From the first time Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D.—better known as “Dr. Phil”—appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show in 1998, dropping lines like, “My dad used to say, boy, don’t let yer alligator mouth overload yer hummin’ bird ass,” I was hooked. That accent! That no-nonsense, Southern sauce! From what fount of otherworldly knowledge did Phil drink? An insecure teen, gnawing and thrashing my way through high school’s convoluted social milieu (not to mention the murky waters of multiraciality), Dr. Phil’s frank, accented approach to life’s difficulties appeared as a god-send. It didn’t matter much what Dr. Phil was actually saying or whether his words when strung together formed logical thoughts, it was more the way he said things that affected me so. His deep, sing-songy lilt—preachy and avuncular—brought to mind a grandpappy smoking a pipe, whose wisdom was drawn from a hard day’s farmin’, not a god-forsaken textbook.
With Oprah’s endorsement, the Cult of Phil grew fast and strong. Dr. Phil became a national figure–the corporate media’s version of a public intellectual and my own personal hero. His daytime talk show provided him with a regular platform from which to dispense more of that golden, “Texan-dipped” advice, as The New York Times put it. Selling over 2 million copies, his 2003 classic Self Matters began the onslaught of McGraw-family oeuvre, including several by his wife, Robin, and son, Jay–the face of Phil’s teen self-help brand. Not just a sage, Dr. Phil’s commitment to the McGraw family brand let us know he walked the walk. As evidenced by Dr. Phil’s opening credits, which feature behind-the-scenes glimpses of Mr. and Mrs. McGraw canoodling and his smiley next of kin, this family was for real. They loved and laughed together while cross-promoting each other’s book projects. Teenage Me wondered, did white people get better than this?
Today, Dr. Phil’s star, and my admiration for him, have faded significantly, but one thing remains the same. Ever since I can remember, my older sister and I have communicated almost exclusively via over-the-top, celebrity impersonations and Dr. Phil became a particular mainstay; even now, we religiously observe the maintenance of the Phil “voice.” Pre-Phil, I can recall my sister addressing me in a raspy, befuddled tone startlingly akin to the Keanu Reeves of yesteryear. Not soon after Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure became a permanent piece of our home VHS library, Reeves’ trademark method of delivering lines amidst staggered, nonsensical pauses became an obsessive, sisterly tick. “Dude, shut the door when you pee” she might say, staring blankly at me and cocking her head abruptly to the side.
The use of certain impersonations shifted with the ebb and flow of popular culture’s somewhat predictable tide, depending on whose video was “TRL’s” most requested or whose face most frequently graced the cover of TV Guide. I rehearsed George Herbert Walker Bush’s famous “thousand points of light” campaign ad in front of the stained glass mirror adjacent to the family room television; after that, it was all about Phil Hartman’s witty and endearing impersonation of Bill Clinton.
It went on that way until Dr. Phil’s shit blew up, and everything became solidified–as if, finally, my sister and I had found our one true voice. With age, I came to understand that Phil wasn’t the prophetic genius I’d hoped he was and that our compulsive Phil-talk was an oddity, to say the least. I began to wonder why, even as adults, we continued to embarrass ourselves in public and take such pains to text each other in mock-“Texan” (thank goodness for smart phones’ “add word” function).
It’s actually quite common for people to adopt alternate voices or speech patterns. Take, for example, child-directed speech (“babytalk”) or pet-directed speech. Both are customized forms of vocal communication or “prosodic modification,” which, while differing dramatically from normative adult speech in their intonation and grammatical structure, are considered customary forms of address. In fact, cross-linguistic studies show that babytalk and pet-directed speech are common across other European languages, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. As such, parents and pet owners can rest well knowing that prosodic modification of the child and dog varieties are nearly universal human ticks. Unfortunately, research into child- and pet-directed speech didn’t provide much insight into the unique phenomenon of “Phil-talk.” I had hoped to find other accounts in the literature, a history of similar episodes that might lift the shroud of tomfoolery, explain it away as all too common or evidence of psychological disorder x, y or z, something treatable with an esoteric name.
While at this point in my life Phil-talk is more or less an asinine charade, it continues to function as a key component of our familiar vernacular. Interestingly, when re-visiting the many impersonations that have come to define our adolescent years (the Keanu years, the Bush Sr. years, the Phil years), one thing becomes clear: all the voices we’ve adopted have been those of white, male, cultural standard-bearers (Ironically, Keanu Reeves also happens to be Hapa, though I never knew as much. His breakout role as “Ted” helped to popularize the “California dude” archetype). Additionally, I should note, that at no time did any female impersonations enter my repertoire. If you’re going to gain a voice, better make it a male one, no? The racial and gender dissonance that Phil-talk begets drives the urge to perform it.
From an early age, my mother would tell me tales of her sacrifice—how hard she worked when she came to this country and how difficult life could be in 1960s post-war South Korea—all in a voice with barely a shred of mispronunciation or foreign intonation. My father, a second-generation Swiss-Italian American, scrupulously corrected her syntactical missteps and any other vocal nuances that sounded un-American. It was important to my mother to succeed as an American, and most importantly, that her children succeed too. The pressure I felt to make her content was borderline unbearable. When I started doing the voices, it made my mother happy. She sometimes tried joining in, attempting to mimic key Phil phrases like, “You have gawt to get reee-al,” but to no avail. “You do it better than me,” she’d say, “…my accent.”
When I was young, people looked at me and asked, “what are you?” OR “where are you from?” “America,” I would say. “I’m an American.” These questions were provoked by the racial ambiguity of my mixed-race heritage–the hint of Asianness that marked me as something else. I could not change the shape of my eyes, the contour of my cheeks or the fact that my mother was Korean. But, I could try my hardest to act and sound like an American. Phil-talk became a way to obscure the Asianness, to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did, in fact, belong.
Rather than being merely a childhood performance of celebrity impersonations, I have come to think these various chapters were actually an attempt to perform sonic whiteness. Whether it was Keanu’s California dude cadence, George Bush Senior’s waspy nasality, or Phil’s prolonged Texan twang, I tried to perform in what Aja Martinez defines as “white voice” in her article “‘The American Way': Resisting the Empire of Force and Color-Blind Racism” (593). She talks about Latino/a students using a “white voice” at school because they equate it with the voice of higher education, but I am really using it here as an explicit racial performance. As a a half Korean, half Euro-American teen girl (now woman) who decides to very literally adopt the voice of a White, 50-something, Texan, TV psychologist, “white voice” was the name of the game, and people loved it–especially my Korean immigrant mother.
For Asian Americans in particular, a people whose national belonging has been culturally questioned and legally denied, accents substantiate and make audible what the eye sees as un-American. In Shilpa Dave’s recently published Indian Accents: Brown Voice and Racial Performance in American Television and Film, she explores accents as they relate to cultural citizenship, national belonging and “the allocation of power.” Someone with an accent is “designated as an outsider to the dominant culture,” writes Dave. In contradistinction to “foreign” sounding accents, Southern accents are a classic symbol of American cultural belonging, like apple pie for the ears.
