My interdisciplinary research draws on music history to help excavate sonorities of the literary past, and on posthumanism to critically assess the resounding history of contemporary productions of repertory opera. Rather than advocating for a postmodern break with historical repertory, this work proposes technological and interpretative trajectories from early-modernity to the present. My intermedial posthumanism swivels on the hinges of the voice and its material sonority.
My book manuscript, Soundscapes of the Literary Voice, asks a seemingly inexhaustible question: what can literature learn from music? In historical scope and technological means, the book ranges from eighteenth-century poetry to twenty-first-century audiobooks. It stems from my doctoral dissertation, which investigates the rhetorical function of the singer’s figure in literary history and twentieth-century film and opera. The book opens with the literary representation of Ossian’s sonorous voice. Ossian’s adaptation in nineteenth-century opera leads to a discussion of how verisimilitude and realism problematize the representation of the sonorous literary voice. The second chapter examines modernist literary experiments with music and sound and compares them with their adaptation in radio plays. The third chapter moves on to a material definition of intermediality. It focuses on remediation and discusses how the technological manipulation of voices has created distance between their bodily origin and their media representation. Such a development, however, also allows for an erasure of vocal difference: the last chapter interrogates the conflation of author, narrator, and voice in contemporary audiobooks, and compares them to the figure of the composer/conductor recording his own music. Research toward this book was supported by fellowships from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and from the Richard J. Schmeelk Foundation.
The arc of Soundscapes of the Literary Voice performs the book’s central argument: in a post-hermeneutical world, narratives have given way to materials; hence vocality is of increasing relevance in literary studies. The book’s central contribution is to provide a literary theory of voice that bridges the gap between symbolic art forms of the past and the materiality of literature in the current media landscape. Work on the manuscript is underway, and I will be submitting book proposals this year. The book builds on my published work on sonorous voices. My article on voice and theories of immersion in new media was published in the International Journal of Performance Art and Digital Media (2012). An article on Xavier Dolan’s film Mommy appeared in the film journal Synoptique (2016, in French) and in the European Journal of American Studies (2017). It examines how the protagonist interacts with the pervasiveness of mediated sound. An article on The Poems of Ossian and their musical adaptation in Massenet’s opera, Werther, was published in the Journal of Musicological Research (2017). Following its publication, I was invited to give a lecture in Comparative Literature and Musicology at Cornell University.
I have started work on a second research project titled Opera and Posthumanism. While this project continues to draw on my work in voice studies, it also analyzes visual representations of animals in opera, literature, and film. For post-anthropocentrism, the voice is the marker that draws the line excluding and invalidating non-linguistic forms of animal communication and consciousness (Wolfe). But posthumanism is also indebted to remediation and its distancing of the voice from language: voices now are digitally rendered and are no longer the expression of a ‘natural’ human body. Here too, an intermedial approach offers interesting insights: evolutionary musicology understands the emergence of musicking and language acquisition as parallel yet separate technics, thereby deconstructing, within the very origin of the human, the musical voice as a fall from linguistic meaning (Tomlinson). This interdisciplinary research interrogates the tension vocality opens within posthumanism—between the animal and the technological—in order to address its broad implications for the inclusion of the human into a larger community of being. This work was also funded by SSHRC.
Publication of this research is underway. The Journal of Aesthetics and Culture published a comparative essay on technology, mimesis and embodiment (2015). A book chapter titled “Posthumanist Voices in Literature and Opera” in the Oxford Handbook of Sound and Imagination is in press (2019). As co-guest editor, I recently submitted a special issue on vocal remediation and embodiment in opera (2019), which includes my article on opera, vocal remediation, and animality. I am currently preparing a book chapter for an anthology on voice and new materialisms (2021). It examines the representation of animals in recent productions of eighteenth-century opera. At the American Comparative Literature Association’s annual congress, I have convened panels on “Posthumanist Vocality” (2016), on “Vocal Remediation and Embodiment” (2017), and on “Musical Affect and Posthumanist Literatures” (2019)