This collection of essays is in the fullest sense occasional. Some chapters were originally written as reactions to stages of my career. Thus when I left Cambridge in 1987 I decided to write a tribute to Trinity’s Hare collection of books. On my return in 1989, the Education Reform Act prompted me to deliver an inaugural lecture on academic freedom. Some, such as my essay on Kleist, were stimulated by others’ ideas, in this case Charles Tomlinson’s Clark Lectures on metamorphosis. Another (on the Schillerfeier) was a contribution to a Festschrift; the chapter on Wilhelm Müller grew out of a review article. Yet others were originally given in public lecture series (Landmarks) in Cambridge and still carry something of their oral delivery. Our Cambridge readings of Rilke’s Duino Elegies produced another. One or two, such as the chapters on August Wilhelm Schlegel and on public momuments (‘Under the Horse’s Tail’) were first given as occasional papers and were only later reworked for publication.
In choosing the title ‘From Goethe to Gundolf’ I wish to emphasise the wide chronological scope of the collection, from the mid-eighteenth century to the early twentieth. This period, give or take, has also been the main area of my teaching. The title also expresses my firm conviction, based on the study of texts, that individual figures or works from different periods of German literary history can and indeed should be seen in interrelation to each other. In addition, nearly all of the seemingly disparate literary events or manifestations that form my collection also relate to the two major topics on which I have worked for over 40 years: German Romanticism (my biographies of Ludwig Tieck  and August Wilhelm Schlegel ) and the reception of Shakespeare in Germany (my monograph of 2003). Underlying all of these is however their relation to the history of style, of literary forms, in short, of poetry.
I have always believed that literary studies should be interdisciplinary, in that they reflect the historical, biographical and cultural events of their times. Two examples from the collection may illustrate this: the centenary of Schiller’s birth in 1859 also has political overtones, while the unveiling of a public statue can be an artistic and literary endeavour as well as an act of political will. These sociologial interconnections inform several of the essays. Their chief focus of the volume is however poetry in it fullest sense , poetic language as expressed in the novel, the drama and in lyrical forms. Poetry is subject to renewals as well as innovations, and I trace these in well-known poets: Klopstock’s boldly experimental poem ‘Der Zürchersee’, Goethe’s sensational best-selling novel Die leiden des jungen Werthers, Schiller’s Wallenstein, his crowning achievement as a dramatist, and Rilke’s late Duino Elegies, balanced between despair and hope. I also draw on poets hardly received outside Germany, such as the fine woman poet Annette von Droste-Hülshoff, or Wilhelm Müller, who is otherwise only known as Schubert’s librettist. Hand in hand with literary studies and the love of poetry goes my love of books and their history. They are the foundation on which literary studies are ultimately built. Hence books feature on the cover of my collection and in its final chapter.
From Goethe to Gundolf: Essays on German Literature and Culture by Roger Paulin is now freely available to read and download here.
Our Chairman, William St Clair, died on the evening of 30th June 2021. In this post we share tributes that have been given in his honour, including by family and friends during his memorial at The Athenaeum on 23 July 2021, and by scholars whom he influenced with his pioneering work. Rest in peace William; you will be greatly missed.
A tribute to William St Clair by Professor Anthony Snodgrass
At times, William St Clair seemed to have lived more than one life. Even in our supposedly 'globalised' age, it came as a revelation to many of his fellow campaigners for the reunification of the Parthenon Marbles, to learn that he was also an acclaimed literary and historical authority on the Romantic Era -- to the point where, on the strength of this, he had been elected a Fellow of the British Academy back in 1992. The same may have been partly true in reverse; and to both parties, it was surprising to find that he had served for years as a senior civil servant in the Treasury, whose research was at first a side-line. His later academic appointments are too numerous to list in detail here, but they covered Trinity College, Cambridge, All Souls at Oxford, the School of Advanced Study in London, Harvard and the Huntington Library in California.
