All panels will take place in Silver Center, Room 320. Enter at 28 Waverly Pl. or 31 Washington Pl.
Friday, February 16
Panel 1: Mediated Precarity, 10–11:30am
Chair: Matthew Morrison, Asst. Professor, NYU Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music
“The Radiophony of Incarceration”
Adam Tinkle (Skidmore College)
This paper explores audio documentaries that seek to represent and intervene against systems of incarceration and detention in the US. Such documentaries need to be understood as part of a wide (and growing) field of media representations of incarceration, which, whether driven by an activist, social justice orientation or the crass desire to objectify and profit off of the incarcerated, are often structured in ways that I suggest can be understood as metaphorically linked to the idea of habeas corpus. Incarcerating someone means “disappearing” them from their previous life, and the media-representation-of-incarceration seems to insist, like a writ of habeas corpus, on “showing the body” of the prisoner. Media, one might hope, thereby intervenes against the disappearance that incarceration inflicts, fighting for visibility of the prisoner and against the wider public heedlessness that allows this system to continue, as well as eliciting moral outrage (e.g. by visualizing the deplorable conditions of the prison).
This paper asks: can sound answer the demand to “show the body” of the incarcerated? What bodies or conditions can a radiophonic narrative make “visible”? I compare three audio documentary projects, each suggesting a different answer. Ear Hustle, a Radiotopia podcast series co-produced with inmates inside San Quentin, “eavesdrops” from within the prison, following a topic and story-driven structure inherited from the narrative journalism of This American Life. Gregory Whitehead’s On the Shore Dimly Seen functions as a radio play on documentary texts, revoicing–often in highly expressionistic and non-naturalistic ways– transcripts of “enhanced interrogation” at Guantanamo Bay. Sylvia Ryerson’s Restorative Radio grew out of Calls From Home at WMMT-FM (Whitesburg, KY), and most profoundly inverts the habeas corpus representational structure of prison documentary by orienting its radiophonic ear to the loved ones on the outside through the collaborative creation of audio postcards meant for broadcast to the incarcerated (whose only uncensored access to communication “on the outside” may be through terrestrial radio).
“Subaltern Masculinity and Musical Mediations of Precarity”
Anaar Desai-Stephens (Eastman School of Music)
In contemporary India, young men from lower class, lower-caste, rural backgrounds try to access elusive social and economic mobility by auditioning for the popular television show Indian Idol. As a “reality” music show that promotes itself as a meritocracy based on talent, Indian Idol is equally reliant on these young male aspirants whose musical-affective labors and life stories are central to its brand. Yet even as they draw on styles of performance and modes of envoicing modeled on successful pop stars, these subaltern men often encounter ridicule at the hands of judges and audiences alike. Such dismissive televisual reception parallels the precarious position that subaltern men occupy in post-liberalization India. In a moment of strong economic growth and the increased prominence of India on the world stage, these men find themselves marginalized in Indian discourses of social transformation and distant from the material benefits reaped by the urban middle classes.
This paper thus investigates how young subaltern men use highly mediated sites of musical performance, such as Indian Idol, to claim space in mainstream Indian social formations and imaginaries. In performing popular music on television, they work to alleviate a sense of precarity that is simultaneously material, affective, and social (Allison 2013, Berlant 2011). However, these men are routinely framed as incapable of the transformation of voice and embodied style that form the narrative trajectory of Indian Idol and that would mark them as modern, socially mobile citizens of “Aspirational India.” As such, this paper elucidates the fundamentally intertwined nature of gender, precarity, and aspiration in neoliberal cultural economies. Drawing on ethnographic research in the Mumbai music-media industry and televisual analysis, it argues that sites of aspirational musical practice in the Global South are as likely to consolidate and capitalize on precarity as they are to alleviate it.
“‘People Too’: Music and Empathy in the Calais ‘Jungle’”
Alexander Marsden (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
As the European migrant crisis unfolded in 2015-16, the ‘Jungle’ camp in Calais became a flashpoint for debates about the UK’s moral responsibilities to refugees. Sympathetic writers, combating the demonising rhetoric of the anti-immigrant press, frequently turned to music in the camp to demonstrate the humanity and resilience of its occupants. For pro-refugee voices, the popular linkage of musicality to humanity served as a readily available tool for fostering empathy towards the camp’s occupants among the British public. Activist and humanitarian organisations similarly argued for music’s affective power when justifying their own varied musical interventions in Calais, which included recording projects, music workshops, and headphone donations.
