CFP for “The Vibrating World: Soundscapes and Undersongs”


Woodcut, “The Tuning of the World” from Robert Fludd’s Ultriusque Cosmi Historia (1617)

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond—
Invisible, as Music—
But positive, as Sound—
It beckons, and it baffles—
– Emily Dickinson, “This World is not Conclusion”

As a member of the English Student Association (ESA) Conference Committee for 2016-2017, I am very proud to announce our upcoming ESA Conference, “The Vibrating World: Soundscapes and Undersongs,” which will be held at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center in New York City on March 31, 2017. The deadline for abstracts is December 1st.

If we take seriously Jacques Attali’s claim that the world is “not legible, but audible,” that soundscapes portend cultural changes, how do our critical strategies change? What scholarly shifts are possible by turning our focus to acts of listening and representations of sound? Sound has long been represented in literature, philosophy, art, and science, but we are only now encountering a ‘sonic boom’ in critical and theoretical writings on sound in the humanities and social sciences (Sterne). Steve Goodman, for example, proposes we adopt an “ontology of vibrational force” as a way of reorienting ourselves in the world as critics, and Jane Bennett has shown that to attend to the “vibrant” world is to recognize that all matter is dynamic rather than fixed. Taking up Goodman’s premise that “all entities are potential media that can feel or whose vibrations can be felt by other entities,” we invite papers that stretch the definitional boundaries of sound and its representations in our objects of study. How can re-orienting our approaches to vibration, music, sound, noise, silence, and the under-notes alter conceptions of how our scholarship exists in a world whose meaning is not easily conveyed, but rather reverberates beneath the surface?

What undersongs have we not attended to? When we listen for sound, we often focus on the inflections and sounds that are audible and legible to us. Yet, not all music occurs within our registers of hearing: some noises we dismiss rather than finding music in them.  Just as when we read, not all meanings are straight-forward but rather become legible only through subtext and undercurrents. We invite papers that consider the spaces between words, pauses between calls and responses, and the breaths and rests that produce multidimensional rhythms, harmonies, discordances, resolutions, and meanings, the undersong that carries the burden of a song, the chorus, the refrain (Dryden). If we scramble our notions of language, what other sounds, voices, musics, or understandings might become legible or audible to us?

Many doctoral students in English and in other disciplines are doing amazing work to bring out marginalized and silenced voices, or “undersongs,” in literary and sound studies. Professors in all disciplines are doing similar work; for instance, I’ve been following some this year who are teaching English composition syllabi built around Beyonce’s amazing music. We encourage abstracts that relate to the ESA conference theme broadly conceived, and especially encourage first year students in the program to use this conference as practice for the first exam and beyond.

You can view the full CFP and submit your abstract on our conference website:, and email us with questions at: soundconference2017 [at] gmail [dot] com. We look forward to reading your abstracts and seeing you there!

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