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Genres of Listening: An Ethnography of Psychoanalysis in Buenos Aires

by Xochitl Marsilli-Vargas

Xochitl Marsilli-Vargas is Associate Professor in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

In Genres of Listening Xochitl Marsilli-Vargas explores a unique culture of listening and communicating in Buenos Aires. She traces how psychoanalytic listening circulates beyond the clinical setting to become a central element of social interaction and cultural production in the city that has the highest number of practicing psychologists and psychoanalysts in the world. Marsilli-Vargas develops the concept of genres of listening to demonstrate that hearers listen differently, depending on where, how, and to whom they are listening. In particular, she focuses on psychoanalytic listening as a specific genre. Porteños (citizens of Buenos Aires) have developed a “psychoanalytic ear” that emerges during conversational encounters in everyday interactions in which participants offer different interpretations of the hidden meaning the words carry. Marsilli-Vargas does not analyze these interpretations as impositions or interruptions but as productive exchanges. By outlining how psychoanalytic listening operates as a genre, Marsilli-Vargas opens up ways to imagine other modes of listening and forms of social interaction.

“Marsilli-Vargas’s book is an exemplary ethnography, weaving together rich empirical materials with a deeply contextualised case-study to develop novel theoretical insights on a topic of central concern to Sound Studies. . . . Marsilli-Vargas develops important conceptual tools for a nuanced understanding of listening while making a significant contribution to fields such cultural history, Latin American Studies, and the anthropology of sound.” Chris Batterman Cháirez, Sound Studies

Genres of Listening is a pathbreaking, subtly heard and argued, and deeply thought-provoking ethnography of listening. This is a highly innovative and revelatory account of the distinctive nexus of communicative practice, intersubjectivity, and popular psychoanalysis in Buenos Aires. More broadly, it models—with insight and energy—compelling strategies for bringing active listening into more explicit ethnographic exploration. We will never hear the world quite the same way again.” Don Brenneis, Distinguished Professor of Anthropology Emeritus, University of California, Santa Cruz

Genres of Listening is an important work that injects new energy into psychoanalytic theory as it intersects with anthropology and the humanistic social sciences. An original and highly innovative contribution, this book is powerful and elegant in its analysis of the fundamental formula, ‘When you say X, I hear Y.’ It is essential reading for anyone interested in the intersection of language, affect, and culture, as well as for practicing psychoanalysts.” Greg Urban, Arthur Hobson Quinn Professor of Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania



From the author

Open access should be the norm and not the exception. The free circulation of ideas can generate conversations and collaborations beyond one’s own area of expertise and enhance the possibility of collective projects. Genres of Listening intersects several fields, ranging from anthropology and linguistics to sounds studies and psychoanalysis; such an interdisciplinary project can enrich and be enriched by a broad audience, and open access is a perfect tool to expand the readership. As importantly as that, the ethnography sustaining Genres of Listening comes from the many years I spent in Buenos Aires, and it is only fair that any person there and in Argentina has the possibility to read the book and learn about (or dispute!) the ideas presented in it.