Christoph Cox: Against Subjectalism. Materialism, Posthumanism, and the Sonic Arts


Recent theoretical discourses and artistic practices have sought to decenter the human subject, exploring the ontology and creative capacities of the nonhuman. Prominent among these are theoretical and artistic projects often gathered under the banner of New Materialism. In their explorations of the nonhuman, however, neo-materialist projects are often implicitly humanist, conceiving all of nature in the image of the thinking, sensing, and acting human subject. In this talk, I situate this neo-humanism (or “subjectalism”) within the context of earlier debates about humanism and antihumanism, and consider what a genuinely posthumanist materialism might look (and sound) like. I suggest that much of the history of sound art can be construed as the exploration of a natural flux that precedes and exceeds the human. Drawing from photography and phonography, I explore the nonhuman mechanisms that register or capture these natural flows. Throughout, I argue that materialism must, as Nietzsche put it, “translate humanity back into nature” rather than humanize or vitalize matter.

Christoph Cox

is Professor of Philosophy at Hampshire College and a member of the Graduate Committee at the Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College. He is the author of Sonic Flux: Sound, Art, and Metaphysics (2018) and Nietzsche: Naturalism and Interpretation (1999) and co-editor of Realism Materialism Art (2015) and Audio Culture: Readings in Modern Music (2017; 2004). The recipient of an Arts Writers Grant from Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation, Cox is editor-at-large at Cabinet magazine. His writing has appeared in OctoberArtforumJournal of the History of PhilosophyThe WireJournal of Visual CultureOrganised SoundThe Review of Metaphysics, and elsewhere. He has curated exhibitions at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, The Kitchen, The Artist’s Institute, CONTEXT Art Miami, New Langton Arts, G Fine Art Gallery and other venues.