.


Sigmund Freud, The Question of Lay Analysis, trans. James Strachey (New York: W. W. Norton, 1990).


Jeremy D. Safran, “Theodor Reik’s Listening with the Third Ear and the Role of Self-Analysis in Contemporary Psychoanalytic Thinking,” Psychoanalytic Review 98, no. 2 (2011): 205–16; 214–15.


Safran, “Theodor Reik’s Listening with the Third Ear,” 214–15.


Phillipe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography: Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 148.


Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography, 151.


Theodor Reik, Listening with the Third Ear: The Inner Experience of a Psychoanalyst (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1948), 10.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 10.


Kyle Arnold, “Reik’s Theory of Psychoanalytic Listening,” Psychoanalytic Psychology 23, no. 4 (2006): 754–68; 759.


Zvi Lothane, “Reciprocal Free Association: Listening with the Third Ear as an Instrument in Psychoanalysis,” Psychoanalytic Psychology 23, no. 4 (2006): 711–27.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 196.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 187.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 154.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 132.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 70.


Claire Petitmenguin-Peugeot, “The Intuitive Experience,” Journal of Consciousness Studies 6, no. 3 (1999): 43–77; 61.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 75.


Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 21.


Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 24.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 422.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 104.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 104.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 114.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 135


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 359.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 362.


Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 6.


Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 9.


Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 8.


Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 17.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 145.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 145.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 329.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 146.


Petitmenguin-Peugeot, 62–63.


See, for example: Norman O. Brown, Life Against Death: The Psychoanalytical Meaning of History (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1985); Sandor Ferenczi, “Silence Is Golden,” in Further Contributions to the Theory and Technique of Psycho-Analysis (London: Karnac Books, 1994), 250–51; Sigmund Freud, “Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis,” in Standard Edition 10 (1909): 153–318; Sigmund Freud, “From the History of an Infantile Neurosis,” Standard Edition 7 (1920): 124–243; James Michael Goodwin, “The Anal Voice,” International Journal of Žižek Studies 6, no. 3 (2012), online; Hodge, “The Agency of the Anus in the Letter or, Reason since Freud”; Ronell, “Le Sujet Suppositair: Freud and Rat Man.”

None of this is, of course, to serve as an erasure of the works of Bataille and those who came after him—that radical commingling of the solar anus, the uneasy, unsettled “eye.” Although, if this track of thought should prove anything it is the sort of extreme overdetermination of the anus in the imaginary.


Jean Laplanche, The Temptation of Biology: Freud’s Theories of Sexuality (New York: Unconscious in Translation, 2015), 53.


Freud, “Notes Upon a Case of Obsessional Neurosis,” 166.


It is important, of course, to emphasize “wholly,” as the child’s first, postnatal encounter with the other would naturally be the breast, which, depending on one’s views, is either entered or taken into the child’s oral cavity. Anzieu refers to it as “an object that fills…and…an active stimulating receptacle” (Anzieu, The Skin-Ego, 40). For further information on the breast in childhood, refer to the works of Melanie Klein and D. W. Winnicott.


Goodwin, “The Anal Voice,” 11.


Andreas-Salomé, “‘Anal’ und ‘Sexual,’” 261.


Sigmund Freud, “Three Essays on Sexuality,” Standard Edition 7 (1920): 124–243; 185.


Andreas-Salomé, “‘Anal’ und ‘Sexual,’” 254.


Theodor Reik, Masochism in Modern Man (New York: Farrar, Straus and Co., 1941), 146.


Freud draws the connection to Raten, installments, as of payment. But, naturally, language’s overdetermined status means that my supposition would neither negate nor supersede Freud’s reading. Ronell, naturally, brings our attention to this linguistical “fundamental indecision” (“Le Sujet Suppositair: Freud and Rat Man,” 137).


Ronell, “Le Sujet Suppositair: Freud and Rat Man,” 132.


F. J. Smith, The Experiencing of Musical Sound: Prelude to a Phenomenology of Music (New York: Gordon and Breach, 1979).


I borrow the term “schizophonic” from the founder of sound studies, R. Murray Schafer, who used it to specifically refer to the separation of a sound from its point of origin in electroacoustic reproduction (i.e., the recording process). I and others, such as Rolf Goebel, have worked to broaden the mandate of schizophonia to encompass all sounds. In particular, I have discussed Reikian concepts in the context of schizophonia. See:

Kopf, “Investigations Concerning Music and the Soundscape: Heidegger, Ingarden, Reik”; Rolf Goebel, “Auditory Desires, Auditory Fears: The Sounds of German Literary Modernism, Germanisch-Romanische Monatsschrift 66 (2016): 417–37; R. Murray Schafer, The Soundscape: Our Sonic Environment and the Tuning of the World (Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2006).


