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Special Session @ MLA: "Sound Reproduction and the Literary"

This is just a quick announcement for those who might be interested in this special session at MLA 2011 in L.A. Hope to see you there!

MLA 2011Sunday, January 9, 2011  

792: "Sound Reproduction and the Literary"

1:45 - 3:00 p.m., Diamond Salon 6, J. W. Marriott

Special Session, with Jentery Sayers (Univ. of Washington, Seattle) presiding

1. "Sound as Sensory Modality in Electronic Literature," Dene M. Grigar, Washington State Univ., Vancouver


With the emphasis placed on audio today, seen in the popularity of such seemingly ubiquitous digital devices as MP3 players and cell phones, it is not hyperbole to say that we have, indeed, become a sonic culture. This presentation examines the role of sound in a particular kind of new media work called electronic literature, an emergent genre of hybrid art that requires the use of computers in order to produce, access, and read works and incorporates written compositions and/or spoken word with animation, video, hypertext, computer generated media, and audio. Specifically, the paper seeks to offer principles for sound design in digital-based literary works and methods for interpreting the use of music, spoken word, sound effects, and other uses of aural material in digital born literature. While sound is often used as background for a more important emphasis on the visual elements of a work, this study focuses on works that incorporate sound closely with words in a way that highlights sound as a crucial element in the piece. Examples that will be explored include John Kusch's "Red Lily," Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries' "Samsung, and Dan Waber, Reiner Strasser, and Jennifer Hill-Kaucher's concrete cyberpoem, ">>Oh<<". Perhaps by getting to the heart of the sonic element of electronic literature, we can rethink the way we talk about digital media, because it seems that we cannot simply apply old principles or the language of visual or print culture to new media forms that are in some degree sonic in nature.

2. "'Cause That's the Way the World Turns': John Edgar Wideman's Sent for You Yesterday and the Mnemonic Jukebox," Jurgen E. Grandt, Gainesville State College


"Cause that's the way the world turns" explores the interface between literary narrative and recorded music in John Edgar Wideman's Sent For You Yesterday, specifically how both individual and collective memories come to turn, quite literally, around technologically reproducible sounds, that is, around a record spinning on a turntable.

Recorded music turns upon, and resonates within, a suspension of time or, more precisely, the circular grooves of records revive a past event in the present, a repeatable action that riffs upon, however briefly, the (ostensibly) linear progression of history. This dialectic is also intimately related to the storytelling of Wideman's characters as well as the structure of the novel itself. The path of the needle in the grooves of the 45s spinning in the jukebox inside the Velvet Slipper, a Homewood bar, accompany and even orchestrate the conversation between Doot and his friends: the further away the needle gets from the edge of the record, the closer it gets to the center. But what resides at the center of the record that the needle inexorably approaches is, ultimately, silence unless, that is, Cat the bartender puts another nickel in the jukebox, pushes another combination of buttons, and plays another song. The 45s turning inside the Velvet Slipper's jukebox thus help recuperate individual and collective memories, and as Doot, Carl, Lucy, and the others recollect, recreate, and reimagine Homewood and its denizens, inspired by the music that they hear, they ultimately re-member from mnemonic fragments how Doot was literally named after a sounda sound on the Jimmy Rushing record that lends the novel its title. The recovered memories revolving around the record on the turntable of the old Victrola thus ultimately reestablish Doot's identity as a member of the community.

3. "Analog History: Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts and the Textuality of the Turntable," Paul Benzon, Temple Univ., Philadelphia


This paper considers the stakes of imagining an analog media history through a consideration of Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts: Five Sides in B Minor (2001), an extended sequence of lyric poems loosely structured around the life and work of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. As its subtitle suggests, Young presents his book as a collection of recorded sides, imaginary vinyl records comprised of various poetic tracks about Basquiat's life, his paintings, and the African-American cultural genealogy that informs his work. I argue that Young uses the conceit of the text as a set of records in order to mobilize the uneven relations between sonic and textual technologies of inscription and storage in the interest of a larger examination of how these technologies function as aesthetic and historical archives. Playing the densely allusive language of his poems against a complex paratextual apparatus of frontispieces, indexes, and images, Young appropriates the generic procedures and structures of the LP record while simultaneously distorting and overturning them. Such a gesture suggests that in order to write in the shape of records, it is paradoxically necessary to do so in categorical difference from the record, not as an indirect consequence of untranslatability between the two forms in question but rather as a productive means of accessing the aesthetic energy produced through their inexact connectivity. Juxtaposing poetic writing and sonic reproduction as practices that are not only both analogic in and of themselves, but also analogues for one another, Young imagines the record and the printed page as deeply yet dissonantly interrelated storage technologies, linked through a common inexactitude. Through such a complex, contradictory synthesis, I suggest, he outlines a conception of intermedia relations and media history as defined by the simultaneity of overlap and opposition at all levels.

Respondent: Jentery Sayers


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