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Episode from the podcastMIT Comparative Media Studies/Writing

Jonathan Sterne, "Diminished Vocalities: On Prostheses and Abilities"

Released Saturday, 24th April 2021
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Video and transcript: https://cms.mit.edu/video-jonathan-sterne-diminish…

In this talk, Jonathan Sterne provides a brief overview of some of the themes of his new book, Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment (Duke, December 2021) and a deeper dive into the approach to the voice he develops therein. Impairments are usually understood as the physical or biological substrates of culturally produced disabilities, but in the book, Sterne considers them as a political and theoretical problem in their own right. Impaired voices present a particularly interesting problem. Most discussions of the voice frame it as a human faculty that is connected to self and agency, as when we say that a political group “has a voice,” or when the tone of voice is taken as expressing a speaker’s inner meaning or selfhood. But how to understand voices that are produced prosthetically? In this talk Sterne will consider his own experiments with vocal prostheses alongside projects and practices that locate voice outside the human body, and that question its connection to agency. He concludes with some reflections on the capture of voices by corporations like Otter.ai in their contract with Zoom. Bonus for those who like their talks to be “meta”: this will be a talk on Zoom that will theorize the condition of talking on Zoom.

Jonathan Sterne (sterneworks.org) teaches in the Department of Art History and Communication Studies at McGill University. He is author of Diminished Faculties: A Political Phenomenology of Impairment (Duke, 2021); MP3: The Meaning of a Format (Duke 2012), The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction (Duke, 2003); and numerous articles on media, technologies and the politics of culture. He is also editor of The Sound Studies Reader (Routledge, 2012) and co-editor of The Participatory Condition in the Digital Age (Minnesota, 2016). With co-author Mara Mills, he is working on Tuning Time: Histories of Sound and Speed, and he has a new project cooking on artificial intelligence and culture.