Here are some questions I came up with relating some of this week’s readings to Benjamin’s “Doctrine of the Similar” (which I will be presenting on):
Susan Stewart writes of Hopkins: “The role of sound here [in Hopkins’s 1885 sonnets] becomes foregrounded in such a way as to obviate any distinction between the form and theme of the poetry” (Close Listening 42) (also think of Prynne’s discussion of Pope ­ sound echoing sense).  Is this unification of form and theme similar to what Benjamin imagines the “sensuous shape-giving” language of the “ancients” was like?
Nick Piombino identifies “certain effects of indeterminacy in writing, reading, and listening” as “aural ellipses” (Close Listening 53).  He also describes a coming toward comprehensibility” (54), and I wonder if this can be compared to the “flashes” of “nonsensuous similarity” that Benjamin discusses.  For example, compare the following two quotes from Piombo and Benjamin, respectively:
When reading or listening to the words of a poem with an open form of attention, it does appear possible, at times, for the reader to decipher subliminal levels of significance that follow latent stream running apparently parallel to the explicit content, or to sound out encoded message content by tracking meanings primarily through the apprehension of patterns of rhythms and sounds” (54)
The most recent graphology has taught us to recognize, in handwriting, images ­ or, more precisely, picture puzzles ­ that the unconscious of the writer conceals in his writing” (697).
Are the “subliminal levels of significance” identified by Piombo analogous to the recognizable (or “similar”) images/picture puzzles that Benjamin’s author unconsciously conceals in her writing?
Finally, does Benjamin develop a relevant critique of language, or is this little more than nostalgic mysticism? Also, do Prynne’s myopically close readings of “The Star” and “The Tiger” approach what Benjamin calls “magical reading”?

Here are the notes I’ll be using for my presentation, slightly revised from the notes I sent out last week.  They may be of some use in reminding you what the Benjamin essay was about.
"Doctrine of the Similar”:
Understanding the “similar” will allow us insight into “occult knowledge” (or clairvoyance”).
3 key terms:
1.  “mimetic faculty” (694) ­ inherent trait, we imitate things, nature, other people, etc. and also to recognize similarities within nature itself, or what B. calls “natural correspondences” in nature; B. wonders “What advantage does the schooling in mimetic conduct bring to a human being?” (or, what is the phylogenetic significance of mimetic conduct”)?  While this faculty still plays a dominant role in our lives (it had a more dominant role in the lives of the “ancients”), it is a largely “unconscious” role (e.g. tip of the iceberg phenomenon) ­ this faculty has grown increasingly “fragile,” and B. writes, clearly the perceptual world of modern human beings seems to contain far fewer of those magical correspondences than did the ancients or even that of the primitive peoples” (695), so B. wants to know whether this faculty is dying or simply transforming itself (B. decides on the latter, as we will see, which has become a linguistic system of “nonsensuous similarity”)
2.  “sensuous shape-giving”: B mysteriously writes, “We must assume in principle that processes in the sky were imitable, both collectively and individually, by people who lived in earlier times; indeed, that this imitability contained instructions for mastering an already present similarity” (695); the recognition of this similarity is transitory, fleeting, a “flashing up”
3.  “nonsensuous similarity”: (a relative concept) “we no longer possess in our perception whatever once made it possible to speak of a similarity which might exist between a constellation of stars and a human” (696) ­ constellations as analogous to speech or text
How these three terms relate to language:
Language:  onomatopoeia is recognized as a mimetic function, but does all spoken language possess a mimetic function, and, further, does script (the written word) have a mimetic function?; Leonhard: “Every word ­ indeed, the whole language ­ is onomatopoetic” (696); B. asserts that we must investigate how words with the same signified come to have myriad signifiers (e.g. cheese, queso, fromage, etc.); script, more so (perhaps) than sound, helps clarify “the nature of nonsensuous similarity” (the example of the Hebrew letter beth and how this represents the relationship between spoken word and meaning, written word and meaning, and spoken word and written word [696]); handwriting/script (the signifier) is the “unconscious” representation of “images” or “picture puzzles” that were once sensuously similar to the signified they represented but are now unsensuously so (somehow modern graphology teaches us that), B writes, “Script has thus become, like [spoken] language, an archive of nonsensuous similarities, of nonsensuous correspondences” (697) ­­ this correspondance between language and reality, this “mimetic faculty” of language is referred to by B. as the “magical aspect of language” (697) ­ important to emphasize the ephemeral nature of our recognitions of similarity, what B. calls the “flashing up” (because thy have become obfuscated since the time of the ancients) of similarity (in a sound, text, constellation, etc); our phylogenetic process has brought us from a time in which we “read” the “stars, entrails, and coincidences” as the similar, or as a source of “clairvoyance,” to a time in which language (spoken) and script now embody, in their nonsensuous similarity, the sensuous similarity experienced by the ancients (the ancients received flashes” of similarity from “natural” sources that have now transmuted into linguistic sources for us, thus the need for “magical reading”):
If, at the dawn of humanity, this reading from stars, entrails, and coincidences was reading per se, and if it provided mediating links to a newer kind of reading, as represented by runes, then one might well assume that this mimetic gift, which was earlier the basis for clairvoyance, very gradually found its way into language and writing in the course of a development over thousands of years, thus creating for itself in language and writing the most perfect archive of nonsensuous similarity. (697)
Thus, in order to not go away from a reading “empty-handed,” one must allow the similar” to “flash up fleetingly out of the stream of things” (698).