With such a record, William must have seemed a 'safe' figure to the less progressive wing of the British Establishment (from which the Trustees of the British Museum were then often drawn): a scholarly, objective authority who could be relied on not to upset apple-carts. It must have come as a nasty shock to them when in 1998, to the third edition of his now thirty-year-old bookLord Elgin and the Marbles, he now added the explosive Chapter 24, entitled 'The Damage is Obvious and Cannot be Exaggerated' -- a quotation from the secret internal Board of Enquiry, set up by the Trustees in 1938 to investigate reports that over-zealous cleaning of the Marbles had seriously damaged them. What William had uncovered (but only after repeated requests under the Thirty Year Rule of the Public Record Act) was the full record of that near-forgotten scandal. He ended his chapter with an appeal for an honest, international inquiry into the events of 1938-39.
It is a reflection of his standing and influence that a version of such an inquiry was indeed set up within a year or so, but by the Museum itself, at the (creditable) instigation of its then Director, Robert Anderson. Attending this violently controversial event myself, I could hardly believe my ears when we heard one of the Museum's own Deputy Keepers, the late Ian Jenkins, say that 'the cleaning [of 1938] was a scandal, and its cover-up was another scandal'. It was William's victory that such words could now be openly uttered.
There are collections of plaster casts of the Parthenon Marbles all over Britain, and a few of them contain casts originally commissioned by Elgin himself, before any further effects of deterioration or damage could occur. One small such set was held by the University of Edinburgh, where I was then a Lecturer, and in the early 1960s I showed these to William. It was absolutely characteristic of his generosity and long memory that, when he published his third edition in 1998, he sent me -- otherwise still a stranger -- a signed copy in gratitude. After that, we quickly became friends; when I invited him to talk in Cambridge, it was a tribute of a different kind that the then Keeper of Greek and Roman, Dyfri Williams, travelled up from London especially to challenge him.
Eulogy of William St Clair by his brother David St Clair at The Athenaeum, 23rd July 2021
So good afternoon and thanks very much for coming. I’m going to say a few words about William. I don’t think he would have wanted just some hagiography or some recitation of his CV, which you can get on Wikipedia. So I thought I might try and suggest that there was quite a lot about William’s character and biography that resonated with the people whose biography he either wrote about or tried to.
Lord Byron; romanticist, rebel, immensely witty, but touched with melancholy. Shelley; revolutionary, atheist, unacknowledged legislator of the universe. Godwin; massive intellect, whose life rose and then fell, and then rose again. And then his good friend Arthur Miller, who was not only a very influential person in the twentieth century, but who was tinged with guilt, Jewish guilt, which is quite similar to Scottish Presbyterian guilt, having left his wife and two children for the glamour of Marilyn Monroe. But I am aware there is quite a lot of biographical expertise and creative writing expertise in the audience. One of William’s favourite quotes however was ‘if a job’s worth doing it’s worth doing badly’.
So William was born on the 7th of December 1937, a date that was very easy to remember because four years later the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and brought the United States into World War Two. He was born in London. His mother was an English teacher who had to give up work when she got married which is what you had to do in those days. She was a graduate of the University of Glasgow, avid reader, played the piano, sang contralto in choir. And our father who came from five brothers was, at the time, London representative of a group of Scottish foundries.
So he was one of five brothers (the one on the left was him). Trained as a draughtsman and very interested in pictures. And this one, anyone that’s been into William’s bedroom will have seen this one by Harlamoff. So it wasn’t just the usual Scottish dead pheasants, and highland cattle. And he was also very keen on the ballet. The Ballets Russes was in London at the time that they lived there. He went almost every night to watch the great and the good perform. But his biggest interest was mountaineering. Long before William was born he was keen on Lord Byron. “And ye mountains, why are you beautiful?” And this picture of Lord Byron was our father’s picture, not one that William bought. Again it was hung in William’s bedroom.They, both William and his father, were keen on mountains and hills. They weren’t so keen on the rustic, English countryside, which William used to say was so boring; cold houses, spiders in the bath.
William spent the first two years in London and then was evacuated back to Scotland. He nearly went to America with my mother, and it was all lined up, but they had cold feet and decided to stick it out. Happy childhood. He was very interested in magic. And this was part of his character; he loved mystery, suspense, trickery, bluff and counter-bluff and with his horn-rimmed round spectacles, you might even have thought he was Harry Potter.
