Aural Intimacy paper and workshop on the voice, pornography and sound art, at the Art Academy in Oslo, Norway

Aural Intimacy

If you could hear my voice now you could feel my body in this voice penetrating your ears, immersing you, and inviting you to act on me with your own articulation of your body, and I in turn would continue this play with another sonic gesture of mine and you with yours.

In the visual I am different to you, at a distance other, and visible to you through this otherness outside your body. In vision you see me all at once, liking or rejecting it and I am through you liking or rejecting it that which you see. Whilst you are visible to yourself only in my gestures that represent your visual presence towards me. Your distance makes me totally other to you, and you are totally other in my gaze. We know each other through this contradiction.

In sound I am immersed in what I hear. I hear myself at the same time as hearing myself speaking to you, and my sounds are always part of the soundtrack that I am hearing you in. My perception of you in sound is embodied; it embraces and penetrates me when you speak, whilst I can penetrate you in sound performing in the voice an allegorical sexual act.

‘’Human life is bestially concentrated in the mouth:’’ (Battaille, p59)

Vision discovers in a structural progression that of my fantasy which coincides with the image. In vision you are imperatively you through my desire, at the same time as limiting my visibility to your contradiction. The visual horizon is the system, the contract and genre in which we are read and read as ‘visuals’. In this genre the gaze searches and finds that which I am or which is other to me.

Vision is allegorical, its compensating logic is motivated by the desire to cover up any incongruity between expression and perception, sign and signification. The tension between the visual sign and its signifier is neutralised through the limit of visibility, determining reality to be present visually, or not to be at all. The visual body is a synaesthetic whole, not disturbed by any incompatibility between the reading of the body and its reality, ‘’...inventing the illusion of pure present meaning’’ (Young, p304). The visual horizon makes us believe and lets us believe that it is a whole we are seeing, existing there before us in a meaningful entirety; all we have to do is look.

This visual whole neglects the details of its parts which lie in the motion of its continuous construction in sound. Vision sets out a linear progression - In sound there is no linearity. The sonic loss is not compensated for in the same way as the visual distance recovers the lack. The metonymic audition does not impose its compensatory reading onto a ‘visual’ object in a linear way. The immersitivity of listening provokes a multitude of perspectives, suggesting at any stage more than one solution or its contradiction. Sonic meaning processes are complex and multitudinous, and do not work along linear lines of progressive discovery, driven by the desire for the agreement of the perception with its object in the quest for harmony and universal meaning. By contrast sound consciously involves the experience of the individual listener in the creation of the imaginary source as complex and continuously changing possibilities. Any structuralist, visual, analysis of sound makes apparent the mechanism of compensation, and hence exposes its ideology, (recorded sound) ‘’..reduplicating the effect of artificiality whilst at the same time commenting upon the very contrivance of the public space and the problematic of origins and originality’’ (Davies, p6). There is no one sign and its contradiction for each aural signifier, but a multiplicity of complex combinations, ‘’beyond [their] narratives of origin’’ (Bhabha, p62), continually changing shape and relation.

Bataille’s body is in the negative. It is beautiful through the lover’s eye up on it, and ugly in lust. The lover’s eye renders the body perfect at a distance, whilst in lust intertwined it starts to breath and sweat, frightening us in its contradiction to perfection with what is mortal in the detail of life.

In sound there is no such imperfection my embrace with you in sound is wholly me in you and therefor me altogether in you. Sonic space involves bodies, rather than embodied distance. ‘’Sound, if we speak of spatiality at all is like a fluid which surrounds us but it is a fluid which contains dimensions of varying shades and viscosities.’’ (Ihde, p29). There is no horizon in sound. My imagination of a sound is as much a sound as what is heard - auditory imagination sounds. The Sonic is not substantiated in the visual, but in the imagination of the visual. My existence in sound is fragile, of endless, multiple positioning, demanding continuous non-imperative fragmentation of the self, as well as of the object/phenomenon perceived. I am constructing my auditory presence anew all the time in the world of objects and between them.

