Breathing space: Leigh hobba and the uncertainty of presence

Jeff Malpas
University of Tasmania
“In space”, declared the posters for the 1979 movie Alien, in a deliberately disconcerting juxtaposition, “no-one can hear you scream.” Yet even the space that lies beyond the earth is not utterly silent – stars and planets themselves produce sounds that radiate through the rarefied gases lying between them, although the wavelengths produced lie far beyond the range of human hearing. There are, then, not even in the spaces between the planets and the stars, any truly silent spaces, and merely to be present in a space, no matter the nature of the space in question, is already to disturb that space in multiple ways – such disturbance typically being manifest acoustically no less than visually. Yet often we tend to conceptualise space and spatial presence in terms that actually give priority to the visual over the acoustic, and even to neglect the spatial character of the acoustic altogether. A classic example of this is to be found in the work of the British philosopher Peter Strawson who famously proposed, as a kind of thought-experiment, the idea of what he called a ‘No-Space world’ that was constituted in purely auditory terms, and was for just this reason taken to be a non-spatial world. 1..
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