Hodge, “The Agency of the Anus in the Letter or, Reason since Freud,” 166.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 343.


J. Hillis Miller, “Derrida’s Remains,” in For Derrida (New York: Fordham University Press, 2009), 72–100; 78.


Miller, “Derrida’s Remains,” 353.


Chuck Tingle, The Call Is Coming from Inside Your Butt (ebook, 2018).


An exhaustive analysis of Barratt’s psychoanalytical system is outside the bounds of this paper. I do not view it as being without problems, especially with regard to his possible lapse into a metaphysics of the Trieb (drive), highly reminiscent of Schopenhauerian philosophy, and his privileging of speech over writing, both of which deserve a more complete deconstruction/interrogation than is here possible. Nevertheless, I find his insistence on the decentering of the subject within psychoanalytical practice, as well as his titular radicality (which is explicitly political), to be quite inspiring and rich.


In French: “rupture épistémologique.” This term was later used by Louis Althusser.


Barnaby B. Barratt, Radical Psychoanalysis: An Essay on Free-Associative Praxis (New York: Routledge, 2016), 57.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 269–70.


Edward Frankel, “Wir Schueler Reik’s,” in Lindner, Explorations in Psychoanalysis: A Tribute to the Work of Theodor Reik (New York: Julian Press, 1953), 266–77; 270. Emphasis mine.


Jean-Luc Marion, Being Given: Toward a Phenomenology of Givenness (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002), 216.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 362.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 223.


Reik, Listening with the Third Ear, 397.


Wayne Koestenbaum, “Privileging the Anus: Anna O. and the Collaborative Origin of Psychoanalysis,” Genders 3 (1988): 58–81; 61.


Barratt, Radical Psychoanalysis, 118.


Robert Lindner, “Foreword and Dedication,” in Lindner, Explorations in Psychoanalysis, vii–viii.


Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, 97.


It is incredibly important to note that this does not apply to all social arrangements. One can see an archetypical example of anal sociality in the Seri people, who according to W. J. McGee, eat (or ate) an “enormous quantity” of fruit during harvest season and subsequently pass the seeds. “The feces containing these seeds are preserved with some care, and after the harvest is passed the hoard (desiccated, of course, in the dry climate) is ground” and further prepared. “The product is then eaten either dry or in the form of atole,” a sort of gruel. McGee links this with “the germ of industrial economy,” which has several interesting implications. McGee was writing before Mauss, so economies of the gift had not been rhetorically developed yet. Yet linking this anal sociality with industrial economies (even within what might be called a state of primitive accumulation), if such a connection could be maintained in further, more contemporary, research, would seemingly contradict or at least trouble Hocquenghem’s understanding of radical politics, influenced as it is by liberatory horizontality, influenced by Deleuze and Guattari (see below). Of course, that this is an oral-anal “ceremony” would need further elaboration as to its relationship to our current exploration of the oto-anal relationship. W. J. McGee, The Seri Indians (, 1898).


Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, 97.


Hocquenghem, Homosexual Desire, 97.


See: Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, ix–xxix.


Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, 103. Here it is crucial to point out that we need not follow Hocquenghem’s path toward political rhizomatic horizontality—the so-called group mode (112)—so deeply indebted to Deleuze and Guattari. What is most interesting (and germane) is his situating of the anus as a critical apparatus.


Allan, Reading from Behind, 27.


Herbert Marcuse, Eros and Civilization: A Philosophical Inquiry into Freud (Boston: Beacon Press, 1966), 155–56. The original word here is “instincts.” However, there seems little doubt that Marcuse is referring to the Freudian Trieb, given his use of “instinct” throughout Eros and Civilization in the place of “drive”—i.e., “Eros, as life instinct” (205)—and using an inaccurate translation that is nevertheless more in step with his contemporary readership.


As with Hocquenghem and horizontality, we need not follow Marcuse all the way with his embrace of later Freudian metapsychology typified, perhaps, by Moses and Monotheism. What is germane here is the psychoanalytically informed critique presented by Marcuse.


Reik Listening with the Third Ear, 326.


Reik Listening with the Third Ear, 329.


Butthole Surfers, Hairway to Steven (Touch & Go, 1988).


Leo Bersani, The Freudian Body: Psychoanalysis and Art (New York, 1986), 104–5.


Jacques Derrida, The Ear of the Other (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985), 4.


Martin Jay, Downcast Eyes: The Denigration of Vision in Twentieth-Century Thought (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993).