Wednesday, November 2, 2011

On the female body as sound box

“Hearing and responding to the mother’s voice is one of the first steps towards subjectivity in the fetus, to intentionality, the subjective focus on something.” (See my previous post.) But here, in this prenatal stage, the mother’s voice does not yet serve as a medium, it does not mediate between fetus and mother. The fetus, after all, has no idea of an object (or rather a subject) behind the mother’s voice, to which the voice refers as a sign. The voice is for the fetus an autonomous’ given that – as far as it refers at all – refers only to itself. The mother’s voice forms – together with the umbilical cord, placenta and the fetus’ own hands – the first adumbration of an external object in contrast to which the fetus learns to distinguisgh its own subjectivity: a first ‘there’ over against its own ‘here’.
The medium between the ‘here’ and ‘there’ is for the fetus not the voice but rather the encompassing milieu in which the fetus is located: the warm, dark amniotic fluid in the womb, swathed by the maternal body. Through this milieu, the first objects are given to the fetus. Mediated by the encompassing body and filtered by the amniotic fluid, the mother’s voice reaches the ear of the fetus (the uterus as sound box). In this emphatic sense, the milieu of the fetus is its medium, the means through which the fetus receives a first sensation of something other than itself (and, by contrast with that other, of itself as well).

begins an epistemological or should I say ontological? operation that conditions all forms of consciousness: the differentiation of figure and background (as it is called in in Gestalt psychology and phenomenology). The intentional focus on an object always involves a non-intentional awareness of a background against which the ‘figure’ (Gestalt) of the object appears, like actors standing out against the background of a theater stage. As the actors command attention, the stage setting recedes to the background of attention. Without this receding background, no object can appear on the foreground, in the ‘spotlight’ of conscious attention.

The same holds for the mother’s voice: it is able to attract the attention of the fetus because the ambient noise the fetus’s auditory milieu so to speak recedes into the background. The soprano of the mother’s voice contrasts with the monotonous sound of the flowing blood, the thumping of the heart, the gurgling of the digestive system just as in music the higher notes of the melody and solo soar above the rhythmic bass (it is therefore a legitimate and interesting question to what extent the basis for human musicality is laid in the womb). The maternal milieu of the fetus is therefore – qua medium of the mother’s voice – necessarily a vanishing mediator: something that recedes to the background so that something else may appear.

No comments:

Post a Comment