Colleen Lye is an affiliated faculty member of the UC Berkeley’s Designated Emphasis in Critical Theory. She is on the boards of Representations, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies and Verge, a new journal on “Global Asias.” She has edited several special journal issues on financialization and the culture industry, peripheral realisms, forms of Asia, and the public university in crisis. One special issue she coedited with Chris Newfield collated activist writings from UC students involved in the 2009 movement against tuition hikes. Her current book-in-progress explores the post-70s crisis in world capitalism through the prism of the Asian American novel.
Workshop | April 21 | 11 a.m.-3 p.m. | 3335 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley
Join Representations editorial co-chair Niklaus Largier in this half-day workshop sponsored by the UC Berkeley Center for the Study of Religion, the Department of German, and the Department of Comparative Literature.
Harsha Ram (UC Berkeley), Revolutionary Utopia: Tatlin and Khlebnikov
Niklaus Largier (UC Berkeley), Against Projects: The Utopia of Essayism in Musil and
Amy Hollywood (Harvard University), Antinomian A-topia: Writing Manuscript Textuality in the Poetry and Prose of Susan Howe
Kirill Chepurin (National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow), The Utopian No – or, Idealism and Utopia
Alex Dubilet (Vanderbilt University), Ground(lessness) and Utopia
UC Berkeley Folklore Program’s 2017 Alan Dundes Lecture
Tuesday April 18, 5 – 7 pm
Geballe Room, Townsend Center for the Humanities, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley
We might view both the course of the recent US presidential election and the subsequent efforts of the current Executive Branch administration through the lens of political “message,” in order to gain some understanding both of what happened in the former and what is transpiring, in an ever-shifting way, in the latter. “Message” for political figures, much like “brand” in the franker consumerist markets, creates an essentially folkloric biographical imaginary designed to resonate with as wide a segment of the electorate as is necessary for success, whether that message is positive (for oneself) or negative (against opponents) in the agon of adversarial politics. Mr. Trump’s positive message, long in creation, won an electoral victory at the margin while benefitting from a long-term, cumulative negative message centered in Congress and successfully communicated about Secretary Clinton. At the same time, the current administration has to work overtime to keep its message positive in the face of numerous, continuing setbacks and a media onslaught of derisive attention and eruptions of public disaffection.
MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN, Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago, has done linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork with Native North Americans in the US Pacific Northwest and among Aboriginal people in Australia’s Northern Kimberley, Western Australia. His essay “The Fieldwork Encounter and the Colonized Voice of Indigeneity” appears in the current number of Representations, the special issue Language-In-Use and the Literary Artifact. Silverstein’s other recent work has addressed mass-mediatization, as it shapes – and is shaped by – language and its use in our own society’s discursive universe. His recent Creatures of Politics (Indiana) focuses on US presidential communication.
Real-to-Reel: Social Indexicality, Sonic Materiality, and Literary Media Theory in Eduardo Costa’s Tape Works
by Tom McEnaney
The essay begins:
In 1968, Vogue magazine featured an unusual new accessory. Ear (1966), a 24-karat gold anatomical replica that entirely covered model Marisa Berenson’s own ear, was one of a number of fitted extensions—there was also a finger, a toe, and strands of gold hair—that Argentine-born artist Eduardo Costa included in his Fashion Fiction 1. Photographed by Richard Avedon on one of Vogue’s most famous models, Costa’s jewelry—part sculpture, part ornamental prosthetic—attempted to parody the fashion industry even as it was absorbed into its pages. Playful and seductive, Ear wavered on the boundary—quickly eroding in 1968—between high-end fashion and vanguard art. At its most critical, Ear and other Fashion Fictions by Costa literalized the familiar reification of commodity culture: turning human body parts into objects, the works winked at fashion’s claim to be an extension of yourself. In repurposing the language of fashion, they also made sense in the Vogue of the late 1960s alongside the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and other artists. For, like these contemporaries in pop art or works from the Latin American neo-baroque, Costa’s ornaments reveled in the surface rather than condemning the superficial. This fascination with surfaces found an ideal corollary in Avedon’s photography, which celebrated the foreground. With Ear, Avedon’s portrait of Berenson became an almost mythic testament to the “statuesque” model, whose image recalls both a passing victim of Midas’s touch and a Galatea on the verge of breaking into the auditory world
If Ear stopped there, however, we could stack Costa’s Fashion Fictions alongside Oldenburg’s everyday objects or Warhol’s Brillo Boxes—all three artists shared work at the Fashion Show Poetry Event held at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York in January of 1969. But Ear distinguishes itself from pop art standards not so much for its send-up of commodity culture, as through its emphasis on the auditory image. This sculpture, or ornament, or prosthetic shows what it doesn’t tell: sound is everywhere implicit but nowhere physically present in the work. Asking its viewers to look at listening, Ear transforms the apparently ephemeral world of sound into a physical object.
This objectification of sound, whose effect on the wearer, it’s worth remembering, would be to mute or dull audition, ties in to the revolution in materializing sound in the 1960s. Like our own moment’s explosion of new technologies and formats for producing and consuming sound, postwar innovations in audio engineering, largely linked to the emergence of newly popular recording materials such as magnetic tape, renewed older concerns about fidelity and the realism of reproduced sound. Yet, notably different from most current criticism of digital sound’s apparent loss of fidelity, the 1960s technologies helped produce the cult of high fidelity, renewing nineteenth-century discourses of sonic fidelity and the belief that sound reproduction could become indistinguishable from the recorded source.
As I will explain in greater detail in what follows, Costa’s work at this time went beyond sculpture and concept to draw from new sound recording technologies’ ability to register and (re)produce sonic phenomena, and to bind these transformations to language and literature. In terms familiar to media studies, just as photography or film’s chemical imprint of the sun’s rays onto photographic negatives indexed physical traces of light, high fidelity seemed to expand what Friedrich Kittler would celebrate as the gramophone’s ability to inscribe the material “real” of sonic vibrations onto cylinders or shellac discs. Yet, while Kittler declared that electrical sound recording tolled the death knell of literature, Costa’s tape recording work in the late 1960s fuses the material index of media studies with what linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein calls the “non-referential social indexicality” available in language. Such social indexicality exists, for example, in the sonic attributes of a voice that can index a speaker’s age, nationality, sex, and so on. Against what has often been understood as the impasse between literature and media in the wake of Kittler, Costa brings together these two sides of the index to create a literary media theory and practice based in sound recording. Continue reading …
This article develops a linguistic media theory that brings together Peircean materialist indexicality from Barthes, Bazin, Doane, Krauss, and others with linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein’s nonreferential (social) indexicality. Following Argentine sound artist Eduardo Costa’s practice with tape recording, the article challenges critical theory to account for the sonic meaning at play in pragmatic (nonsemantic) communication related to gender, race, and diasporic community. More than a mere supplement or limit, material sonic media expand aesthetic representation, and media archaeology opens new possibilities to intervene in language politics.
TOM McENANEY is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of several articles and the forthcoming book Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas (Flashpoints Series, Northwestern University Press, 2017).