The Duty to Listen

Another old unpublished paper, this one from Spring 2015. Though I readily acknowledge the problematic nature of wasting any more space on Woody Allen, there’s a lot here I still like and think would be worth sharing.I use the film Another Woman to think through the relationship between psychoanalysis and acousmatic sound, which relates specifically to Allen’s film and couldn’t be accomplished by looking at Bergman’s Wild Strawberries, on which the film is based. I’ve engaged with the work of problematic individuals before (my undergraduate philosophy thesis was on Heidegger, for instance), so please take as read that my engagement with Allen’s films is not in any way an endorsement of his abusive behavior, views towards women, or his politics.


Drawing on Jean-Luc Nancy’s distinction between modes of listening rooted in entendre and those rooted in écouter, this essay offers an analysis of Woody Allen’s 1988 film Another Woman, pivoting on the brief but significant use of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo” and Edgar Varése’s 1934 composition Ecuatorial. I consider the function of these two works within the film, in particular the ways in which they resonate with psychoanalysis and the theme of acousmatic listening. I conclude with an analysis of the psychoanalytic voice to bridge the gap between individual and institutional listening, and consider Nancy’s listening subject as an alternative to individual or collective subjectivities.


I learned something, no, actually two things: The first is that physicians know how to speak, but they don’t know how to listen,[1] and now I am surrounded by all the useless medicine that I have bought over the course of a year. The second thing that I have learned is that in the morning, before breakfast, it is a good thing to drink a glass of water.

                                                                        -Nanni Moretti, Dear Diary (1993)[2]

You too will be esteemed among the famous
springs as I tell of the oak on hollow
rocks from which your babbling
waters tumble down.

-Horace, Odes (III.20)

An acousmatic sound is generally considered to be one which is heard without seeing its cause. The term acousmatique was coined in French by the critic Jérôme Peignot as a more accurate description of what composer Pierre Schaeffer had termed musique concrète, or compositions created by manipulating, mixing and arranging pre-recorded sounds that intentionally downplayed or obscured the origins of their source material.  Peignot’s formulation drew on the ancient Greek philosopher Pythagoras, who was said to have lectured to his initiate disciplines from behind a veil, so as to force them to better consider the meaning of his words.  These disciples were required to remain silent, their sole duty but to listen to the master’s voice.[3]

In Sound Unseen, a recent study of acousmatic sound, Brian Kane’s primary intervention, at least on the surface, is a recuperation of acousmatic sound away from the context of Pierre Schaeffer and the founding myth of Pythagoras. In order to do so, Kane turns to the modes of listening as conceived of in Jean-Luc Nancy’s Listening, contrasted with Schaeffer’s phenomenological account (influenced primarily by Husserl and, to a lesser extent, Merleau-Ponty). Kane situates Nancy as continuing in the wake of Derrida’s post-phenomenological critique.[4]  Nancy begins by asking if philosophy hasn’t in fact substituted “listening (l’écouter) for something more on the order of understanding [l’entente].”  The use of “understanding” suggest the French comprendre, which “refers specifically to the reception of languages,” both linguistic and musical.[5]  But in this passage referred to above, the English translator’s usage blurs the distinction between l’entente and comprendre.  The latter is one of Schaeffer’s four modes of listening, and hence this collapse effaces the very philosophical intervention Nancy has set out as his task in Listening.   Kane points out the relation between the Old French l’entente, meaning “intent,” and the verb “entendre,” to direct one’s intention, “which echoes the Latin, intendere—“to stretch out, to lean toward, to strain,” and hence the question of tension is very much at the foreground of Nancy’s investigation.

Perhaps the English translation is doomed to sever the thread… écouter to entendre, by unloosening sensation from understanding and encouraging the reader to falsely cast the difference in terms of faculty psychology…rather than an oscillation of difference within the same.[6]

Kane is careful to emphasize that the ways in which the tension between the various French verbs is lessened by the recent English translation, which proves difficult as the translations of each verb has different etymological roots in English than they do in French.   Nonetheless, he must correct the slackening caused by the English translation in order to deploy Nancy’s mode of listening as écouter in order to build his own alternate ontology of acousmatic sound freed from the phenomenological baggage of Schaffer’s strong association with the term (acoustmatic). Whereas Husserlian (and Schaefferian) entendre-as-intention structurally requires a subject (an Ego), “Nancy selects écouter as the axis for his interrogation of listening because of his sensitivity to the etymology and implications of the verb entendre.”[7]

Nancy makes these distinctions in order to develop a critique of signification, which he posits as a structure that is closed upon itself. When we listen [écouter] we do not seek to understand what we hear in advance. Listening in this mode is always a listening for sens, for meaning, and not understanding.  Listening can thus be conceived not as an individual practice, but a shared activity. Sounds are heard socially.  Nancy compares the subject to the diapason of an organ, in which the subject is the result of a renvoi, a feedback loop of resonance with other listening subjects.[8] He contrasts this mode of listening (écouter) against techniques of listening that form community around reception and signification rather than sensibility. Nancy compares acousmatic listening, such as Catholic Confession, as examples of the inward orientation, a making resonant that Kane picks up and extends to his analysis of the psychoanalytic voice.  Listening (écouter) is therefore based on unknowability which orients us towards a renvoi, a re-sending, reference or referral that maintains no stable identity over time and across space, and thus makes for a natural affinity with theories of acousmatic sound.[9]

