Shifting Positions: Writing Materialities of Sound

Shifting Positions: Writing Materialities of Sound

ACLA, University of Toronto, April 4-7, 2013

Seminar Convenors: Rachel Beckles Willson (RHUL), Dylan Robinson (RHUL)


Writings on “new materialism” and “non-representational theory” have challenged the ways in which scholars conceptualise subject-object relationships. While these theoretical perspectives have grappled with the materiality of immaterial objects (atmospheres, scents, affects), they have less frequently examined the materiality of sound.

The world-building capacities of language frequently perform the task of conveying the materialities of sound and sonorous experience. What are the interchanges that occur as we formulate sound in language? How does the linguistic process retain or transform material sound-experience, affect, emotion, atmosphere? If we use language that is tactile and haptic, delving in weights and impacts and dealing in the senses, does this displace the original experience and become an overbearing materiality in itself? Or can it leave space for a reader to feel for themselves (or at least imagine and appreciate) the sonorous materialities being addressed? How might language allow material experiences – of sound – to emerge and grow upon a reader?  What methods – what “close materialist readings” – are available to us? How might different languages enable new textual relationships with sound?

Topics of interest may include, but are not limited to:

·       How do we theorize sound’s affective intensities (touch, force, envelopment). How do sound’s haptic qualities discomfort or attract us?

·       How have artists – novelists, poets, filmmakers – approached conveying the materiality of sound through their work?

·       How do we position ourselves textually in relation to sound’s materiality? What creative models of writing (writing as combat, as gift, as event) might engage sound’s materiality upon relational and materialist terms?

·       How do we describe the various material interactions we have with sound as listeners, and players, and as we move with it (and as it moves us) within space – down streets via ipods  and upon dance floors? What is the agency of sound in these relationships?

·       What is the political resonance of sound; how does its materiality take part in ‘sensate democracy’? How does its materiality displace or engender a sense of belonging or alienation?

As part of the American Comparative Literature Association’s upcoming meeting at the University of Toronto (April 4-7, 2013) this seminar invites participants to interrogate how we use language to describe sound’s impacts, force, and tactility. By ‘sound’ we welcome those writing about music across genres, but also sound art, sound and soundscape studies, film music, and materialist descriptions of these within literary genres. We envision this seminar as a space to workshop new methods for analyzing the materiality of sound.


To submit a proposal to participate, please use the online submissions form here:, and select “Shifting Positions: Writing Materialities of Sound” from the drop-down menu by November 1, 2012.

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.