And then when he was ten and a half his life was interrupted by John and myself arriving on the scene, which you can see from the pictures, changed his life. And it was a happy family, until our father died, when we were about five, from cancer. This I think had a profound effect on William’s life, because he was asked, along with my mother, to keep the diagnosis concealed from our father. And that bond between him and his mother, I think was too intense at that time. And I don’t think he wanted that degree of closeness to happen again.
So he went to Edinburgh Academy, a school that was actually set up during the Greek War of Independence to teach Greek, because you couldn’t get on in those days unless you knew Greek as well as Latin. And he was dux of the school, that’s academically top. And went to Oxford, St John’s, I think there are several St John’s people in the audience; well-known Oxford college. And he rowed in the first VIII and he was very proud of the fact that four years in a row they got four bumps, which meant you got an oar. And, yes, this is just him larking around. These oars, again, were in his bedroom; I’m assuming that not many people did go into his bedroom.
The other thing he did during his time at Oxford was go, with the help of a little local Scottish charity, on his first journey to Greece, where he went round all the famous classical sites and then actually went to Crete and saw the Mycenaean and Minoan remains.
And then when he graduated he joined the Admiralty. At that time when he was a civil servant, we had still a huge navy. And he got on well with the officers in Portsmouth, and they, as a prank, and I haven’t got the picture of William, allowed him to go on a breeches buoy between two destroyers, dressed in a bowler hat and umbrella.
When he was there he answered an advert in the Times, from a Mrs Longland in Abingdon, saying that I’ve got a lot of papers from my great grand uncle, Dr Hunt, who was on Lord Elgin’s first expedition to Greece, anyone interested and he answered it and said, yeah I’m very interested. And before we knew it he was married and he had produced this book, Lord Elgin and the Marbles, remarkably fast. And it happened to be just at the time that I was dux of Edinburgh Academy myself, and I got it as a prize. You can imagine from the picture on the left-hand side, which is rather contrived, John made to admire my medal, and he’s got a couple of books, whereas I’ve got a stack of books.
And then he went on to have a nice happy family. Anna came along, and then Elizabeth. And then with a great deal of help from Heidi, who did all the translation from German, he produced this groundbreaking book called That Greece Might Still Be Free, which I should think many people in this room may have read.
And then the marriage broke up, and it’s not clear why the marriage broke up. Heidi said William found her boring, and my mother was more direct and said that literary fame had gone to his head, and he had been tempted to stray. Anyway he left Heidi but still had a long and wonderful relationship with the two children. He saw them every weekend and loved to go to their concerts where Anna played the violin, and Elizabeth the cello. And he was so proud when they both got into the University of Oxford and then this lovely picture of Anna in 1989 graduating.
His time at the Treasury was not as great as you might think. His career was stymied, and one of the reasons was that, like Sir Humphrey, he was looked upon when Margaret Thatcher came along as an amateur. Sir Humphrey had a degree from, Drummond is it…Balliol College Oxford?, with a first in Classics [Drummond Bone responds, ‘The tie makes it clear unfortunately yes’]. And it wasn’t just that William had a degree in Classics that defined him as an amateur, but a worse crime was that he wrote books, and he wrote for the Financial Times, so was a dilettante, as well as an amateur, and these sorts of types the Thatcher regime didn’t want.
He did make good friends with Douglas Hurd, Foreign Secretary, and they used to swap stories because he wrote about Lord Elgin’s son and about how he had sacked the Old Summer Palace in Beijing. And William and I actually visited the Old Summer Palace about fifteen years ago. We both happened to be in Beijing at the time, as these things happen. And we reckoned he’d done a really good job, it’s been a ruin and it’s part of the century of humiliation that the Chinese have held against the West.
While he was at the Treasury, he did produce this little book called Policy Evaluation, a critical look at the objectives and how they are being met. And it has these little bits of humour; Napoleon checking his objectives; Moscow, Trafalgar, Waterloo. And inside, assumptions, you can’t make an assumption if you’ve got a donkey being pushed from the back side and the front side, and carrots. And this book was translated into French, Turkish and Arabic. It did actually make an impact on civil servants across a large part of the world, and he was immensely proud of it.