In contrast to the dominant understanding of acousmatic sound, which quite reasonably stresses audition, for Kane acousmatic sound is not about a division between the senses. In fact, the experience of acousmatic sound is not even fundamentally about seeing and hearing. Acousmatic sound is epistemological in nature; it is about knowledge, certainty, and uncertainty. The invisibility of the sounds, and the uncertainty as to their origins, is central to the experience of the sound. Before returning to Kane’s theory of the acousmatic voice, the following section will turn to Woody Allen’s Another Woman, in which the experience of overhearing another woman’s therapy session prompts an existential crisis in the protagonist, who realizes she must heed the call of the unseen to “change her life.”


Auditory hallucinations are far more prevalent than visual ones, and the sense of a world created by a disembodied voice is an acute aspect of dreams, as the dreamer hears himself as a divided voice.

 -Paula Rabinowitz[10]

  In Another Woman (1988), Woody Allen deals with the same core themes that animated Ingmar Bergman’s Wild Strawberries. Marion is in many ways an analogue for Isak Borg, Bergman’s protagonist, though she shares a name (more or less) with Borg’s wife Marianne. Like Borg, she comes to realize that in pursuit of her status and success in her field she has become emotionally distant and alienated those closest to her, often without even realizing it. Director of undergraduate studies in a philosophy department at a “very fine women’s college,” we are first introduced to Marion while she is on leave working on her latest book. Marion has achieved professional success, but as the film progresses we, and Marion, come to realize that it came at a price. It is exactly her thoughtful, carefully compartmentalized and precisely organized life that has made her emotionally alienated from her closest relations. Her private room, penetrated by the sound of “another woman’s” therapy session, becomes a metaphor for the necessity of listening to the repressed other. The unseen woman becomes juxtaposed with the absent gaze of Apollo, evoked explicitly at a turning point in the film when reading her late mother’s favorite poem, can be read in this context not as an apparition but as something that must be heard, a call that must be answered.

Not one of his better-known films, it does come in the middle of a two-decade stretch of his best work, beginning in 1977 with Annie Hall and ending in 1997 with Deconstructing HarryAnother Woman, though not as successful as the films that immediately precede and follow it (Hannah and Her Sisters, Radio Days, Crimes and Misdemeanors) deploys many of the tropes that animated his work of this period, in particular self-conscious New York intellectuals, psychoanalysis, and nostalgia for one’s past.  The analysis that follows will be limited to a close-reading of the film itself, avoiding biographical details about Allen himself, however it is worth noting that this film was immediately followed by the short-film Oedipus Wrecks, (included in the anthology New York Stories) in which therapy also prominently figures.  As such, it is difficult not to hear resonances of Allen’s own life in Another Woman, as Marion negotiates supposed professional success with personal failures, the therapists always analyzing others.

Many of Allen’s films can be understood as variations on the theme of moral compromise in the service of the production of good art,[11] whereas others, like Another Woman, can be characterized as addressing more psychological and existential concerns.  The film begins with a cold open, narrated by Marion setting the stage. She states she

had achieved a decent measure of fulfillment both personally and professionally. Beyond that I would say I don’t choose to delve, not that I was afraid of uncovering some dark side of my character.  But I always feel if something seems to be working, leave it alone.

She somewhat reservedly catalogs her personal relationships and sets up the plot of the film.  As she talks the camera pans over photographs, almost exactly the same visual device deployed in Wild Strawberries, often implying what remains unsaid by Marion herself.  In order to dedicate herself to producing a new book, she must shut herself out from “everything but the work,” a subtle foreshadowing that this is not to be.  Only then does Allen’s signature title screen appear, accompanied by the melancholic Gymnopédie No. 1 by Erik Satie (in Claude Debussy’s orchestral arrangement renamed as Gymnopédie No. 3, and conducted by Pierre Boulez). Importantly this piece serves as a wistful love theme for a relationship that isn’t to be, which Marion comes to regret.   It is, however, the inclusion of Edgar Varèse ’s Ecuatorial that is most significant for our purposes here, of which more later.

