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Global Soundscapes: Music, Politics, and Literature

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Organizer: Adam Schoene

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            Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Essai sur l’origine des langues traces how language once filled with song and emotion becomes divested of meaning, distorted by commerce and conventions to mere rational forms of rhetoric, devoid of its original musical inflection. The fall of language and music comes to embody moral degradation in the pursuit of private interests, away from the most universal and energetic initial language and song, that of le cri de la nature. Robert Wokler eloquently analyzes the intersection of music and politics in Rousseau’s thought:   What indeed are our moral relations as Rousseau conceived them but calculations of intervals in scales whose harmonies may take the form of dominant and subdominant modes? The prevailing social divisions between persons have their counterpoint in the divisions of the octaves, the enthrallments of instrumental music are matched by those of instrumental politics, and the subjugation of peoples is achieved in no small measure by their masters’ conjugation of verbs and their manipulation of language in general.1   This seminar takes the relationship between language, music, and politics as its point of departure, extending this analysis beyond Rousseau to consider the global soundscapes of literature. Soundscapes may be interpreted in relation to the natural environment, to sounds generated by humans, and to sounds of mechanical origins, or they may encompass how different environments or regions are understood by those living within them. Papers might consider music as a means of resistance, revolution, or transformation, as tied to different ideas of nationhood, or as a more cosmopolitan and universal force. Historical, textual, theoretical, or other modes of analysis of music, politics, and literature are welcome from a range of disciplines.     1. Robert Wokler, Rousseau, the Age of Enlightenment, and Their Legacies, edited by Bryan Garsten (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), 130.  

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