Would Phil’s wisdom sound as powerful or palatable without the accent? His appeal stems not only from his sometimes entertaining “Phil-isms” (e.g. “You can’t hide the sunrise from a rooster”), but from all that he and his voice signify. A white, male doctor giving advice on TV is hardly noteworthy, but Phil’s recognizably Southern accent separates him from the pack and softens the blow of his often severe advice.Phil’s accent (and his ringing endorsement from Oprah, long a trendsetter for the white middle class) have a way of diminishing racial and class barriers and cleverly marketing his advice as “good ol’ common sense” that everyone can get behind. Though Southern African American vernacular is often represented, negatively, as “improper” or evidence of inferior educational attainment, a White doctor using many of the same linguistic nuances is considered “charming” and “folksy.” One of the reasons people listen(ed) to Phil is because he’s a good, moustachioed Southern doctor that’s gunna tell it to ya straight, ya’ll. This kind of cultural capital is hard to manufacture. This, I figured wrongly, was what I stood to gain, not considering for a moment all that might be lost.
Constantly searching for ways to be seen, heard, and accepted within an American system of racial binarism that privileges whiteness, denigrates blackness, and locates yellowness somewhere in a No Man’s Land of racial categorization, sound’s flexibility has always seemed to me like a means to belonging. Furthermore, as a multiracial, Korean/White woman, even no man’s land can seem out of reach. As Michael Omi notes in the Introduction to The Sum of Our Parts: Mixed-Heritage Asian Americans, within the historical and political context of the United States, (the “one-drop rule,” eugenic fears of racial intermixing, anti-miscegenation laws, etc.) multiracial identities have consistently been “contained, disregarded, [and] denied.” Multiraciality disorients and confuses insofar as it can discredit entrenched signifiers which make race perceptible to the eye and ear.
Previously on Sounding Out!, I discussed my identification with Nas and the rap world as both a move towards color and the formation of an authentic, multiracial self. A move in the opposite direction, experimenting with “white voice,” functions as another attempt to navigate America’s system of racial identification, albeit in a much more problematic vein. After years of Phil-talk and vocal impersonations of the white male variety, I am finally putting a stop to the charade. However earnest (or subconscious) an attempt to belong, the loss of time spent mimicking Phil represents an era of racial silencing that is somewhat difficult to stomach. Despite the amusement it has brought to friends and family, I am putting the voice to rest in service of getting real.
Featured image: “Dr. Phil” by Flickr user House Committee on Education and the Workforce Democrats, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
Christie Zwahlen is the Assistant Director at Binghamton University’s Center for Civic Engagement, where she has worked for four years to develop, expand and promote community engagement opportunities for students, faculty and staff. Previously, Christie worked for two years as an AmeriCorps VISTA, designing Service-Learning courses in conjunction with faculty at Thiel College and as the Coordinator of the Bridging the Digital Divide Program at Binghamton University. Christie earned her Master’s Degree in English and a Graduate Certificate in Asian & Asian American Studies from Binghamton University in 2009. She is currently enrolled in the English PhD program at Binghamton University.
SO! Amplifies. . .a highly-curated, rolling mini-post series by which we editors hip you to cultural makers and organizations doing work we really really dig. You’re welcome!
Shizu Saldamando’s solo multimedia exhibition OUROBOROS explores the social dynamics and physical codes integrated within contemporary group dancing and civic participation. OUROBOROS represents the ancient symbol of revolutionary cycles, rebirth, and circle dancing. The show, opening at South of Sunset–an exhibition and performance space in Echo Park, Los Angeles, run by Elizabeth DiGiovanni and Megan Dudley–will include a selection of large-scale, photorealistic works on paper documenting the intimate social interactions observed within LA’s dance club scene, as well as recent video work. South of Sunset is pleased to premiere her most recent video, a juxtaposition of footage of traditional Japanese dancers at an Obon festival and punk rockers in a mosh-pit at a show in East LA.
Even as her recent interview with NPR Latino amplifies the “quiet radical politics” of her work, the sonics of Shizu’s work are loudly resonant. Her pencil and ink drawings, glittery gilt paintings, and video pieces reverberate with the sights and sounds of the two California cities she has called home–San Francisco and Los Angeles–the three cultures that have profoundly shaped her–Mexican, Japanese, and American–and the myriad voices, favorite bands, and energy of the friends she photographs out at dance clubs and concerts while “documenting the vibe” of LA music subcultures.
The exhibit runs from November 12th to December 3rd 2014; the gallery is open on Sundays 1 – 4 pm through November 23 (and by appointment).
Featured image: Ozzie and Grace, 2014, Shizu Saldamando, colored pencil and spray paint on paper, 25 x 32 inches.
Shizu Saldamando (b. 1978, San Francisco) is a multidisciplinary artist based in Los Angeles. A graduate of UCLA (BA, 2000) and CalArts (MFA, 2005), she has been the subject of recent solo exhibitions at the Vincent Price Art Museum (Los Angeles, 2013), Moore College of Art and Design (Philadelphia, 2012), and Steve Turner Contemporary Art (Los Angeles, 2010). Saldamando’s work has also been included in influential group exhibitions including Portraits of the Encounter at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (Washington DC, 2011), Audience as Subject at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (San Francisco, 2010), and Phantom Sightings: Art After the Chicano Movement at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Los Angeles, 2008).
Lastly, Jennifer, regular contributor Osvaldo Oyola, and I will be presenting at this year’s MLA. Jennifer is participating in a roundtable Saturday at 3:30; look out for session #588, “Race and Poetics: On Aesthetic Practice in Ethnic Studies,” which considers cultural difference as seen in different genres and media. Osvaldo is presenting on Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao in session #97, “American Linguistic Plurality.” I will be presenting at a non-sound-studies panel on Friday at noon titled “How Did I Get Here? Our ‘Altac’ Jobs” (s#270). My topic will be how I moved from an adjuncting job to an alternative academic position and how this moved changed my ideas of a career in academia.
If you are not present at MLA, please follow along via Twitter! You can check out the #MLA13 hashtag, but if you’re interested in a particular session from the ones below, you can also search on Twitter for the session number during its scheduled time. You can also check out the conference action by following the official Sounding Out! twitter account (commandeered by our Editor-in-Chief) or following my personal account, @literarychica, for our live-tweets from MLA 2013.
Please comment to let us know what you think–both before and after MLA 2012. If I somehow missed you or your panel in this round up, please let me know!: firstname.lastname@example.org
Liana M. Silva is co-founder and Managing Editor of Sounding Out!.
Back to menu
THURSDAY, January 3
Thursday, January 3
.3. Evaluating Digital Work for Tenure and Promotion: A Workshop for Evaluators and Candidates
Republic A, Sheraton
Program arranged by the MLA Office of Programs. Presiding: Alison Byerly, Middlebury Coll.; Kathleen Fitzpatrick, MLA; Katherine A. Rowe, Bryn Mawr Coll.
Facilitated discussion about evaluating work in digital media (e.g., scholarly
editions, databases, digital mapping projects, born- digital creative or scholarly
work). Designed for both creators of digital materials and administrators
or colleagues who evaluate those materials, the workshop will propose
strategies for documenting, presenting, and evaluating such work.
22. Expanding Access: Building Bridges within Digital Humanities
A special session.
Presiding: Trent M. Kays, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities; Lee Skallerup Bessette, Morehead State Univ.
Marc Fortin, Queen’s Univ.
Alexander Gil, Univ. of Virginia
Brian Larson, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities
Sophie Marcotte, Concordia Univ.
