After days in the wilds, away from the incessant and electronic humming of the city, I switched on my computer to find a new internet controversy: not Childish Gambino’s “This is America” but a bland audio illusion document called “Yanny vs Laurel”. The controversy surrounds an audio clip, shared days ago on Reddit and Twitter, and what it is supposedly saying. About half of the internet swears that the voice is saying “Yanny”, while the other half insists it is obviously “Laurel”. The controversy part is why people seem to be hearing two different things (if you haven’t heard the recording, go ahead). Like most news items caught in the maelstroms of our communicative capitalist meme-scape, this is yet another passing distraction that probably shouldn’t occupy anyone’s time, and speaks to just how fickle modern humans are (I’m on Team “Laurel” by the way…it’s obviously “Laurel”). But I think there’s something else to be said here about the ‘biopolitics of the Other’.
In a time when news about our oneness and entanglement with everything is gaining widespread accessibility, it can be dangerously easy to sidestep the observation that ‘oneness’ does not mean homogeneity…that bodies are not merely biological but cultural as well (hence, biocultural) and thus contingent upon specific circumstances, and that though ‘it’ may no longer be separate from us the ‘Other’ is not always open for our understanding or analysis. In the same way some swear by Yanny and others feel confused why anyone would hear anything but Laurel, ‘we’ are differentially dis/abled – alive and emergent in ways that undermine our ossified political rituals. At the very least, Yanny vs Laurel tells us that the obvious is not quite obvious, that clarity is already threaded through with ambiguity, and that – perhaps the more humbling insight – we may never ever come to feel, see, hear and be as others do, even those we love dearly. We may never arrive on the shore of the Other. Perhaps ‘arrival’ in this sense is impossible, and the best we can manage – in an irretrievably manifold world – is the mereness of approach.