I’ll be giving two conference papers and an informal talk over the next few months: a paper at the Society for American Music conference in Ottawa, Canada (March 21, 2010), an informal talk at the Newhouse Center for the Humanities at Wellesley College (April 5, 2010, as part of their Salon Monday series), and a paper at the “Uses and Abuses of Sound” conference in Koli, Finland (June 16-19, 2010–I’m so excited about this one!)
The SAM paper will draw from a chapter of my dissertation on “sexual abuse sounds[capes]” in 1980s/1990s North American popular culture (television, film, and especially popular music) and their impact on a group of real-life childhood sexual abuse survivors who grew up surrounded by them. The other two will center on “The Rugmaker,” a devastatingly beautiful string quartet by composer and survivor Bunita Marcus (pictured here) and “Learning to Walk,” a gorgeous and evocative digital audio work by Andra McCartney. Bunita and Andra are two of the most generous people I’ve ever known, and working with them on this project over the past year has been immensely inspiring.
It’s been interesting to return to my dissertation work after a semester-long hiatus. While I remain strongly committed to the project (and am very hopeful about what it might become….stay tuned), I sense that I’ll be making all kinds of refinements as I begin to turn the diss into a book. To do academic work on memory–especially “unconscious” memory–is to continually confront the more metaphysical, ineffable domains of human life, which I would never want to reduce to conclusions or generalizations. I’ve been operating instead on the notion of singularity: that lives, while potentially similar, are irreducible, resistant to theory. (I’ll probably have a lot more to say about this in the coming months, especially in the wake of a seminar I’m currently teaching at Wellesley on music, psychoanalysis, and neuroscience. I’m already indebted to my students for bringing up so many crucial questions about what it means to study musical experiences with scientific tools!)
I also feel so lucky to have heard the stories of the survivors in my dissertation, and it makes me curious about other survivors. How many others are there out there, remembering differently, remembering through sound? How many of them embrace the word “survivor,” and how many eschew it? How many feel marked, and how many feel (like Elizabeth Loftus, for instance) that the experience was meaningless, a blip, hardly worth a mention? How many wonder whether it happened at all?
There is no way to quantify experiences of trauma. The best I can do is keep listening.