This paper analyses representations of music in the ‘Jungle’ camp in press coverage and humanitarian and activist publicity materials. Across these accounts, I trace the looming presence of orientalist notions of musical charity and the concurrent vision of empathy as hierarchical, something given to those deserving of it. Nevertheless, through a case study of The Calais Sessions, I find glimpses of a more productive vision of empathy as a co-produced, non-hierarchical mode of engagement. These analyses draw on theorisations of the cultural politics of empathy to parse the questions: what are the imagined roles of music as an affective tool in refugee advocacy? How do these imaginations inform charitable action? What do they reveal about conceptualisations of care and culture operating in refugee advocacy and activism? This study contributes to discussions of music in the migrant crisis and critiques of cross-cultural musical charity.
Panel 2: Listening Across the Mexico-U.S. Border, 11:45am–12:45pm
Chair: Alexandra Vasquez, Assoc. Professor, NYU Performance Studies
“How Do You Feel the Beat? Looking/Listening & Black-Brown Entanglements in Sidney Bechet’s Treat It Gentle and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets X”
Maryam Ivette Parhizkar (Yale University)
Part and parcel to histories of U.S. colonialism, imperialism, and the transatlantic slave trade, state-sanctioned and extralegal violence has always worked to reify hierarchical categories of subjecthood and the right to freedom. If listening to the scenes of subjectivity is one mode of resisting such racism, how does vicariously listening to other others deconstruct how we see racial subjectivities––and what communion do we make in the aftermath? Simultaneously, how do multiple meanings of the beat––as violent act, sonic timekeeper and even exhaustion––become bound up in one another in such vicarious listening?
In Sidney Bechet’s 1960 memoir, Treat It Gentle, the African American Creole musician gives account of his witness to the beating of a Mexican man by white Texas police officers, which inspires him to perform an otherworldly blues––one containing “the memory of all that’s been done to all my people.” While Bechet’s scene opens ways for us to think about the possibilities of cross-racial identification, implicit in his narrative is a limited understanding of Mexican man’s personhood. Alongside Bechet’s account, I read Mexican American comic book artist Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets X (1989-1992) as a primer for understanding the relationship between violence, musical listening, and looking at racial others in the years surrounding the 1992 Los Angeles uprising. Hernandez’s plots are driven by both the characters’ memories of violence and acts of popular music listening, all in often-ambiguous black-and-white character illustrations. Building on the work of Saidiya Hartman, Fred Moten, José Esteban Muñoz, Claudia Milian, and others, the juxtaposition of these texts then pivots to another set of questions: how we can critically listen to multiple racial precarities together, as a means for recognizing the limits of empathy via identification-in-suffering alone? And then: what openings may emerge?
“‘I Want My Country to Listen’: Aural Practices of Latinidad in William Archila’s The Art of Exile”
Iván Andrés Espinosa Orozco (Georgetown University)
In this paper, I study the aural practices that recuperate the soundscape of Latinidad in William Archila’s collection of poems The Art of Exile (2009). According to Roland Barthes, listening implies “to adopt an attitude of decoding what is obscure, blurred, or mute, in order to make available to consciousness the ‘underside’ of meaning (what is experienced … as hidden)” (The Responsibility of Forms 249). Thus, I analyze the way in which, by means of listening, Archila decodes the sounds of precariousness of the Salvadorian Civil War and transforms them into poetry. In particular, I highlight two instances that remain relevant in his poetic production: on the one hand, I scrutinize on how the radio appears as a medium that both mechanically reproduces the sound of poetry and hinders the ballistic soundscape for the listener in Archila’s “Radio.” In this poem, an infant Archila listens to the radio in order to attenuate his and his mother’s trauma, produced by the Salvadorian war, while the voice of his father, living in Los Angeles, is substituted by Pablo Neruda’s voice in the radio station. On the other hand, I examine how sonic transculturation appears in Archila once he becomes an exiled writer in the US. In “Duke Ellington, Santa Ana, El Salvador, 1974,” I propose that the poet’s listening interaction with Ellington works as a therapeutic process. In this aural dynamic, Archila exploits the foreign features (African and Latin) of Ellington’s music in order to empathize with the artist and understand the musician’s production as the proliferation of Latinx heritage in the US, one that connects LA with El Salvador in the same way as Neruda did in the first poem. With this analysis, I decipher how “listening speaks,” following Barthes’ rhetoric, and informs us about latinidad in Archila’s poems.
