The German language permits wordplay involving the meanings of the words hören [listening] and Hörigkeit [bondage, in thrall to, submissiveness, also sexual] and gehorchen [to obey]. In Vilém Flusser’s writings, Hörigkeit appears with a political dimension, which apparently arises from his dissatisfaction with the visual metaphor of “political views” (politische Ansichten), and instead proposes an auditory metaphor of political submissiveness (politische Hörigkeit) (Angenommen, 1989, p. 77).
With Hörigkeit Flusser examines the notion of freedom, the perceptual modes of seeing and hearing, and their relationship to political engagement between private and public. He refers to the German word for voice, Stimme, which also means a political vote, and abstimmen, to vote and reach a majority decision. Flusser says that “audition, much more than vision, is political” (Hoerapparate, n.d., p. 2; Angenommen, p. 77; translated from the German). He rejects the common assumption that bad hearing is compensated by better vision, or vice versa, as erroneous. Instead, he asserts that vision and audition mutually reinforce one another. In his text “Die Geste des Musikhörens” [The Gesture of Listening to Music] (in: Gesten, 1991) Flusser draws an analogy between the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception and hearing a voice; “receiving” the Word and obeying (gehorchen) (ibid., pp. 193–194).
Via an analysis of his hearing aid (Hörapparat), Flusser describes the relevance of sensory perception within this technical apparatus ranging between function and malfunction. A hearing aid is proposed as an instrument of freedom, affording both an enhanced sense of hearing and its off mode or malfunction allowing one to enjoy the luxury of silence. At the same time, he denies a simple analogy with eyelids (Angenommen, p. 78). He argues that the normally functioning ear should also be considered as a hearing apparatus, the sounds of the outside world being “programmed noise.” Flusser emphasizes the programmed nature of all “natural” and “cultural” apparatuses and warns against the covert submissiveness intrinsic to them (Hoerapparate, pp. 3–6).
Original article by Annie Goh