This is just a letter from Amartya Sen to him whilst at the treasury, which if Dominic Cummings had met him the time, it would confirm that he needed to be sacked, because he mentions the Financial Times, reviewing his book, looking forward to reading his new book etc.
And his next book was The Godwins and the Shelleys and it was a massive book about one of the most remarkable families in the history of ideas. It reinforced a lot of people’s view that it was a remarkable family. It reinforced in my mother’s mind that the Bloomsbury set were over-rated lightweights. This picture of Mary Wollstonecraft used to be on William’s mantlepiece.
And then when he was in his early fifties, he developed severe coronary angina. He was just about to go to Turkey and I said don’t go to Turkey, see a doctor; he hated seeing doctors. And in fact he required quadruple coronary bypass surgery: the prognosis of someone at that time getting that, I think was about ten years and I think that’s what made him want to get on ever more with life and shortly after that he retired from the Treasury on a pension that most of us would like to have as a salary.
He went to All Souls College in Oxford, and became very, very involved politically. He became involved in PEN; I think he may have even been the president of PEN in Britain. Got to know lots of other PEN writers including Harold Pinter and Arthur Miller; who he wrote to shortly after the Godwin and Shelleys book and wrote saying ‘I’d like to write your biography, how’s about it?’, and Arthur said ‘Well I’m not going to say yes until I get to know you a bit better’. And they became very good friends, and met up with one another multiple times on both sides of the Atlantic. And he was at the filming of The Crucible when Arthur was by then quite an old man, eighty. That’s Daniel Day Lewis who played John Proctor, his [Miller's] son-in-law.
Around the same time, 1992, Elisabeth got married, and after that he jumped ship from Oxford to Cambridge, Trinity College. And then not long after that he produced the third edition of Lord Elgin and the Marbles, and this included the explosive chapter 24 where he revealed, after sixty years of secrecy, that Lord Duveen had brought his labourers in to give the Marbles a good scrubbing to make them nice and white before they went into his new gallery.
And at the time the minutes of the Trustees said ‘The damage is obvious and cannot be exaggerated’ - but the message to the public was that there had been some minor innovations about how they were cleaned but no-one, apart from experts, would notice the difference. And then, I think this is one of William’s biggest best put-downs.
‘Far from admitting that anything had gone badly wrong, the Trustees now tried to take credit for the firmness and speed of their response. By describing as ‘innovations’, methods of cleaning marble which would have disgraced a municipal cemetery, they gave the impression that they were solid, reliable, old-fashioned, conservatives who could be safely trusted not to be seduced from their duty by the wizardry of modern science’.
You can understand why he wasn’t liked. Around that time Mary Beard said ‘I’ve been asked to edit a series of books on the Wonders of the World, buildings and monuments and I’d like William for you to write a book. Not about the Parthenon, because I’m doing that, not about the Colosseum, because I’m doing that’. But Frances, who is in this room, can comment on how, eventually, he arrived at doing a book about Cape Coast Castle.
These are pictures showing how the family was growing up; and now he had four delightful grandchildren, all of which are here? No.
Then he produced this other massive book (The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period), and academics wrote to him saying ‘you know it’s not fair of you to write these big books, us professional academics can’t churn out big books like that’.
And around the same period Arthur Miller died. Inge his wife had actually predeceased him. All his diaries William had access to and were promised to him, and he was expecting to use them as the basis of a very innovative biography. But Andrew ‘the Jackal’ Wylie, who is a notorious literary executor, moved into the family and said don’t let William get near this stuff. And he turned Rebecca and Daniel Day Lewis against William. And that whole opportunity that I’m sure William would have done a fantastic job of, was cawed from his feet by the Jackal.
But he went on to do again a very innovative book about Cape Coast Castle, the home for one hundred and fifty years of the headquarters of the British slave trade in west Africa. That’s not William in the picture, that’s Barack Obama. What he managed to find was that all the records of those one hundred and fifty years were in the National Records Office in Kew that almost no-one had ever looked at.