Panel 3: Sonic Blackness, 2:30–4pm
Chair: Fred Moten, Professor, NYU Performance Studies
“‘Can Every Cook Govern?’: The Politics and Poetics of Linton Kwesi Johnson’s Dub Poetry”
Jordan Musser (Cornell University)
While customarily associated with twenty-first-century frameworks of neoliberal capitalist exploitation, precarity, particularly as it concerns diasporic migration, stems from a longer history of (neo)colonial crises. Displaced groups have responded globally with hybrid, arts-based modes of struggle and grassroots organizing, forming “international nationalisms,” in Vijay Prashad’s terminology—local expressive cultures congruent with the decolonial Third World project and its legacy (Prashad 2007).
This paper considers one such “politics and poetics of diaspora,” the dub poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson (Branche 2015). Johnson stands as a giant in the history of black British poetry, while his work with community organizations like the Race Today Collective exemplifies the kind of engaged artistry typical among marginalized groups in 1970-80s Britain following the 1973 economic crisis and burgeoning nativist discourses—what, together, would stimulate Thatcher’s “authoritarian populist” governmentality (Hall et. al 1978). By situating Johnson in this milieu, I sketch ways that critics of post-2008 precarity—a moment uncannily similar to Johnson’s—may learn from the poet’s activism. First, after examining Johnson’s participation in London’s Caribbean Artists Movement, I analyze the influence of C.L.R. James’s Marxism on Johnson’s poetics, drawing on archival research to demonstrate how class-based friction among UK-Black migrants suffused contemporary dub aesthetics. Second, and more extensively, I explore how Johnson’s music and poetry both documented and instigated the activism of such organizations as the Railton Youth Club, the Keskidee Centre, and Race Today. Dissecting such culturally-based, “neo-populist” formations, I suggest, forces us to consider not only how race and nation have mediated community-based, mass-democratic organizing historically, but how Johnson’s multi-medial poetics animated spaces of sanctuary in ways that, theoretically, refract recent debates concerning bare life and durative states of exception (Gilroy 1987; Butler 2004; Agamben 2005).
“‘I Don’t Rock Wit You, Homie’: Sonic Precarity in the Posthuman Vestibule of Leikeli47”
Justin D. Burton (Rider University)
Leikeli47, her face covered as always by a balaclava, raps atop a New York rooftop, surrounded by a drum line: “I don’t rock wit you, homie; I don’t go out my circle” (“OMC,” 2017). Lyrically, the addressee of the song is entirely ambiguous, an unspecified someone who needs to back the fuck off. The video’s sights and sounds, though, suggest an uncanny locale that I read here as a posthuman vestibule, a place attached to but distinct from the world we know – a part of it but apart from it. As I theorize it, the posthuman vestibule mixes Sylvia Wynter’s embattled humanism with Hortense Spillers’s vestibular flesh to map spaces that exist with knowledge of systems of oppression but for the purpose of imagining other ways of being human. The posthuman vestibule is precarious, but the black feminist practices Wynter and Spillers detail protect and revitalize the space. This is the work of Leikeli47 in “OMC.” Hiding her identity under the balaclava, meeting intruders at the door and sending them packing, Leikeli47 raps in a New York that exists on a different plane from the one we’re familiar with. Camera shots that sweep through the streets upside down, panoramic views of a city empty but for Leikeli47 and her drum line, and sounds that are decidedly not coming from that drum line – all this suggests that we access “OMC” from outside the vestibule, which therefore appears and sounds different from what’s actually happening beyond the veil separating us from it. Leikeli47’s posthuman vestibule may be rooted in precarity, but what she guards closely are the vibrant practices that create and sustain other ways of being human.
