Sound cinema, deafness, and hearing impairments. Toward a new theory of audiovision
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Deafness and hearing impairments pose sound cinema in front of a crucial problem: is a non-ableist representation possible? At first, the issue might seem related to the kind of narratives that sound cinema tailors around disability, and it is indeed mostly from this perspective that it has been investigated. However, there is more to it. How is a non-ableist representation at all possible, when sound cinema constructs practices of listening that, apparently, always imply a spectator “able” to listen? In other words, is it possible for sound cinema to construct practices of listening that are (at least) open toward the infinite range of shifting possibilities that constitute embodied listening, instead of adhering to and shaping the norm of an idealised “perfectly” hearing ear? In my thesis, I want to explore the apparent paradox that emerges by letting deafness, hearing impairments and sound cinema encounter: the (im?)possibility of an audiovisual representation that accounts for what the Cambridge Dictionary problematically defines as “the quality of being unable to hear.” To do so, I intend to move interdisciplinarily between Audiovisual Studies, Critical Disability Studies, and Critical Feminist Studies, and along their intersections. First, I explore a theoretical framework which allows me to argue that sound cinema represents specific hearing/listening practices as universal, shaping for its films aural dimensions informed by arbitrary criteria, while rarely dealing with such an arbitrariness and often silently proposing it as the norm. By letting this theoretical framework resonate with critical interventions on deafness, cochlear implants, and embodied listening, sound cinema’s mainstream listening practices will be coloured with deeply ableist tints. Second, I assert the necessity of a new theory of audiovision—one that truly strives to take into account the contributions of Critical Disability Studies—in order to both understand the processes of aural mediation proposed by existing audiovisual objects and construct new ones. I commence the building of this new theory by discussing and reshaping the concepts of “point of audition” and “aural diegetic space.” The theory is then tested against A Quiet Place, a high-concept horror film which fascinatingly constructs its audiovisual codes in conformance to the deafness of one of its main characters. Finally, I reflect on the possible directions that audiovision might take when exposed to the perspective of deafness and hearing impairments. This reflection is constituted by two components: a short film, striving to further research through artistic practice what explored on a theoretical level, and a verbal/written critical assessment of the choices that led (and those that could have led) the short film’s creation. By attempting to understand the issues proposed to sound cinema by deafness and hearing impairments, my thesis does not want to chase the possibility of audiovisual representations that imagine disability for “able” people. Instead, this project seeks to explore the limits of oral/aural listening practices as indicated by the epistemological shifts proposed by deafness and hearing impairments, in an effort to indicate new directions for a broader debate concerning the processes of audiovisual mediation.