Does B. develop a relevant critique of language, or is this little more than nostalgic mysticism?  B. completely refutes Saussure’s claims about thearbitrary nature of language, and goes further than Jakobson when he assertsthe mimetic nature of language (he would not be content with a few phonemicuniversals), but what would Benjaminian linguistics look like?


This is the first major "section" of the first poem "And Sing We" from her debut book Under Flag (Kelsey Street 1991). and "409" from the poem "Lamenta" in her latest full length collection Commons (U. California 2002). I'm also going to refer us later to the PENNsound recordings from her SUNY Buffalo reading of "405."

from And Sing We

Must it ring so true
So we must sing it

To span even yawning distance
And would we be near then

What would the sea be, if we were near it


It catches its underside and drags it back

What sound do we make, “n”, “h”, “g”

Speak and it is sound in time 


Then follow wood then water, then stones and metals, slow to heat

bbi-du-rruh-jut-dah askey leaning twisted

In the bowels and studies of interiors

Seaweed stench



on Attali:
Where is the history of music in  this book?

....As I was walking home the other night, I had a conversation with my new downstairs neighbor, who as it happens just took her Ph.D. in folklore from Penn. I told her about the Tedlock we'd been reading and admitted that I didn't really have a firm grasp on what folklore studies was. I learned that she studies the "unofficial culture" of the former Yugoslavia, and as she was describing her research, I suddenly thought that maybe we need folklore studies in order to formulate the kind of ethnopoetics Jason was suggesting in class last week, the kind that can be a poetics of banal life in any culture, and I started wondering about Greg's point on the list that the differences between folklore and lit studies might begin with the imagination, and Sarah D.'s question about how to think about the Susan Howe reading tonight in the context of our class.


One of the things I love most about Susan Howe's work is the way her intertexts seem Olsonic in their scope yet exert a fine control over the visual field. Speaking of taxonomic impulses - often, as a reader, I feel there's a thin line between the ecstasy of locating and synthesizing intertext and the sheer terror of references, so as a purely subjective point I'll say I like being able literally to map things out in the particular way Howe invites us to. I started wondering to what extent, if any, a passage like this one from Midnight might be folkloric:


This is one of those moments in posting on this listserv when I suddenly think that I'm posing a question that's either totally irrelevant or totally obvious. But I guess because I'm interested in genre, I ask this question about folklore and Howe so that - even if the answer is a resounding no, her work is not folkloric or no, if you ask the question that way - I can get to another issue, which is how the disciplines or methodologies of folkloric and literary studies serve and don't serve us in an inquiry into the link between poetry and national, ethnic, and cultural identity. In her work on Emily Dickinson, Howe taught us that the stray mark is poetry, that when textual production gets tamed for aesthetic consumption this process isn't necessarily a matter of distorting the intent behind a text, and that the antinomian poetic impulse in the United States has a specific genealogy. If Charles Olson's project in The Maximus Poems was to create a geo-mythic, specifically American (if only by chance) landscape by following many of the same historian impulses Howe takes up, is it possible that Howe's work, in its mixed media, interdisciplinary commitments, opens up a space for reconsidering the status of the cultural artifact and its relation to the formation of culture?



