This essay explores the relationship between sound, violence, and the sensorium within the context of the recent war in Iraq. It argues that, at extreme volumes or in extreme psychosocial circumstances, wartime sounds become untethered from their indexicality, losing much or all of their informational content. In these situations, sound becomes indistinguishable from violence itself. Drawing on the experiences of Iraqi civilians and US military service members, the essay claims that the ontologies of violence and sound have similarly directional and omnidirectional characteristics. Both phenomena can be directed at a victim (auditor), but both are also subject to leakage effects that envelop intended victims (auditors), bystanders, and violent actors (sounders) in a common, albeit variegated, field of the sensible. The neologism “thanatosonics” points to the regimes that erase the boundary between sound and violence, taking advantage of ontological similarities that render violence public and diffuse. In so doing, thanatosonic regimes serve as metonyms for the full-spectrum sensory assault of combat; instruments of (acoustic and other forms of) violence; and instantiations of the kind of violence that testifies or publicly announces itself. The sonic dimension of violence is thus involved simultaneously in injury and in witnessing.
J. Martin Daughtry; Thanatosonics: Ontologies of Acoustic Violence. Social Text 1 June 2014; 32 (2 (119)): 25–51. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/01642472-2419546
Download citation file: