English 371a
Prof. G. Stadler
T 7:30 – 10p.m.

Writing, Sound, Modernity

This seminar is a textual, theoretical, cultural, political, and historical study of modern transformations in understandings of sound's relationship to writing. Throughout the term, we will be tracing conceptions of that relationship as articulated in primary literary texts, as well as in poetics, philosophy, psychoanalysis, linguistics, media studies, and literary theory. (Derrida, Kristeva, Dolar, Barthes, Freud, Eno, Ong, McLuhan, Jones, others) We will begin the semester with an overview of the notion of “modernity” (Benjamin, Simmel, Jameson), out of which we will develop a more particular focus on 19th-century media technologies such as the phonograph (which means “sound writing”) and telegraph. (Edison, Twain, Bellamy, James, Adorno, Kittler, Durham Peters, Gitelman, Sterne). This work will serve as the frame for a discussion of aurality in late 19th-century Anglo-American literature, primarily in poetry and dialect fiction (Hopkins, Lanier, Crane, Chesnutt, Dunbar, Stewart, Rasula). We will also look at the roughly contemporaneous discourse surrounding African-American music, its status to intellectuals as “culture,” and its transcription into Western musical notation. (Douglass, Higginson, Du Bois, Johnson, Wehilye, Cruz, Moten).

In the latter part of the class, we’ll look at some aspects of sound as a metaphoric discourse for performativity, memory, subjectivity and cognition in modernism (Stein, Beckett, Cage, others). We’ll also look at some more recent recastings of the relationship between writing and sound in the ecology of information and data that surrounds new media. (Warhol, Egan, Ngai, Spiotta, Goldsmith).

At each meeting of the seminar, at least one student will be asked to present to the class a sound artifact bearing a generative relationship to the week’s readings.

I am also arranging some class visits/workshops with contemporary sound artists and theorists.

-Attendance at, full preparation for, and active participation in, each seminar session
-A mid-length midterm paper and a longer final paper
-An experimental piece of writing and/or sound related to the issues of the course.
-Weekly discussion board postings.

Readings (This list is in flux; we won’t read everything on it, but we’ll also read some things that aren’t on it. Also, the distinction between primary and secondary texts is more for convenience’s sake than any preset formulation of a particular piece’s role in the seminar).
Samuel Beckett, Krapp’s Last Tape
Edward Bellamy, “With Eyes Shut” and/or Looking Backward
Charles Chesnutt, selected tales
Stephen Crane, selected poems and tales
Frederick Douglass on slave songs
W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
Paul Laurence Dunbar, selected poems
Thomas Edison, selected writings on the phonograph
Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad
Kenneth Goldsmith, from Soliloquy
T. W. Higginson on slave songs
G. M. Hopkins, selected poems
Henry James, The Bostonians or In the Cage
James Weldon Johnson, The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man
Sidney Lanier, selected writings on sound
Dana Spiotta, Eat the Document
Gertrude Stein, “Portraits and Repetition” and selected writings
Mark Twain, “Telephonic Conversation”
Andy Warhol, from a: a novel

Theodor Adorno, “The Fetish Character of Music and the Regression of Listening”
Roland Barthes, “Listening” and “The Grain of the Voice”
Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility”; “Notes on Distraction”
John Cage, from On Silence
Jon Cruz, from Culture at the Margins
Jacques Derrida on logocentrism
Mladen Dolar, from A Voice and Nothing More.
John Durham Peters, from Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication
Brian Eno, “Ambient Music”
Sigmund Freud, “Advice to Physicians Practising Psychoanalysis”
Paul Gilroy, from The Black Atlantic
Lisa Gitelman, from Grooves, Scripts, and Writing Machines
Kenneth Goldsmith, Uncreative Writing
Frederic Jameson, from Fables of Aggression and Postmodernism or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism
Caroline A. Jones, “Introduction: The Sensorium”
Friedrich Kittler, from Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
Julia Kristeva on the Kora.
Marshall McLuhan, from Understanding Media
Fred Moten, from In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition
Sianne Ngai, “Stuplimity”
Walter Ong from Orality and Literacy
Jed Rasula, “Understanding the Sound of Not Understanding”
Georg Simmel, from The Philosophy of Money
Jonathan Sterne, from The Audible Past: Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction
Susan Stewart, “Letter on Sound”
Alexander Wehilye, from Phonographies: Sonic Afro-Modernity

*This course has a limited enrollment of 15 students.