Ernesto Priego, London, England
36. Languages of the Occupy Movement
Program arranged by the Division on Language and Society. Presiding: Frank Farmer, Univ. of Kansas
Corinne Seals, Georgetown Univ., “Examining the Linguistic Landscape of Occupy”
Corey J. Frost, New Jersey City Univ., “Occupy and Rhetorics of Amplification”
Keith Spencer, Carnegie Mellon Univ., “Class, Race, and the ‘Common Man’: Interviews with Occupy Pittsburgh”
Respondent: Frank Farmer
40. Hearing and Seeing Anew: Ralph Ellison’s Aural and Visual ;8Registers
Beacon A, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Horace Porter, Univ. of Iowa
Shanna Greene Benjamin, Grinnell Coll. “Listening inside a Glass Box: Mary Rambo’s Lessons for Invisible Man”
Herman Beavers, Univ. of Pennsylvania, “The Noisy Lostness: Oppositionality and Acousmatic Subjectivity in Invisible Man”
Lena Michelle Hill, Univ. of Iowa, “Silent Sights of Fatherhood in Three Days before the Shooting…”
Respondent: Kenneth W. Warren, Univ. of Chicago
94. Modernism and the Senses
Beacon D, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Alex Niven, Univ. of Oxford; Stephen Ross, Univ. of Oxford, Saint John’s Coll.
Jonathan Day, Univ. of Oxford, Saint John’s Coll. “Cognitive Realism and the Problem of Qualia”
Matt Langione, Univ. of California, Berkeley, “Modernizing Modernism: Intentionality, Neuroscience, and the Sense of Modernist Poetry”
97. American Linguistic Plurality
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Literature of the United States in Languages Other Than English. Presiding: Heidi Kathleen Kim,Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
Audrey Wu Clark,United States Naval Acad., “Dialects of Regionalist Modernism in Sui Sin Far’s Mrs. Spring Fragrance”
Benjamin A. Railton, Fitchburg State Univ., “Vocal Color: Recovering an Alternative, Multilingual American Literary Realism”
Osvaldo Oyola, Binghamton Univ., State Univ. of New York, “Traduciendo de el Dork: Cultural and Lingual Syncretism in Junot Díaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao,”
Melissa Dennihy, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York “Hybrid Tongues: Linguistic Innovations and Inventions in Contemporary Multiethnic United States Literature”
102. Digital Diasporas
Public Garden, Sheraton
Program arranged by the Division on Black American Literature and Culture. Presiding: Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Stanford Univ.
Corrie Claiborne, Morehouse Coll., “Living Word”
Adam Banks, Univ. of Kentucky, “Digital Griots”
Marcyliena Morgan, Harvard Univ., “Hip- Hop Archives”
107. The Linguistic Construction of Narrative Space
Program arranged by the Division on Linguistic Approaches to Literature. Presiding: Monika Fludernik, Univ. of Freiburg
Robert Troyer, Western Oregon Univ., “Locating Action in the Postapocalyptic Text World of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road”
Birgitta Svensson, Stockholm Univ., “Acting, Being, Sensing, and Saying: Analyzing Characters with a Functional Language Approach,”
Pauline Bleuse, Grand Valley State Univ., “Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange; or, The Use of an Unfamiliar Language to Relate Controversy”
125. Translating for (and from) the Italian Screen: Dubbing and Subtitles
Program arranged by the American Association for Italian Studies. Presiding: Philip Balma, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs
Anna Belladelli, Univ. of Verona, “Misrepresentations and Re- representations of Otherness in the Italian Dubbing of United States TV Series,”
Giulia Centineo, Univ. of California, Santa Cruz “Dubbing Hollywood and Difference,”
Daniele Fioretti, Miami Univ., Oxford, “Qualunquista Equals Socialist? Political Issues in the Subtitling of Pier Paolo Pasolini’s La ricotta,”
129. Teaching in the Shallows: Reading, Writing, and Teaching in the Digital Age
A special session. Presiding: Robert R. Bleil, Coll. of Coastal Georgia; Jennifer Gray, Coll. of Coastal Georgia.
Speakers: Susan Cook, Southern New Hampshire Univ.; Christopher Dickman, Saint Louis Univ.; T. Geiger, Syracuse Univ.; Jennifer Gray; Matthew Parfitt, Boston Univ.; James Sanchez, Texas Christian Univ.
Respondent: Robert R. Bleil
Nicholas Carr’s 2008 article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” and his 2010 book The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains argue that the paradigms of our digital lives have shifted significantly in two decades of living life online. This roundtable unites teachers of composition and literature to explore cultural, psychological, and developmental changes for students and teachers.
140. Illness and Disability in Asian American Literature
Program arranged by the Division on Asian American Literature. Presiding: Anita Mannur, Miami Univ., Oxford
Cynthia Wu, Univ. at Buffalo, State Univ. of New York, “Daniel K. Inouye’s Journey to Washington: Disability and the Hidden Privileges of Local Japanese Ascendancy in Hawai‘i,”
Ellen Samuels, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, “Multilinguality and ‘Deaf Speech’ in Betty Quan’s Mother Tongue,”
Rick H. Lee, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, “SIN, HIV, SFO: AIDS, the Body, and Justin Chin’s Corpus,”
James Kyung-Jin Lee, Univ. of California, Irvine, “Against Asian American Health: Vibrant Secularities and Medical Narratives of Illness”
142. What’s Place Got to Do with It? Voices and Vision in Midwestern Literature
Beacon G, Sheraton
Program arranged by the Society for the Study of Midwestern Literature. Presiding: Marilyn Judith Atlas, Ohio Univ., Athens
Andy Oler, Indiana Univ., Bloomington, “‘High and Fervently They Were Singing’: Voice, Space, and Midwestern Modernity in Langston Hughes’s 1930 Novel Not without Laughter”
Alexander Engebretson, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York, “The Midwest Seen New Englandly: Regional Tensions in Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead”
James Alfred Lewin, Shepherd Univ., “Sara Paretsky’s ‘Other’ Chicago”
152. Political Trauma and Literary Alchemy: Testimonios and the Regenerative Power of Language
A special session. Presiding: Jennifer Browdy De Hernandez, Bard Coll. at Simon’s Rock
Speakers: Nicole Caso, Bard Coll.; Martha Helena Montoya Velez, Universidad Autónoma de la Ciudad de México; Alicia Partnoy, Loyola Marymount Univ.; Maria del Carmen Sillato, Univ. of Waterloo; Y. L. Mariela Wong, Coll. of Mount Saint Vincent
To mark the fortieth anniversary of the Pinochet coup in Chile and nearly forty years since the military takeover in Argentina, this session features three Southern Cone testimonialists, who will read passages from their works, and three respondents, who will lead a discussion on the power of narrative to resist a legacy of violence and fear. For excerpts from the three testimonials, visit bethechange2012.wordpress.com/mla-2013-testimonios.
155. Movements, Incantations, and Parables of Queer Performance
A special session. Presiding: Ann Pellegrini, New York Univ.
Sean Edgecomb, Univ. of Queensland, “Queer Movement: The Mystique of Alexander Guerra’s Traveling Rabbit”
Eng- Beng Lim, Brown Univ., “Incantatory Pinkness from Singapore to Utah”
Carrie J. Preston, Boston Univ., “Queer Christian Submission in Drag: Benjamin Britten and William Plomer’s Curlew River”
165. Beyond the PDF: Experiments in Open-Access Scholarly Publishing
A special session
Speakers: Douglas M. Armato, Univ. of Minnesota Press; Jamie Skye Bianco, Univ. of Pittsburgh; Matthew K. Gold, New York City Coll. of Tech., City Univ. of New York; Jennifer Laherty, Indiana Univ., Bloomington; Monica McCormick, New York Univ.; Katie Rawson, Emory Univ.
As open- access scholarly publishing matures and movements such as the Elsevier boycott continue to grow, open- access publications have begun to move beyond the simple (but crucial) principle of openness toward an ideal of interactivity. This session will explore innovative examples of open-access scholarly publishing that showcase new types of social, interactive, mixed- media texts.
