Preface: The Otographer


[…] [T]here are many professions that require an acute ear. For example the personnel known in French military jargon as ‘oreilles d’or [golden ears]’, charged with listening out for and identifying the sounds of submarines for strategic purposes. Or doctors, whose auscultation of patients involves an attention to detail which may be appreciated by reading some remarkable pages in which Laënnec, inventor of the technique of mediate auscultation by means of the stethoscope, describes what the instrument is capable of picking up. Or spies, as innumerable novels and films have given us to imagine.

In establishing himself as an otographer, François J. Bonnet does not privilege any particular one of these ‘sonorous professions’. When he writes on the ear—and one sometimes has the impression that he is writing from the eardrum itself—when he thinks hearing, neither does he insist on any ontological figure in particular. […]

In short, it is a logic of listening—or perhaps we should say a graphism of listening—that Bonnet seeks in sound. Not in the ear, but within the very structure of sound itself.

Certainly, in the following pages we also meet numerous characters who listen, each more remarkable than the last. Of course we have the ‘Magician of Menlo Park’, Thomas Alva Edison, in his guise as a character in Villiers de L’Isle Adam’s The Future Eve. And Nikola Tesla, the Serbian inventor who, in his writings on radio, claims to make the earth itself into a cosmic transceiver for interplanetary communications. We encounter practitioners of auditory espionage and surveillance who decipher the sound of fingertips on keyboards. And finally those anonymous ears, those masses of ordinary ears damaged by the military use of sound—in particular the acoustic cannons that bring noise onto the battlefield, instrumentalizing it for the purposes of warfare…