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Chapter 18. On breath between voice and sound, signifier and signal in Jonas Eika’s After the Sun

In Jonas Eicka’s Short story Rachel, Nevada (part of the book After the Sun) the reader becomes witness of a strange ritual: Antonio 

„[] set the suitcase upright, spread a paper tablecloth over it and laid out the implements in front of his right hand. The scalpels lay there, looking indifferent to the pain they were about to inflict.“1

Antonio is about to cuthis throat to implant a metal tube which is made of alien material. The tube was part of a so called “sender” which he happened to find in the desert of Nevada near Area 51. That “sender” is resonating and animals are flocking together surrounding it. And as a male subject who just recently had lost his two daughters Antonio feels the urge to become one with the resonating, vibrant matter.2 

He wants to resonate too and he uses a form of incorporation to perform a form of corpo-reality. For this he needs to execute a surgical operation on the living body – his living body. To perform such a self-harming action, he needs to “put himself at a distance”3, to “disregard his body”4.

In what follows Antonio cuts his throat after “he located the two hard rings of cartilage right beneath his larynx”4. Eika describes the procedure patently as his subject is performing it and: „Suddenly his windpipe popped out of the wet flesh, distended and fluted with cartilage.“5

Now he can insert the prepared tube, which he made out of the sender’s material. It is called a “mouthpiece”.6 Then

„He looked up at the Sender, listening to it, to the cry that radiated green through the fungus, the lizards, the scraggy mammals and plants, and bound them together in a drawn-out, mystical labor. Its meaning was hidden to him, but if he could transform himself into the Sender, if he could produce the Sender’s cry in his own throat, he would produce its meaning inside himself and so become part of the ritual. “7

„After a few minutes, the mouthpiece began to vibrate in his throat. “4

And:

„The scream swelled as much from his own mouth as back through his windpipe and down into his belly, where it was making his organs oscillate, a pitch-black dissonance that made it impossible for him to think of the cry as an expression of his loneliness or anything else inside him. It was more like someone or something was stimulating his throat into speaking, and as a side effect, was activating the memory of a distant, desert life.“8

Now all animals focus the new singer, the new sender until he had to breath: „Antonio inhaled and accidentally broke the stream of air that sustained the scream. The animals turned back […].“4

Eika’ story describes not only a brutal, bloody ritual of a mad man believing in aliens and extra-terrestrial communication but a ritual of sound, voice and theory about the origin of poetry which goes back to the 1800s. But most famously Eika’s story resonates with Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Gespräch über Gedichte. In 1904 published under the title Über Gedichtethe protagonist Clemens describes to his friend Gabriel the moment in human history where humans discover the ability to do poetry, the symbol. The setting is a little bit different but also as existential as with Antonio: the first human lived in a dark cabin dominated by fear of his ancestor’s ghosts or the nature’s destructive force. With him he has a knife and a ram. In the moment of absolute fear, he tries to kill himself, killing the ram by cutting its throat. And while he screams and the ram moans, he feels himself dying in the body of the animal. The animal then dies for him as a symbolic ritual producing the sound of poetry in the first human cry between life and death. 

For Hofmannsthal poetry starts where animals get killed. The poet is a cultural born killer as I have shown elsewhere.9 But Antonio does not want to become a poet, he wants to become a “sender”. He does not kill any animals to perform a sound. He does not need the modern signal-to noise-ration (where the signal is the human voice and the background noise is the dying moan of a ram). His signaling process seems to be autopoetic, but only at first sight. It is instead heteropoetic, because he becomes the “sender” which is also signaling. By inserting a piece of the “sender” into his body he becomes the “sender”. He even becomes a more powerful sender than the sender itself because he became a hybrid of material and corporal parts, of matter and flesh. 

Alien matter and terrestrial flesh put together transform a male human subject into something that signals and resonates with animals, plants and fungi as well as non-living materials. Eika describes within the western traditional framework of male subjects using their voice on top of a background voice the deconstruction of such subjectivity and primacy of language, signifying over signaling. His protagonist stands within the phallophonologicocentric ideology of western philosophy of language, penetrating himself with a phallic object to become more than human:

„Now the mouthpiece lay ready on the operating table: one and a half inches long and one inch in diameter, it came to a point at a fifteen-degree angle. The new crystals were not visible, but the material still retained some of the greenish sheen to which he attributed its ability to bond to other forms of life.“10 

And: 

„The mouthpiece was cold and hard and way too smooth for the mucous environment of his throat.“4

The sexual connotation of the mouthpiece transforming the throat psychoanalytically speaking as a wound into a vagina/vulva shows the dangerous balance Eika has to undergo to go through the dominant discourse of poetry and voice, language and signifier. The new signal has nothing to offer to traditional hermeneutics. But it has everything for a Dark Hermeneutics: the ritual shows as a ritual that cannot be repeated that the repeatability of the symbol which Hofmannsthal aims at is only a deadly event. Clemens’ first man has to kill to produce the repeatable symbol of the ritual death. 

