New Issue, Representations 157: Media Climates

NOW AVAILABLE!

Number 157 (Winter 2022)

JAMES LEO CAHILL; BRIAN R. JACOBSON; WEIHONG BAO

Media Climates: An Introduction

JENNIFER LYNN PETERSON

An Anthropocene Viewing Condition

JENNIFER FAY

Do I Know the Anthropocene When I See it?

YURIKO FURUHATA

Weathering with You: Mythical Time and the Paradox of the Anthropocene

KATERINA KOROLA

The Air of Objectivity: Albert Renger-Patzsch and the Photography of Industry

DEBASHREE MUKHERJEE

The Aesthetic and Material Force of Landscape in Cinema: Mediating Meaning from the Scene of Production

WEIHONG BAO

Hermeneutics of Doubt: Atmospheric Knowing and an Ecology of the Mind

New Issue, Representations 155

NOW AVAILABLE!

Number 155 (Summer 2021)

KAYVAN TAHMASEBIAN and REBECCA RUTH GOULD

The Temporality of Interlinear Translation: Kairos in the Persian Hölderlin

SJ ZHANG

“Not Altogether Ridiculous”: Epaulettes, Race, and Revolution

ELIYAHU STERN

Anti-Semitism and Orthodoxy: Race and Religion in “The Remnant of Israel”

MICHAEL HANCHER

Seeing and Tagging Things in Pictures

SUSAN SCOTT PARRISH

Jordan Peele’s Get Out and the Mediation of History

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FIELD NOTES

Ayelet Ben-Yishai

Through English Densely: Partitions, Complicity, and the Anglophone Classroom

Restless Sound

Fugitive Voice

by Martha Feldman

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In this essay Martha Feldman proposes that current-day notions of fugitivity, understood in the terms Fred Moten delineates as a category of the irregular that escapes easy representations and predications, can undiscipline music histories in productive ways. Among these: it can inflect musicological thinking through attention to sonic remainders of haunted pasts; it can decenter understandings of the aesthetic; and it can lead to more nuanced thinking about the imbrication of music in an “undercommons” of life that refuses ever to fully sound in harmony, residing instead in a disordered space of restless, noisy sound. Feldman asks, finally, how such thinking, developed by Moten, Nathaniel Mackey, and Daphne Brooks, among others, can remake aspects of musicological thinking about voice.

The essay begins:

A vibrant strain of avant-garde writing is nowadays centering music as the medium of a luminously varied Black radical aesthetic without much of musicology yet noticing. Such work might bring to mind sonic points along a dolorous history, from “the deep meaning of those rude and apparently incoherent songs” of slaves traveling to receive their monthly food allowance that Frederick Douglass heard on the plantation—what W. E. B. Du Bois called “sorrow songs,” “through which the slave spoke to the world”—to the stirring blues laments of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, and Nina Simone brought to light by modern-day Black feminists. Today’s Back avant-garde stretches out from such moments, addressing long histories of racial subjugation and violence intimately bound up with modern histories of capitalism, but it’s up to something different. It understands its aesthetic objects through a nexus of politics, philosophy, and metaphysics that often goes by the name of fugitivity, a concept that encompasses those earlier soundings while resituating them. Not restricted to literal flight from slavery, fugitivity belongs to what philosopher and poet Fred Moten—thus far its most expansive and challenging theorist—describes as a capacious category of the irregular in which freedom and unfreedom perpetually coexist in persons who refuse to be objectified or reduced. Only when a Black being recognizes their oppression, victimization, or commodification by speaking, talking back, or refusing to be named and delimited does fugitivity become a lived reality. Only then does it move in its characteristic temporal arc, bending toward the future even while haunted by a past that is never past. Moten conveys this existential condition in a disarming passage about the resonance between the slave narrative passed down to posterity by Harriet Jacobs (1861) and a nude photograph of an anonymous prepubescent Black girl captured in 1882 in the studio of Philadelphia artist Thomas Eakins:

The moment in which you enter into the knowledge of slavery, of yourself as a slave, is the moment you begin to think about freedom, the moment in which you know or begin to know or to produce knowledge of freedom, the moment at which you become a fugitive, the moment at which you begin to escape in ways that trouble the structures of subjection that—as Hartman shows with such severe clarity—overdetermine freedom. This is the musical moment of the photograph.

