Philosophy, Private Property, and Sound

This is a quick post; I’m sure I’ll come back to it later. However, I have some thoughts I want to capture before they’re gone.


After reading and teaching Ashon Crawley’s Blackpentecostal Breath, I’ve been thinking a lot about two interrelated ideas:

  1. The “how is this paper philosophy?” practice is a demand that asks the speaker or writer to mix their labor with material that appears unphilosophical–conceptual terra nullius–in order to transform it into (whiteness as) private property, property that contributes to the institutional privileging of philosophy as such. For example, Crawley talks about “the enclosure of and on thought is what produces the categorical distinction wherein some thought matters and other thought is discarded. And this as the grounds for philosophizing” (119). Enclosure, enclosure of the commons, like the enclosure of the American West, makes philosophy Philosophy.
  2. Euro-American philosophy (roughly, the analytic/continental/american-pragmatist approach that characterizes almost all philosophy in the US, Canada, and the UK) uses a particular method or technique of abstraction, a method that gets varied across and within each of those three streams. This is the kind of abstraction Mills is talking about in his “Ideal Theory as Ideology” paper, abstraction that can either abstract away from systemic domination, or abstraction that can highlight these systems. I think Crawley is using his idea of the “choreosonic” to point out a different practice of abstraction, one premised less on propositional content and more on the kinds of abstraction we use when listening to and making music. This kind of abstraction involves what he calls “the intellectual work that is done through form” (47). I take “form” to mean something like structuring and organizing patterns, like sonata form or verse-chorus-bridge pop form or the “form” in Beyonce’s “Formation.” It involves attention to repetition, patterns that repeat and vary. Patterns like the inhale/exhale of breathing, or the condensation and rarefaction of a sound wave. As I’m arguing in my current book project, there are a lot of attempts to use sound (as patterns of condensation and rarefaction) as a way to renew the philosophical/theoretical project, to update philosophy’s method of abstraction so that it’s compatible with the kind of abstraction normalizing statistics and predictive analytics use. This is the BAD way to do intellectual work through form. Crawley’s book demonstrates a better way to do that work; it’s a better way because it is grounded in the experiences and knowledges of black people living under white supremacist cisheteropatriarchy. Whereas the kinds of theories I critique as “the sonic episteme” use sound to abstract away from ongoing (but evolving) relations of systemic domination (the “ideal-in-idealized model” sense Mills argues is the BAD kind of abstraction), Crawley identifies how the “choreosonic” is a method of abstraction that accounts for these ongoing relations of domination (and is thus like what Mills argues is a better kind of abstraction), but does so in a way that cannot be contained or fully determined by them. [1]
  3. Three as what you get when you combine #1 and #2 above: So how does philosophy reproduce itself within the field and in other fields? How does what operates as ‘philosophy’ outside the field proper and in interdisciplinary contexts legitimate itself by doing #1, and by performing the bad kind of abstraction in #2? It’s interesting that philosophers largely avoid sound studies scholarship, the kinds of methods that could help us think more “choreosonically” in Crawley’s sense. And choreosonic thinking does appear in philosophy, in the work of black women philosophers (I’m thinking especially of Devonya Havis’s paper on “sounding”). I like to think that I’m using music–theorizing through music not so much about it–in that way; I hope I am. Because that use of sound and music is the best way I can think of to change the practice of philosophy, the methods of doing philosophy, so that it avoids (in Crawley’s sense of “a politics of avoidance”) the methods that make #1 happen.

[1] “Choreosonic vibration broke–while giving–form. Otherwise form, otherwise forum…carried underneath and above the vibratory frequency that can be heard” (Crawley 170).