Marion Post (Gena Rowlands) is a fifty-something philosophy professor who sublets a quiet one-room apartment in downtown Manhattan in order to dedicate time to writing her new book.[12]  Driven to this rental by the sound of construction near her home uptown, her new environs prove to be even more of a distraction, as the sounds of an adjacent analyst’s office seep into her workspace through a ventilation grate in the wall.[13]   She covers the grate with pillows and resumes writing, slowly, as she finds beginning to be the hardest part of writing a book.  Tired from a day of hard work, she dozes off until the pillows slide down off the vent, awoken by the voice of the anguished voice of a patient, played by Mia Farrow.[14]

The woman’s sad lamentations describe an existential crisis, as she comes to realize that her life is so full of deceptions that they have become a part of her, to the extent that she can no longer tell who she “really was.”   All the while the camera remains motionless of a nearly still Marion, head on her desk staring directly at the camera.  The woman awakes from her dream to see her husband sleeping beside her, but can recognize him only as a strange.  At this, the image cuts to a shot of the half-uncovered vent, just as Farrow says “I turned on the light” and asked him to hold me.  The camera pans back towards Marion, her face panicked as she recognizes herself in this woman’s fears.

She cracks open her door in order to try to catch a glimpse of this woman once the session has finished, the camera cutting to a scene of a hallway, a very pregnant woman drying her tears as she watches her self in the mirror.  The unseen voice has been given a face, however now this face is silently contemplating its own reflection.  This suggests a doubling, in which Marion’s audition of the unseen voice is akin to a contemplating one’s own reflection.  The shot returns to the interior of the room, as Marion closes the door struggling with repressed memories and youthful regrets.

The scene shifts suddenly to a noisy party, as Marion and Ken, her second husband, attend a colleague’s 50th birthday celebration, an event he confronts with “some joy but mostly paralyzing anxiety.”  As the guest of honor then proceeds to tell a story about his son gently teasing him about his increasing age, the camera pans back to Marion’s forced smile as he says the word “funny.” This discordance of emotion is paralleled in the next scene, in which a couple describes to Marion and Ken being caught in flagrante on the living floor by their superintendent, who enters looking to fix a pipe. The man says “this isn’t the pipe you were looking to fix,” congratulating himself on his quick wit, though his wife is quick to point out not only her own embarrassment, but that of the superintendent, whom she describes as sad.  Even from these short opening scenes it is evident that the film will confront affect quite explicitly, and always with an awareness of the correspondence, or lack thereof, between what is seen and what is heard.

Subsequent scenes juxtapose the pregnant woman’s anxieties about life and doubts about her marriage with Marion’s own, including a flashback to an affair with Ken’s friend, the writer Larry Lewis (Gene Hackman), and an excursion with her stepdaughter (Martha Plimpton) to visit to her recently widowed elderly father (John Houseman).  It is in the latter that Marion obtains her mother’s collection of the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke, foreshadowing its significance later.[15]

Later, Marion spies the woman from the therapist’s office walking down the street, and in pursuing her accidentally encounters Claire, an actress and close friend from her youth with whom she’d lost touch.  Unknowingly to Marion, Claire blames her for their relationship falling apart, a fact she drunkenly reveals after becoming jealous of Marion’s intellectual rapport over Brecht with her theatre director husband.  Marion returns home, shaken by the revelation that she could in fact be so oblivious.  Her husband not at home, she sits down to read a book to calm herself, picking up the Rilke book which had belonged to her recently deceased mother.  In a narrative voice-over, Marion recalls writing a paper at 16 years old on Rilke’s “The Panther” imagining what it saw staring out from its cage. “And that image, I concluded, could only be death.”   Faced with the knowledge that she is not as in control of her life as she had thought, she comes to question her other close relationships, but instead of finding solace, her late mother’s book reminds her only of death.

Then I saw mother’s favorite poem, “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”  There were stains on the page which I believe were her tears. They fell across the last line: “For here there is no place that does not see you.  You must change your life.”

This scene comes at almost precisely the middle of the film, and marks a decisive shift in Marion. When next we see Marion back in her downtown work flat, she has dropped all pretense of not wanting to listen to the other woman’s session.  Marion listens in, intently, waiting for the sound of her voice.  Farrow’s woman is unusually reticent: “I have nothing to say.”  The camera remains a tight shot on Marion’s face, leaning back against the wall disappointedly.  Marion sighs, the silence broken by the first occurrence of Edgar Varèse’s Ecuatorial set against an anguished look on Marion’s face for several seconds.  Unlike virtually every other piece of music used on the soundtrack up to this point, all diegetic source music, Ecuatorial serves as incidental music, thus signaling a foreboding shift in perspective as the scene cuts to a (day)dream sequence.  A black panther is crouched in a cage, its bars occupying nearly all the frame.  The room is dim, but the bright sunlight streaming through the window renders the cat a pure silhouette as it rises and stalks toward the bars.  The frame cuts again to a theatrical drama mask lying on the floor, its significance obscure until later in the film.  The trombones burst sustained chords against the staccato melody of a piano as the frame transitions again, slowly panning over a detail of Gustav Klimt’s Hope I, settling on the figure’s pregnant belly.[16]  The shot returns to Marion as she remembers an encounter with her stepdaughter, in which she catches her with a young lover.  The shot plans left, morphing into a fire lit room.  She imagines the girl worried about what Marion will think, telling the boy that although Marion is great, she is also very judgmental, and she’s afraid she will speak about her the way she does of her brother. Now that the pregnant woman has nothing to say, Marion has begun to analyze herself in earnest.

