Rountable : Talking Listening Seriously : James Baldwin and Sound

In this roundtable, we took up Keith + Mendi Obadike’s sound installation, “Blues Speaker [for James Baldwin]” (2015). The 12-hour work archives the sounds of “Sonny’s Blues,” also activating relations between sound, literary voice, and city space. We discussed Baldwin and the politics of listening, past, present, and future. With Mendi Obadike and Rich Blint.

“A Sinister Resonance”: Joseph Conrad’s Malay Ear and Auditory Cultural Studies

Sounding Out!

Weird Tales CoverWelcome to the first part of Sonic Shadows, a new SO! series featuring essays drawn from a recent symposium on the question “what does it mean to have a voice” held last April at The New School, and featuring organizers Dominic Pettman, Pooja Rangan and Julie Beth Napolin, as well as invitees Mara Mills (NYU), Gustavus Stadler (Haverford), Rey Chow (Duke), and James Steintrager (UC Irvine). I am happy to serve as Guest Editor, bringing some work developed for, during and after that event, beginning with my own article below.

Participants in “Sonic Shadows” focused on the voice’s shadowy or coded qualities as it stands on the border of the animal, human, and machine. Our motivating question was one shared by literary studies (authorship, the voice of writing, narration), technology studies (recording, storing, and transmitting voices), and media studies, particularly documentary studies (giving voice and objectivity). This…

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April 24/25 : Sonic Shadows : Voice, Technics, and the Human at the New School

Sonic Shadows Version 1

Sonic Shadows is a two-day symposium designed to foster interdisciplinary dialogue among scholars working on the topic of the voice across the fields of literature, film, theory, music, and technology. Our title, “Sonic Shadows,” is designed as a capacious point of entry that accommodates very different objects, approaches, and questions across media and literary studies, whether theoretical, philosophical, or historical. This concept urges us to consider the voice against its grain, as a form of intelligibility subtended by certain sonic frames. We also share a concern for the technologies that shape our conception of the voice and the human, as well as “other” voices that remain in the shadows of such conceptions. As such, we hope to find illuminating and unexpected polyvocal approaches to the voice’s shadowy, layered, coded quality, especially in relation to its habit of confounding our seemingly comfortable notions about race, humanness, gender, the body, the organic, presence, interiority, and mediality.


The symposium will feature 7 speakers across two days. On both days, our conversation will follow a round-table discussion format. Each speaker will be allotted 90 minutes in which they will present a brief talk or work-in-progress, possibly accompanied by contextualizing reading. The remaining time will be reserved for in-depth discussion.


Sonic Shadows is open to a limited number of auditors who RSVP in advance. To register as an auditor, please send an email to before April 21. By RSVP-ing, auditors agree to read the pre-circulated papers attached in the descriptions of the presentations below, and to attend both days of the symposium, to the best of their ability. Our hope is to have a sustained, immersive conversation over two days. Click on the names of the participants below to view descriptions and download readings.


DAY 1: FRIDAY APRIL 24, 2015 

Location: The Orozco Room (66 West 12th Street, Room 712, New York, NY 10011)

9:30AM Julie Beth Napolin, The New School: “‘A Sinister Resonance’: Vibration, Sound, and the Birth of Conrad’s Marlow”

11:00AM Rey Chow, Duke University: “After the Passage of the Beast: ‘False Documentary’ Aspirations, Acousmatic Complications”

2:30PM Dominic Pettman, The New School: “Vox Mundi: The Aural Punctum as Worlding Refrain”


Location: The Orozco Room (66 West 12th Street, Room 712, New York, NY 10011)

9:30AM Mara Mills, NYU: “Diagrams of Speech Systems: From Process to Processing”

11:00AM Pooja Rangan, The New School: “Sonic Relations: Deligny and the Autistic Object of Sound”

2:30PM James Steintrager, UC Irvine: “The Eldritch Phonograph: Weird Reading, Acousmatic Fantasy, and the Old New Media”

4:00PM Gustavus Stadler, Haverford College: “Sound, Recording, and Racial Violence”

Sponsored by the Departments of Culture and Media & Literary Studies at Eugene Lang College, The New School

April 24 | 4pm | The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics | Blues Speaker for James Baldwin – Dialogues


The Vera List Center for Arts and Politics | Blues Speaker for James Baldwin – Dialogues.

Looking forward to moderating a discussion of “Blues Speaker for James Baldwin,” a new sound installation in University Center, by Mendi and Keith Obadike, in honor of “Sonny’s Blues” and the 90th birthday of James Baldwin.

April 24, 2015 at the Vera List Center, 4:00 to 530pm (walk-through of the installation at 3:15)

Blues Speaker celebrates James Baldwin’s keen understanding of the social role of the blues. In his important 1957 short story “Sonny’s Blues,” the writer argued that attending to the blues required the listener to confront and accept both literal noise (sounds beyond the listener’s understanding) and ideological noise (elements of the lives of those whose journeys have taken radically different paths), and seek beauty and understanding. If this relationship to listening is specific to the blues — a form that takes its shape in response to the survival of black people in general and to the decisions of its craftspeople — then musicians who seriously engage the blues must hold a knowledge deeply important for humanity that lives in the music and extends beyond that medium. To examine this proposition, the artists have invited several musicians who work with the blues to read the story “Sonny’s Blues” on Fridays at noon during the month of April.

Dialogues — Schedule
April 10: Melvin Gibbs
April 17: Brandon Ross
April 24: Keith and Mendi Obadike + Rich Blint with Julie Beth Napolin

This event is part of the year-long, city-wide celebration “The Year of James Baldwin”, which is presented in partnership with Harlem Stage, Columbia University School of the Arts and New York Live Arts, and in collaboration with the Vera List Center for Art and Politics, the School of Media Studies, and the School of Writing at The New School.

Public Seminar : March 20 : The New School For Social Research

Dialectical Sound: Resonance, Faulkner, and the Digital Humanities

The Graduate Institute of Design, Ethnography, and Social Thought

The GIDEST seminar is held bi-weekly on Fridays from 12-1:30pm in the GIDEST Lab at 411, 63 Fifth Avenue. All sessions are devoted to discussion of pre-circulated papers that can be downloaded one week in advance by clicking on the presentation title at

To receive email reminders of GIDEST events, please join our mailing list by writing to

Julie Beth Napolin will address the digital humanities as an emerging discipline as it relates to race, listening, and the modernist novel as form. Professor Napolin is co-editor of “Digital Yoknapatawpha,” an online mapping of the fictional world of William Faulkner. She is also a radio producer and practicing musician, and recently taught a course with Michael Garofalo of StoryCorps, helping Lang students create a radio oral history of The New School and Greenwich Village.