The splinter in your ear: Noise as the semblance of critique

Abstract

Noise appears to critique the prevailing cognitive and social habits of modernity by providing concrete and particular art objects that demand attention and jar us from one-dimensional life. Noise sounds, for a moment, like a true alternative not only to contemporary music but to a whole way of thinking through abstract generalisation and living through commercial mediation. Understood in this way, noise makes sense. Once noise is no longer inscrutable, however, it is assimilated into popular culture and becomes a commercial novelty. The blatant contradiction of the commodification of noise gives rise to a second order of critique wherein noise parades its uselessness and occasions reflection on the tortured existence of art in modernity, the ubiquity of identity thinking, and the relation between use and exchange value. This ironic endgame for noise, however, is itself absorbed by consumer culture and noise lives on as but another cool, extreme product. The cultural reception of noise thereby demonstrates the mechanism by which modernity absorbs artistic attempts to critique it, and noise is ultimately understood as a desperate but spectacular failure.

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2009-01-28

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Nicholas Smith
Södertörn University

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