Unable to work after this disturbing vision, she sets out on a walk, unconsciously finding that she has drifted to the vicinity of her younger brother’s place of employment.  As with her friend Claire, Marion seems unaware of where her relationship with her brother went astray.  In trying to reconnect with him, he reminds her of a critique of his writing she made years earlier: “your dreams may be meaningful to you, but to the objective observer they’re… it’s so embarrassing.”  The question of dreams and the perspective of the Other is one which will figure prominently in the climax of the drama.

Marion and Ken attend a concert of Mahler’s Symphony No. 4 with Mark and Lydia, the couple who at the party described being caught in flagrante. Importantly for the purposes of this essay, we should take note that during this brief shot at the concert, the camera watches the two couples in the audience, never revealing the orchestra. [17]   In the following scene, out to dinner following the symphony, a former student interrupts to tell Marion,  “You changed my life.”  While the woman describes being moved particularly by a lecture on ethics and moral responsibility, the camera is trained on a close up of Ken, who takes a drink while eying Lydia  suggestively.  Though her companions are charmed by this confession, it brings Marion little consolation, and she has yet anther poor night of sleep.

The next day at her office, she is unable to work and sleeps instead, initiating a long dream sequence which is the climax of the film, or at least what might be termed in therapy as a breakthrough.   At first it is not clear that Marion is dreaming, as the shot doesn’t change in anyway, simply Marion reclining on a couch.  The voice of the therapist becomes audible, and again the pregnant woman is silent.  The therapist accuses her of being angry, asking what it is that angers her.  The sound remains unchanged while Marion gets up and leaves her apartment, crossing the hall and entering the therapist’s office as the woman hesitantly answers, “Life.”    The doctor tells the woman to worry less about humanity and abstract concepts and instead should get her own life in order.  The woman leaves, and the doctor asks Marion for her diagnosis: self-deception, just as applicable to Marion herself.   The doctor’s next patient enters.  It is Marion’s elderly father, who says he has only regrets.  About his own personal relationships, certainly, but ultimately he regrets most that, despite achieving “some eminence in my field, I asked too little of myself.”[18] To his credit Allen resists an overly Oedipal reading.  Marion has much in common with her father, but he isn’t to blame for how she has lived her life.  Varèse’s Ecuatorial begins again with a sustained horn, and the dream shifts suddenly, to Marion walking down a familiar street, a horizontal tracking shot leading to the theatre where she had earlier run into Claire. She enters a rehearsal,  welcomed by the pregnant woman and invited to sit down by Claire’s husband. Claire plays the role of Marion, reenacting a scene with Ken from earlier in the film, in which they discuss their passionless relationship.  At the mention of Larry Lewis, the scene fades as Gymnopédie begins to play, clearly functioning as a melancholic love theme.  “I wanted to weep in the dream, but the tears wouldn’t come,” Marion narrates as Larry appears with his new wife, also played by Claire.  Larry informs her that he’s married and moved out west, had a daughter which has been the “greatest, most beautiful experience of my life,” and finally that the character of Helenka in his latest novel is based on her.  She next revisits her first husband, Sam, who may or may not have died a suicide. Her professor, Sam tells her that she was a wonderful pupil but the age difference was insurmountable.  He admits he seduced her, intellectually, and paid the price for it, to which Marion replies, foreshadowing the culminating revelation of regret over an abortion, that they both paid the price.

Inevitably there comes a time when the pupil absorbs all he or she can, and then what seemed like constant joyous imparting of knowledge and opinions becomes suffocation.

The director insists that they have one last important scene to play out, but Marion cannot take anymore, not yet ready to confront her greatest regret.  Now stirred up by the self-awareness of the dream, Marion engages in a fight with Ken, and afterward lies down, remembering a present she bought for Sam during their affair: a mask from a French production of the opera La Gioconda, which was scene in the daydream earlier in the film.[19]  This reminds her that she’s not yet found a present for Ken to celebrate their wedding anniversary. Unable to think what he might like, she browses an antique store, a radio playing the same piano rendition of “The Bilbao Song” which was earlier featured at the birthday party scene.  Here she and the unseen pregnant woman meet finally. The woman is crying, overcome with sadness as she looks upon Klimt’s Hope.  “Oh but this is a very optimistic work,” Marion tells her, though this does little to console her.  Like Marion, the woman used to paint watercolors, and though she thinks of returning to it immediately dismisses the notion, saying, “I guess we all imagine what might have been.  But that was a long time ago.”  The two talk further, visiting an art gallery before heading out to lunch. Marion drinks most of a bottle of wine and does most of the talking, the shot framed in such a way that the pregnant woman is once again unseen.  Marion is, in effect or in actuality, talking with herself.  Marion admits that when she was younger she had an abortion, and that from the vantage point of a 50 year old woman admits for the first time that she wishes she had had a child.  The scene then turns to the scene she was unable to confront in her dream theatre, her conflict with her first husband after having an abortion without even notifying him.