So his life was rising like Godwin's a second time, and from there it never stopped. He founded this book publishers, because he was very against intellectual property, especially in the book trade, where every form of gouging and what have you, had been going on for hundreds of years. They’ve now got two hundred and fifty books on their catalogue. Not again liked by a lot of the establishment, people like Cambridge University Press who loved charging ninety quid for this that and the next thing.
And this is a nice picture of Alessandra and Rupert with William at Trinity where the publishers is based. And then around the same time he joined the School of Advanced Study and again made some wonderful friends where he stayed for many years. He also got involved, after the Elgin Marble scandal was revealed and became a fervent member of the committee for the restitution of the Marbles to Greece. These are some of the people that just a few years ago, were on the committee. Some of them you may know, Tom Flynn, Alexei Kaye Campbell and Janet Suzzman.
The grandchildren were growing up. And this is taken on William’s eightieth birthday. This is him with his two monozygotic twins with his nephews included.
I met him just about five weeks ago in this crowded room which never looked anything like a living room. We get Homes and Gardens and I’ve never seen a room like that in there. And then sadly on the 30th of June just a week after Paulina and William went to the celebration of the 450th anniversary of the founding of Jesus College he died. Paulina told me that William had said he was arm candy at the event.
But his legacy will live on. He’s got this massive book coming out later in the year. Drummond was going to introduce William at a key meeting in Edinburgh in November. And then William planned a book launch in Trinity… Not to be.
Dedication to William St Clair by Paulina Kewes at The Athenaeum, 23rd July 2021
Back in 1994, my age-old friend Don McKenzie, who was a professor of bibliography and textual criticism at Oxford, said that I ought to meet a Mr William St Clair, who was then a visiting fellow at All Souls and was giving a series of lectures that were related to the topic of my doctorate. And he introduced me to William who was incredibly helpful and lovely, and since I had a JRF (Junior Research Fellow) interview coming up, he asked if I would like a mock interview. So I turned up at All Souls and William opened the door wearing his gown, and pretended that he was introducing me to the whole panel. I was supposed to give a five- or seven-minute presentation of my research and I started talking, I may have even been reading, and he said ‘No no no it’s all wrong, you can’t do it like that. Stop!’ And I was incredibly upset, and he said ‘You can only say three things; and you have to be looking at the people, you can’t be reading’. So I scuttled back to my Jesus College digs and I started practicing, crouching in front of the mirror on the wardrobe. Then I cycled back to All Souls because he had agreed to give me another interview. And it obviously worked because I got the JRF and after the interview I returned All Souls to tell him how it had gone, and we drank a bottle or two of wine, and by the time I got back to my digs and the Master rang I was completely sloshed.
And that was really William, he never really pulled any punches. When you were wrong he always told you that you were wrong, that you should do it completely differently, that you should be more ambitious, that you shouldn’t settle for the little things, that you should be more expansive. And sometimes its difficult to take when you’re feeling a little insecure. I felt I was just a Polish student who might not have a future in this country, Poland was not part of the EU, and if someone tells you ‘go outside your patch and do something inter-disciplinary’, ‘think outside the box’, ‘what were they doing in Europe or elsewhere in the world?’, it is sometimes difficult but that is something that William has really taught me. And he was someone who could be a bit of a bear, he was unbelievably stubborn, and there were some things you just couldn’t get him to change, but at the same time he was incredibly kind and mild and generous.
Even in the last few months he was seeing one of my students to help her with her undergraduate dissertation. He was always incredibly generous to younger scholars, to students, and would spend hours helping them. And he was a mine of fascinating stories. David was speaking earlier about William’s time in the Civil Service, and one of his prize stories from when he was working at the Treasury was when he needed to find out something about the Treaty of Utrecht of 1731. He asked for a copy of it and his PA brought him the real damn thing!
