I have taken a much longer hiatus from the unhinged gates than I had intended. I had plans for research and writing over the summer, and then life happened. It was a really awful summer. I spent a lot of time contemplating and dealing with really awful things. Facing this sort of stuff can really shut down your brain. Or your brain is in rabbit mode, running back and forth between scary things, with no time to fix on the ideas and concepts that give you pleasure and comfort. And my heart was frozen. Not dead, but fearful. You know.
But the summer ended and fall has finally come to Kentucky. After a miserable September of 90+ degree days and absolutely no rain, October has bloomed all cool and kind. I feel better. And I am starting to think again.
This was helped along yesterday by a visit to our campus from writer, artist, and DJ Jace Clayton. Clayton was speaking in support of his book Uproot, which is the shared text for the first year writing program at EKU. This book has been a godsend for my class. I have really enjoyed integrating Clayton’s writing and thinking into my classes. But hearing him speak yesterday was breathtaking.
He began outlining the differences between visual art and sound. He discussed the separation between the viewer and a piece of art- you have a critical distance to view visual artworks from. You understand yourself as separate from the work. But with sound, we are physically connected. Music envelopes you. Sound works its way into your body. Our listening equipment is tied to our own movement and balance. Its our physiology. He played a clip from Cardi B and talked about how she uses bass to “invade our privacy.” Sound waves break through walls between rooms, they break through our bodies, they mimic or change our heartbeats.
I was brought back to my graduate school self, fervently underlining Julia Kristeva’s Stabat Mater. Kristeva’s ideas about the erotics of hearing were astonishing. Nothing can rock a relapsing/remitting Catholic’s world more than talking about the power of language to impregnate Mary through her ears. It was the voice of the angel that brought Christ into fruition. It is language and sound. And ears. And silence.
The strained eardrum wresting sound from the heedless silence. Wind in the grass, the cry of a gull in the distance, echoes of the waves, of sirens, of voices, or of nothing? Or his, my new born child’s, tears, syncopated spasm of the void. Now I hear nothing, but my eardrum continues to transmit this sonorous vertigo to my skull, to the roots of my hair. My body is no longer mine, it writhes, suffers, bleeds, catches cold, bites, slavers coughs, breaks out in a rash, and laughs. Julia Kristeva
Sound brings us together. It assembles and creates. It encapsulates time, memory, and history. It shakes us up. It draws lines between mouths and ears. It connects us through our “heart holes” (Neil Gaiman by way of my friend Alix) and makes us feel and understand our bodies in new ways.
It is magical.
During my run this morning, my Pandora station played New Order’s classic Blue Monday. The sound split me apart. Like a matryoshka. I remember hearing that song as a kid and thinking it was cool. The video was mind blowing- and evidence to a very young me that there was something else lurking at the edges other than the sad world of 1983 northeastern Wisconsin. As a high school student, I danced to that song at least once a week at The Option, a goth hang out in Green Bay, Wisconsin. It was a dark little building behind a used car lot. They crucified a Santa effigy every Christmas. It was a very special place. My sister and I danced to New Order together, we both loved the “I see a ship in the harbor, I can and shall obey, But if it wasn’t for your misfortune, I’d be a heavenly person today” part. I remember dancing to that song the night I met my husband at The Cardinal bar in Madison, Wisconsin in May of 1998. There were fireworks, really! Fast forward to now, I am an almost 43 year old mother of 2 running my slow laps at the rec center on campus before teaching. All of this happened in me. Just from this song. All of those connections and meetings. All of those selves and all of those people. It is astonishing.
My students are writing rhetorical analysis essays on a song they love. I brought up Clayton today in class again, and emphasized that this rhetorical analysis is a really interesting way to look at how music works, how it manages to inspire and soothe us. How they can take the invisible stuff that the sound creates inside them and try to give it voice in their words. This is in no way easy- it is so hard to put these feelings into words. But it allows us to share this complexity. It allows us to make our own sounds. That make lines to ears and heart holes. This is important work.
Thanks so much Jace Clayton!