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Rhythm in Deconstruction a talk by Naomi Waltham-Smith

Rhythm in Deconstruction: a talk by Naomi Waltham-Smith

Naomi Waltham-Smith
Naomi Waltham-Smith is giving a paper entitled “Rhythm in Deconstruction” at the College Art Association annual conference in NYC as part of a panel on “Rhythm, Race and Aesthetics of Being Together” with Kris Cohen, Aria Dean, Christian Nyampeta, and John Ricco.


In Mendi and Keith Obadike’s Numbers Station 1 [Furtive Movements], the artists take turns to read a series of numbers excerpted from the logs of self-reported stop-and-frisk data in New York with a dispassionate tone and a machinelike rhythm, the numbers punctuating the electronically generated tones that sonify the data in another way. Connecting this piece with Eric Garner’s pleas of “I can’t breathe,” Soyoung Yoon has suggested that, as it becomes increasingly difficult to recall the difference between the numbers, “difference becomes a matter of spacing, of taking a breath.” I take the Obadike’s installation and Yoon’s reading as an occasion to tease out the significance of rhythm to deconstruction and its central notion of difference as spacing.

Specifically, I trace two intertwined conceptions of rhythm that operate in the thought of Derrida and Lacoue-Labarthe and whose proximity the sound installation makes audible. The first is the idea of listening as auscultation, as a rhythmic percussion attuned to the cadence and resonance of breathing. Derrida evokes this figure in a number of places, especially in the essay “Tympan” and his introduction to Lacoue-Larbarthe’s Typography, to capture the subject’s condition of (im)possibility as pulsation. But this beat, as Nancy reminds us, is always syncopated. Reading Derrida’s meditations on rhythm in Glas alongside Numbers Station 1, I show how the pulse tends to become arrhythmic—how the auscultation of black lives tends towards the chokehold and the irregular gasps and splutterings Derrida opposes to the harmonious resonance of a struck bell.