Almost four centuries after his death, René Descartes remains one of the most reviled figures in the history of Western thought. Whether as the father of the “modernist visualist paradigm” (Martin Jay) or the main instigator of a “masculinization of thought” (Susan Bordo), intellectual historians, students of sound, and feminists tend to dismiss the philosopher’s work as incompatible with the critical agenda they espouse. Yet there exists a surprising, if largely unacknowledged, parallel between the unstable place of Cartesian thought within the feminist project and the troubled relationship of the emerging field of sound studies to Descartes’s views of the sense of hearing. Descartes’s acoustic studies and anatomical work on the fetus reveal a persistent concern with resonance. But instead of subsuming resonance and its rich metaphorical field (which comprises vibration, sympathy, and consonance) under his infamous mind-body dualism, Descartes invokes resonance to think through what is his most important project—to model the unity of body and mind.

The text of this article is only available as a PDF.
You do not currently have access to this content.