Department of Music Colloquium
“Noisy Feminists, Neoliberal Sophrosyne, & Lemonade's Demonic Calculus”
Anne Carson's "The Gender of Sound" studies the women of classical Greek literature. They are presented as "a species given to disorderly and uncontrolled outflow of sound." Emphasizing the relationship the Greeks drew between sonic harmony and social harmony, Carson's analysis of gendered sounds hinges on the concept of sophrosyne, i.e., "the masculine ideal of self-control," of which "verbal continence is an essential feature." Updating the concept of harmony upon which sophrosyne is based to reflect 21st century acoustics rather than Pythagorean geometry, I argue that neoliberal post-feminism uses sophrosyne to police the behavior of women. White post-feminist noise maintains a harmonious society, one tuned to synthesize the range and variability of noisy interactions from which white supremacist patriarchy will reliably and variability of noisy interactions from which white supremacist patriarchy will reliably emerge as signal. Conversely, those who call out systemic sexism and racism are accused of the same flaws attributed to overcompressed music: invariant loudness. I conclude by contrasting sophrosyne with Katherine McKittrick's concept of demonic calculus. Unlike sophrosyne, which is an organizing principle designed to foresee the future, the demonic is an organizing principle that abandons the relations of subordination that make statistical forecasting and homo economicus's predictability rational in the first place. I will show several ways the music in Beyonce's Lemonade uses demonic calculus to craft an alternative, asophrosyne femininity.
Robin James is Associate Professor of Philosophy at UNC Charlotte. She is author of two books: Resilience & Melancholy: pop music, feminism, neoliberalism (Zer0, 2015), and The Conjectural Body: gender, race, and the philosophy of music (Lexington Books, 2010). Her current book, The Sonic Episteme: acoustic resonance and post-identity biopolitics, is under contract with Duke University Press. Her work on feminism, race, contemporary continental philosophy, pop music, and sound studies has appeared in The New Inquiry, Noisey, SoundingOut!, Hypatia, differences, Contemporary Aesthetics, and the Journal of Popular Music Studies. She is also a digital sound artist and musician. She blogs at its-her-factory.com.