Tales of the Tape: The Ontological, Discursive, and Ethical Lives of Literary Audio Artifacts argues for the importance of listening as a theoretical and methodological practice in the study of literature. In addition to forms of listening that direct themselves toward a literary work’s aesthetic qualities in performance, this text also listens to and for the social subtext of literary production. Drawing on audio artifacts from a diverse range of production scenarios—home recordings, literary performances, sound-based poetry, and oral history interviews—Tales of the Tape demonstrates how listening remaps literary histories differently than those that focus on print-based production. For one, audio recordings make audible the significant amount of labour that goes into building and maintaining communities as sites of cultural production. This labour is affective and immaterial in nature and is unevenly distributed along gendered lines. For these reasons, it has been overlooked traditional forms of literary history. Audio recordings, especially those that are candid and conversational in nature, make that labour audible so that we can recognize, compensate, and distribute that labour more equitably. Audio recordings can also be mobilized toward a political aesthetic in poetry, as it is in the sounded works of contemporary poets Jordan Abel and Jordan Scott. In these works, recorded sound acts as a layer of mediation that disrupts the normally transparent processes of representation and symbolization. In confronting us with an absent speaker, as well as the distortions, cuts, and alternate temporalizations of recorded sound, these works foreground the twinned structure of lack and excess at the heart of every act of signification. A formal emphasis on lack carries forward to the content of these works, intervening in the symbolic systems of racialization and political subjectivity. Overall this text meditates on the lacking ontology of auditory media, carrying that structure forward in analogous ways to speech, subjectivity, and political reality.
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Thesis advisor: Burnham, Clint
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