Ma(r)king Time +71 Active Listening

Ma(r)king Time +71
Road to Toulouse

What is an antidote to silenc(ed) voices; or rather, voices not being heard.

How do we take the onus of listening for ourselves as individuals rather than requesting that the speaker change their mode of speaking or their language?

What are elements of active listening ?

These questions have resurfaced for me many times since my undergraduate work in Nicaragua when I was searching for a title for my thesis. I settled upon “silenced discourses”–though the wording was imperfect. “Unheard discourses” would have been more accurate, if less neat. I was referencing the way that local feminisms were already present in their traditional practices, but these seemed to be looked over by academic feminists who seemed keen to teach them “more empowered” ways of speaking and organizing.

Although i wouldn’t argue that these ways of speaking and organizing were or are wrong, the project brought to light the ways in which academic discourses were often, perhaps unintentionally, requiring speakers to learn new discourses in order to be called into subjectivity, “to be heard.” A benignly top-down approach, these methods were linked with “empowerment.” I felt, as a 20 year-old student, something not quite right in the approach I was garnering from development agencies, theory and University. I would describe it as a deep murky discomfort, one I could not quite pinpoint but could not ignore.

To a large degree this discomfort essentially kept me from continuing on in academia. I could not justify theorizing through any body other than my own. I pursued my own body in performance, my own experiences of dis/empowerment.

The question of how one should speak in order to be heard, especially in the realm of the visual and not the sonic (ie dance, physical performance, photography, film) continued to gnaw at me. Would it be possible for people who saw me but did not hear me to assume, nevertheless, that I had something valuable to say? If given the opportunity, was my story worth being told?

A few years ago, Tereza Silon and I, in research and preparation for our workshop (re)imagining homes, ecologies and labours, developed some physical postures of embodied active listening. We practiced three key positions, along with eye contact, while listening to others. The embodiment of various postures–some more comfortable and/or intimate than others–reminded and held an imprint for remembering our practice of listening. I try to engage such tactics on a daily basis.

Most recently I’ve (re)discovered the works of Pauline Oliveros, who developed tactics for deep listening and whose work keeps coming up in various circles and workshops.

One such circle was an immersive space organized by Isabel Lewis and facilitated by Alice Colley, a violinist/musician/artist who works with choirs and sound in relation to immersive spaces and apocalyptic visions.

The Hellfire Project: and

I also had the pleasure of taking a workshop with Lucia Farinati, who co-wrote “the Force of Listening” with Claudia Firth.

In her workshop we discussed what it means to listen in solidarity versus listen in disagreement.

What’s so exciting to me about this surge in attention given to listening rather than speaking is that it priveledges what has traditionally been viewed as a more passive or feminine domain of patiently listening. At least, it gives strength and power to this skill and hopefully encourages us all to take of responsibility for how we can be better listeners.

Active listening/new tactics for listening are small, powerful acts of resistance as we are renegotiating, or attempting to renegotiate, who and which voices can be “at the table”. We are learning that not all of us can speak at the same time and time is a limiting factor. It seems clear that now more than ever before, if long histories if inequality around who gets to speak and who gets to listen will ever find “justice”, we must self educate about the space we take up.

We must pull back and find balance in the space we take up, we must learn how to listen, and understand how to ne zugotiate and navigate group communication with new methodologies–methodologies that choose moving towards unsettling tired heirarchies and attempt to build safer or more supportive, empowered, welcoming spaces for all speakers.