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Medusa, sound responsibility between sisters


13 June 2022
This month's topic: Magical AbnormalitiesResident Editor: blanca arias

Medusa, sound responsibility between sisters

The figure of Medusa has historically been used to generate awareness about what is normal, to warn of the dangers of vulnerability, to avoid masculine independence, and to relate to rare body forms. Medusa is the embodiment of dissent, of those who flee from the normative system. Her representation turns relationships into a strange procedure and difference into a system of exclusion contrary to learning by contagion. However, history has used only one part of the mythology of this group of beings called Gorgons to construct a morality that sustains one of the infinite foundations of cisheteropatriarchal reality. What does history ignore? What hopeful and vulnerable stories does the mythology of these beings hide?

There is a process of infection and deterritorialization that calls attention to itself but is silenced and which begins with the mourning of Medusa’s sisters. According to mythology, Medusa dies at the hands of Perseus, who cuts her head off guided by the hands of the goddess Athena and with the help of a mirrored shield with which he can look at the Gorgon indirectly without turning to stone (fig. 1). After her death, her sisters mourn her eternally (fig. 2). This pain could never be expressed with a great historical gesture. Excluded from the power of visual representation, of the system of reason, and of a homogeneous, virile corporality, they were not able to build a monument, write a great epic or start a great war against the molar state. Medusa’s sisters, in their community far from the normative construction of reality but so close to it that with their silent scream they infect it, refuse to start a war with the visual tools of men: they will simply continue to cry. These are subaltern bodies that have created a community not formed by genealogical ties, witches that inhabit a space of constant transformation, insects that become humans, animals or vegetables. They inhabit the interstices of the binary codes that have served the sovereign domination and exploitation of experience objectified by the cisheterovisual man, white and self-centered. As Donna Haraway says: “The Gorgons are powerful winged chthonic entities, without a proper genealogy, their scope is lateral and tentacular, they have no established lineage nor any reliable type (of sexual genres), nor artistic or literary genres)”.[1] DONNA HARAWAY, Seguir con el problema, 2019, p. 91.

2.  Detail of a Gorgon chasing Perseus, from Dinos of the Gorgon Painter, c. 580, B.C.E. Paris, Louvre.

In the story of the mourning of Medusa’s sisters, the one in charge of carrying out justice and, thus, of cutting any possible line of flight, is Athena. Goddess of civilization, guardian of individualism and human exceptionalism, she will not find any message of visual rebellion that can reincorporate easily to a compartmentalized organization, but rather will be enveloped by a steady flow of sound launched by the Gorgons and the serpents that coil around their heads. This vibration is nothing more than a cry born from passivity, the obligation of mourning for and by death. This sound drags her sisters to death and become the current of sound decoding and hacking along with Medusa and everything in symbiosis with her. By mourning, these beings cast aside individuality, they absent themselves to lose themselves together with the snakes that accompany them and an entire invisible community of the past and future. Athena listens to the cry born of the Gorgons’ care network and, defensively, tries to capture this flow that threatens to decode the self-created, utilitarian, virile and differentiated human-State system. In an attempt to take this sound flow somewhere else in order to take advantage of it as a resource while avoiding the risk of contagion and, therefore, without opening the door to vulnerability, Athena tries to enclose the cry of Medusa’s sisters in an aulos, a double-reed flute of ancient Greece.

The imperceptible and hopeful micro-story within the Gorgon mythology, which historical discourse centered around the death of Medusa at the hands of Perseus, is the invention of the aulos. Athena invents this wind instrument to enclose the sound virus that the Gorgon sisters have unleashed while mourning with the affective responsibility between subordinate bodies. The double-reed flute encloses their crying in order to dominate its sound and to prevent an unwanted infection without rejecting its use for the benefit of phallogovisual human civilization. But something goes wrong. Athena realizes that when playing the aulos her cheeks swell and her face is deformed so much it becomes unrecognizable (fig. 3). Through the sound of this instrument, the hard limits imposed by normative visuality crack and seem to fade away. Unauthorized, the goddess of female cis justice throws the aulos from the heights of the light of the cistema into the darkness where despised bodies live, thus banishing the instrument to the realm of all those who generate strange relationships and who depend on others to live. There the satyr Marsyas (fig. 4), a creature that shakes the foundations of the binary structure, which separates as irreconcilable elements the human and the animal, finds the instrument and, with it, the aulos returns to the invisible, responsible and always unfinished community from which the tears of the Gorgons first appeared.


3. The Tarporley Painter, Bell-Krater, Athena Playing the Aulos, 375-350 B.C.E. Firenze, National Archaeological Museum.


4. Elihu Vedder, The Young Marsyas Charming the Hares, 1878.

The spread of the mourning of the Gorgons by the aulos has only expanded the degree of the decoding of crying. With its capture inside the instrument, the sound (which drags itself and all the experiences that intersect with it towards a symbiotic and vulnerable movement of constant escape) can continue its path without direction or destination through the state system that dictates normality. The aulos will make the eternal cry invisible within the phallogocentric system that is only interested in visuality, reason and representation. While the instrument is perceived within the molar, it in turn covers the sound marked by sorority so that it can continue its non-destination generating symbiotic communities between dissident bodies camouflaged within the state system. The aulos and its resonance hack a dimension of the phallogovisual system by deforming Athena’s face, infecting her face with its decoding force.

They become part of her through a mobilization of bodily affects that produce and are produced by sound, causing Athena to lose her individuality by means of the deformation of the center of her image. This is how a sound visuality is generated which produces a short circuit in the phallogovisual organization in a symbiotic relationship with the Gorgon sisters, Medusa and all the nocturnal cyborgs that are part of the invisible community that is always becoming. The sound of the aulos threatens to turn Athena’s face queer, rendering it indecipherable in terms of a visual binary code.

As an attentive listening to the allegedly founding myth of Western castrating visuality shows, this sound always escapes because its destabilizing capacity cannot be intuited. The sound flow is space-silence of affects and vulnerable symbiosis that generates invisible communities everywhere without a previous orientation. It doesn’t seek conflict, it doesn’t try to enact violence against a system, its action isn’t bloody and its change is an all-becoming. The sound flow impregnates and is impregnated by feminisms, antiracist movements, queer communities and ecosocialisms, revolutions articulated through positive difference, mutual affectation, the outside as home and the centrality of care.

(Featured Image: 1. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Head of Medusa, 1597. Firenze, Galleria degli Uffizi).

1  DONNA HARAWAY, Seguir con el problema, 2019, p. 91.

edu rubix is a musician and a scorpio. Graduated in Art History (UB), but dedicates time to sound creation under the name Bonitx. Feels stimulated by the destabilizing power of popular music and its connection with the resistance to the normative.

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