For abstracts and discussion, visit beyondthepdf.wordpress.com/ after 1 Nov.
167. Digital Humanities and Theory
A special session. Presiding: Stefano Franchi, Texas A&M Univ., College Station
Geoffrey Rockwell, Univ. of Alberta, “Theoretical Things for the Humanities”
Stefano Franchi, “From Artificial Intelligence to Artistic Practices: A New Theoretical Model for the Digital Humanities,”
David Washington, Loyola Univ., New Orleans, “Object- Oriented Ontology: Escaping the Title of the Book”
For abstracts, visit dhcommons.tamu.edu.
177. Hybridity and Multilingualism in Yiddish
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Yiddish Literature. Presiding: Sarah Ponichtera, Columbia Univ.
Ken Frieden, Syracuse Univ., “Mysticism and Its Discontents: Hasidic and Anti- Hasidic Narratives between Hebrew and Yiddish”
Nikki Halpern, Université Paris Diderot 7, “Memory Palace, Yiddish Ghetto (Isaac Bashevis Singer and That Vexatious Yiddish Identity)”
Saul Zaritt, Jewish Theological Seminary, “The Master from Krochmalna Street: Isaac Bashevis Singer and World Literature,”
Friday, January 4
204. Theorizing Indigenous Literatures in Latin America
A special session. Presiding: Kelly S. McDonough, Univ. of Texas, Austin
Ulises Juan Zevallos-Aguilar, Ohio State Univ., Columbus, “Diglossia and Linguistic Registers: Toward a Sociolinguistic Reading of Peruvian Quechua Literature/ Hacia una lectura sociolingüística de la literatura quechua peruana”
Susan Foote, Univ. of Concepción, Chile, “Mapuche Testimony and Poetry in Chile: Poetic and Prose Discourse over Time”
Adam Coon, Univ. of Texas, Austin, “Icnotlahtolli / Migrant Words: Indigenous Theoretical Approaches to Migration in Contemporary Nahua Literature”
Ramsey Tracy, Trinity Coll., CT, “Indigenous Narrative from Oral Performance to Text: Semantic and Structural Aesthetic Concerns as Applied to the Work of Literary Translation”
209. Humanities in the Twenty- First Century: Innovation in Research and Practice
Program arranged by the Division on Teaching as a Profession. Presiding: Christine Henseler, Union Coll., NY
Lynn Pasquerella, Mount Holyoke Coll., “The Promise of Humanities Practice”
David Theo Goldberg, Univ. of California, Irvine, “Making the Humanities ‘Count’”
Jane Aikin, National Endowment for the Humanities, “The National Endowment for the Humanities”
Christine Henseler, “The Humanities in the Digital Age”
220. Image, Voice, Text: Canadian Literature
Beacon D, Sheraton
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Canadian Literature in English. Presiding: Sophie McCall, Simon Fraser Univ., Burnaby
Sunny Chan, Univ. of British Columbia, “AvantGarde.ca: Toward a Canadian Alienethnic Poetics of the Internet”
Hannah McGregor, Univ. of Guelph, “Intermedial Witnessing in Karen Connelly’s Burmese Lessons”
Sarah Henzi, Univ. of Montreal, “Aboriginal New Media: Alternative Forms of Storytelling”
For abstracts, write to email@example.com after 15 Nov.
223. “Spanglish” and Identity within and outside the Classroom
Program arranged by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. Presiding: Domnita Dumitrescu, California State Univ., Los Angeles
Robert Train, Sonoma State Univ., “Becoming Bilingual, Becoming Ourselves: Archival Memories of Spanglish in Early Californian Epistolary Texts”
Jorgelina Fidia Corbatta, Wayne State Univ., “Gloria Anzaldúa’s Discourse as a Mestiza and Queer Writer”
Ana Sánchez-Muñoz, California State Univ., Northridge, “‘Who soy yo?’: The Creative Use of Spanglish to Express a Hybrid Identity in Chicano/a Heritage Language Learners of Spanish”
Regan Postma, Albertson Coll. of Idaho, “‘¿Por qué leemos esto en la clase de español?’: The Politics of Teaching Literature in Spanglish”
236. Representations of Cultural Resistance: Deafness and Power
A special session. Presiding: Rebecca Garden, Upstate Medical Univ., State Univ. of New York
Christopher Becker Krentz, Univ. of Virginia, “Deaf Literature, Medicine, and the Paradoxes of Identity”
Rebecca Garden, “Reproducing Deafness: Visual Culture and Pathology”
Lennard J. Davis, Univ. of Illinois, Chicago, “Cochlear Wars: Deaf Culture against Science?”
237. Access to What? A Roundtable on Public Scholarship, Community Engagement, and Diversity
Fairfax A, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Bruce Burgett, Univ. of Washington, Bothell
Speakers: Jodi Melamed, Marquette Univ.; Ifeoma C. K. Nwankwo, Vanderbilt Univ.; Imani Perry, Princeton Univ.; Chandan Reddy, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; Doris Sommer, Harvard Univ.
Respondent: Gregory S. Jay, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Questions of access in higher education most often focus on who gets in, who is left out, and how the sorting of life chances plays out across the larger institutional landscape. (is roundtable shifts that conversation by linking the question of “Access for whom?” to the equally pressing issue of “Access to what?”
239. Representing Race: Silence in the Digital Humanities
A special session. Presiding: Adeline Koh, Richard Stockton Coll. of New Jersey
Speakers: Moya Bailey, Emory Univ.; Anne Cong-Huyen, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Hussein Keshani, Univ. of British Columbia; Maria Velazquez, Univ. of Maryland, College Park
Respondent: Alondra Nelson, Columbia Univ.
This panel examines the politics of race, ethnicity, and silence in the digital humanities. How has the digital humanities remained silent on issues of race and ethnicity? How does this silence reinforce unspoken assumptions and doxa? What is the function of racialized silences in digital archival projects?
For links and participant biographies, visit www.adelinekoh .org/ blog/2012/04/02/racend/.
270. How Did I Get Here? Our “Altac” Jobs
Back Bay B, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Brenda Bethman, Univ. of Missouri, Kansas City
Speakers: Donna M. Bickford, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Brian Croxall, Emory Univ.; Kathryn Linder, Suffolk Univ.; Liana Silva, Univ. of Kansas; Sarah Werner, Folger Shakespeare Library
Respondent: C. Shaun Longstreet, Marquette Univ.
This roundtable features “alternative academics” who will discuss the paths to their “altac” job, including opportunities and challenges that come with altac positions, strategies universities might employ to maximize and leverage PhD- prepared administrators, preparing graduate students for altac jobs, the role of mentoring, and differences between altac, adjunct, and tenure- track jobs.
For a longer description of the panel and panelists’ bios, see bit.ly/JqjHdj
295. Getting Funded in the Humanities: An NEH Workshop
Program arranged by the Office of the Executive Director. Presiding: Jason+C. Rhody, National Endowment for the Humanities
This workshop will highlight recent awards and outline current funding opportunities. In addition to emphasizing grant programs that support individual and collaborative research and education, the workshop will include information on the NEH’s Office of Digital Humanities. A question-and-answer period will follow.
