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Turning Ears; Or, Ec(h)otechnics

Naomi Waltham-Smith has published an article entitled “Turning Ears; Or, Ec(h)otechnics” in a special double issue of Diacritics devoted to “The Turn” edited by Andrea Bachner and Carlos Rojas, alongside contributions from Emily Apter and Jonathan Culler.


The vestigial auricular muscles are a trace of an earlier evolutionary capacity to turn the ears. While they are still functional in other mammal species, they are scarcely responsive in humans, who compensate by turning the head instead. This transformation was part of adaptations in the cervical spine that made possible the becoming-technological of the upright stance and humanity’s front-facing posture. Unable to sense what comes from behind, human ears are oriented toward what lies ahead within the field of vision—toward the foreseeable—and yet in listening, as in walking, the human is thereby compelled to turn back. From this angle, the sonic turn—often figured as a return to sound—instead names multiple moments of turning back: an originary nonhuman turning of the ears, humanity’s turning its back on this turn, and the unavoidable detours from this precipitous path. This essay argues not only for an originary technicity and prostheticity of aurality, but also that the nonhuman turn takes place via a sonorous detour. Analyzing the metaphoricity and tropological of language, it compares two figures—apostrophe and interjection—to show how the sonic and nonhuman turns continually address and animate one another.