I had a similar experience to the one Sarah described in her post  (reading the work on the page but not being struck by the sonic,  performative aspects of the work very much until hearing her read).  ...  I got the sense that every once in a while the  text was shifting voices (thus the title [I'll risk the obvious  here]), although as a listener I wasn't experiencing these voices as  coming from distinct locatable entities. I noticed them in  transition, as intervals. The subtlety with which she orchestrated  shifts and emphases reminded me of Mackey's reading style ... Both writers create overdetermined, dense  phonetic weaves that allow various meanings to "creak". The  experience of reading and listening to their work is similar in that  reading "activates" something through sound that is slippery and  gestural. ... This is  starting to sound a little like the space created for duende to  appear, although Howe's poems are haunted differently. Her poems are  haunted more by historical texts whereas Mackey's reference points  tend to invoke a discography. Hearing Howe read raised some issues  about the listener/watcher's experience of poetry readings in  general. Appropriative listening? What's "fair" as a listener,  particularly when the work is grounded in historical materials?


I am excited by the possibility of performance not as a versioning of a text, but as a writing of it: how does a text that is already written out of and off of other texts, asHowe's are, get re-written in the vocalization? Who is the author, if SusanHowe re-wrote the last few paragraphs of Jane Austen in her childhood publicspeaking competition? I really like the possibilities of this.… I don't think that it necessarily maps onto what Attali is calling music, but it seems different from something that is specifically textual or textually bound. I feel like this sound-making that is intentionally disruptive, and that Howe seems to see as productive (its productbeing a kind of writing) is a rich area for thought.

It was interesting to see how the machine character of the voice inflected all
of the questions that we might have otherwise asked about a human voice. For
example, a machine's accent - the meaning of a machine's accent seems

fundamentally different than the meaning of a human's. ...I think that while the machine seems to suggest absolutely minimal inflection (it's a machine, so it can't read with feeling), the way that a machine simulates collectivity, specificity, sexuality, etc. seems like a really rich area for analysis.




Music is called the most abstract of the arts because its mimetic connection to reality is so weak, and yet is is precisely this semantically "blank" quality of musical sounds invites associative colonization on the part of imaginative listeners.  {cf Piombino: aural ellipsis}… Attali presents noise as a disruption of dominant cultural discourses.  This is an interesting point for me.  On the one hand, this idea, in one form or another, underlies many modernist programs, at least in music.  But at what point does this strictly negative, transgressive, resistant understanding of the function of modern art become its own caricature?  I've read enough Adorno to be skeptical of "affirmative" artistic gestures, however politically well-intended; but the notion that the most radical thing we can do is add more "noise" to the mix seems suspect.  It could be argued that the effort to disrupt the hegemony through noise has become itself hegemonic, as the order of things feeds off communicative deformation and has perhaps even made noise its lingua franca.
… One more point, regarding the ongoing discussion of timbre and its capacity for signification or allusion: I loved that the harpsichord was banned after the Revolution because it was "too closely associated with the ancien régime." (56)  This is a powerful statement for the associative powers of sound, apart from any specific music being played: timbre can be reactionary.


…[what] makes sound a privileged site for representing systems of exchange, for making people believe?… Attali to Benjamin--i.e., is Attali understanding music as another kind ofrepresentational syntax, and/or does its importance for him derive fromprecisely its non-linguistic capacity, its ability to communicate withoutnaming? What happens when we try to draw correspondences between musicalreferentiality and linguistic referentiality, and is there a similar notion ofthe "prelapsarian" in sound as there is in language...i.e., did sound everexperience the Fall?


I don't think that benjamin would have agreed that letting the language of things (let's for the moment assume noise is a part of that) resound neccessarily constitutes an emancipative power. translation is always needed and it's goal, if it is aiming at a move away from capitalist forms of letting things speak, in all artistic and technological as well as directly political processes would be to mediate formal breaks, changes of usage and to highlight the mistakes that we are constantly trying to disguise.


