Staging American Sounds

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Dept. of English Literature, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
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Can a nation be heard? If so, what sounds are distinctively American? Following previous editions of the international conferences 'Staging American ...' bringing together scholars from Europe and the US, we propose to reconvene to open a scholarly discussion on the sounds of America.

Starting form the premise that no text can be read without hearing something, let us consider what these sounds might be and what it is that makes them American if at all. Does writing, for instance, have an accent? On a visit to the America in 1904-5, Henry James thought the American accent a travesty of what speech should sound like. Speech, he thought, should respond to a tone-standard set by phonemes on the page or else become a mere noise. Whether James was right or not, reading is always a performance of the sounds of writing, the stage its literal and metaphoric battleground.

But there is more. The nature of the spoken word on a stage already gives it a presence, a life that, however tenuous, acquires, in the evanescent moment of a live performance, an extremely powerful political dimension. As soon as a word is spoken on the stage it is tested in a way that no other medium demands: does it proclaim its phenomenological authenticity as an actual voice of its own, or is it always the pre-recorded message of writing that must necessarily coerce what one can say? But there may be a third way: the way of sounds dissociated from both speech and writing. Among other instances, the soundscapes in the plays of Sarah Ruhl seem to suggest that technologies of sound are essential in contemporary theatre; on the other hand, the absence of voice and sounds can be as telling as what can be actually heard, as Beckett and Cage suggested decades ago. But would it be "American"?

The term "staging" should not necessarily be understood with reference to the theatre. Suggested topics of research could include although need not be limited to:

- Echoes in space
- The Sound of Silence
- Voices and noises
- The sounds of reading
- Closet drama
- The arrangement of production and recording of sounds
- Sound technologies: radio, film, theatre
- The transformation of texts into scripts
- Literary acoustics: The sound of literary and poetic texts
- The politics of sounding/Voicing the silence of the oppressed
- The musical representation of a nation: hymns, songs , chants.
American musicals and national identity
- Technology's role in American identity
- The politics of sound as class, gender, and ethnic marker

The deadline for the submission of paper proposals is December 1st, 2012. 300-words abstracts should be written in English in the form of a Microsoft Word Document saved as "American Sounds+ your name."

Your submission should include: the paper's title, a short biographical note (150 words), your academic affiliation and contact information.

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Participants for the conference will be selected by February 15. Following the conference, we will invite participants to submit essays for possible publication.

Scientific and organizing committee: Ana Fernández-Caparrós, Noelia Hernando Real and Fabio L. Vericat.