A Question of Listening
: Nancean Resonance and Listening in the Work of Charlie Chaplin

  • Carolyn Sara Giunta

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In this thesis, I use a close reading of the silent films of Charlie Chaplin to 
    examine a question of listening posed by Jean-Luc Nancy, “Is listening 
    something of which philosophy is capable” (Nancy 2007:1)? Drawing on the 
    work of Nancy, Jacques Derrida and Gayatri Spivak, I consider a claim that 
    philosophy has failed to address the topic of listening because a logocentric 
    tradition claims speech as primary. In response to Derrida’s deconstruction of 
    logocentrism, Nancy complicates the problem of listening by distinguishing 
    between l’écoute and l’entente. L’écoute is an attending to and answering the 
    demand of the other and l’entente is an understanding directed inward toward a 
    subject. Nancy could deconstruct an undervalued position of l’écoute, making 
    listening essential to speech. I argue, Nancy rather asks what kind of listening 
    philosophy is capable of. 
    To examine this question, I focus on the peculiarly dialogical figure derived from 
    Chaplin that communicates meaning without using speech. This discussion 
    illustrates how Chaplin, in the role of a silent figure, listens to himself (il 
    s’écoute) as other. Chaplin’s listening is Nancean resonance, a movement in 
    which a subject refers back to itself as another subject, in constant motion of 
    spatial and temporal non-presence. For Nancy, listening is a self’s relationship to 
    itself, but without immediate self-presence. Moving in resonance, Chaplin makes 
    the subject as other as he refers back to himself as other. I argue that Chaplin, 
    through silent dialogue with himself by way of the other, makes his listening 
    listened to. Chaplin refused to make his character speak because he believed 
    speech would change the way in which his work would be listened to. In this  
    way, Chaplin makes people laugh by making himself understood (se fait 
    entendre) as he makes himself listened to (se fait écouter). In answer to Nancy’s 
    question, I conclude philosophy is capable of meeting the demand of listening as 
    both l’entente and l’écoute when it listens as Chaplin listens. 

    Date of Award2013
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorJames Williams (Supervisor)


    • Jean-Luc Nancy
    • Charlie Chaplin
    • Jacques Derrida
    • Gayatri Spivak
    • Listening
    • Logocentrism
    • Resonance

    Cite this