296. Tuning In to the Phoneme: Phonetic and Phonological Nuances in Second Language Acquisition
A forum arranged by the Linguistic Society of America and the MLA. Presiding: Bryan Kirschen, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
Christine Shea, Univ. of Iowa, “Orthography Modulates Phonological Activation in a Second Language”
Jane Hacking, Univ. of Utah; Rachel Hayes- Harb, Univ. of Utah, “Orthographic and Auditory Contributions to Second- Language Word Learning: Native English Speakers Learning Russian Lexical Stress”
Polina Vasiliev, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, “Native English Speakers’ Perception of Spanish and Portuguese Vowels: The Initial State of L2 Acquisition”
Viola Miglio, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Eva Wheeler, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, “Pronunciation of Basque as L2 by American English Native Speakers: Problems and L1 Interference”
The difficulties L2 learners have in perceiving and producing target- language sounds accurately manifest themselves in the perception and production of vowels, consonants, and suprasegmental features like intonation and stress, as well as in word recognition. Each presentation brings a different perspective on these issues, demonstrating a variety of means and methodologies available in exploring such themes.
For further details, visit www .linguisticsociety .org/meetings-institutes/ annual-meetings/2013.
343. All Ears: Listening as a Way of Understanding Literature
Independence East, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Chiara Alfano, Univ. of Sussex
Speakers: David Ben- Merre, State Univ. of New York, Buffalo State Coll.; Paul Gordon, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder; May Peckham, Washington Univ. in St. Louis; Jessica Teague, Columbia Univ.
This roundtable seeks to start a discussion on the interface between accounts of listening to literature and listening as reading literature. Although the specific focus will be on literature and theory of the twentieth century, the roundtable will resonate with all who are interested in learning to read with their ears.
350. Puerto Rican Print Cultures
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Puerto Rican Literature and Culture. Presiding: Tomás Urayoán Noel, Univ. at Albany, State Univ. of New York
Kahlil Chaar-Pérez, Harvard Univ., “Letters of Bondage: Blackface and the Merengue Craze in El Ponceño, 1852– 54”
Anne Garland Mahler, Emory Univ., “The Linguistic Politics of Piri Thomas: African American Vernacular English and Racial Discourse in Down These Mean Streets”
Juan Rodriguez, Georgia Inst. of Tech., “Poesía, imagen y tecnología en Rizoma de Áurea María Sotomayor”
Respondent: Rubén Ríos Ávila, Univ. of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
353. Avenues of Access: Digital Humanities and the Future of Scholarly Communication
Republic Ballroom, Sheraton
A linked session arranged in conjunction with The Presidential Forum: Avenues of Access (112).
Presiding: Michael Bérubé, Penn State Univ., University Park
Matthew Kirschenbaum, Univ. of Maryland, College Park, “The Mirror and the LAMP”
Cathy N. Davidson, Duke Univ., “Access Demands a Paradigm Shift”
Bethany Nowviskie, Univ. of Virginia, “Resistance in the Materials”
The news that digital humanities are the next big thing must come as a pleasant surprise to people who have been working in the field for decades. Yet only recently has the scholarly community at large realized that developments in new media have implications not only for the form but also for the content of scholarly communication. This session will explore some of those implications—for scholars, for libraries, for journals, and for the idea of intellectual property.
363. African Testimonial Literature
Program arranged by the Division on African Literatures. Presiding: Joya F. Uraizee, Saint Louis Univ.
Kimberly Nance, Illinois State Univ., “‘Use Beginning, Middle, and End’: Testimonial Narrative as Reintegrative Therapy in Delia Jarrett- Macauley’s Moses, Citizen and Me”
Tamara Moellenberg, Univ. of Oxford, Brasenose Coll., “New Lacunae: Silence and the Child Soldier”
James D. B. McCorkle, Hobart and William Smith Colls., “In the Shadow of Rwanda: Boubacar Boris Diop, Tierno Monénembo, and Véronique Tadjo and the Literature of Testimony”
Jessica Roberts, Queen’s Univ., “Contested Testimonials: Child Soldier Memoirs”
399. Term Limits: The Language of the Presidential Campaign
Program arranged by the Division on Language and Society. Presiding: Bruce W. Robbins, Columbia Univ.
Speakers: David Bromwich, Yale Univ.; Donald E. Pease, Dartmouth Coll.; Hortense Jeanette Spillers, Vanderbilt Univ.
Three perspectives by distinguished scholars on the language used by the candidates in the 2012 presidential campaign.
Back to menu
SATURDAY, January 5
SATURDAY, January 5
432. Aural Literature and Close Listening
Beacon H, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Michelle Nancy Levy, Simon Fraser Univ., Burnaby
Matthew Rubery, Univ. of London, Queen Mary Coll. “The Case against Audiobooks”
Cornelius Collins, Fordham Univ., Bronx, “Aural Literacy in a Visual Era: Is Anyone Listening?”
Justin St. Clair, Univ. of South Alabama, “Novel Sound Tracks and the Future of Hybridized Reading”
Lisa A. Hollenbach, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, “Poetry as MP3: PennSound, Poetry Recording, and the New Digital Archive”
For abstracts, write to firstname.lastname@example.org
442. Reading Aloud to Revise: Exploring the Role of Intonation in Silent Written Language
Fairfax B, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Peter Elbow, Univ. of Massachusetts, Amherst
Reading aloud to revise is a celebrated practice, but it is too little taught as a concrete skill and too little analyzed from a linguistic point of view. In this workshop, participants will explore this valuable teaching technique. We will work on sample passages by reading them aloud with attention to rhythm and sound and will analyze the linguistics of intonation to show why the tongue is a reliable guide to strong clear prose.
For two chapters from Elbow’s recent book, write to email@example.com.
12:00 noon–1:15 p.m.
497. Redefining the “Fossilized” Language of the Twenty- First Century
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on General Linguistics. Presiding: Marnie Jo Petray, California Polytechnic State Univ., San Luis Obispo
Bryan Kirschen, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, “Contemporary Linguistic Features of ‘Cervantine’ Judeo- Spanish”
Nassima Neggaz, Georgetown Univ., “Syria’s Arab Spring: Language Enrichment in the Midst of Revolution”
Covadonga Lamar Prieto, Univ. of California, Riverside, “Fossilized Features in 1:45–3:00 p.m.Contemporary California Spanish and Their Relation with Historical California Spanish”
539. Gendered Blues Subjectivities and Racial Politics across Southern History
Beacon F, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Adam Gussow, Univ. of Mississippi
Adam Gussow, “Thee Devil’s Son-in- Law: Blues Masculinity, Interracial Sexuality, and the Infrapolitics of Jim Crow”
Courtney George, Columbus State Univ., “‘What Would the Music Be Like?’: Revolutionary Music in Alice Walker’s Meridian”
Nicholas Gorrell, Univ. of Mississippi, “‘If Your Heart Been Broken, Call on the Handy Man’: Female Sexuality and Revisionist Masculinities in Contemporary Southern Soul-Blues”
Respondent: R. A. Lawson, Dean Coll.
For abstracts, write to firstname.lastname@example.org after 15 Nov.
546. Taste, Touch, Hear: Race, Science, and the Senses in the Nineteenth Century
Beacon A, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Kyla Wazana Tompkins, Pomona Coll.