Back in her office, she overhears the pregnant woman telling her therapist about her encounter with Marion, describing her as a sad woman who cannot allow herself to feel, who as a result has lead a “cold, cerebral life.” She explicitly draws the comparison between herself and Marion, both embarrassed by their emotions so much so that they have lived in a state of denial.  The pregnant woman recounts their lunch date, and the scene shifts to a shot of both women together at the table, no longer obstructing the view of the pregnant woman.   Marion notices her friend Lydia, only to, upon rising to meet her, realize she is having an affair with Ken. Finally having confronted her guilt, regret, and loneliness, Marion sets about repairing her other relationships. She learns that the pregnant woman he terminated her treatment, and as such so has Marion. She finally reads Larry Lewis’ book, and in the encounter with her literary doppelganger Helenka, a name which means “light,” she sees herself a new from the perspective of one she loves.  Feeling a strange mixture of wistfulness and hope, Marion speaks the final lines of the film: “And I wondered if a memory is something you have or something you’ve lost. For the first time in a longtime I felt at peace. “

It is not difficult to read the role of the pregnant woman as functioning on multiple levels, however because the literal reading is so overly convenient I am inclined to argue that the character functions primarily as a metaphor for psychoanalysis.   The unseen acousmatic voice that penetrates her private work space, a fortress which she has hidden behind for her entire adult life, is in fact none other than what Brian Kane has called the psychoanalytic voice.  Kane writes:

If every moment of the subject’s speech is, at the same time, the speech of someone other than the subject, the acousmaticity of the Voice can never be overcome. We are always hearing the obstinate voice of the other in our heads, obeying its commands, speaking and being spoken by it.[20]

Like Pythagoras, the analysts must remain hidden, out of the analysand’s sight.  The psychoanalytic voice should not be conflated in any way with the voice of the psychoanalyst, nor should the analysts silence be collapsed into the silence of the drives.  Kane argues that this only occurs when we forget that psychoanalysis is itself a form of techne,[21]  Because the “acousmatic voice demands fidelity or faithfulness from a subject,” Marion is finally able to admit those things that she has so long denied and repressed.  Kane clarifies that “acousmatic voice is “His Master’s Voice,” a voice that…prescribes of commands a subject to obey,” while the “the psychoanalytic voice is a silent voice—one that enunciated without a statement.”  He compares the difference between them as akin to the difference between desire and drive.[22]

In order to bring this argument to completion, we must return to the way in which the film pivots on Marion’s engagement with the “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”  Before doing this, however, it is important that we properly contextualize Allen’s use of Ecuatorial, the only instance of incidental music in the film.

The film’s soundtrack features predominantly classical music rather than the “Golden Age” Jazz and American Songbook music typical of Allen’s films, which helps to give this drama a unique identity, as well reflect the milieu of stuffy intellectuals. Most of the music used in the film is source music, heard by the characters in the film: the Dave Brubeck Quartet recording of “Perdido” played at the birthday party; a guest (actually the pianist Bernie Leighton) plays Jerome Kern’s “Lovely to Look At” and then a romantic version of Brecht & Weill’s “The Bilbao Song,”;  Marion puts on a Bach sonata while looking through her mother’s possessions;  a Jazz standard played in the background while having a drink, and so on.

Varèse’s Ecuatorial is utilized to foreshadow the protagonist’s anguished dream.  The excerpt Allen’s uses from the composition fits in well with the timbre of the other musical selections, in particular Debussy’s orchestration of Satie and Bach’s Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in D MajorEcuatorial is more avant-garde than typical for Allen, perhaps the most avant-garde he’s ever featured, yet its sustained drones and dissonances perfectly communicate Marion’s foreboding, as she confronts her repressed feelings through fantasies in a hallucinatory dream sequence, of course a further homage to Wild Strawberries.

Allen’s use of the composition, which appears twice, is restricted to only the first opening section of the piece and in both instances is used as incidental music to transition from the site of analysis to the site of the dream.  Allen’s incorporation of the piece is atypical.  On the surface, it serves to foreshadow the coming realization and create a surreal mood of foreboding.  Whether he knew it or not, the significance of the piece goes much deeper, and reinforces my reading of the film and well as the interpretation of “Archaic Torso of Apollo.”

Ecuatorial is Spanish for equatorial, gesturing not only to regions near the Equator but also a boundary between two distinct areas.  The Equator is, after all, a dividing line which is also a point of contact, and the piece supports such an interpretation on multiple levels.  Formally speaking, it is the first piece of music to explore the border between electronic and acoustic instruments and sonorities, “between tone and noise, between instrumental and electronic sound, between music and speech, between dynamics and rhythm, between harmony and tone color, etc,“ precisely the direction musical research would take in the second half of the 20th century.[23]  In keeping with the distinction made by Kane in Sound Unseen, this distinction is explored not from an ontological standpoint but from the epistemological.  It functions well as incidental music in that its radical difference from the other pieces of music used in the film cues the audience into the shift taking place.  Both scenes in which the piece figures are also important turning points for Marion as a character, and thus divides the film into thirds.