Provocatively, fugitivity here, regardless of its expressive medium, has a consistency that is decidedly musical.

I want to pause at this juncture—obscure at its surface, for how can a photograph without an iota of literal sound have a “musical moment”?—because the notion is pivotal, turning on what Moten elsewhere calls “visible sound.” Avid readers of Moten will recall another photograph that clamors at various points in his prose, that of the desecrated body of young Emmett Till, whose mother insisted he be displayed in all the horror of his savage murder. The image contains what Moten calls an “extensional cry and sound,” one whose power to overtake the viewer’s senses ignites the memory with a disturbance that transduces other senses, other embodied memories.

An image from which one turns is immediately caught in the production of its memorialized, re-membered reproduction. You lean into it but you can’t; the aesthetic and philosophical arrangements of the photograph . . . anticipate a looking that cannot be sustained as unalloyed looking but must be accompanied by listening and this, even though what is listened to—echo of a whistle or a phrase, moaning, mourning, desperate testimony and flight—is also unbearable. These are the complex musics of the photograph. This is the sound before the photograph.

The music sounds before the camera clicks, before the viewer views, and sounds again once the viewer looks. Music both precedes and expresses Black life. It triggers memories that turn into griefs and horrors, more images, and (as we learn elsewhere) bundles of sensory events beyond the strictly auditory or visual. Not just unidirectional, however, medial/sensory transformations and intermediations also go the other way. Hence Jacobs, at a devastating moment in her account, hears “a band of serenaders . . . under the window, playing ‘Home Sweet Home,’” which soon turns into the sounding image of moaning children.

Music here is no more resident solely in physical sound than in sounding music. Wherever found, Black music registers fugitive escape via the phonic eruption, which equates to Black experience and is prefigured by the scream or cry whose originary American instance (to which Moten turns twice, following Saidiya Hartman) are the screams of Frederick Douglass’s Aunt Hester being viciously beaten by her owner. Contained “in the break” (the main title of Moten’s first book), the cry disrupts conventional grammars, strictures, and forms, indexing a breakdown or breakage, but also, relatedly, a breakthrough—a Black event that moves the subject from bondage, conscription, and silence to flight, marronage, and voice. Such flight takes the form of a literal (and for Moten paradigmatic) scream in Abbey Lincoln’s performance of Max Roach and Oscar Brown Jr.’s Freedom Now Suite (1960), a piece that is otherwise “musical” in the ordinary sense. But fugitive flight also takes other sonic forms: a plangent, wailing jazz solo; the explosive shouts in James Brown’s “Cold Sweat”; the lyrical, dancing rhythms of Rakim’s hip-hop, for example—all instances of Moten’s philosophies repeatedly articulating the Black radical aesthetic that Michael Gallope describes “as folds, blurs, oscillations, and rewinds; as displacement and dispossession; as the entanglement of lyricism, performativity, improvisation, and virtuosity.” Continue reading …

MARTHA FELDMAN is the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Music at the University of Chicago. Her books include Opera and Sovereignty (Chicago, 2007), The Castrato (Oakland, 2015), and the coedited The Voice as Something More: Essays toward Materiality (Chicago, 2019). She is now working on a book on castrato phantoms in twentieth-century Rome.

Photo: Jimmy and Dena Katz

The Fiction-Making Animal: Revisiting Literary Anthropology

Representations board member Ian Duncan will give the 2021 Wolfgang Iser lecture on June 30, 2021 (9:00am PDT). The talk, entitled “The Fiction-Making Animal: Revisiting Literary Anthropology,” will be streamed over Zoom here.