Or when he was working for the OECD and went to Turkey; the idea was for him and the other experts to tell the people of Turkey how to Europeanise and do things properly, and one member of the delegation, I think from France, said she might be late and miss a flight, so the minister in charge stopped all proceedings and gave her a police cavalcade and rang the airport and got them to stop the flight so that she could get on. And that was completely contrary to what they were trying to teach people in Turkey. And William was always telling people what he thought; for example he fell out with the OECD; because he was trying to tell people in Portugal what they should really be doing and that didn’t go down terribly well. I think he fell out with people at All Souls because of what he said to them, and at Trinity he probably would have loved to have stayed longer but he was really very scathing about how they were running their accounts and fell out with the Bursar. But he always stood his ground.
And of course the prize exhibit was what he did about the Marbles, and the cleaning of the frieze that David was talking about. And his work was just so remarkably diverse, sorry I should not say work, whenever I asked him ‘What are you working on today?’, whether it was when he was in London or when he was staying with me in Oxford, he would say ‘I’m not working, I’m not working’. I would ask him ‘When are you going to finish your Parthenon book?’ and he would say ‘I’m not writing to anyone else’s deadlines. I’m going to finish when I want to finish, it’s my own schedule.’
Whenever he was doing research and scholarship he was pushing against boundaries. He was on the one hand incredibly bold, ambitious and completely unfettered by disciplinary boundaries, but at the same time he could be incredibly humble. He would go to seminars; Classics seminars in London, Archeology seminars with students, and he was a very humble member of the group. But on the other hand he went to some at the Institute of English Studies and somebody was basically telling porkies, talking tosh, and he would probe and question, and then could never understand why they were a bit livid at the end, that he questioned what they said, but he didn’t mean to be hostile, he wasn’t going to be a bulldog, he was just going to ask the question that was fundamental to whatever they were doing.
In absolutely personal terms he was hugely generous, he was kind, he could be really really lovely and when I was ill, I got ill when I was in America, he said ‘Oh why don’t you just come and stay with me when you are on chemo at the Royal Marsden?’. He sat with me through all my chemo sessions and all my consultations, and he would be sitting with me on this little plastic seat and tapping away on his computer as I was sleeping away. But he could also get fed up. Obviously I was kind of depressed, I had lost my hair, my eyebrows, and I was whinging. And there was one time when we were coming back from the theatre the day before chemo and I was just whinging and he said ‘you know it’s not really pleasant to be with you when you are like that?’ And that sort of taught me to zip up and stop complaining. He didn’t like when you complained and he didn’t like when you said anything critical about anyone. So when I was whinging about colleagues, you could see his face sort of contract. He wasn’t going to sympathise with you if you were complaining about other people because I think that in his mind it reflected badly upon you that you felt that someone wasn’t nice or good.
And he was also an absolutely wonderful and intrepid traveller. We started travelling after I was ill and he offered if I would like to come to central Athens for a few days. Basically the deal was he told me what he wanted to see and where he wanted to go, and I booked the tickets and the hotel and did all the sort of menial stuff. When we went to places it was quite a struggle to convince him that the first thing we needed to do was get some food and water so that when we went off for the day and were in the middle of nowhere we could actually get some lunch. And when the lunch came he quite enjoyed it.
He knew exactly what he wanted to do and where he wanted to be. When we were in Sparta and had gone to Mystras it was quite a long trip, and we walked all the way down and I was completely exhausted and just wanted to go back to the hotel. But ‘no no no I need to see what the course of the river is, and this is significant for my book’. And that was that. I had to scurry back to the hotel on my own because William wanted to see where the damn river went.
But it proved a point that would be vital for the book, and the book will be absolutely magnificent. He was working so hard on it until the very last day and he made so many discoveries. David mentioned his discoveries about the Elgin Marbles and the archive in Kew for the Grand Slave Emporium. Well you will be amazed when you see how much he has discovered for the book about the Parthenon. It’s not just about how the Marbles were saved, but how the Parthenon was saved. It was because one of the British ambassadors had written to his Ottoman counterpart to say ‘If you don’t fire at the Acropolis you’re going to have a seat at the table of the civilised nations’. And they didn’t. He also discovered there was going to be a replica Parthenon in Trafalgar Square; I don’t know whether it’s a good or bad thing that it hasn’t been built.
