Listening Subjects, Rationality and Modernity

Drawing on sociological theories of embodiment and rationalization, this chapter examines the relationship between listening practices, rationality and subjectivity in conservative evangelicalism. Drawing on fieldwork from an eighteen-month
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  Chapter 9Listening Subjects, Rationality and Modernity On a sunny September Sunday, I arrived early before the morning service at St John’s,a large conservative evangelical church in London. David, 1  the rector, as up in the large, ooden carved pulpit at the front of the church, spea!ing through a ireless headset microphone to test the sound system that had recently been installed. "#hat’s too loud,’ he said to the sound technician, "a bit $uieter, more conversational. %ost of the time, I’ll be spea!ing li!e this ,’ he said, "but sometimes, I might be a bit louder,’ increasing his volume as he spo!e, hilst the technician ad&usted the volume to achieve the re$uired "conversational’ tone.Studies of 'rotestant practices have often focused on their asceticism, the ays in hich the invisible soul has been elevated above the visible body. (et, as )enella *annell notes, "*hristian doctrine in fact alays also has this other aspect, in hich the flesh is an essential part of redemption ...+#his ambivalence e-ists not &ust in theory, but as part of the lived practice and e-perience of *hristians’ /002 34. 5hen I began fieldor! at St John’s, the criti$ue church leaders e-pressed of forms of *hristianity they described as "ritualistic’, "sacramentalist’ or "emotional’ led me at first to interpret this culture as mar!ed by a pronounced demateriali6ing impulse. Over time hoever, I became more sensitive to the pragmatic concerns of members of the church about their on material practices and ho changes in broader cultures of embodiment and media technologies impacted on their desire to be formed as "listening’ sub&ects ho hear 7od spea!. David’s sensitivity to the precise volume of his voice amplified by the sound system indicates this pragmatic engagement ith an acoustic "aesthetics,’ /  central to the formation of conservative evangelical sub&ectivities.In this chapter, I engage ith the $uestion of hat it means to "listen’ in modernity, draing on sociological and anthropological theories of embodiment and ethnographic fieldor! at St John’s. 8ritish conservative evangelicals have garnered increased public visibility in recent years due to their arguments that *hristians are 1 #he names of all informants, and of the church, have been changed. / I follo 8irgit %eyer in my use of the term "aesthetics’ here to refer to "our total sensorial e-perience of the orld and to our sensuous !noledge of it’   %eyer and 9errips /00:2 /14. 1   being marginali6ed and campaigns against gay marriage, abortion, and the ordination of omen and gay clergy, yet studies of their everyday religious lives are rare. I conducted fieldor! at St John’s ; a large conservative evangelical <nglican church considered by other evangelicals to be an influential representative of conservative evangelicalism ; from )ebruary /010 to <ugust /011. =  Some members of this church ere involved in these broader campaigns, and spo!e of themselves as increasingly marginali6ed in 8ritish society, for e-ample hen David spo!e of 8ritain as being increasingly shaped by an "illiberal, intolerant, secularist fundamentalism’ inhospitable to the public e-pression of faith. >oever more central to most members’ self?identifications as their sense of themselves as "distinctive’ from thosearound them, as "aliens and strangers in the orld’, and they related this to their sense of relationship ith 7od. %y analysis therefore focused on ho this sense of relationship ith 7od and related self?identification as distinctive ere practically formed@ central to this as their desire to become, in David’s ords, "people ho giveourselves to listen  to >im’. A  #heorists of modernity have often argued that at least since the Bnlightenment, vision has been the privileged means of !noing the orld, ith listening subordinated to seeing. C  <lthough historians are ary of accounts that trace a generali6ed shift from aurality to occularcentrism, it is no, as anthropologist *harles >irsch!ind notes, "idely recogni6ed that the politics, ethics, and epistemologies that defined the Bnlightenment pro&ect ere deeply entined ith a set of assumptions regarding the relative value of the senses’ /002 1=4. 