Being-With: an experiment of a self-isolating/locked down body



View Salomé Voegelin's Biography

Salomé Voegelin is an artist, writer and researcher engaged in listening as a socio-political practice, and as methodology for a hybrid knowledge base.

Being-With: an experiment of a self-isolating/locked down body

by Salomé Voegelin



This is an artistic response to and provocation on being as a contingent communality of being alone. It is an experiment between autonomy and collectivity, staged with text scores, a sonic sensibility and the verticality of a sensory "I". It was written under the condition of lock-down during the Covid-19 Pandemic, March- June 2020 in London, UK. However, the pandemic is neither the focus nor the theme of this writing, but the context and pretext to its poetic exploration of being as a being-with.

Conditioned by this situation I write, without scholarly expectations, the framework for an experiential sense of how we are together in separation; and I practice, through this auto-ethnographic experience, the tension between cultural and linguistic givens on singularity and collectivity. In this way I hope to provoke the sensation rather than articulate an opinion on being alone in a plural sphere. Since, instead of proposing a theoretical account, this text seeks the participatory possibility to practice and rethink notions of being an autonomous body, in physical distance, while being-with.

To stage this tension I enter into brief exchanges with the post-structuralist feminism of Judith Butler, Margrit Shildrick and Elisabeth Grosz. I bring them to this particular experience not to theorise a position but to re-count with them how the feminine as sensibility and as corporeality generates a body off center and without a form. That is a body and a sensibility that is always already queer: that disrupts the form and its location, and makes transformation and the simultaneity of being and being-with thinkable.

This poetic provocation is enabled by text scores developed in the spirit of the anti-virtuosity and everyday/everybody fluxus invitation of Alison Knowles and Mieko Shiomi's word events that transform the domestic chores of cooking into a collective and public affair, and that generate a communality from remote productions of sounds and words as music. It is inspired by their work's capacity for inclusivity and its conceptual intrigue, which mobilizes my own text score and phonographic writing to act as gestures towards performance and to extend an invitation to an individual and collective response.

That is why I hum, and lick, and kiss, to entice the spatially separated body into its sonorous being-with: into its simultaneity and reciprocity with every other thing in practice. In this way I invite the reader into a bodily exploration rather than a scholarly appreciation, to know the theoretical considerations from the body as an "embodied mind" rather than through an intellectual pursuit.

At the heart of this experiment is the desire to position the sovereign subject not against the collective, but as a responsible subject, whose self-determination is an aspect of communality; and to understand the correlational body - the intersubjective, human body in doubt - as part of the reality of matter rather than as its error and correction, or determining it.

My auto-ethnographic experience and sense is vertical. Its orientation is not on the horizontal line of the semantic, which presents the arbitrary nature of the sign. Instead, it delves into the non-arbitrary ambiguity of the personal and the specific, as a critical space for the exploration of a sensory sense and possibility. Here reference is found in contingent actions and activities, rather than in a lexical description; and meaning stands outside the symbolic order in the circumstance of the encounter. The vertical "I" of this auto-ethnography does not fit into grammar, it does not feature in the horizontal chain of words. Instead it belongs to the sensory and to experience: generating a corporeality that does not hold in language but in practice and as materiality, as sense and sensorium.

Accordingly, I do not write a horizontal and comprehensive text but create a series of vignettes that make suggestions and trigger questions rather than provide a scholarly view. The scores, as word events, open these suggestions to participation: asking the reader, like me--with me-- to perform the body always in the condition of being-with, even when alone. They invite us into the sensory blind spots of a conventional actuality: at the back and behind the perceptual object, which we think we know to see and compensate for with prejudice and pre-set views, through which we think we know the other, rather than by being-with. Thus, the scores are a device to move from my autonomous experience into the possibility of a shared flesh and plural actuality; and they provide the conceptual space and performative opportunity to reflect and practice ideas of autonomy, auto-ethnography and responsibility in relation to a concorporate real.

Hum Score

Stand in front of a window

Look out, what can you see?

Bring your mouth close up to the pane

Hum open mouthed

Let the window steam up until you cannot see it anymore April 24, 2020, 11:08pm


Writing about the body is hindered by the grammar and cultural-ideology of language, and by the position of logo-centric philosophy at large, 'always at some distance from corporeal matter'.1 There is according to Judith Butler always a dimension of the body that cannot be represented in language, or rather and at the same time, there is something in language that emerges despite our intentions.2 She considers the linguistic performance of speaking as doing something that is doing something more than the subject intends, exceeding it despite the seeming clarity of its words. I locate this excess not in the body or in language but in the in-between of bodies in conversation: me at this side of the window you on the other. My hum does not communicate semantic sense but useful obfuscation. As long as I do not hum I can see you and you can see me. Once I start to sound I create a din of steam where I cannot see you nor you me, but what has become visible is our in-between, activated by my breath, and enabled by the window pane that separates us.

Lick Score

Stand in front of a window

Preferably one overlooking a busy street

Start cleaning the window with your tongue

Making loud sloshing sounds. April 26, 2020, 8:49pm


My body is a flesh-and-spit body. It is Margrit Shildrick's 'flesh-and-blood body' enacted by saliva.3 It is the body of the feminine, whose 'corporeality is inscribed as a mode of seepage'.4 Lacking self-containment within a certain, recognisable and accepted form and boundary, it is instead as leaky, fluid formlessness, unintelligible.

My spit against the window pane performs the body's formless and liquid ambiguity. The tongue unperforms the domestic chore of cleaning windows, which could stabilise my sovereign body in its purpose. Instead, it performs the vulgarity of my openness, my 'out-of-control status' that destroys the transparency of our exchange and breaks polite distance in favour of unsecured and unreliable connections made from saliva, sloshing sounds and the sensory auto-biography of a feminine body.5

I am spit, saliva and breath, transported on the pink flesh of a wet tongue that sticks into social norms and expectations and discomforts you with the potential of contamination. My spitting mouth ruptures the protective boundary of the glass and reveals the threat of contagion. It defies and defiles the means of our separation: objectivity as distance and guarantor of a normative conversation. Thus, it breaches the boundary of the 'self's clean and proper body' expected in polite exchange, and performs the threat of uncontrollability with a lack of clothes.6

Kiss Score

Stand in front of a window

Whistle your favourite tune

Start kissing your own reflection

Keep whistling all the while. April 26, 2020, 8:49pm


The window pane is an untrustworthy mirror through which, depending on the light, I see you more than me. But I see you through diffracting glass that blurs the lines of our form. And when I kiss my own reflection I reach out to yours while revealing the narcissism in my recognition and the expectations that form my sense of violence and of love.


"When she had finished, she stood staring at herself in the mirror, at a face which stared back in astonishment"7



Image credit for the article preview: Kati Roover, Listening, 2017


  1. Judith Butler, Bodies That Matter, New York and London: Routledge, 1993, p. ix. 

  2. Judith Butler, Undoing Gender, New York and London: Routledge, 2004, p. 199. 

  3. Margrit Shildrick, Leaky Bodies and Boundaries, Feminism Postmodernism and (Bio) Ethics, New York and London: Routledge, 1997, p. 35. 

  4. Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies: Towards a Corporeal Feminism, Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press, 1994, p. 203. 

  5. Ibid. p. 205. 

  6. Margrit Shildrick, Embodying the Monster, London: Sage, 2002, p. 68. 

  7. Clarice Lispector, The Hour of the Star, Manchester UK: Carcanet, 1992, p. 61.