Uri McMillan, Univ. of California, Los Angeles, “An Echo across Centuries: Joice Heth’s Sonic of Dissent”
Kyla Schuller, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, “Touching Time: Frances E.W. Harper’s Evolutionary Aesthetics”
Kyla Wazana Tompkins, “Lifestyle Eugenics: Joel Chandler Harris and the Birth of Victim Citizenship”
550. The Classroom as Interface
A special session. Presiding: Kathi Inman Berens, Univ. of Southern California
Elizabeth Mathews Losh, Univ. of California, San Diego, “The Campus as Interface: Screening the University”
Jason Farman, Univ. of Maryland, College Park, “Being Distracted in the Digital Age”
Kathi Inman Berens, “Virtual Classroom Software: A Medium-Specific Analysis”
Leeann Hunter, Georgia Inst. of Tech., “The Multisensory Classroom”
566. Wonder and Marvel in Cross- Cultural Encounter
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Romance Literary Relations. Presiding: Lynn Ramey, Vanderbilt Univ.
Paula Park, Univ. of Texas, Austin, “The Utopian Impulse to Archive New Sounds in Alejo Carpentier’s The Lost Steps”
Laure M. Marcellesi, Dartmouth Coll., “Sexual Misunderstandings: First European Encounters with Tahiti”
Danielle Carlotti-Smith, Univ. of Virginia, “Le choc avec le réel: Intertextual Encounters in the French West Indies”
For abstracts, visit my.vanderbilt .edu/lynnramey/mla2013/.
569. One Hundred Years of The Rite of Spring
Program arranged by the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages. Presiding: Rebecca Jane Stanton, Barnard Coll.
Francoise Rosset, Wheaton Coll., MA, “The Rite of Spring: Roerich’s Pagan Past”
Marilyn Sizer, Seattle, WA, “The Rite of Spring: Stravinsky’s Mysterium”
Carol Rowntree Jones, Nottingham, England, “The Rite of Spring: Pina Bausch; Danger; and a Woman, Writing”
Respondent: Harlow L. Robinson, Northeastern Univ.
For abstracts, visit http://mlaslavic2013.blogspot.com/.
577. Science and Technology in Afro-Modern Literature
Beacon D, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Marques Redd, Marquette Univ.
Marques Redd, “The Technology of the Ancient Egyptian Future: The Cosmic Poetry of Sun Ra”
Zakiyyah Jackson, Univ. of Virginia, “The Future Is a Parasite: Octavia Butler and Posthumanism”
Beth M. Coleman, Harvard Univ., “Race as Technology: Ideologies and Literatures of ‘ Post- Race’ Identity”
583. Intellectual and Cognitive Disability Studies
Beacon F, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: John N. Allen, Milwaukee Area Technical Coll.
Sarah Pett, Univ. of York, “‘Aphasia’s Fingerprints’: Language Impairment, Autobiography, and Fiction in Paul West’s The Shadow Factory”
Michelle Jarman, Univ. of Wyoming, “The Savant and the Silent Subject: Challenging the Hierarchy of the Autism Spectrum”
John N. Allen, “The Reception of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and the Discourse of Down Syndrome”
588. Race and Poetics: On Aesthetic Practice in Ethnic Studies
Beacon A, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Nathan Grant, Saint Louis Univ.
Speakers: John Alba Cutler, Northwestern Univ.; Samantha Pinto, Georgetown Univ.; Libbie Ri-in, Georgetown Univ.; Jennifer Stoever- Ackerman, Binghamton Univ., State Univ. of New York
Respondent: Kandice Chuh, Graduate Center, City Univ. of New York
This roundtable will consider cultural forms of difference across a range of genres, including the lyric, collaborative authorship, and radio. We will focus on how aesthetics shifts some of the major tenants of ethnic studies, looking at major as well as neglected authors across African American, Latino/a, Asian American, and anglophone postcolonial studies.
616. Poetic Occupations: From the Great Depression to the “Great Recession”
Independence East, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Sarah Ehlers, Univ. of South Dakota
John Marsh, Penn State Univ., University Park, “Percentile Poetics and Distributive Justice”
Sarah Ehlers, “‘The Left Needs Rhythm’: Poetry Speaks the Depression”
Paula Rabinowitz, Univ. of Minnesota, Twin Cities, “Class Ventriloquism: Women’s Letters, Lectures, Lyrics”
621. Reading, Reading Machines, and Machine Reading
Program arranged by the Discussion Group on Media and Literature. Presiding: Jessica Pressman, American Council of Learned Socs.
Matthew Rubery, Univ. of London, Queen Mary Coll., “Phonographic Reading Machines”
Katherine Wilson, Alelphi Univ., “Mechanical Mediations of Miniature Text: Reading Microform”
Mara Mills, New York Univ., “Between Human and Machine, a Printed Sheet: (e Early History of OCR (Optical Character Recognition)”
631. Literary Theory and American Sign Language Literature
Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Disability Issues in the Profession. Presiding: Jill Marie Bradbury, Gallaudet Univ.
Rebecca Terese Sanchez, Fordham Univ., Bronx, “‘Human Bodies Are Words’: The Poetics of Deaf Voice”
“The Gaze: Film Studies and the Flying Words Project,” Pamela Kincheloe, Rochester Inst. of Tech.
“ASL Protest Poetry and Refashioning the Traditional Oral Epic,” Kristen%C. Harmon, Gallaudet Univ.
639. Two Tools for Student- Generated Digital Projects: WordPress and Omeka in the Classroom
Back Bay B, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Gabrielle Dean, Johns Hopkins Univ., MD
Speakers: Amanda L. French, George Mason Univ.; George Williams, Univ. of South Carolina, Spartanburg
This “master class” will focus on integrating two digital tools into the classroom to facilitate studentgenerated projects: Omeka, for the creation of archives and exhibits, and WordPress, for the creation of blogs and Web sites. We will discuss what kinds of assignments work with each tool, how to get started, and how to evaluate assignments. Bring a laptop (not a tablet) for hands- on work.
Back to menu
SUNDAY, January 6
Sunday, January 6
692. Baroque Forces
Program arranged by the Division on Colonial Latin American Literatures. Presiding: Anna H. More, Univ. of California, Los Angeles
Ivonne del Valle, Univ. of California, Berkeley, “Colonial Baroque: Violence as History”
Lisa Voigt, Ohio State Univ., Columbus, “Festive Forces in Potosí”
José Francisco Robles, El Colegio de México, “Sigüenza y Vico”
Rachel Spaulding, Univ. of New Mexico, Albuquerque, “The Baroque Voice: Syncretic Afro- Catholic Performance and Power in the Visions of Early Modern Brazil’s Rosa Maria Egipçiaca”
693. Theorizing Digital Practice, Practicing Digital Theory
Liberty A, Sheraton
Program arranged by the MLA Committee on Information Technology. Presiding: Victoria E. Szabo, Duke Univ.
Tanya E. Clement, Univ. of Texas, Austin, “What Text Mining and Visualizations Have to Do with Feminist Scholarly Inquiries”
Dana Solomon, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara, “Building the Infrastructural Layer: Reading Data Visualization in the Digital Humanities”
Stephanie Boluk, Vassar Coll., “What Should We Do with Our Games?”
Respondent: Victoria E. Szabo
For abstracts, visit people.duke.edu/~ves4/mla13/.
698. Intonation and Poetic Convention
A special session. Presiding: Natalie E. Gerber, State Univ. of New York, Fredonia; Benjamin Glaser, Skidmore Coll.
Benjamin Glaser, “Libraries of Rhythm”
Thomas Cable, Univ. of Texas, Austin, “When Free Verse Is Not Free Enough”
Steve Willard, Univ. of California, San Diego “Suffused Selves: Intertextual Poetics, Intonation, and Prosody,”
Respondent: Natalie E. Gerber
For abstracts, write to gerber@ fredonia.edu.