5hilst vision is predicated on a distance  beteen the eye and the ob&ect of perception, listening bridges the gap beteen interior and e-terior orlds, involving the self’s "immersion ithin a sound from ithout, an engulfment that threatens the independence and integrity that grounds the masculine spectatorial consciousness’ ibid.4. =  During this time, I attended to of the three ee!ly Sunday services. I also participated in to ee!ly 8ible study groups, one for students and one for more established members of thecongregation, and attended other church and social events ith members of the church. I conducted more formal, open?ended intervies ith thirty?to members of the church toards the end of the fieldor!. A I use the gendered ">im’, ">e’, ">is’ etc. hen referring to 7od throughout, as this as ho members of St John’s referred to 7od. C  See, for e-ample, discussions in 8uc!?%orss 114 and Levin   1=4. /  #he associations of listening ith an understanding of religion that as suspect to enthusiasts of human autonomy can be seen, for e-ample, in Ludig )euerbach’s riting2If man had only eyes, hands, and the senses of taste and smell, he ould have no religion, for all these senses are organs of criti$ue and scepticism. #he only sense hich, losing itself in the labyrinth of the ear, strays into the spirit or spoo! realm of the past and future, the only fearful, mystical, and pious sense, isthat of hearing. 132 /3?/:, cited in Schmidt /0002 /C04 #he very phenomenology of listening, implying receptivity and passivity, presented a danger to the rational autonomy of the modern sub&ect. (et modernity is, as %ellor and Shilling argue 134, "Janus?faced’ in its cultures of embodiment, characteri6ed not only by Bnlightenment ideals of rationality and a *artesian dualism privileging mind over matter, but also by "another modernity2 that of Schopenhauer’s Esenseless illF, Giet6sche’s Eill to poerF, 8audelaire’s  flâneur  , and the reassertion of sensuality in baro$ue culture’ 1=14, a sensuality in hich the ear is calibrated to modes of consumption and distraction afforded by ne media forms. )ocusing on hat it means to listen ithin evangelicalism therefore opens up $uestions about ho religious modes of embodiment are shaped by broader sensory hierarchies and the modes of sociality these afford. I begin by considering the place of "listening’ in modernity, draing on the or! of %ichel de *erteau and *harles >irsch!ind. I then describe the means through hich conservative evangelicals see! to become "listeners’, and discuss the significance of rationality ithin this. I conclude by suggesting that focusing on techni$ues of listening connects the sociology of the bodyto analysis of piety and, folloing #urner /0112 /:C4, allos a ay of draing the approaches opened up by the sociology of the body into the concerns of mainstream sociology. Listening, Meaning and Modernity In The Practice of Everyday Life , %ichel de *erteau describes modernity as characteri6ed by a loss of the ability to hear 7od’s 5ord2 the "disenchantment’ of the orld as "fundamentally a predicament of hearing, a fracturing of ords and =  revealer, a loss of 7od’s living voice’ Schmidt /0002 /4. De *erteau outlines a shift from hat he terms a "listening’ to a "scriptural economy’, arguing that prior to the modern period, the 8ible spea!s2 it "is a voice, it teaches the srcinal sense of documentum 4, it is the advent of a EmeaningF  un  E vouloir-dire F4 on the part of a 7od ho e-pects the reader in reality, the listener4 to have a Edesire to hear and understandF  un E vouloir-entendre F4 on hich access to truth depends’ 1:A2 1=34. #he "modern age’, he argues, is "formed by discovering little by little that this Spo!en 5ord is no longer heard, that it has been altered by te-tual corruptions and the avatarsof history. One can no longer hear it. E#ruthF no longer depends on the attention of a receiver ho assimilates himself to the great identifying message’ ibid.4. 5ithin the listening economy, the identity of the Spea!er had been certain, and "attention as directed toard the deciphering of his statements’ 1=:4. 