The Color of Noise


Initially presented as a lecture in Hout Bay, South Africa, this article seeks to realize three aims. First, under the capacious heading of postcolonial sound studies, it attempts to think the articulation between racial difference and sound by probing the now common association of color and noise, for example, the “pink” noise routinely used as a sleep aid. Despite the existence of white and black noise, color is here attributed to signal characteristics in ways that also underscore the risks in reducing race to color. Second, responding to such risks, this article then seeks to examine a South African genealogy of the differentiation between sound and noise, a differentiation whose juridical (and thus political) instantiation draws essential and immediate attention to the figure of the neighbor, especially as the neighbor embodies a distinctly sonic nuisance. Race returns in this context as part of a spatial segregation that both “colors” noise, and draws attention to a prior sonicity, the “long scream” of those forced apart from others under Apartheid. This sonicity emerges as a problem for all thinking of noise that grasps it (whether phenomenological or juridically) as a form of nuisance. Third, in casting itself as an example of “investigative poetry,” this article broaches a collective inquiry on the politics of noise (both heard and unheard) in South Africa, and invites the participation of researchers distributed over cacophonous archives who hear themselves hailed by the conceit that sound is a problem whose quality as a radiant permeation requires the indiscipline of the critical humanities for its study. Keywords: sound, noise, race, South Africa, neighbors, nuisance laws, Jean-François Lyotard, Karin Bijsterveld.

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