The piece was originally composed for 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, Percussion, Organ, Piano, 2 Theremins and Bass voice, and the recording used by Allen seems to contain this same instrumentation.   At only 11:34 in length, it is a remarkably dense work consisting of three main sections, each further divided into three more sections plus a short but significant coda. Allen utilizes only the very beginning of the piece, approximately the opening 30 seconds, as such we never hear in the film the organs, Theremins or vocals.  That is to say, we have no evidence of the electronic elements or references to the textual content of the piece.  Allen’s edit is therefore fragmentary. Absent, unheard though they are, the missing elements still bear on the meaning of the piece in ways that resonate substantially with the use of Rilke’s poem in the film, and of course with the theme of the film itself.

The text sung by the Bass voice comes from an ancient prayer contained in a story called “Ahora que me acuerdo” (“Now I remember”) by Miguel Angel Asturias, a Guatemalan who studied Maya Religion at the Sorbonne.[24]  Paul Valéry described the work as surreal “stories-dreams-poems, ” and Varèse venerated the work for similar reasons.   Asturias’ Leyendas were a Modernist interpretation of the stories of the Maya holy book, the Popol Vuh, but the deviations and iteration of the version of the story used is important in contextualizing Varèse’s intention with Ecuatorial.  The Popol Vuh is widely regarded as the most significant pre-Columbian cultural narrative, but in fact the Popol Vuh refers to a version of the book written down post-Conquest in order to preserve Maya culture against the destruction caused by the Spanish. The original version was written in the ancient, partially pictorial, partially alphabetic script of pre-conquest Quiché, however the Popol Vuh was written entirely in alphabetic script   As such the text itself is several steps removed from the origin, and each iteration reflects the coming together of competing cultures and interpretations.  The catastrophe of the Conquest as the Catastrophe of the Great War hangs over the Leyendas, and as such Kane stresses this aspect of the work, suggesting that it suggests a productive means of resolution through confrontation and synthesis. He writes,” the intertwining of both procreative and destructive forces in the Leyendas, concerned both Valéry and Varèse deeply. [… ] An anxiety about the future, about the “survival of the tribe” manifests itself musically in a work like Ecuatorial.”[25]  Through her dreams, in which she confronts the spectre of death (of her mother, for her first husband, and of her unborn child), Marion comes to realize she greatly regrets her youthful decision to abort her pregnancy, but what’s more, she realizes that this stems from her long unconfronted “dark side of her character,” in which she is afraid of consciously feeling.

In an important sense, the excerpt of Ecuatorial used in Another Woman can be said to be headless, or at least certainly fragmentary.[26]  The other work in the film that most concerns us is the poem “Archaic Torso of Apollo,” which is rumination of a fragmentary work and of which we are read only the final line.  The poem is not shown on the page, so Rilke’s poem, like the statue in Le Louvre that so transfixed Rilke, becomes a fragment itself.[27]

We must now turn to the original German version of the poem.[28] The opening line of “Archaïscher Torso Apollos,” unheard by the viewer in either language, reads: “Wir kannten nicht sein unerhörtes Haupt.” “Unerhörtes Haupt” is variously translated idiomatically as legendary head, stupendous head, or fantastic head.  All of these translations erase an important connotation of the German word unerhörtes, which more literally means to be “unheard, not granted, unheard of, unprecedented, or shocking.”[29]  The gaze of the headless torso “holds steady” despite the head remaining unseen and unheard.   The great many visual words utilized in the poem (gaze [Schauen], light, lamp, glisten, blind, see) contrast strongly against the unheard head.  How are we to read this poem, embedded as it is in a film about acousmatic sound?  Kane is clear that “acousmatic sound is epistemological in character,” it is subject-oriented and not strictly about the division between the senses.  “It only requires spacing of source, cause, and effect.”[30] The poem, indeed this thing-poem, reverses the relationship between the seer and the seen.  One does not gaze upon the Archaic Torso of Apollo without confronting without being gazed upon, and in this recognition one has heard its call. Rilke transforms being into message, and in this reversal understand how it is that things can speak.  The ethical character of the poem is that hearing is insufficient; it compels us to listen.  Marion cannot see the head of Apollo, but in becoming aware of standing before his gaze, she has heard his call and is obliged to listen.


There is the name and the thing. The name is a sound which designates and signifies the thing; the name is not part of the thing or of the substance, it is an extraneous piece attached to the thing, and outside of it.

-Montaigne, “Of Glory”

Modern notions of celebrity and fame have been mutilated and come to stand in for one another.  In fact, fame is not synonymous with “notability” or “celebrity.”  To be famous one must be more than notable, more than celebrated.   Fame, by its very definition, is enduring.  Kleos, in Greek, also translated as “glory,” is related to the word “to hear,” as in, others will hear about you after your death.   Because, more often than not, a life can only be judged after it is completed, this originary concept of fame implies posthumous, enduring fame.   This is, I think, the means to understanding the meaning of unerhörtes in German.