“(Re)Sounding Erykah Badu”
Jocelyn Proietti (Yale University)
How does one theorize black feminist performances of self through sound? Deploying Daphne Brooks notion of black female vocality in social space, put forth in her seminal essay “Afro-Sonic Feminist Praxis,” I analyze Erykah Badu’s performance of sovereignty in “Certainly” and “Certainly (Flipped It)” off the 1997 album Baduizm.
I begin by treating Badu’s auditory praxis as deeply invested in the formation of black women’s identity and argue that Badu radically (re)sounds the precarity inherent in black feminized subjectivity. This is posited through dual definitions of (re)sounding: First, resounding in its traditional sense which denotes an emphatic and reverberant sound performance– this speaks to the certainness expressed in Badu’s lyrical and vocal personas. Second, (re)sounding as a name for the discursive process of sounding, and making possible, radical expressions of black womanhood by which we may encounter new epistemological frameworks for uncovering the possibilities of black women’s being. In service of explicating this latter configuration, I incorporate affectivity as presented in Kara Keeling’s essay “Looking for M—: Queer Temporality, Black Political Possibility, and Poetry from the Future” as well as the theory of narrative self-theorization authored by black feminist scholar Barbara Christian in her seminal work “The Race for Theory.” The synthesis of these two texts leads me to question: how does Badu sound the affective and interior search for the futurity of gendered and racialized subjects?
Through close-reading, women of color/black feminist, and queer studies methodologies, I use Badu’s performance to construct a larger argument about the relationship between artmaking, performance, and ontology in black women’s musical works. Here, ontology loses all claims to universality and draws instead upon legacies of non-normativity and heterogeneity as viable theoretics of self-making.
Saturday, February 17
Panel 4: Colonial Legacies, 10–11:30am
Chair: Christine Thu Nhi Dang, Asst. Professor, NYU FAS Music
“An Overseas Sonic Paradox: U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay”
Kevin Sliwoski (University of California, Riverside)
When we think of overseas U.S. Military bases, we might arrive at several key words: empire, power, exploitation, asymmetry, militarization, war, and violence. For many host nations, communities, and individuals, U.S. military bases do convey and enact many of these concepts. Military bases after all, exist to store the tools of war and house the people who will use them. It is thus easy to empathize with the position of local communities and condemn the pervasiveness of global U.S. militarization. What is not so easy, is listening in on a military base from a service member’s perspective; from a civilian contractor’s; from a military dependent’s. For these people, military bases are homes, communities, and safe zones that offer security, employment, and stability. Military bases, then, depending on the individual, can be perplexing sites of both precarity and sanctuary. In this paper, I examine the presence and functions of sounds and music at U.S. Naval Base, Subic Bay in the Philippines during the 1960s. I focus on the experiences of American service members, their families, and Filipino activists who lived at, worked at, and interacted with Subic. I use born-unclassified Naval materials and interviews with U.S. veterans to reconstruct and analyze daily sonic activity at the base. The distinct social and working life structured by the totality of sounds generated on base is a neglected perspective. From this approach, I argue that to critique the systematic precarity created by the network of overseas U.S. military bases established in the 1950s and 1960s and driven by global conflict, requires us to confront their paradoxical function as sanctuaries.
“The Creative Working Class and the Postcolonial City”
Brendan Kibbee (CUNY Graduate Center)
Richard Florida’s (2002, 2004) widely read accounts of the rise of a “creative class” in global cities have framed popular discourses of creative work through narratives of economic growth, and often, class privilege. Yet creativity is hardly the prerogative of a single class. Creativity has also been touted as a characteristic of the postcolonial city’s proletariat and “precariat” populations (Mbembe and Nuttall 2004, Simone 2005), largely as a necessity for marginalized people navigating challenging economic conditions. Yet musical creativity in these environments imagines and entails social relationships far beyond those involved in securing a day-to-day existence. Drawing on recent fieldwork in a working class quarter of Dakar, Senegal, this paper profiles drummers, dancers, and rappers, as well as musicians involved in Sufi devotional practices. I propose a theoretical framework for “the creative working class” as a paradigm for thinking about musical practices and practitioners operating in the shadows of the global economic order. I build on Hardt and Negri’s (2000) inquiries into the category of immaterial labor while asking: What possibilities might the creative working class offer for productive activity outside of capitalist circulation? What characterizes the creative working class’s encounter with “expectations of modernity” (Ferguson 1999)? Finally, how does a concept of the creative working class force us to reconsider dominant contemporary discourses on creativity that privilege a relation to economic growth and development?