700. May 4 Voices: Teaching about the 1970 Kent State Shootings through Oral History and Drama
Back Bay A, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Robert Balla, Univ. of Akron
Speakers: Robert Balla; Kenneth Bindas, Kent State Univ., Kent; Katherine Burke, Theatre of the Oppressed, Inc.; David Hassler, Kent State Univ., Kent
Roundtable discussion of May 4 Voices, an oral history play about the Kent State student shootings of 1970. The session will explore the play’s usefulness in multiple pedagogical settings. Panelists will describe their experiences with May 4 Voices in diverse disciplines and elicit audience responses, along with ideas for incorporating the play into humanities curricula.
701. Trauma, Affect, and Genre in African American Culture
A special session. Presiding: Cherise Smith, Univ. of Texas, Austin
Speakers: Stephanie Batiste, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara; Sonnet Retman, Univ. of Washington, Seattle; Christina Sharpe, Tufts Univ.; Cherise Smith; Lisa Thompson, Univ. of Austin
In this roundtable, we turn to a range of cultural media, from plays and photographs to novels and musicals, to explore the ways that various African American artists historicize and politicize racial trauma through the innovative use of genre and its affective possibilities.
702. South Asian- izing the Digital Humanities
A special session. Presiding: Rahul Gairola, Univ. of Washington, Seattle
Suchismita Banerjee, Univ. of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, “Creating Alternate Voices: Exploring South Asian Cyberfeminism”
Waseem Anwar, Forman Christian Coll., “Digitizing Pakistani Literary Forms; or, E/Merging the Transcultural”
Rashmi Bhatnagar, Univ. of Pittsburgh“Reimagining Aesthetic Education: Digital Humanities in the Global South”
Respondent: Amritjit Singh, Ohio Univ., Athens
For abstracts, write to email@example.com after 1 Dec 2012.
708. Victorian Oral Culture, circa 1861–1901
Public Garden, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Anne Zwierlein, Univ. of Regensburg
John Plunkett, Univ. of Exeter, “Ways with Words: Peepshows, Panoramas, and the Showman- Lecturer”
Janice Schroeder, Carleton Univ., “The Schooled Voice: Sound and Sense in the Reports of the School Inspectorate”
John M. Picker, Massachusetts Inst. of Tech., “Siri Love, circa 1900: Voice Engine Fictions in the Age of Synergy”
For abstracts, visit www.uni-regensburg.de/sprache-literatur-kultur/anglistik/staff/zwierlein/index.html
715. Philip Roth’s Music
Liberty B, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Aimee Lynn Pozorski, Central Connecticut State Univ.
Ira Nadel, Univ. of British Columbia, “Philip Roth and the Music of Seduction”
Aimee Lynn Pozorski, “Nationalism, Lyricism, and Self- Loathing in I Married a Communist and Indignation”
Matthew Shipe, Washington Univ. in St. Louis, “Dream a Little Dream: Music as Counternarrative in Philip Roth’s Late Fiction”
Respondent: B. Jane Statlander- Slote, Miami International Univ. of Art and Design
For abstracts, visit rothsociety.org after 15 Dec.
Program arranged by the Division on Comparative Studies in Romanticism and the Nineteenth Century. Presiding: Sara Guyer, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
Helmut Heinz Müller- Sievers, Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, “Making the Gestell Sing: Romantic Music Theory, Virtuoso Performance, and the Aesthetics of Machines”
Jessica Kuskey, Syracuse Univ., “Industrial Anthropomorphism and the Victorian Factory Question”
Monique Allewaert, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison, “Antimorphism”
795. Literature and Digital Pedagogies
Fairfax A, Sheraton
A special session. Presiding: Anaïs Saint- Jude, Stanford Univ.
“Teaching Modernism Traditionally and Digitally: What We May Learn from New Digital Tutoring Models by Khan Academy and Udacity,” Petra Dierkes- Thrun, Stanford Univ.
“Digital Resources and the Medieval- Literature Classroom,” Robin Wharton, Georgia Inst. of Tech.
“Toward a New Hybrid Pedagogy: Embodiment and Learning in the Classroom 2.0,” Pete Rorabaugh, Georgia State Univ.; Jesse Stommel, Marylhurst Univ.
For abstracts, visit litilluminations.wordpress.com/ after 1 Dec.
The critically acclaimed WNYC program Radiolab found itself embroiled in a controversy for its recent broadcast segment “Yellow Rain.” Released on September 24, 2012 as part of the episode entitled “The Fact of the Matter,” the 20 minute segment “Yellow Rain” recounted the slaughter of hundreds of thousands of the Hmong by the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao after the United States left Vietnam and the subsequent debates surrounding the chemical weapon called “yellow rain. The episode pitted the witnessing of Eng Yang, a survivor and documenter of the genocide—whom producer Pat Walters describes as the “Hmong guy” at one point—and his niece, award-winning writer Kao Kalia Yang—referred to only as “Kalia” by hosts Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad—against the research of university scientists and the relentless questioning of Krulwich.
Following the episode’s broadcast, many listeners and critics argued that Radiolab’s treatment of their the Yangs was Orientalist and unethical. Jea, writing on Radiolab’s “Yellow Rain” comment page suggested “Ms. Yang and her uncle were dismissed and even reduced to pawns in the larger scheme of RadioLab’s agenda.” Others, such as Bob Collins, writing for Minnesota Public Radio worried that “the story appeared […]to invalidate the Hmong loss and suffering in Laos.” Aaron, a commentor on Current Magazine’s coverage of the controversy called Radiolab’s coverage “inexcusable science, nothing close to journalism, and if only ‘a story,’ one that cements erroneous ideas in the minds of its listeners.” Kirti Kamboj, writing for Hyphen, a magazine dedicated to Asian American arts, culture, and politics, described the episode as “heartbreaking,” “utterly infuriating,” and an exemplar of “Orientalist, ethnocentric framing” designed to privilege Western knowledge.
From my perspective as a scholar of rhetoric, communication, and debate, to call Radiolab’s game rigged would be an understatement. The interview was not conducted on an even playing field and it smacks of a white Western privilege that the writers and producers failed to fully acknowledge even in their on-air discussion following the interview. Radiolab determined the questions, edited the exchange, and retained the capacity to both frame and amend the discussion (there is a debate concerning whether or not the Yangs knew the questions prior to the interview—this discussion can be found here, Radiolab’s response here , and answer to Radiolab’s claims here.).
In addition to the whether or not Radiolab misrepresented the Yangs and downplayed the mass murder of the Hmong in their pursuit of “truth,” I find that this episode is important for the insights it contains into argumentative invention, journalism, and new media ethics, all sparked by the grain of Kalia Yang’s voice in response to Krulwich’s questions. I argue that Kalia’s sounded distress functioned as what I call a “sonorous objection,” instigating the critique of Radiolab’s tactics. Borrowing from argumentation theory, an objection describes an argument that draws the context of an argumentative exchange into view. Research on objections has most often examined the use of visual images, such as the controversy sparked by the photographs coming from of Abu Ghraib. In this short piece, I will wed prior research on objections with theories about sound to argue that Kalia used the grain of her voice to call out—and call into question—the opaque assumptions that governed the interview and its reception.