Professor Duncan is the author of “Natural Histories of Form: Charles Darwin’s Aesthetic Science” (Representations 151, 2020) and “George Eliot’s Science Fiction” (Representations 125, 2014). His most recent book, Human Forms: The Novel in the Age of Evolution, came out in 2019.

Music at the Edges

Music Histories from the Edge

by Martha Feldman and Nicholas Mathew

available free of charge for a limited time

Feldman and Mathew, guest editors of our just-released special issue “Music and Sound at the Edges of History” introduce the issue:

Lately, across the humanities, historicism in its many guises has been in retreat—a retreat that music studies has in some respects hastened. This collection of essays asks why sound and music appear to induce exhaustion with history and historical method and how a renewed focus on musical practices might motivate fresh histories and novel forms of history writing.

Such questions were the premise of a multidisciplinary Mellon-funded collaboration between Yale University, the University of California at Berkeley, the University of Chicago, and King’s College London that met from 2016 to 2018. Charged with rethinking the relation of music to history, the participants ultimately wondered why scholars, musicological and non-, have so frequently deployed music to disrupt or delimit historical projects—indeed whether music itself tends to elicit or even cause such disruptions and delimitations. The ironies here are patent. Not long ago, musicologists would regularly posit history as the most efficacious cure for what ailed their discipline. The study of music, so it was thought, always risked having its head in the clouds, especially the vapors of German idealism. To write music history was to place music’s feet on secure ground—to resituate, rematerialize, and re-embody in ways that checked the transcendental and formalist tendencies of old. “History,” by this reckoning, also designated a place, one where values are produced, where things are exchanged, where bodies move, where politics is played out. And yet, as many have observed, music has never been an entirely convincing occupant of this place, whose solidity is specious at best. Vibrational, ephemeral, footloose, politically mobile, and semiotically uncertain, music forever raises the specter of old philosophical anxieties—about the relation of the aesthetic to the historical, of sensuous experience to rational knowledge, of political orthodoxies to the undercommons of insurgency and resistance, of the vivid present to the absent past.[ii] Small wonder that so many theories of music’s historicity have treated musics of all kinds as strange and exceptional historical actors, even improbable bearers of special historical insight. “Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, and Jimi Hendrix say more about the liberatory dream of the 1960s than any theory of crisis,” Jacques Attali once proclaimed.

Given this inheritance, it is not surprising that music studies has been receptive to the postcritical—and to a degree posthistoricist—ethos that has settled on parts of the humanities over the past decade or so. That ethos has entailed a range of aestheticizing impulses, in which immediate sensuous appeal or formal organization are the preconditions of any theory of art’s historical agency or political impact. Even the performative, network-oriented theories of society inspired by Bruno Latour, which some music scholars have strongly endorsed, have to some degree recuperated the art object as a multivalent social actor alongside any number of others. But if such ideas have gained a certain traction in music studies, a still farther-reaching incredulity with history-as-usual has come from those seeking to contest the political ontologies and colonial ideologies of the archive: Paul Gilroy in his account of Black Atlantic diaspora; Fred Moten in his theory of the Black radical tradition; the feminist and queer visions of Latinx and Black futures advanced by the music- and sound-oriented generations of Deborah Vargas, Josh Kun, Kara Keeling, and others, not to mention cognate projects in postcolonial and indigenous studies. These perspectives have challenged conventional notions of history and origins, drawing on the presence and performativity of music to model the disruptively enfolded temporalities and oblique regimes of historicity they wish to theorize. “No originary configuration of attributes but an ongoing shiftiness, a living labor of engendering to be organized in its relation to politico-aesthesis. It’s always going on and has been,” says Moten.