“(Un)Sounding Black Canada(s)”
Ola Mohammed (York University)
Leaning on Katherine McKittrick’s claim in, “Mathematics Black Life”, that “[a]cross a range of thinkers…there is a careful effort to show that if we are to name the violent displacement of black cultures, this must be done by both noticing and undoing the compulsion to inhabit safe and comfortable places within the very system that cannot survive without anti-blackness” (19), I am interested in examining how a grammar to the utterances and soundings of sonic Black Canada(s) reveals the auditory as windows to and articulations of power relations wherein racial-spatial inequalities are reproduced and contested. I attempt to think through how music and sound as dynamic materials of social existence (De Nora 49) function as a strategy to unsettle whitewashing logics of the sonic environment and transform the way we think about spatiality and power through tuning into “black absented presences” (McKittrick 22) via black cultural production. During the late 1960’s-early 1970’s, R. Murray Schafer’s The World Soundscape Project intended “to open the ears of Canadian listeners to the importance of sonic experience[s] and alert them to what they warned was a degradation of the soundscape that’s to the mounting din of industrial modernity” (Akiyama 2015). Despite the important methodologies TWSP developed, Akiyama (2015) directs us to the pitfalls of TWSP—mainly that it failed to account for the ways in which it reproduced racial-spatial inequities through defining protestant churches as soundmarks that brought together communities/ a sense of belonging in pastoral Canada, without accounting for the violent reverberations those same church bells would have for indigenous communities who were forced to endure settler colonialism, settler religion, residential schools and other violences. Paying close attention to these utterances and soundings can aid us in thinking through and understanding what sonic Black Canada(s) make audible and possible.
Panel 5: Soundscapes of Precarity and Struggle, 11:45am–1:15pm
Chair: Michael Beckerman, Professor, NYU FAS Music
“Riot 909’s: On Soundscapes of Struggle, Musique Concrète, and Anti-fascism in Oakland, CA”
Katsy Pline (Field Recording Working Group)
This paper will argue that listening to contemporary soundscapes of riot allows us to hear ‘the real movement which abolishes the present state of things.’ Following Joshua Clover’s political economy of riot, it situates the contemporary re-emergence of riot in American political life within the context of capitalism’s post-1973 crises and long decline. It argues that the contemporary composition of forces involved in riot point towards an emancipatory politics equally grounded in anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-capitalism. The noise of riot is read as a refusal of the liberal-capitalist politics of recognition and legibility that re-frames anti-capitalist struggle around the politics of matter. The sounding practices of riot disrupt capital’s acoustic territories and forge new solidarities amongst different segments of the working class. The paper discusses these themes through the Field Recording Working Group’s ‘Microblocks’ project. The ‘Microblocks’ project is a sample-pack series that culls percussive and ambient samples from field recordings of revolutionary anti-racist, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist social movements in the Bay Area. They are then distributed for free on Bandcamp to be used as building blocks for sound organizers in their own compositions. Particular focus is given to the recent resurgence of anti-fascist organizing in the East Bay. The paper then critically engages with Pierre Schaeffer’s theory and practice of musique concrète to define a genuinely materialist approach to concrete music.