In On Revolution, Hannah Arendt describes the original use of the word persona in Roman theatre. Stemming from the Latin, meaning approximately “to sound through,” Arendt notes that the mask served two purposes: “It had to hide, or rather to replace, the actor’s own face and countenance, but in a way that would make it possible for the voice to sound through.”  This is crucial, because in Arendt’s conception it is in speech that we are most fully human, that is, capable of political action.  What does Arendt’s etymology of persona have to tell us about the matter at hand?  At the least, we cannot query the meaning of identity construction and self-presentation in modernity properly without attending to sound.  With this in mind, Marion’s gift of the theatrical mask to her first husband takes on special significance, especially considering its appearance is preceded by an unexplained inclusion in Marion’s daydream, in-between the shot the Panther (who sees only death), and the pregnant woman of Klimt’s Hope, who symbolizes not only the regret of Marion’s abortion but crucially, through identification with the analyzed pregnant woman, the very hope that Arendt finds in the concept of Natality.

Arendt stresses public speech as being at the core of her concept of politics, but she also conceives of thinking as a dialogue between “me and myself” in a way that resonates productively with Kane’s concept of the acousmatic and psychoanalytic voice.  She surely remembers Socrates famous tripartite conception of the multiplicitous soul throughout The Life of the Mind, in which she divides the vita contemplativa into Thinking, Willing, and Judging. Socrates describes a desirable Harmony, which to others, outside, appears as One.

One who is just… puts himself in order, is his own friend, and harmonizes the three parts of himself like three limiting notes in a musical scale – high, low, and middle. He binds together those parts…and from having been many things he becomes entirely one, moderate, and harmonious.[31]


Figure 1. “His Master’s Voice”

Figure 2. Gustav Klimt – Hope I



Acton, Eric K., and Christopher Potts. “That straight talk: Sarah Palin and the
sociolinguistics of demonstratives.” Journal of Sociolinguistics. Feb 18, 1   (2014): 3-31.

Allen, Woody.  Another Woman. [1988], MGM Home Entertainment, Santa Monica,   CA, 2005.

Arendt, Hannah. Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. [1963] New York: Penguin Books, 1994.

Brecht, Bertolt. “The Radio as an Apparatus of Communication,” in Radiotext(e), ed. Neil Strauss. New York: Semiotext(e), 1993.

Clastre, Pierre.  Society Against the State: Essays in Political Anthropology.  Robert       Hurley and Abe Stein, trans.  New York: Zone Books, 1989.

Derrida, Jacques. “Signature Event Context,” in Margins of Philosophy. Alan Bass,       trans. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1982.

Freud, Sigmund. Five Lectures on Psycho-Analysis. [1909, 1910) James Strachey, ed. and trans.  New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1961/1989.

Graeber, David.  “In Regulation Nation,”  Harper’s Magazine, March 2015
(from The Utopia of Rules.  Melville House, 2015.)

Kane, Brian. Sound Unseen. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Kane, Brian. “Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject.”  Contemporary Music Review  31, 5–6, October–December (2012): 439–447.

Kane, Brian. “With  Varèse at the Equator.” Unpublished.  Accessed November 15,    2014.

Nancy, Jean-Luc. L ‘écouter.  

Nancy, Jean-Luc. Listening. Charlotte Mandell, trans. New York: Fordham University    Press, 2007.

Plato. The Republic of Plato. Allan Bloom, trans. New York: Basic Books, 1968.

Rabinowitz, Paula.  “FDR’s First Fireside Chat: 1933, March” in A New Literary History of America. Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, eds.  Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009. 674-5.

Rilke, Rainer Maria.  “Archaïscher Torso Apollos”/”Archaic Torso of Apollo,” in The Selected Poetry of Rainer Maria Rilke. Stephen Mitchell, ed. and trans.  New York: Vintage, 1984.

Rilke, Rainer Maria. The Essential Rilke.  Galway Kinnell and Hannah Liebmann, ed. and trans.  New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Sloterdijk, Peter. Bubbles: Spheres I.  Microspherology. Wieland Hoban, trans. New York: Semiotext(e), 2011.

Sloterdijk, Peter. You Must Change Your Life: On Anthropotechnics. Wieland Hoban, trans. Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2013.

Varèse, Edgard, Ecuatorial, (1932-1934, rev. 1961), Colfranc Music Publishing, New York.  1961.


[1] “Isn’t the philosopher one who always hears… but who cannot listen… [who] neutralizes himself, so that he can philosophize?” [Le philosophe ne serait-il pas celui qui entend toujours… mais qui ne peut écouter… qui neutralize en lui l’écoute, et pour pouvoir philosopher?]  Jean-Luc Nancy, Listening/L’écoute. (1/13)

Nancy, with these opening lines, presents an analogous situation to that described by Moretti, though not without a bit of self-reflexive critique. The doctor cannot listen (écoute), only hear (entende), because his function is merely to prescribe medicine and not truly to heal.  This presumed passive/active relationship (of hearing/listening) will be curiously subverted below by the passive-listening of the analyst, who, in contrast to the doctor, listens.

