English 166

Special Topics: "this morning's minion": Sonic Mysticism in Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson

Section Semester Instructor Time Location Course Areas
4 Fall 2018 Stancek, Claire Marie
TTh 3:30-5 225 Dwinelle

Book List

Cavarero, Ariana: For More than One Voice: Toward a Philosophy of Vocal Expression (2005); Chion, Michel: Sound: An Acoulogical Treatise (2016); Dickinson, Emily: The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson; Hopkins, Gerard Manley: The Major Works; Rose, Trishia: Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America (1994); Stoever, Jennifer Lynn : The Sonic Color Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening (2016)

Other Readings and Media

Course reader with selections from Boethius, François Rabelais, and architectural theory


"...it is said that light is a sound too high-pitched for the human ear to hear but that one day it will become accessible to another ear awakened in another life and that, indeed, we will be able to hear the music of the spheres, like the movement of love that, in Dante's words, 'moves the sun and the other stars.'"        

                           —Sound: An Acoulogical Treatise, Michel Chion

In François Rabelais's The Life of Gargantua and Pantagruel, there is a famous scene in which sounds from an ancient battle, previously frozen in the air, become unthawed, emitting the clash of weapons, the boom of drums, and the cries of unrecognizable languages. Although this scene has often been read as an anticipation of recording technology, it is also an example of a legend that thematizes sound's mystical, world-making, time-travelling capacity. In this class, we will begin by studying a range of such legends and their cultural applications, from the music of the spheres, to the architectural theory of churches, to the convention of the sample in contemporary music. How is sound peculiarly invested with the power to maintain the possibility of simultaneous worlds? How can we train our ears to hear these unheard realities? Much of this investigation will proceed by following an in-depth reading of the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Emily Dickinson, two authors who, in different ways and on opposite sides of the Atlantic, confounded the difference between mystical beliefs and sonic theory We will bring a range of methodological approaches to bear on these two authors, from prosody and meter, to lyric theory, to performance. We will read their poetry and prose, Hopkins's journals, Dickinson's fragments, as well as the letters of both authors. In applying broader questions about sonic mysticism to these texts, we will consider more particular problems as well; for example, how does Hopkins's theory of Reversed Feet and Reversed or Counterpoint Rhythm transpose the music of the spheres? How does Dickinson develop conceptual correspondences by rhyming at long distance? In addition to a research paper, students will write a creative project that develops a mystical sonic theory of their own.

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