Just a few days before he died, he loved the word scoop or scooplet, he had another scooplet. He was talking about the orations of ancient Greece, and the Pericles funeral oration, and the way Pericles looked at the head. All the iconic images of Pericles have the head elongated, and there is the helmet, and William had a hunch that it was to do with the swaddling of male babies in ancient Greece, and the swaddling of the head. He had a hunch he would find something in Hippocrates, and so off he went to Blackwells, and came back with the relevant book of Hippocrates, the one he said was not apocryphal, the one he said was actually written by Hippocrates. And there it was, they did swaddle babies’ heads.
And when we traveled, on the one hand you might think he was completely otherworldly, that you had to make sure there was food and there was drink. But there were other moments in Greece where you would think that he was absolutely indispensable. When we were in Sparta and wanted to go to Olympia, you have to take a bus to Tripoli first, so we rock up at the bus station and I go to the ticket counter and ask for two tickets on the 8am bus to Tripoli. And the woman says ‘Sold out…When is the next bus?…9am….Can I get two tickets to that?…Sold out’ and I’m tearing my hair out, and at the taxi stand all the taxi drivers are in on it and they quote you some absolutely crazy sum of money to take you to Olympia. Well William was completely calm and said let’s just stand here, and I said ‘What do you mean just stand here? We need to do something!’ So we stand for about twenty-five minutes, and the 8am comes and has loaded up all the luggage and everything and is completely full. And then the driver looks up and says ‘do you want to go but you’ll have to stand?’. So of course we say yes we want to go. And we went on the 8am bus. And this was just the way it was with William. He always knew what to do or what to say to people. Similar when we went to Epidaurus, everyone just wanted to see the theatre and William really wanted to see the ruins of a Byzantine basilica. There were brambles and rubbish but we did get there and that was the most important thing, not the sort of beaten tourist path.
And his work on the book was being appreciated just a few days before he died. He told me ‘I have some news, I’ve been awarded a medal by the Greeks’. He told me it’s going to be ten thousand dollars and he will be able to decide who to give the money to, and so we had this long discussion about whether he should give it to the Classics Library in London or the British School in Athens or to split it. And later in the day when we caught up at lunch, he said actually he had misread the email and was just getting a medal. The three people who are getting the ten thousand dollars to give out are John Kerry from America and somebody else. But he was still very happy to get the Byron medal.
Similarly there was somebody called Constantine, a Greek from Switzerland, who asked William whether he could see William’s little card where William had prepared a list of all the Philhellenes who were involved in the War of Independence. And William enabled him to get all of this photographed for Constantine’s book. And the book was published, based on William’s records, and arrived and William was a bit miffed; there was nothing in the acknowledgements or in the title page acknowledging him. Then he looked in the preface and there it was, he was being described as the Nestor of Greek Studies. And he really loved this idea of being the Nestor of Greek Studies and was really dining out on this recently.
And he was working and working and working, and talking and thinking and writing till the very last moment. Another book that he ordered, arrived at my house just yesterday; he was buying things and was going to libraries and one day when he was in London for a check-up, he said he needed a book from the top shelf, he knew exactly where it was on the top shelf, and knew better than to go on the ladder, so he was poking with a broomstick and it came down and he got it but the lamp next to it broke as well; but that wasn’t really a problem for William.
And until the last minute he was just so completely caught up in the book. I think it was just the day before he died, and I don’t think many of you will know, but one of the chapters in the book is written in the form of a Thucydidean speech, as if it were something like a Periclean oration, where the speaker addresses the Athenians. And William said, ‘Well I was going to open the Thucydidean speech saying "Oh men of Athens" but I’ve now come across some source which is later and I think that I’ll now say "Oh fellow citizens"’. And I said ‘no that’s not quite right, men of Athens is better’ because firstly they were all men (women were excluded from any governance, as were slaves), but also because Athens identifies the place. And William didn’t like being criticised and he said ‘no no no it should be fellow citizens’. When we met later for lunch he said ‘okay I’ve put back "oh men of Athens"’. And that was the end of the story.
