Writing about the Sound of Unicorns

Writing about the Sound of Unicorns

Key Note Talk

By Salomé Voegelin

at the Society for Artistic Research's Writing as Practice Practice as Writing conference

Location: Royal Conservatoire & Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, Netherlands

28th & 29th April 2016


In Naming and Necessity, Saul Kripke famously discusses why there were no unicorns. His reason for denying the unicorn’s existence is not that such a beast, its fossilised imprint or its bones, could not be found, but that even if such a find was to match all the traits of the mystical animal we know as unicorn it could not be a unicorn, since the name “unicorn” is already given to that beast with the one horn we know from fables and fairy tales.

Kripke’s contemplations on the unicorn offers a useful starting point to discuss the inaudible as an impossible sound, which is not literally the sound of the unicorn, but the notion of the sound of the unicorn is what might engender its imagination: there are in the woods no sonic bones or fossils of this mythical beast, but there are other, present sounds, which we do not hear and yet they impact on how we understand the trees. The inaudible as a sound not heard, and as a concept for what is considered impossible, makes us aware that there are things, which for physiological, aesthetic, ideological or political reasons we cannot or do not want to hear. These are sounds that fall out of what we consider possible and in their impossibility they can reassess how we name the actual and challenge the rationale of its description. In this presentation I want to tail Kripke’s unicorn into the woods to listen for its sound and propose that writing is not about describing what I might find but is about creating portals, points of access to experience what we cannot yet hear.

Research Links:

Writing as Practice Practice as Writing conference: The relationship between artistic practice and writing in the context of research is a challenging and much debated topic, both in and outside the framework of art degree programmes. Often the relationship is felt to be one of friction, opposition or paradox. How do both writing and practice operate as ways to convey new knowledge, understanding and experiences by which we (re)organize our lives?