Julie Beth Napolin is a scholar, musician, and radio producer. She is the co-President of the William Faulkner Society, a member of the editorial board of Sound Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal, and a member of the MLA Sound Forum executive committee.
She works across sound, modernism, memory studies, digital humanities, film and media, critical race theory, gender and sexuality, narrative and novel theory, and psychoanalysis. She is particularly interested in the history of sound reproduction and its intersections with the history of the novel, art, and film and media, asking what practices of technological listening can tell us about the politics of memory and form. Her essays on sound in the work of Joseph Conrad have been awarded the Bruce Harkness Prize (2013) and the J.H. Stape Conradiana Prize (2020). She completed a PhD in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley with Ramona Naddaff, Trinh T. Minh-ha, Judith Butler, and Carolyn Porter.
Her first monograph, The Fact of Resonance: Modernist Acoustics and Narrative Form (Fordham UP, 2020) was published in the IDIOM series, edited by Paul North and Jacques Lezra. It was shortlisted for the 2021 Memory Studies Association first book award. The book returns to the colonial and technological contexts in which anglophone and francophone narrative and novel theory developed, seeking in resonance an alternative premise for theorizing modernist narrative form. Arguing that narrative and novel theory have been founded on an exclusion of sound, The Fact of Resonance poses a missing counterpart to modernism’s question “who speaks?” in the hidden acoustic questions “who hears?” and “who listens?” The racially and sexually fraught narrative spaces of Joseph Conrad instantiate what the book calls “narrative acoustics.” If modernism destabilizes what can be known, then how do modernism’s unstable epistemologies “sound?” The power of modernist narrative acoustics is to create indeterminate spaces where “facts”–of event, location, and identity–disperse, multiply, and resonate across time and space. The book follows the transformations of sound technology and narrative acoustics through the resonances between the work of Conrad and Frantz Fanon, Sigmund Freud, W.E.B. Du Bois, William Faulkner, and Chantal Akerman.
A new book project, “Dialectical Sounds/Missing Images,” is a study of aural testimony, witnessing, and memorialization, of the imprint of sound on memory and space in instances where images fail to cohere or appear, or are otherwise blocked from political reckoning. It follows strategies of listening to what exceeds narrative and techniques of “showing” in the work of William Faulkner, Jean Toomer, Walter Benjamin, Kenneth MacPherson, Sergei Eisenstein, Marguerite Duras, Jean-Luc Godard, Janet Cardiff, Rea Tajiri, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, and into contemporary performance and social media. If we have seen too much, then what kind of monument to political wounds is erected by aurality? Does such a monument simply reinstate the violence it commemorates?
Having been Associate Director of The Digital Yoknapatawpha Project and a Mellon fellow in the Price Lab for Digital Humanities at Penn, she continues to work on a digital sound project titled “The Sound of Yoknapatawpha: An Acoustic Ecology.” The project maps the fictional and historical sounds of the world of Faulkner, moving between the American South and the Global South to follow the invisible routes of space and memory. She is also working on an oral history of Henry Street Settlement in the time of COVID-19.
Recent essays include “Elliptical Sound: Audibility and the Space of Reading” in Sounding Modernism, eds. Julian Murphet, Penelope Hone, and Helen Groth (University of Edinburgh Press, 2017). Forthcoming works include “The Expropriated Voice: Intertextuality, Sonority, Flesh,” in the Faulkner and Slavery volume, ed. Jay Watson (University of Mississippi Press).