Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies
Review By Sylvia Richardson
September 27, 2023
Dylan Robinson’s book, Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies, is a portal to many worlds. The book is a call for adopting a critical listening positionality, drawing our attention to the specific ways each of us individually listen. This approach to musicology has the potential to expose racism guided by culture, class, and the multiple identities we take on. Robinson writes of the injuries of racism, and the refusal of the terra nullius doctrine by other academics—Audra Simpson, David Garneau, Leanne Simpson and Glen Coulthard—; a practice that centers Indigenous perspectives and demarcates Indigenous sovereignty. Hungry Listening calls for a refusal of Indigenous knowledge extraction and instrumentalization (p.23) and encourages resurgence through forms of “sensate sovereignty”—knowledge that is “felt viscerally, proprioceptively” (p.24). Creating “Irreconcilable spaces of Aboriginality” outside of settlers’ gazes, these are acts of gathering together (visiting as responsibility) and remembering the ancestors. Robinson is speaking of the land, learning to listen with the land, and through the land: “At its core, my discussion of the relationship that occurs between human and non-human musical and spatial subjects seeks to unseat the anthropocentrism of listening” (p. 98).
Hungry Listening is critical of the colonial scripts. The work is nuanced in its invitation to become aware of how we listen and how we see. Throughout the book, Robinson centers Indigenous decolonial sovereignties; he points to new ways of seeing and being, revealing the ways “the right way to listen” or the “wrong way of listening” can create boxes that deny our imagination. The book is an awakening of sensate sovereignty, of how we may better listen to our world, to the land, and to the beings with whom we coexist.
Can we speak of reconciliation without truth telling? Robinson’s answer is a resounding No. He argues that talk of reconciliation has taken the place of redress for the harms of genocide. He is calling for re-igniting imagination in direct contrast to the neoliberal performative myth of equality as multicultural performances on stage: “For settler audience members, it may be a much easier task to embrace the mystery of Indigenous stories and aesthetics then to play a leading role in the eradication of another kind of mystery: the prevailing ignorance of Indigenous histories of colonization and their lasting effects on Indigenous people today” (Robinson, p. 231). The heart of this work is how we listen to our non-human relations. And as we dance, sing our stories, and become proprioceptively aware of how we listen and see, we decolonize the hungry listening imposed by colonial violence and challenge the normativity of a “fixed” listening that endorses a colonial story as something of the past and casts reconciliation in terms that center whiteness.
This book is a primer for music, arts, and Indigenous Studies programs interested in creating protocols for ethical research practices and for Indigenous scholars interested in resurgence as an academic practice. It is a must read for those interested in decolonizing protocols and in understanding how listening positionality affirms how we see and understand the subjectivity of place and the “animacy” of land.
Robinson, Dylan. Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2020. 288 pp. $28.00 paper.