The non-compatibility of sound prevents the desire of hearing as a discovery of ones own pre-existing fantasy, and rather problematises and questions this total fantasy, throwing the viewer into doubt, building the reality of the auditory image in doubt, and any engagement with it in uncertainty. The distance of the viewer onto the image, which enables the discovery of a total and pre-existing fantasy, makes a complex experience impossible. It renders the seen a fulfilment of the viewer’s expectation rather than an at every moment in doubt constructed possibility.The correlation of the semiotic is compensating, nothing is left in-between for doubt to enter and a more complex representation to emerge.

Under my gaze your body is motionless, my voice works on it, loosening it up in time.

The sonic doubt is incessant; its lack of a clear signification offers an individual complex narrativation, articulating a continued transgression of the visual horizon in time. The lack of space between sign and signifier in the visual logic frames a location of desire and fuels the need for erotic transgression. The transgressive fantasy that invites the body into the imaginative is auditory. The erotic body in the voice transgresses the literal, visual language in the moment of excitement. In the code of the visual contract the viewer finds emptiness enough to pursue ever new and personal points of arousal. Pornography is at that place, where the limits of the semiotic coded reality beg for a personal intervention.

The limit of the visual field invites the pornographic imagination as a transgressive force, whilst the sonic non-horizon allows everything and hence gives everything too. The erotic of the sonic body is real everywhere. The auditory realm leaves the listener spinning his/her own fantasy without ever attaining at the fissure of code and desires the excitement of transgression.

There is a different participation in the body that speaks; the literal, visual meaning of writing is transgressed in the moment of reading into a personal, embodied expression. The transgression lies in-between the literal visual text and the sound of the voice. The body teases out of the script that which in it is sexual and lives. Poetry of transgression works against the visual regime of the semantic code. It makes available a space for wilful participation in the penetration of the surface toward something more subtle hidden in the complex body of experience. The semantic literary meaning of the voice signifies the body, that in the voice which does not signify is the body. The voice is doubled into a sonic referent of a visual subject, and its imminent transgression; in sound the fixed body becomes a body in motion.

In the desire for speaking and listening lies the action orientatedeness of sexual articulation; the singer as an imminent listener, the listener an imminent speaker promising intercourse. This feedback loop between hearing and speaking, (the ‘voice) activates a set of human relationship’ (Kramer, p306) that the visual image can only signify. Actual visual meaning, the literal, is left hanging in pornographic communication. ‘’In erotic scholarship, poetry and a kaleidoscopic telling disrupt the asinine explicitness of expository prose.’’ (Frueh, p5) ‘’Erotic scholarships grounding in various literary genres produces not closed seamless arguments, but rather dances with words and ideas that invite readers to join in and invent their own movement in accord with and in contradiction to the authors’’ (Frueh, p10).

Erotic fantasy transgresses the literary, semantic meaning of language and fluidifies the static denotation. It is an entering of writing into sound, into time, into the imaginary and personal from the collective. Transgression happens in the moment of arousal. The voice does not arouse as sound, but arouses as a visual imagination that is obtained through the transgression of a visual genre in sound.

The female screams in porn make up for her missing come shot. Her sounds drive his thrusts and make him come as well as signify her own coming. The scream functions diegetically as a coded expression, which works within the contract and satisfies the need for limits, while the body in her voice entails imminently their transgression; the viewer’s fantasy of the climax.

‘’Pornography is a theatre of types never of individuals’’, which ‘’..disdains fully formed bodies’’ (Sontag, p??/39). It offers the viewer emptied out bodies, non-characters, to be filled in the engagements of ones body in the action of viewing. The sonic body is too rich in connotations to multitudinous not emptied out and flat but complex and embodied. My action towards the sonic body is different, is personal and constructing rather than transgressive and disruptive. The invitation for addition and participation allows for an endless fantasy rather than a climaxing relief.

