As the Industrial Revolution and the Electric Revolution turn our acoustic environment into a ‘lo-fi’ soundscape, modern communication tends to evolve into an escalating ‘volume war’ where one shouts, yells, cries and screams. This article challenges the assumption that ‘volume is power’ and explores an alternative mode of vocal emission — the whisper. Weak in volume and yet persistent in resonance, evanescent in space and yet lingering in time, elusive to knowledge and yet haunting to unconscious desires, whispering questions some key assumptions about the relationships among voice, body, space and power. Commonly used in private address (by mothers, lovers and friends), whispering bears the imprint of domesticity and is seldom related to publicness. When associated with politics (e.g. the whispering politicians), it reminds us of secret plots, double dealings and the obscene underside of publicness. Is whispering doomed to turn sour when it enters the public space? Can we bring out its subversive power and make it a political act? This article explores the various ramifications of whispering in physiology, theology, sociology, psychoanalysis, ethics and theorizes a new type of political agency that is urgently needed in our contemporary lo-fi world — the world of acoustic claustrophobia and attention deficit.
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