The Screen in Sound

A Lecture by Rey chow:

The Screen in Sound: Toward a Theory of Listening

October 18 | 4-6 p.m. | 370 Dwinelle Hall, UC Berkeley

This lecture is drawn from Rey Chow’s chapter in the anthology Sound Objects (Duke UP, forthcoming), co-edited by Chow and James A. Steintrager. By foregrounding crucial connections among sound studies, poststructuralist theory, and contemporary acousmatic experiences, the lecture presents listening as a trans-disciplinary problematic through which different fields of study resonate in fascinating ways.

Rey Chow’s research comprises theoretical, interdisciplinary, and textual analyses. Since her years as a graduate student at Stanford University, she has specialized in the making of cultural forms such as literature and film (with particular attention to East Asia, Western Europe, and North America), and in the discursive encounters among modernity, sexuality, postcoloniality, and ethnicity. In her current work, Chow is concerned with the legacies of poststructuralist theory (in particular the work of Michel Foucault), the politics of language as a postcolonial phenomenon, and the shifting paradigms for knowledge and lived experience in the age of visual technologies and digital media.

REY CHOW is Anne Firor Scott Professor of Literature at Duke University. In addition to her work on Sound Objects, she is the author of numerous influential monographs, including 2014’s Not Like a Native Speaker: On Languaging as a Postcolonial Experience. Her most recent publication in Representations is “The Hitchcockian Nudge; or, An Aesthetics of Deception,” written with Markos Hadjioannou, published in number 140, Fall 2017.

The Tar Baby: A Global History

Join Bryan Wagner for a discussion of his recent book

The Tar Baby: A Global History

Weds., Oct. 17, 2018 | noon to 1:00, Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

In The Tar Baby: A Global History (Princeton, 2017), Bryan Wagner explores how the tar baby tale, thought to have originated in Africa, came to exist in hundreds of forms on five continents. Examining the fable’s variation, reception, and dispersal over time, he argues that this story of a fox, a rabbit, and a doll made of tar and turpentine is best understood not merely as a folktale but as a collective work in political philosophy. Circulating at the same time and in the same places as new ideas about property and politics developed in colonial law and political economy, the tar baby comes to embody an understanding of the interlocking systems of slavery, colonialism, and global trade.

Bryan Wagner is Associate Professor in the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His research focuses on African American expression in the context of slavery and its aftermath. In addition to The Tar Baby, he is the author of Disturbing the Peace: Black Culture and the Police Power after Slavery. His essay “Disarmed and Dangerous: The Strange Career of Bras-Coupé” appeared in Representations 92.

What’s in a Unit?

Unit: A Semantic and Architectural History

by Andrew M. Shanken

The essay begins:

More than ever we call the spaces we inhabit units. Many university students live in them—some of mine at the University of California, Berkeley, live in Units 1, 2 and 3, names ill conceived for domestic coziness. They were built between 1958 and 1964 by the architectural firm of Warnecke and Warnecke as part of the urban renewal of the city. The dedicated website for Unit 1 states that the complex consists of six buildings built around a court, with a “unit office” at the center. These units make little attempt to look like anything but impersonal superblocks. Recently, the university has countered their anonymity by “theming” parts of them African American, Native American, Asian Pacific American, and Latinx. Such units are modern, impersonal, institutional. The themed programs are more than an attempt to dress them up with new multicultural curtains: they work against the premise of the unit as a “single number regarded as an undivided whole.” In fact, they divide, and in so doing they point out one of the central contributions of multiculturalism: to challenge the perceived uniformity and homogeneity of American society. While housing units flatten and regularize, the themed programs attempt to show the many grains of American culture.

Unit. What a cold word to describe a domestic space; and this gets right to how fitting this odd usage is and why dormitories at large public universities acquire the name. The word was coined by English mathematician and natural philosopher John Dee in his preface to Sir Henry Billingsley’s translation of Euclid’s Elements (1570). More tellingly for the unit in the dormitory, it is a “single thing regarded as a member of a group,” a definition perfectly suited for large apartments, anonymous collections of spaces, and buildings. If born of mathematics, it is a word that matured in the context of nineteenth-century mass society, bureaucracy, manufacturing, the modern military, and large institutions—the world in which the modern profession of architecture came of age. Although Raymond Williams did not include it in Keywords (1976), unit is an intimate relation of words like bureaucracy, management, masses, and institution. How did it enter the house or the apartment and become attached to other spaces of modernity? This is its semantic, architectural, and spatial journey. Continue reading …

This essay peers through the peephole of the word unit to reveal the word’s journey across multiple fields from the mid-nineteenth century through the present. A keyword hidden in plain sight, unit links science and the world of measurement to society (family units), politics (political units), architecture (housing units), cities (neighborhood units), and, more recently, big data, the carceral state (crime units), and managerial oversight.

ANDREW M. SHANKEN is an architectural historian in the Department of Architecture and American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley. He publishes on architecture and consumer culture, memorialization, expositions, preservation history, and imagery in urban planning.

Slang, Argot, Dialect & Jargon

STRANGE VERNACULARS

A Colloquium on the UC Berkeley Campus
Thursday, October 4, 4:30-6:30
315 Wheeler Hall (Maude Fife Room)

Featuring presentations by Janet Sorensen, Celeste Langan, Deidre Shauna Lynch, Maureen McLane, and Daniel Tiffany

While eighteenth-century efforts to standardize the English language have long been studied—from Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary to grammar and elocution books of the period—less well-known are the era’s popular collections of odd slang, criminal argots, provincial dialects, and nautical jargon. Strange Vernaculars delves into how these published works presented the supposed lexicons of the “common people” and traces the ways these languages, once shunned and associated with outsiders, became objects of fascination in printed glossaries—from The New Canting Dictionary to Francis Grose’s Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue—and in novels, poems, and songs, including works by Daniel Defoe, John Gay, Samuel Richardson, Robert Burns, and others.

Maureen McLane’s essay Compositionism: Plants, Poetics, Possibilities; or, Two Cheers for Fallacies, Especially Pathetic Ones! appears in our recent Fallacies special issue.