It is not the visual but its transgression into the sonic that is arousing. Whilst the sonic is not fulfilment but a level of appropriation in an endlessly deferred cycle of fantasy and lust, turned on by frustration, towards a climax that is not reached but pushed on forever in-between both representations. ‘’I wanted to fuck somebody so hard and it kept on not happening and not happening! And in total frustration I threw myself onto my empty bed with a feeling – that’s it, it I’m not getting fucked then I give up forever-Jesus! As if a switch had been thrown at the bottom of my consciousness-as if giving up all hope of sexual fulfilment. I had suddenly fallen into an ocean of white light where painlessly, I was burned empty of all anxiety and suffering.’’ (Rubinstein quoting from Foreman’s play Hotel Paradise, p47)

The need for communication, real intercourse, feeds the transgressive individual imagination of sound perpetually into the literally meaningful, the collective, and back. This correlation performs a cyclical rotation around sexual desire. Fantasy comes to be defined as a power of contingency and re-evaluation, ‘’the force in the real world of the unconscious dreams..’’(Rose, p3).

Visual pornography fixes and arrests a concurrent individual fantasy in a collective expression. Whilst sound is the continued re-evaluation of visual fixing incessantly working on its promise deferring endlessly its fulfilment. Auditory imagination works continually on a fluid erotic embodiment. Spoken language hints at the limitlessness, the infinity of desire and the endless fantasy of the climax. The desire for sex is individual and formulates a transgression of the collective horizon. The sonic is a strategy of continuous re-evaluation and transgression of the visual certainty through doubt. Through a heterogeneous complexity it re-evaluates and challenges the visual homogenous representation of pleasure, and initiates a cyclical ‘spiel’ of desire and lust.

Cybersex holds the promise of an immersive reality of desire and its fulfilment at once. The embodied subject in the cyber transgresses and represents, is sonic and visual, and collective and individual instantly. The cyber body is not the fixed visual body nor does it constitute the fluid body of the sonic, but ‘’...a hybrid of machine and organism, a creature of social reality as well as a creature of fiction.’’ (Haraway, p191).

In the real virtuality of cybersex my body is immersed in a loop of action and re-action, and real through this interaction again and again. You arouse me through my imagining you, and fulfil my desire through being my imagination. You are totally through me that which I want you to be. The cyber body is ‘’No longer structured by the polarity of public and private’’ (Haraway, p192). And space becomes space through the movement of my body vacillating between arousal and climax in time.

But the cyber body too is just a fantasy, recouperable within the totalising framework of the collective/ the machine. The machine is homogenising visuality and leads us back to the perfection of the body at a distance. The superbody, the myth of the hairless, sweatless body, whose perfection cancels out complexities.

The arousal of the cyber body lies in the transgression of the machinic perfection in lust. ‘’Never completely loosing its grip, fantasy is always heading for the world it only appears to have left behind.’’(Rose, p3) The consensual in the perfect imagination of the virtual always urges the body towards its transgression into a private state.

The sexual body is forever that in the voice, which is as yet beyond visual representation, transgressing its visual code in sound.


Bataille, George, Visions of Excess, selected writings 1927-1938 (University of Minnesota Press: US, 1994), 6th edition, orig. 1970,

translated from French by

Bhabha, Homi K., ‘Beyond the Pale’, from Biennial Exhibition, Whitney Museum of Kinetic Art, (New York, 1993)

Davies, Schaun ‘Lost In Space’, Cavallaro, Davies, Dyson and Jonson eds., Essays in Sound 2 @, pp.1-9, orig. Australia, CSA, 1995

Frueh, Joanna, Erotic Faculties (University of California Press: London, 1996)

Haraway, Donna, A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s, in Nicholson ed. Feminism/ Postmodernism, (Routledge: UK, 1990), pp. 190-233, orig. published in Socialist Review, no. 80, 1985

Ihde, Don, Sense and Significance, (Duquesne University Press: Pittsburgh,1973)

Rose, Jacqueline, States of Fantasy, (Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1998)

Rubinstein, Raphael, ‘A Hotel in Any Other Name’, latest play from Richard Foreman’s Ontological-Hysteric Theater, in Art and America, vol. 7, July 1999, pp. 45-47

Sontag, Susan, Styles of Radical Will, (Vintage: London, 1994)

Young, Iris M, ‘The Ideal Community and the Politics of Difference’,

in Nicholson ed. Feminism/ Postmodernism, (Routledge: UK, 1990), pp. 300-323