8ut the authority of the institutions that guaranteed the credibility of that voice ere progressively ea!ened in 5estern societies, so that "the voice that today e consider altered or e-tinguished is above all that great cosmological Spo!en 5ord that e notice no longer reaches us2it does not cross the centuries separating us from it’ 1=34.De *erteau argues that hen people heard the Spo!en 5ord, their identities had been established in relation to the social institutions that pro&ected the divine voice. 5ith that voice’s disappearance, there as "a loss of the identities that people  believed they received from a spo!en ord. < or! of mourning. >enceforth, identitydepends on production, on the endless moving on or detachment and cutting loose4 that this loss ma!es necessary. 8eing is measured by doing’ ibid.4. Ge substitutes for the uni$ue spea!er had to be found, and modern societies or!ed to redefine themselves ithout that voice, for e-ample, in revolutions and ne nationalist identities.#he tas! of "riting’ in this "scriptural’ economy symboli6es a change in relationship ith language and meaning. <s people no longer believed their identities ere received ith reference to the Spo!en 5ord, human sub&ectivity and society ere redefined ithout that voice2 humans sought to understand themselves  as the authors of meaning. <s language in the modern age had to be " made  and not &ust heard and understood’, there emerged a "vast sea of progressively disseminated language, in a orld ithout closure or anchorage’ 1=:4. #he individual’s place in society could no longer be assigned as a "vocation and a placement in the order of the orld’, but became a "void, hich drives the sub&ect to ma!e himself the master of a A  space and to set himself up as a producer of riting’ ibid.4. #his "ne riting’ is formed through "a moving on  une marche 4 that alays depends on something else to  provide available space for its advance’ 1=34.#his depiction of a shift from a "listening’ to a "scriptural’ economy is, de *erteau admits, an artefact, constructed to depict a shift in modernity from divine to human agency, and a fracturing and deferral of meaning accompanying this. #a!ing "riting’ as symbolic of the activity of different modes of cultural production, de *erteau’s account is consonant ith theories positing modern and postmodern culture as characteri6ed by the circulation of products and information ta!ing place at ever greater speed, threatening the possibility of meaning and coherence. 5ith the ever?faster production and circulation of the stuff of consumer capitalism, this multiplicity of ob&ects, images and sounds produces "many more cultural artefacts or signs EsignifiersF4 than people can cope ith. 'eople are bombarded ith signifiers and increasingly become incapable of attaching EsignifiedsF or meanings to them’ Lash and Hrry 1A2 =4. Schmidt cites the composer . %urray Schafer e-pressing anguish over this "polluted EsoundscapeF’ of modernity by invo!ing %eister Bc!hart2 "Still thenoise in the mind2 that is the first tas! ; then everything else ill follo in time’ /0002 /4.#his story of the loss of the ability to "listen’ is, as Schmidt rites, mostly, "finally, a story of religious absence’ ibid.4. 5hilst de *erteau tells this through depicting a move from a listening to a riting economy, narratives detailing a move from "hearing’ to vision as the prominent means of !noing the orld li!eise suggest that modernity has been mar!ed by a move aay from valuing attentive receptiveness toards an Other. 5alter 8en&amin e-plored this theme in his essay TheStoryteller 14 hich, as >irsch!ind outlines, describes storytelling as one of the  principal means of transmitting isdom from one generation to the ne-t in pre?modern Burope, a process depending on dispositions formed through slo rhythms of artisanal labour /002 /4. #his re$uired a "nave relationship to the storyteller’ 8en&amin 12 14 and a form of passivity that ould allo the story to sin! into the listener’s perception. 8en&amin, li!e de *erteau, depicts a loss of the ability to listen as related to changes in the conditions of !noledge associated ith a rise of "information’, a form of !noledge that is understandable in itself rather than grounded in the authority of tradition or a spea!er. "Information’, in 8en&amin’s depiction, is a ay of !noing that is rootless, hich "has the effect of undermining C
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