Eika instead shows a ritual which cannot be repeated and therefore will never produce meaning in the traditional western understanding of a signifier and a signified. But it produces signals which will resonate to all living and non-living matter. The difference between materiality and mediality becomes also dynamic within language. Language itself loses the dichotomy of voice and writing, of phone and graphe. Instead of sound or visible signs a signal combines materiality and mediality. 

What also seems to be an orgasmic and orgiastic potential of the signal leading to an inter-species orgy of matter and flesh, the signaling itself is asexual, in the sense that sexuality in the traditional male understanding of western philosophy is left behind. Autoerotic becomes as well as Autopoiesis a form of heteroerotics in the sense of transgressing the heteronormative boundaries towards a pluralistic ontology and hermeneutics. 

Eika had to start with an old white dude but left us with the event of multiplicity within language. 

But: „Antonio inhaled and accidentally broke the stream of air that sustained the scream.“8

This contradicts the position of Dark hermeneutics where inhaling, gap, exhaling as a triad constitute the rhythmic form of understanding. But while Dark hermeneutics is concerned with the reception Eika deals with production. To produce the scream of signaling the intra-relation of materiality and mediality must be continuous. This means that breath as a triad belongs to the signal-to-noise-ratio of language while Eika’s scream has more a grammatological form of dissemination. 

Therefore, breath and scream continue to engage in an interval of interference between a medial signal-to-noise-ratio and a material grammatology. Eika wirtes: „If he could only abandon his breathing, that eternal preparation.“4 And one can understand dark hermeneutics as a part of that “eternal preparation” as far as every bodily performed pose in yoga is a form of preparation to endure more in meditation. 

So Antonio „[…] wanted to create a streaming band of respiration – the continuous scream –inside himself.“4 This means returning to an autopoetic form of poetry while forgetting that it is performed through a multiplicity of agents before and after the initial ritual of cutting a ram’s or his own throat. 

Inhaling stops the scream, but exhaling produces it: „Antonio exhaled and felt the metal begin to oscillate; it was still warm. The scream emerged in his throat and harmonized with the Sender’s scream above the lake.“11

The signaling process becomes more and more synesthetic as the scream evokes images of „a distant, matte-red desert full of terrestrial organisms, but still empty and differently vast from this desert“4. Finally, the deconstructing play of inhale, gap and exhale leads to the outcry of becoming a body without organs. And in a typically Deleuzian and Guattarian way Eika writes: „Even in the most deserted places, he heard the sound of his own heart and his lungs, those stubborn factories.“12

Becoming one with the sound as an event of presence without future Antonio fulfils the ideology of bodily unification: 

„He made the mouthpiece vibrate, and as the air seeped out of his lungs he listened to the monotone dissonance of the scream, received what it promised, felt it spread through his breast and make his organs oscillate so that a formless life gushed forth – and after a moment’s silence at the end of his exhale, the scream turned him into pure vibration.“4 But it is that moment of silence, the gap which inverts the position of “sender” and “receiver”. Becoming one turns into becoming many and every signaling process is also a signaling of particles becoming waves and vice versa. Again, materiality and media are intra-related. 

And while Eika’s story revolves around a meeting on the radio of two female voices13 the male voice echoes within that meeting as an artificial and pretentious act of mimesis while women always already signaled. 

  1. Eika 2021, 62 []
  2. Ibid. 64 []
  3. Ibid. 62 []
  4. Ibid. [] [] [] [] [] [] [] [] []
  5. Ibid., 63 []
  6. Ibid., 64 []
  7. Ibid., 65 []
  8. Ibid., 66 [] []
  9. Bartelmus 2020 []
  10. Eika 2021, 64 []
  11. Ibid., 71 []
  12. Ibid., 72 []
  13. Ibid. 76 []

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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