2020-2021 seminar Hypatia Vourloumis: Writing Sound/Sound Writing: Resonating Materialities II: from month to month
Seminar 4 (March) online
Our fourth seminar will explore “jazz and the literary imagination” following Brent Hayes Edwards’s introduction and first chapter of Epistrophies on the typing, archiving, collaging, and correspondences of Louis Armstrong, and larger questions surrounding the relationship between music and writing, or more precisely, music as criticism and vice versa. We will also be closely engaging with several of Louis Armstrong’s letters to read, hear and feel the theory and musicality of his typings, which he termed “gappings.” The understanding of music as criticism leads us to the work of Fumi Okiji and her notion of “jazz as critique” in her book of the same title. Revisiting Adorno and Black expression, Okiji’s invaluable work poses important questions surrounding alternative socialities and “gatherings in difference” by way of a vital redrawing of the relationship between jazz and critical theory. The entanglement of music, critical theory and poetry will be further explored by way of an engagement with Fred Moten’s poems in B Jenkins and his interview in the book Words Don’t Go There. All of these texts will be approached as a “gathering in difference,” as practicing band, where band members Edwards, Armstrong, Holiday, Mingus, Moten, Jenkins, and Okiji, and many more, jam together and teach us how to listen, read, and write, and what to listen to, read, write, and practice.
Armstrong, Louis. Louis Armstrong: In his own words. Thomas Brothers, ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Edwards, Brent Hayes. Epistrophies: Jazz and the Literary Imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017.
Moten, Fred. B Jenkins. Durham: Duke University Press, 2010.
Okiji, Fumi. Jazz as Critique: Adorno and Black Expression Revisited. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2018.
Seminar 3 (February) online
Seminar 2 (January) online
For our second seminar we are closely reading Wai Chee Dimock’s essay “A Theory of Resonance” and excerpts from Nathaniel Mackey’s book Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing. Dimock argues that literature moves through space-time continuums and that the literary is always necessarily read and interpreted outside its “temporal vicinity.” Dimock offers the analogy of resonance in order to attend to semantic change and the ways frequencies and vibrations abound across literature’s “diachronic historicism.” Here, texts are understood as emerging phenomena that constantly unravel as changeful non-entities that yield words differently across time and contrary readings. Dimock attends to the noise inherent to interpretive contexts, reinscribing literature as marked by its “non-integral survival... its tendency to fall apart, to pick up noise, to break out in a riot of tongues.” For Dimock, literature bears the generic mark of incompleteness.
In Discrepant Engagement Nathaniel Mackey also proposes a theorization of noise. Attending to the problems of canonization, fixed categorizations, axiomatic exclusions and monolithic understandings of identity, Mackey engages in a method of discrepant engagement and creative kinship by bringing together writers and musicians in a conversation across disciplines, fields and geographical divides. By weaving together the sounds, novels, poems and theories of practitioners from the US and the Caribbean, black or white, Mackey’s book calls for a questioning of convention and attends to these works as refractory, insubordinate and oppositional “rumblings.” In essays such as “Poseidon (Dub Version)” and “Other: From Noun to Verb,” Mackey seeks to open “presumably closed orders of identity and signification, accent fissure, fracture, incongruity, the rickety, imperfect fit between word and world.” Echoing Dimock’s intervention that proposes literature is experienced as and within noisy phenomena and context, Mackey also emphasizes that the method and practice of discrepant engagement by way of experimental writing and cross-culturality, rather than suppressing noise, acknowledges it. In following these two authors this seminar valorizes noise, sound and experimental writing in order to shake and creak “preconceptions regarding who belongs where and with whom,” as Mackey insists.
Wai Chee Dimock, “A Theory of Resonance.” PMLA 112, no. 5 (Oct, 1997).
Nathaniel Mackey, Discrepant Engagement: Dissonance, Cross-Culturality, and Experimental Writing. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1993.
Seminar 1 (November) Oldenbroek
Extending “sound studies toward the urgencies of contemporary life” (p.1) Brandon LaBelle’s book Sonic Agency: Sound and Emergent Forms of Resistance outlines and points to what is at stake, and often ignored, in a study of sound – namely the politics and social formations of sound, or inversely, sound as politics and social formation. LaBelle works “through an acoustical framework…” in order to trace “the ways in which the life of the senses is equally a political question.” (p.3) For our first seminar we will closely read the opening chapter of this book “Unlikely Publics: On the Edge of Appearance,” so as to develop a foundational contextualization at the start of this course regarding the development of sound studies as discourse, what defines “sound,” and questions of methodology. And we will pay close attention to the ways in which LaBelle, through “an auditory position,” listens and writes to the ways “sounding practices and engaged listening may contribute to the new ‘ways of being and doing’ by offering a critical route through contemporary realities.” (p.25)
Another foundational text we will be discussing in depth is Theodor Adorno’s essay “Music, Language, and Composition” (1956) so as to attend to the dialectic between music and language, as Adorno understands it, and the ways this dialectic leads to philosophical questions about context, interpretation, signification, composition and representation. What does a close reading of this essay reveal about the differences between communication and communicability? Furthermore, we will closely attend to Adorno’s own discursive slippages (the moments where the dialectic he sets up collapses) and think through what they may generate and enable.