“Yellow Rain” recalls the Hmong genocide following the Vietnam War. The Hmong were recruited by the CIA to help disrupt supply lines to Ho Chi Minh City (or Saigon). After American troops withdrew, the Viet Cong and the Pathet Lao persecuted the Hmong for aiding the US. The communists attacked the Hmong, eradicating villages and blanketing populations with a sticky, yellow substance. Attempting to escape systemic annihilation, the Hmong receded into the jungle, where many still reside today. Some of the Hmong that were able to escape brought with them leaves covered in the yellow stuff, which they gave to local aid workers. These workers then shipped the samples back to the United States where labs diagnosed it as a chemical agent known as “yellow rain.” A concerned Reagan administration reasoned that only the Soviet Union had the technical capacity to produce such a weapon. As a result, Reagan restarted the Unites States’ then-dormant Chemical and Biological Weapons (CBW) program. Radiolab’s hosts, Abumrad and Krulwich take issue with this narrative; troubling the assertion that yellow rain was in fact a chemical weapon and insinuating that Reagan used the Hmong incident as an excuse to start producing CBWs.
“Yellow Rain” progressed like many other segments of Radiolab. Abumrad and Krulwich began by recounting the story of the Hmong from the perspective of retired CIA agent Merle Prebbenow and the Yangs. Next, they interview Harvard professor Matthew Meselson and Cornell professor Thomas Seeley, using their testimony to suggest that “yellow rain” was actually bees releasing their bowels en masse after hibernation. Then Abumrad and Krulwich brought this provocative hypothesis to the Yangs. Here, the show intensifies, the music fades, and Krulwich begins to question the Yangs, “as if he were a cross-examining attorney” according to Bob Collins, blogger for Minnesota Public Radio. As the interview goes on, Krulwich’s tone increasingly stiffens as he repeats a similar line of questioning: “But, as far as I can tell,” Krulwich asserts, “your uncle didn’t see the bee pollen fall, your uncle didn’t see a plane, all of this is hearsay.”
Kalia’s voice beings to fray:
My uncle says for the last twenty years he didn’t know that anyone was interested in the deaths of the Hmong people. He agreed to do this interview because you were interested. What happened to the Hmong happened, and the world has been uninterested for the last twenty years. He agreed because you were interested. That the story would be heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were interested in documenting the deaths that happened. There was so much that was not told. Everybody knows that chemical warfare was being used. How do you create bombs if not with chemicals? We can play the semantics game, we can, but I’m not interested, my uncle is not interested. We have lost too much heart, and too many people in the process. I, I think the interview is done [This is Kalia’s transcription of her statements, from Hyphen].
Kalia reflects on her experience with Radiolab in a post for Hyphen, characterizing the interview as more of an interrogation. I add an additional layer: that of the deliberative exchange. While it is certainly true that there was a great discrepancy between the interlocutors, both parties adduced reasons for their respective positions producing an argumentative encounter that challenged the norms that govern discourse and language.
In the above quotation, Kalia claims that Radiolab ambushed her and their meeting occurred under a pretense of telling the Hmong story. She then rhetorically situates her interlocutor within a broader history of silencing the Hmong. While it may be tempting to look at the Radiolab interview as an isolated event, Kalia’s arguments cast it as another iteration of the Hmong being discounted. We cannot, in other words, cleave “Yellow Rain” from a history of oppression.
Additionally, Kalia chides Radiolab’s concerns, calling them a “semantics game.” Here, both the use of semantics and game is instructive. Semantics speaks to the trivial nature of Krulwich’s questions. His focus on yellow rain and its dubious status as a chemical weapon obfuscates the fact that weapons were used against the Hmong. Or, to reformulate Kalia’s argument, Radiolab is trading purely in language and ignoring the material reality of her people. The invocation of game is also important because it suggests that Krulwich does not understand the historical gravity of his actions. And, perhaps more importantly, that Radiolab is not taking the incident seriously. These arguments coalesce to trouble the assumption that the interview –and the inclusion of the Yang’s voices–was fair, equal, and inclusive. This culminates in Kalia wresting her agency from this context by ending the interview.
However, an exclusive focus on language ignores the intersecting effects of histories–personal, interpersonal and social–sounds, cultures, moods, and affects. Indeed, the grain of Kalia’s voice operates as an affective vector. Teresa Brenna, in The Transmission of Affect, explains, vocal rhythm “is a tool in the expression of agency, just as words are. It can literally convey the tone of an utterance, and in this sense, it does unite word and affect”(70). Different vocal inflictions invoke both biographic and cultural histories, as the body attempts to discern meaning. Political theorist William Connolly, in Neuropolitics, calls this space between sound and meaning the virtual register of memory. Virtual memory describes a background below conscious recollection that discerns sensory data, like sound, and renders it intelligible (24). We often see this register at work when we watch a movie, as different scenes are stored below the level of reflection and are called up to interpret a scene. Virtual memory is recursive, folding in present experiences to help guide future encounters and using previous encounters to make sense of the present. Thus the rhythm of Kalia’s voice guides the entrainment of affect by drawing on listeners’ previous encounters with similar sounds. This process infuses listeners’ perceptions and resulted in what commentators called “painful” and “emotional.”
While Kalia’s words claim Radiolab ambushed her and her uncle, the grain of her voice draws the unequal distribution of power into sharp relief. Her vocal cracks resonated with listeners, imparting an intense, visceral experience and provoking an outcry. One listener, Mathew Salesses sums up the response: “Every time I listen to this, I start to cry. Every time. About ten times now.” It demonstrates that Kalia was through reasoning with Krulwich; his use of Western science to discredit indigenous knowledge made sincere argumentation impossible. Her cry was not only an act of resistance, but also an objection that troubled Radiolab’s claims of journalistic excellence, highlighting vexing issues with editing and story construction.
In argumentation parlance, Kalia’s voice operated as an “objection.” In “Entanglements of Consumption,” argumentation scholars Kathryn M. Olson and G. Thomas Goodnight (1994) explain how an objection functions within an argumentative encounter: “absent a common agreement as to the means of reaching consensus, debate over the ‘truth’ of an asserted claim is set aside, in whole or in part, and challenges are raised as to the acceptability of the communicative context within which the argument is offered as secured”(251). That is, when deliberation occurs within a shared context—agreed upon values, goals, rules, and facts—the argument progresses smoothly. However, when there is a disjunction between interlocutors, such as in “Yellow Rain” where both parties disagree on basic facts, hegemonic beliefs take precedence. Objections function to evidence this differential, making both parties (and often an audience) aware of this gap. As such, objections are not concerned with refuting previous claims—the way that Kalia states neither she nor her uncle are interested in having a semantic debate—but questions the very context—and the conditions–of the debate itself.
Despite Radiolab’s attempts to fetishize her voice to evidence the “fact of the matter” and the “complicated nature of truth,” Kalia’s voice retained her agency. Through the invocation of the sonorous objection, she eluded capture and demonstrated the unequal terrain of the interview. Her pain enveloped the listener, leaving a resonance that Radiolab listener Cecilia Yang called “painful to listen to” in her personal blog. As Olson and Goodnight remind us, objections arise in a repressive context, when people are denied a voice. For Kalia, histories of racism and colonialism infused the argumentative encounter, making it impossible for her to “reason,” a framework she exposes as a stacked game. As such, her sonorous objection functioned to evidence this disparity, while directing the listener’s attention to her cause. Just as the pictures of prisoners coming out of Abu Ghraib incited outrage about U.S. imperialism and violence, Kalia’s sonorous objection provoked a conversation about the Hmong, Radiolab, and the ethics of journalism in the new media age.
Justin Eckstein is a doctoral candidate and former director of debate at the University of Denver. His work explores the intersection of listening, affect, and argumentation. Justin’s writing has appeared in Argumentation & Advocacy,Relevant Rhetoric, and Argumentation in Context. Currently, he is writing his dissertation on the micropolitics of podcasting in the post-deliberative moment.