This week we explored the concept of sound within black culture and black feminism. The piece I found most intriguing was Weheliye’s, “Outro,” from his book, Phonographies: Grooves in Sonic Afro-Modernity. It initially seemed like, within these eleven pages was EVERYTHING that I’ve been ambivalently struggling with academically. On top of that was the subsequent discussion of an ACTUAL attempted new methodology of understanding the author precariously engaged in. I really wish we could have focused more closely on this text.
A few highlights from this read include:
1. An eloquent set up.
…litanies of race, gender, class, and sexuality, to name but a few, insist too often on the radical specificity of their claims even though these very particularities appear strikingly alike across a wide array of spatiotemporal configurations and have frequently calcified into dogmas of uninflected positivism in which arguments can only pertain to such a microparticularized sliver of the universe that any and all dialogue with other times, localities, cultures, and so on is dismissed a priori. (Weheliye, 2005) (emphasis mine)
2. The parameters.
In the context of Phonographies, thinking sound unearths the singular potentialities of both the literary and the sonic, which, as opposed to affirming and perpetuating their institutionally sanctioned being, exalts their becoming. Process, not structure, is the rule of this game. (Weheliye, 2005) (emphasis mine)
3. The hook.
It is crucial, I insist, that this dismantling of particularism and identitarian logic come from within the intellectual and institutional confines of minority discourse, since the critique from without-if we must draw such reactive boundaries-too frequently leaves the general/particular partition intact by replacing a series of specificities with a return to universalism: just another name for the particular projected onto a larger screen… [Sylvia] Wynter compels us not to make minority discourse the paradoxical end unto itself that it has become by merely rehearsing its own particularity and in the process leaving the general discursive architecture untouched. Instead of merely occupying an enclosed chamber in this shaky edifice, Wynter asks that we redraw the foundational blueprints. (Weheliye, 2005) (emphasis mine)
Suffice it to say, this reading really struck a chord with me…
In all seriousness, I am compelled by the idea of ‘thinking sound’ and what insights about resilience, hegemony, black culture and feminism we can learn by engaging literature and sound through one another. I don’t know that this week’s readings in their entirety really inspired me at all, but I KNOW I can take away the fact that I am not alone in my ambivalence.
And then I got to thinking (Trigger Warning!):
I would like for you to think through the following with me. I can’t help but to think about the use or sampling of older music in contemporary music and how to read politics of identity through it. Take for the sake of this example, “Strange Fruit,” as performed by Nina Simone. Listen to the music, her voice and juxtapose that to the lyrics and the social context within which the original poem was brought to life through song.
And juxtapose that with its use in Kanye West’s, “Blood on the Leaves,” which uses/samples a portion of Nina Simone’s performance of “Strange Fruit” in the context of the his song. Listen to the music, notice how both voices are manipulated, what shifts there might be in the music. I also ask you to think about what the music and vocals are doing with the lyrics, and contextualize it within our society and popular culture.
What (if anything) can West’s falsetto indicate about his disposition? About his connection to the issues his song is raising? What about the vocal progression in West singing, “And breathe,” juxtaposed with Simone singing, “Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze?” What does his pauses indicate about his embodiment of the issues his song raises? What about the shifts in the music? What does this music indicate about West’s “intended/expected” audience? These are a few of the most immediate questions that came to mind when I was trying to really listen to the music and vocals, and understand how those can work through literary and theoretical concepts and devices, and vice versa. Assessing sound and theory in this way (whether it is musical or not) could bring a lot more dynamic insight on [Philosophical] [Black Feminist] [Critical] theory, literature, our society and culture (e.g., what we normatively are primed to “hear” versus what we actually “hear” in certain instances, and what that indicates in reference to our social structure).