[2] Translation mine. The second line, though particularly humorous when coupled with the film’s closing shot of Moretti vigorously drinking a glass of whatever while staring uncannily towards the camera, is much more than a throwaway punch line.  In fact, the evocation of physiology gestures towards a significant insight into the relationship between mind/body and affect, one which I will return to later.

[3] One might be reminded of the HMV dog, “His Master’s Voice,” a famous ad campaign for Victor records. (See Appendix, Figure 1.)  Brecht’s reflections on radio are equally relevant here, when he proposes to “change this apparatus over from distribution to communication. The radio would be the finest possible communication apparatus in public life, a vast network of pipes. That is to say, it would be if it knew how to receive as well as to transmit, how to let the listener speak as well as hear, how to bring him into a relationship instead of isolating him.”

[4] Brian Kane. Sound Unseen. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014) 127.

[5] Brian Kane. “Jean-Luc Nancy and the Listening Subject.”  Contemporary Music Review  31, 5–6, October–December (2012): 440.

[6] Kane. Sound Unseen. 127.

[7] Ibid. 128.

[8] Jean-Luc Nancy. Listening. Charlotte Mandell, trans. (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007.)

[9] I will return to this distinction below, as this resistance to technique suggests that institutional listening is in fact an oxymoron, because that stabilization is counter to listening. Is it impossible for an institution to listen sensibly?

[10] Paula Rabinowitz,  “FDR’s First Fireside Chat: 1933, March” in A New Literary History of America. Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors, eds.  (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009) 674-5.

[11] Cf. For instance, Stardust Memories, Bullets Over Broadway, Sweet & Lowdown, Deconstructing Harry, and The Purple Rose of Cairo.

[12] A scene flashing back to a party just prior to Marion marrying her second husband informs us that Marion works on German philosophy, and that her book from this time was a critique of Heidegger.

[13] The first session she overhears is of a man describing a homosexual encounter with a man named Gilles, who he continues to fantasize about (while masturbating, while working) despite being happily married and still attracted to women. Given the philosophical inflection of this film, I can’t help but imagine the man is talking about Gilles Deleuze. Surely there is more to be said about this, but any such speculation is certain to lead us too far astray from the task at hand.

[14] One is surely tempted to describe Farrow as the “another woman” of the title, but in fact there are several: Marion’s husband’s first wife, the husband’s daughter, the husband’s mistress, Marion’s former best friend, Marion’s soon to be ex-sister-in-law.  Rather than so literal an interpretation, I’ll advance a different theory in what follows.

[15] Has a book ever before in cinema fulfilled the role of Chekov’s pistol?  (Well, it appears earlier than the Third Act, but even so.)  This scene also plants the seeds of future encounters with her brother, her estranged friend,

[16] See Figure 2 of the Appendix.

[17] I’ll decline from speculating on the significance of the piece, which is thematically deals with a child’s view of Heaven.

[18] Marion’s father is played by John Houseman.  The uncharacteristic vulnerability on display in this performance is all the more poignant in that it was his last.

[19] This opera is likely evoked as an allusion to the tragedy that would come to characterize the relationship between Marion and Sam.

[20] Brian Kane. Sound Unseen. 207.

[21] Ibid. 220.

[22] Ibid. 217.

[23] Brian Kane. “With  Varèse at the Equator.” Unpublished.  Accessed November 15, 2014. 1.

[24] The story comes from the 1930 edition of Leyendas de Guatelmala.  It was immediately translated into French, and according to Kane, Varèse himself owned a copy of the book, signed by the author, who declared the composer to be a “master and magician of sound.”   Asturias would go on to win the 1967 Nobel prize in Literature.

[25] Kane. Varèse. 9.

[26] Varèse systematically avoided literal repetition, but unlike composer who would be labeled Serialists, he utilized minor changes, such as variations in rhythmic delivery or changes in pitch and timbre, to pursue a kind of organic development he termed “crystallization.” As such it may not be entirely accurate to label any particular piece the “head,” but certainly the thin introduction utilized by Allen cuts off the most significant parts of the work.

[27] If somehow in the distant future no copies of Rilke’s poem were to survive but somehow Allen’s film did, the relation future persons would have with that one line translated into English would be not at all unlike that we have with the so-called Pre-Socratic philosophers, or French plaster molds of no longer extant antique statues.

[28] Cf. James Merrill, “Lost in Translation” (1974).  This poem juxtaposes the poet as a child, piecing together a puzzle with his French- and German- speaking governess in the midst of his parents divorce with the poet as a grown man on a Greek island, trying to remember the poem “Palme” by Valéry, which he read in a German translation made by Rilke, all the while musing on what is lost, and possibly also gained, in the act of translation.

[29] The New Cassell’s German Dictionary.  (1958)

[30] Kane. Sound Unseen. 224-5.

[31] Plato’s Republic. 443de

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