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All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage

Peter Szendy | Translated by Roland Végső

The world of international politics has recently been rocked by a seemingly endless series of scandals involving auditory surveillance: the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping is merely the most sensational example of what appears to be a universal practice today. What is the source of this generalized principle of eavesdropping?All Ears: The Aesthetics of Espionage traces the long history of moles from the Bible, through Jeremy Bentham’s “panacoustic” project, all the way to the intelligence-gathering network called “Echelon.” Together with this archeology of auditory surveillance, Szendy offers an engaging account of spycraft’s representations in literature (Sophocles, Shakespeare, Joyce, Kafka, Borges), opera (Monteverdi, Mozart, Berg), and film (Lang, Hitchcock, Coppola, De Palma).

Following in the footsteps of Orpheus, the book proposes a new concept of “overhearing” that connects the act of spying to an excessive intensification of listening. At the heart of listening Szendy locates the ear of the Other that manifests itself as the originary division of a “split-hearing” that turns the drive for mastery and surveillance into the death drive.

Publisher's website

Peter Szendy is Professor of Philosophy at Université de Paris Ouest Nanterre and musicological adviser for concert programs at the Cité de la musique. His books in English include Phantom Limbs: On Musical Bodies; Apocalypse-Cinema: 2012 and Other Ends of the World; Kant in the Land of Extraterrestrials: Cosmopolitical Philosofictions; Hits: Philosophy in the Jukebox; and Listen: A History of Our Ears (all Fordham). 

Roland Végső is Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln.