Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear
By Steve Goodman
The MIT Press
270 Pages

The deliberate use of sound as a weapon, as well as the noise pollution that is already a pervasive, unacknowledged and damaging aggression—this is a subject that cries out for a well-researched and trenchant book. The title and subtitle of this book suggest such a treatment, but the book itself defies such expectations.

It is instead an academic book of a particular kind, as evidenced by the wildly disparate topics it examines, and especially its prose. For example: “ By constructing this method as a nonrepresentational ontology of vibrational force, and thus the rhythmic nexus of body, technology, and sonic process, some latent affective tendencies of contemporary urban cultures in the early-twenty-first century can be made manifest.”

I rest my case. It may be so, as literary scholar Robert D. Richardson writes, that “we can follow an argument and recognize its strength only by its congruence with our own mental processes.” In any case, even if academic semiotic jargon has trickled down to more of the reading public, I still doubt that the general reader is up to hacking through such thickets of prose, which can be said to be English only in that no other known languages would acknowledge them. Whatever penetrating points this book makes remain the kind of secrets the priesthood of Theory apparently likes to keep to itself.

University presses are publishing more serious books for general readers, as trade publishers increasingly abandon this enterprise. But university presses still publish books that are of primary interest to academics—and are written that way. No reason that they shouldn’t, but attempting to sell a few more copies of academic books by giving them disingenuous titles is a temptation it might be better to resist.

No comments: