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(Rhy)pistemologies: Thinking Through Rhythm

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Organizer: Erin Graff Zivin

Co-Organizer: Jonathan Leal

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How does rhythm (and its attendant art forms) allow us to produce philosophical or conceptual thought? What concepts (ethical, political, aesthetic, or otherwise) emerge from music, dance, sound, motion, and vibration?
As a category, rhythm names a kind of sensory interface with the world, an entry point into temporal unfolding across scales: the rapid revolutions of electrons around nuclei, the immeasurably slow deaths of distant galaxies, the ebb and flow of human breathing, the seasonal migrations of birds, the steady build of a tropical storm. Rhythm implies cyclicalities, departures and returns, dramatic interconnections of bodies and systems. Artists who focus attention on rhythm—musicians, dancers, poets, filmmakers—do so in ways that can draw receivers’ attention back to their own bodies, their own senses, their own perceptions of movements, changes, event boundaries.
To think and make through rhythm—to develop concepts through it—is to fundamentally unsettle many of the philosophical inheritances of the imperial West—the atomized, individual thinking subject divorced from dependency or human relation; the epistemology of the zero point, a thinking that emerges miraculously, without geographic or embodied context; even, and especially, conceptions of “the human” that presume a universal subject devoid of locational or experiential specificity—or more accurately, implicitly demand accordance to a colonialist hierarchy that measures humanness by way of proximity to an arbitrary ideal. (See Sylvia Wynter, Hortense Spillers, Vijay Iyer, Fred Moten, etc.) With that in mind, the concepts that can emerge from a focus on rhythm promise engagements with people, environments, and their attendant histories, promise concepts that can defamiliarize and unsettle, if for no other reason than that they openly emerge from sensory experience, from bodies in and of motion.
Inspired by interdisciplinary tap dance artist and scholar Michael J. Love’s concept of “(rhy)pistemology,” which he understands as “the wealth of cultural knowledge stored in Black American forms of movement and music,” this seminar aims to expand the labor of critical theory and philosophical thought to include embodied forms of knowledge across intellectual, artistic, and cultural traditions. Rather than taking rhythm, music, or dance as an object of theory or thought, we want to emphasize theory and thought that emerges from or through rhythm. Fumi Okiji’s work on “jazz as critique,” Alexander Weheliye’s commitment to “thinking sound,” Jonathan Leal’s “thought- forms,” and Maya Kronfeld’s notion of spontaneity as political concept are just some of the transdisciplinary and transsensory lines of inquiry that will guide us. We invite scholars working in the areas of comparative literature and media, philosophy, global Black thought, Latinx and Latin American studies, dance, musicology, and sound studies to propose traditional or non-traditional proposals for participation.

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