“Pledges to a New Allegiance: Mass Protest, Political Chant, and Disrupted Identity in a Postcolonial Childhood”
This presentation engages issues of mediation, digitization, and archiving in the sounds of nonviolent and violent political conflict, comparing the sounds of political protest in lived memory and digital memory. It begins with my own recollections of the sounds of mass protest, growing up in, before, and after three urban cataclysms of class conflict and mass resistance: my childhood living in Jakarta through the ’98 riots; my teens living in Bangkok through the ’08 riots and coup; and last year living in NYC as a classical musician on November 9th, 2016, walking out after playing a concert at Lincoln Center to the protesting post-election streets of Midtown. Both the episode in Indonesia in ‘98 and the episode in Thailand in ’08 resulted in evacuation in emergency conditions, my forced repatriation to the United States as a disrupted citizen twice before the age of 18, and a fractured and expatriate multinational identity. I retrace these three events of both violent and nonviolent street riots ( in downtown Jakarta, downtown Bangkok, and downtown Manhattan) through my own memories of living in their immediate proximity, and then through the media coverage that is persistently archived and available in for-profit and ad-driven digital media sites like YouTube. I seek the echoes between these (temporally and geographically) disparate shouts and chants of mass protest against the election of oppressive and corrupt political regimes, presenting both the available audiovisual records in digitized media archives and the analysis that has resulted from my own years of memory work. The presentation explores and refracts political ideologies and their musical expressions with notions of colonial place, belonging, safety, alignment, and identity, contextualized by streaming media and digital construals of user and self. I construe the sounds of political mass trauma not only as lived experience, but also as Web content in the constellation of internationally distributed, consumer-derived and consumer-driven product in a cosmopolitan information economy
“The Return of Street-Vendors in Cuba: Labor, Precarity, and Sound”
Andrés García Molina (Columbia University)
In this paper I explore the resurgence of street-vendors and their song in Cuba, after nearly six decades of silence. Once a ubiquitous sonic marker of Cuban public space, their re-emergence corresponds, most immediately, to changes in labor policy in the island. In 2010, president Raúl Castro announced the need to “update and improve” socialism in Cuba by legalizing forms of self-employment that had been prohibited and repudiated after 1959. Recent work in the anthropology of labor has focused on how capitalist political-economic relations shape labor practices heterogeneously across the globe; such relations always respond to localized histories of empire, class, race, and gender, among other social contingencies (Gershon 2015; Narotzky and Goddard 2017). In Cuba, these relations are inseparable from forms of aurality that permeate the public sphere (Ochoa Gautier 2006, 2014), for labor reform has mostly consisted in opening up ambulatory street-vending practices that depend on the mutual circulation of sound and goods (Bauman 2004). No transaction is possible without potential listeners. In 1978, the Cuban anthropologist Miguel Barnet had described the then extinct street-vendor calls as “relics of national folklore,” linking their prior existence to a failed state (pre-1959, capitalist) that could not take care of its own and forced people to make a living out in the streets. But the same could be said of present-day Cuba, for the return of street-vendors and their song is a public admission of precarity in the island. What does it mean to engage the particular notion of “precarity” (Rossiter and Nielson 2008) that arises in the context of a transitioning Cuban economy? To answer this question, I explore the “listening techniques” (Helmreich 2007, Sterne 2003, Ochoa Gautier 2014) fostered by these work songs to interrogate the unique relation between aurality, the economy, and infrastructure that is reconfiguring the Cuban aural public sphere.
Panel 6: Silence and Sanctuary, 2:30–4pm
Chair: Suzanne G. Cusick, Professor, NYU FAS Music
“Silencing Tibet? Trungkar, Memory and Precarity in a Tibetan Refugee Community in Nepal.”
Miranda Fedock (CUNY Graduate Center)
In the summer of 2017, a Tibetan refugee community in Nepal planned an elaborate multi-day festival to celebrate trungkar, the birthday of the fourteenth Dalai Lama. The day before the festivities were to begin, the Nepali government denied the community permission to hold this event. The next day, public spaces were conspicuously absent of Tibetan songs and chatter: many Tibetans gathered in secluded places outside the boundaries of state surveillance, and celebrated trungkar in hushed tones. Through a close reading of this ethnographic moment, this paper explores the ways in which this enforced silence structures this community’s memories of “old Tibet” (before China’s invasion in 1959) by reshaping the echoes of trungkar’s sounds through time and space. The Nepali government’s enforced silencing of trungkar in public spaces reinforces these Tibetans’ feelings of political precarity as unwanted refugees in a hostile country, and renders newly precarious their perceived citizenship in the Tibetan exilic state, thus creating muted acoustic conditions in which lack of resonance produces multi-layered political-affective vulnerability that threatens the community’s ability to remember. Simultaneously, through the quiet presence of the sounds of trungkar, certain private spaces are transformed into places of (limited) sanctuary. I argue that, as a constant negotiation between silence-as-suppression and sounding-Tibet, quietness serves as a soundmark of both old Tibet and the precarity of exile in Nepal. By listening to the ways trungkar resounds for this Tibetan exilic community in this moment, this paper positions silence as engendering and transforming precarious sounds and memories, thus restructuring relationships to the tangible present and the remembered past.