If, under the pressure of these political imperatives, the past has become ever less stable, so too has the music that helped to reconceive it. Sound studies and voice studies, cutting across and through disciplinary boundaries, have in recent years made the very category of music appear both narrow as an object of study and indefensibly colonial—a contingent configuration amid the seemingly more inclusive arenas of sonic practices, vocal utterances, and vibrational experiences. From this perspective, “music” and “voice” designate privileged centers by contrast with lesser peripheries and, accordingly, raise fraught questions about who gets to call what “music” and who and what are demoted to the realm of sound or dismissed as mere noise(making). These subdisciplines frequently seek to disperse sounds into the resonating bodies that have historically produced and mediated them and so seem to promise more materially grounded visions of sonic historicity. Yet they also tend to complicate the very idea of historical situatedness, foregrounding processes of mediation that fold and traverse geographical and chronological distance. Moreover, as music is diffused into the soundscapes, technoscapes, and taskscapes that have newly preoccupied the humanities and social sciences, it begins to trace a transhuman domain that threatens to transcend the ambit of human historicity altogether.

And so the essays in this issue aim to be more than mere experiments in music-fixated forms of historical writing—more, that is, than sonically recalibrated accounts of historical circumstance or epochal transformation in which music (rather than literature or visual art or architecture) plays an unusually prominent role. While remaining chary of inherited claims on behalf of music’s specialness as a vehicle of historical revelation, they ask how musical practices might be thought to instigate and sustain entirely new conceptions of the past and even how musico-critical practices might invoke ontologically broadened notions of music to revise historical thought. Continue reading …

MARTHA FELDMAN is the Edwin A. and Betty L. Bergman Distinguished Service Professor of Music at the University of Chicago. Her books include Opera and Sovereignty (Chicago, 2007), The Castrato (Oakland, 2015), and the coedited The Voice as Something More: Essays toward Materiality (Chicago, 2019). She is now working on a book on castrato phantoms in twentieth-century Rome.

NICHOLAS MATHEW is Professor of Music at the University of California, Berkeley.  He is the author of Political Beethoven (Cambridge, 2013) and The Haydn Economy, forthcoming with the University of Chicago Press.

New Special Issue, Representations 154

NOW AVAILABLE!

Number 154, Special Issue (Spring 2021): free of charge for a limited time

Special Issue 
Music and Sound at the Edges of History
edited by Martha Feldman and Nicholas Mathew

 

“Lately, across the humanities, historicism in its many guises has been in retreat—a retreat that music studies has in some respects hastened. This collection of essays asks why sound and music appear to induce exhaustion with history and historical method and how a renewed focus on musical practices might motivate fresh histories and novel forms of history writing.” –from the editors’ introduction

 

MARTHA FELDMAN AND NICHOLAS MATHEW  Music Histories from the Edge

Music, Race, Memory

MARTHA FELDMAN  Fugitive Voice
JESSICA SWANSTON BAKER  Sugar, Sound, Speed: “Area Code 869” and Sonic Fiction  MARTIN STOKES  On the Beach: Musicology’s Migrant Crisis

Opera as History

CAROLYN ABBATE Certain Loves for Opera
GUNDULA KREUZER  Butterflies on Sweet Land? Reflections on Opera at the Edges of          History
MARY ANN SMART  Michel Leiris and the Secret Language of Song

Cantological Histories

JAMES CHANDLER  Memories Are Made of This: Notes on a New York Sound, 1959–64  MICHAEL DENNING and GARY TOMLINSON  Cantologies
DELIA CASADEI  Vico Signifying Nothing

Musical Pasts

NICHOLAS MATHEW  Listening(s) Past: History and the Mediatic Musicology

Samera Esmeir on “the struggle of the dispossessed” in Palestine

In response to recent and ongoing events in Israel and Palestine, Representations board member Samera Esmeir has written about the resistance to defeat and persistence for Open Democracy. Her essay, “The Palestinians and the Struggle of the Dispossessed,” chronicles the continuous fight against dispossession by Palestinians against Israeli dispossession.

For another way of historically contextualizing the contemporary resistance to settler colonialism in Palestine in affective and literary terms, see Nouri Gana’s essay in Representations 143, “Afteraffect: Arabic Literature and Affective Politics,” which “discusses the politics of affect in post-1967 Arabic literary and cultural production.”

Samera Esmeir is also the editor of Critical Times. Find the most recent issue here.