NEMLA 2012: Between the Beats: Listening to the Soundscapes of the Black Diaspora

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John Hyland, University at Buffalo
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While listening to Louis Armstrong, the unnamed narrator of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man discovers a "new" way to hear the "unheard sounds" between the beats , so that he is listening in time and space. Ellison's novel, with its turn toward music to negotiate the visual ideologies of race, is located at a site of crossings and re-crossings where the narrator realizes that "few really listen"—but even more than listening, it is a feeling of and in the space between the beats that most affects him. Such a feeling for space permits a descent into the "underworld of sound" where the narrator experiences the laugh and the cry of an old slave woman. In this space between the beats, Ellison's text lays bare the historical dimensions of the sonic and the spatial that crucially shape the black diaspora. This panel will follow Ellison's lead and investigate this intersection of space, sound, and history in black diasporic cultural production by drawing on the insights of sound studies, which stress the material facts of sonic experience, as well as those of human and critical geography, which stress the role of the (re)production of space in social relations. It will also, following Joseph Roach's work, remain tuned into genealogies of performance, memory, and violence in the circum-Atlantic world. How have writers and artists in the black diaspora re-imagined and/or represented space in terms of music and/or sound? How has such re-imagining reckoned with the long history of violence that marks the diaspora? How have different areas of the diaspora—from Jamaica to Chicago to London—responded to these questions of space, sound, and violence? Papers that emphasize the material, mediated, and inscripted aspects of these questions will be particularly welcomed.

Please send abstracts (300–500 words) to John Hyland, University at Buffalo:

Deadline: September 30, 2011
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43nd Annual Convention, Northeast Modern Language Association (NeMLA)
March 15-18, 2012
Rochester, New York – Hyatt Rochester
Host Institution: St. John Fisher College
Keynote speaker: Jennifer Egan, 2011 Pulitzer Prize winner, A Visit from the Goon Squad

The 43rd annual convention will be held March 15-18th in Rochester, New York at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown, located minutes away from convenient air, bus, and train transportation options for attendees. St. John Fisher College will serve as the host college, and the diverse array of area institutions are coordinating with conference organizers to sponsor various activities, such as celebrated keynote speakers, local events, and fiction readings.

Building upon the excellence of past NeMLA conferences, the association continues to grow as a vibrant community of scholars, thanks to the wide array of intellectual and cultural opportunities at every venue. Compact yet diverse, Rochester also boasts important historical connections; it is the site of the home, publication operations, and orations of Frederick Douglass, where he edited the North Star, as well as his eponymous periodical, and delivered the speech, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?". Visitors can explore the houses of abolitionist, suffragette, and reformer Susan B. Anthony and the inventor of devices popularizing photography, George Eastman, as well as shopping and eateries; attendees will also be within reach of the beautiful Finger Lakes region, known for its local wineries.

Interested participants may submit abstracts to more than one NeMLA session; however, panelists can only present one paper (panel or seminar). Convention participants may present a paper at a panel and also present at a creative session or participate in a roundtable.