Jana: "if reading out loud, letting words sound, is a way of writing'anew', isn't it also a translation, and act of pronouncedindividuation and fusion at the same time?"        Attali's argument that recording technologies "destroy the legitimacyof representation" (86) relates to the ongoing discussion of Howe'sreading . Part of what's so appealing about poetry readings is thatevery performance is deeply illegitimate -- that is, if we regard theoriginal, most "legitimate" form of the poem to lie on the printedpage, which we can't necessarily do. Actually, I suppose it varies;whether the printed poem is a simulacrum of the spoken or vice versaisn't fixed. I can't read Ted Berrigan without hearing the voice fromhis 1981 New Langton Arts reading. On the other hand, hearing DennisTedlock's voice for the first time was jarring, unpleasant. In anycase, it's certainly less the case in poetry that "the performance isonly successful as a simulacrum of the record" (85). Maybe what itcomes down to is that part of the depth of poetry in practice (read,spoken, both -- as opposed to music, which is primarily listened to infixed recorded form) is its multiplicity, its ability to eludereduction. Its non-repetition.


Signal detection theory - and inparticular, Time Series analysis (plot spoiler: Olson is going to crop upsoon) - defines noise as any set of quantifiable data that corrupts ...e the data that we as receivers mean to reconstruct as a message; that is, noise is interference. By this definition, purposive'noise' is self-contradictory and therefore impossible, for the moment that'noise' becomes purposive, it ceases to be 'noise' proper. As the primaryobject of our attention, 'noise' is the message. The upshot here is 1)'noise' cannot be hegemonic, only music (this seems moot, as hegemony ishegemony, regardless of its nominal form, but just to note ...) and 2)Attali's premises a propos purposive-instrumental noise is invalid, becausepurposive-instrumental noise is not noise at all.

As regards Andrews' argument a propos "constructivist noise," I must echo my comments from last week on Attali; that is, the entire notion of 'noise' as instrumental/purposive/constructive (that latter srtictly in the sense that it is being used by Andrews, which is to say, interchangeably with instrumental & purposive, at least my implication) is self-contradictory -- as soon as 'noise' is any of these things, it ceases to be noise in any proper sense.
such "systematizing ... composition" seems to be the only mode of composition - the only praxis - that can make any claims to total accountability. This accountability strikes me as the mode's strongest feature,


The loopiness (no derogation intended) of Andrews's argument
makes the essay itself a holding environment (in trademark langpo
fashion). He makes a number of unsettling points; to start with,
Andrews says "infatuation with the sound material -- its pure
factuality as an end-in-itself -- is no better as an alternative.
Isn't 'mere sonority' just as likely to become fetishized and
transfixed in space?" (77). Since he is attempting to establish
distinctly /poetic/ praxis, we can, I suppose, overlook his dismissal
of the medium of pure sound.

Cage would say Andrews is guilty of fetishizing "the 'touch' of
personal resonances".
To negatively define his interests on the other side of this personal
axis, Andrews wants to "disrupt the cozy traces of personalization"
(74). Is Andrews defining the borders around a "just right" level of
coziness, or (inclusive or) is he contradicting himself, in line with
his championing of noise that "refuses any projective resolution of
social contradiction" (85). His "do" list, after all, contains, "To
disrupt clarity" (74-5).


Generically, there are good reasons not to consider song lyrics poetry ...
Is the contemporary Homer a rock and roll star?
I'm interested in all these questions because
I'm an academic in English aspiring to write on popular music (among other things).  At Penn at least, that sometimes proves particularly difficult.  I had to do an immense amount of fighting to keep 4 albums on a Field list consisting of 35 texts (the GEC's advice was the traditionally manipulative "you can do this later, on your own").  But now that I've got them on, it's just as difficult to figure out how to talk about them.

Perhaps we should look at some point look at works that attempt to--on an obvious level-- negotiate "text" and "song" such as Langston Hughes's ASK YOUR MAMA, the 24th section of Zukofsky's "A," songs of Robert Burns, LeeAnn Brown's ballads (sung in performance at a poetry reading, etc.


For similar reasons, 
this is why I like to write in response to American Idol, where the 
connection to the nation state is more explicit, plus the show, as an 
import from our old colonizer, has something to teach us about 

...I'm trying to figure out what does Benjamin mean by "language" here: "An examplet that is appropriate because it is derived from the acoustic sphere is the kinship between song and the language of birds." (73). I do not think thatBenjamin is according human language capacity to birds here. What is being accorded to them and to humans here?I think that Benjamin might allow us to relax and expand our ability to overhearand to let the world communicate / sing its names through our speakings. Meaning, more channels of music might open. What are we listening for?

