PJAS 11 Autumn-6

Floriana Puglisi
Sounding the Text: Susan Howe and David Grubbs’s Thiefth
Polish Journal for American Studies, vol. 11 (Autumn 2017), pp. 327-343


This essay investigates the musico-poetic collaboration between Susan Howe and David Grubbs. Focusing on Thiefth (2005), the first of a CD series that collects Thorow (1987; 1990) and Melville’s Marginalia (1993), it examines the forms, effects, and implications of the two works’ remediation from printed to sonic product. At stake are notions of textuality and voice, as well as issues of margins and marginalization that Howe starts challenging on page. The shift from the written to the aural dimension does in fact intensify the poems’ antirepresentative and anti-narrative drive, extending Howe’s dismantling of the visual frames. As the poet’s selective, anti-expressivist and anti-performative reading increases her textual scattering and fragmentation, foregrounding the sonic and material aspects of language, so does Grubbs’s experimentation with music, sound, and voice manipulation through the use of audio reproduction technology. If the insertion of pre-recorded ambient sounds generates acoustic effects that match the polyvocality and simultaneity of Howe’s visual poems, music amplifies their inherent dissonance and release from the constraints of signification. This intricate web of sonorities does not only defy the authority, stability, and closure of the written texts. It develops an aesthetics of sound that augments Howe’s graphic experimentation and calls for a listening practice that might draw attention to the margins of history and society.

Keywords: Susan Howe, David Grubbs, Thorow, Melville’s Marginalia, audio textuality, vocal performance of poems, voice, sound, musical adaptation, acoustic technology, sound aesthetics, listening

DOI: 10.7311/PJAS.11/2/2017.06

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