Listening and Hearing

Vilém Flusser (1920-1991) wrote about music as part of an long-term effort to develop a theory of communication. In the book Gestures (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2014), I translated “Die Geste des Musikhörens” as “The Gesture of Listening to Music.” The decision seemed very straightforward at the time, even though the German title quite clearly refers literally to hearing music (“listen” would be “zuhören”). Flusser defines “gesture” at all points as a movement: other essays in the series focus on, for example, writing, painting, photographing, filming, shaving, smoking. They’re active verbs. I’m still wondering in what sense listening is a movement. It definitely is active, though. You can hear something by accident — it can just happen to you. But if you’re listening, it’s intentional.

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