Can I dance/cry to it? Isn't much poetry attempting to resist such a quick fix, and thus necessarily marginalizes itself? Can we / should we attempt to breach this divide? Is there poetry that one can dance/cry to that isn't a "bad copy" of the lyric tradition? But again, what might a poem look like that the general public and the high-brow arts/academic coterie might both respond to? Is such inconceivable?

And perhaps most noticeably, affect and emotional connection seem to be the
strongest indicators of AI sustainability. What does that say about the
pop-poet-prophet if transference of emotion trumps actual, measurable issues of
sound (pitch, rhythm, timbre) in a singing competition?

In a not unrelated aside, I'm also working on an extended project about the
black female blues singer in American literature and music. I propose that the
black female blues singer is a national symbol/dispenser of affective comfort
(think Marian Andersen on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Nina Simone's
concert the day after Dr. King died, Alicia Keys playing Donny Hathaway in that
9/11 Heroes concert). Also, I propose that the black female blues singer
continues an oral history tradition that allows access to a non-literate,
non-masculinist "his"tory (cf, for example, WEB DuBois on the tactical
strategies of slave songs and gospel in _Souls of Black Folk_). I don't want to
make too overt a connection, but I think the transfer of affect might be
inseparable from performance and poetry. And I'm not sure what to do with that.



Does "aural ellipticism" preserve the weird, short-circuited moments of consciousness or is it a step along the way to something larger? The way he talks about it seems to suggest that there is a move toward transparency, even if he keeps talking about it in terms of a holding pattern or transitional space. Is something being transitioned to? I sort of hope not.
[Kim's] s not unique in this practice, but her work seems to foreground a highly active and complex form of listening that is not merely the opposite of talking but a kind of hybrid of talking and what we generally think of as listening.
I'm thinking of my experience of listening to Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journals on headphones for an entire winter a few years ago. I feel like the work was definitely not "fixed" but that my aural experience of the text didn't feel like I was "filling in gaps" so much as experiencing these dense moments of redirection, of multi-directionality....

Am I going to say DL has the Duende? I always get annoyed when people over-invoke the Duende to mean "I really liked that" or "it moved me" and that's not what I'm doing. I think there is something of the effect of Duende in the split/splitting nature of the acoustic experience of her poems. The voice becomes The Voice, or The Voices.   

Because a bad performance is a bad spectacle, but a good (I’d italicize here if I knew how to on e-mail) performance is something like a “single unaccompanied speaking voice,” which contains within it many voices, many lives, many sounds­­all within its one tone.

...Like an Edward Hopper painting or an all-nite motel (complete with flickering neon lights), this voice of the American deadpan contains all of  thespectacle of American culture within its reticence.  (And I want to say that this reticence is Midwestern, but this may be my own Midwestern bias.) 


Which, like the instance above, raises the question of “reading voice”, that special timbre or phrasing that “speaks for” the telling, (over?)voices it, even when the reading doesn’t involve exaggerations of expression or theatrical emoting…

... acade, face aid, face odd, fack odd (cf G. Stewart)


..., I wonder whether it's possible to think about the poetry reading as
encompassing these archival, proleptic, and performative registers at the same time.

Is Stewart's promise in the same theoretical register as Piombino's aural ellipses? And what does the promise of recording do to the form of the poetic reading? I was thinking, too, about Howe's reluctance to make the "unscripted" discussion public--a reluctance I'm somewhat sympathetic to--and was struck again by a comment Sarah made at the beginning of the semester of sound, bodies, and vulnerability. I wonder, to wrap up, whether the perfect memory of the recording device changes the way we think about vulnerability and speech.


Coming back to Susan Stewart's "Letter on Sound," i found several ideas especially interesting, including the following. "...we are always recalling sound with only some regard to an originating auditory experience ... because we cannot reconstitute these auditory conditions of the poem's production, our recalling will always have a dimension of imagination." (p.29) As Stewart says so well, "It is the tension between the unfolding semantic pressure of speech and the asemantic pulse of measure that defines the possibilities of lyric art."