“Sounding Sanctuary and Refusal at U.S. Abortion Clinics”
Rebecca Lentjes (SUNY Stonybrook)
Abortion clinics in the United States are contested spaces where claims to freedom of speech and religious expression frequently clash with laws regulating noise, amplification, and harassment. Anti-abortion protesters gather in parking lots and on sidewalks at clinics across the country to shout, sing, and preach their opposition to the medical procedure. State and local governments in locations such as Colorado and Massachusetts have enacted “floating” and “fixed” buffer zones to prevent physical harassment, while at the same time keeping the protesters’ right to free speech intact, allowing them to audibly penetrate the designated buffer zone as they attempt to verbally interact with patients. In my experiences as a volunteer and ethnographer at abortion clinics in New York, Alabama, Mississippi, and Oklahoma over a period of eighteen months, I have observed firsthand the quiet of waiting rooms in contrast with the sonic aggression taking place outside. Similarly, architect Lori Brown has written in detail not only about abortion clinic buffer zones, but also of clinics in Kansas with designated “Quiet Rooms” and “Sanctuary Rooms” as “spaces of solace and comfort” in which patients “could choose to be quiet, play music softly, or read” before and after their procedures. In my paper, I use Kevin Quashie’s idea of “the sovereignty of quiet” to investigate and draw connections between the private and public sounds at abortion clinics. I argue that the “inner quiet” sounding through the clinic interior not only allows for the exploration of an individual’s inner life, but that this “inner quiet” also performs a political refusal that binds these patients to each other despite their range in age, ethnicity, and cultural and economic background.
“The Hush Harbor as Sanctuary: African-American Survival Silence during Slavery Times”
Maya Cunningham (University of Maryland)
Songs by African-Americans during slavery have been widely examined as methods of resistance. Songs like “Steal Away” or “Swing Low Sweet Chariot,” often publicly performed, were used to signal escape plans to freedom through encoded messages. Spirituals and ring shouts not only communicated escape messages, but also asserted slaves’ humanity, contesting their chattel status and the constitutional declaration that they were only “three-fifths of a human being.” While scholarship on these forms is plentiful, less discussed are the contexts of secrecy and silence in which these songs were performed. Within slavery, many African-Americans were forbidden to practice Christianity beyond the surveillance of slave masters. “Slave codes” criminalized unsupervised gatherings of Blacks to prevent conspiracies of escape or rebellion. In reaction, African-Americans created spaces of refuge with “hush harbors.” Deep
in the woods, hush harbors were private areas in which enslaved Blacks engaged in prayer meetings, ring shouts, and singing. Enslaved Blacks often would become ecstatic with religious fervor, their voices rising into ‘shouts.’ In order to muffle sound and prevent discovery, they hung dampened quilts over tree branches. Sometimes they prayed into large pots and sometimes they muffled the mouths of shouters. It was here that prayers against slavery and liberation messages of the Bible were voiced. The hush harbor was a sanctuary where quilts, pots, and hands transformed sound into silence for slaves’ very survival. Building on historical research in African-American studies on hush harbors (Nunley 2011 and Harding 2007), this paper argues that strategies of silencing were equally important to strategies of sounding employed by African-Americans during slavery as methods of resistance. This paper examines WPA Slave Narratives, African-American autobiography, and the anthropological work of Zora Neale Hurston to excavate and analyze practices of silencing in hush harbors as strategies towards freedom within the brutal confines of slavery.