David already mentioned that William came to the Jesus College anniversary service, and although neither of us were religious, I wanted to go because I was heavily involved in organising the celebrations. And it was really lovely of him to come, and he said to Anna on the phone ‘Well Paulina wants me to come to the service, she obviously needs some arm candy.’ And he was the best arm candy that one could possibly imagine. The picture you see here is the 30th of June when we went to dinner at my friend’s, and this is just a typical William pose. He dressed up and I didn’t even know that he was going to dress up like this. Because there was a Zoom conference, and when I came out I said ‘Hey William are you ready to go?’, and there he was in this beautiful silk tie and white shirt. And I said ‘we’re just going round the corner to friends’, and he insisted ‘no no no I want to be dressed like this’.
And it was really wonderful because we had a great time and we were talking about the trip to Greece that we were planning to go on in late August, and then again in October. I wanted to do some beach holiday and William wanted to do sightseeing and to go to Paphos. And I hope he had a really lovely last day. He collapsed as we were walking back from the dinner and was apologising all the way for being a bit slow.
I want to conclude by reading out a poem which William recited, and he always had tears in his eyes when he recited it, especially when his dear dear friend John Stallworthy had passed.
They told me Heraclitus, they told me you were dead, They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed. I wept as I remember’d how often you and I Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky. And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest, A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest, Still are thy pleasant voices, the nightingales, awake; For Death, he taketh all away but them he cannot take.
Dedication to William St Clair from his brother John St Clair at The Athenaeum, 23rd July 2021
I could never compete with my brothers and I don’t think I can compete with David’s wonderful talk. I was just going to read, although Paulina’s already beaten me to it, a few passages from Thucydides, his speech attributed to Pericles, lamenting the dead in the Peloponnesian war. William admired it, and I think it encapsulates quite a lot of his public ideals and his private ideals, that he aspired to. Didn’t always succeed but he aspired to them and that is what ideals are for.
But before I go there I should mention first, there is a reason I have chosen that passage. The last time that I was in The Athenaeum, William organised a book launch for a book that we had written as an act of piety for my uncle that had fought in the First World War. And during that time, we had long discussions about the best way to memorialise people. And we saw all these pictures of this huge building programme, post-war, that took place on the Western Front, and we thought that this was really just a waste of time. Stop building monuments. And we thought of Odysseus shouting at Polyphemus, remember the name, remember the name. If your name can only carry on, some of you lasts. And we thought that was idolatry. And then Rudyard Kipling chooses from the book of Ecclesiasticus, their name liveth forever more. Again we thought that was rubbish.
And it just happened that around that time, we went to the war memorial in Edinburgh Castle, and came across the most, what we thought, moving inscription. And I’m going to just quote what they say in this book about the memorial; the most moving one is the one for the Royal Scots Fusiliers and this was the regiment that Churchill was exiled to when he left the cabinet in 1916, when the results of the Gallipoli campaign came out. And we think he was probably behind this war memorial. I wrote to the keeper of the memorial shortly after, asking about this but, typical archivist, there was no reply.
So I didn’t pursue it any further, but we know that Churchill was given a copy of Thucydides by Lloyd George just before he went to the Western Front. And this book says that perhaps the outstanding achievement of the regiment of the Royal Scots Fusiliers during these years was the defence by the Second Battalion for ten whole days against overwhelming odds in the first battle of Ypres. But for this the whole line could have crumbled and the enemy could have broken through and got to the channel ports. The most notable feature of this memorial, perhaps the most beautiful memorial of them all, is a space in the centre surrounded by a carved wreath of laurel devoted to a passage from Pericles historic oration, quoted by Thucydides, upon the Athenians who had perished in the Peloponnesian War.
And this is the inscription:
"the whole earth is the tomb of heroic men, and their stories not graven in stone over their claim, but abides everywhere without visible symbol, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives."
It was this expression, woven into the stuff of other men’s lives, that was coined by Alfred Zimmerman, who was the Professor of International Relations at Oxford between the wars. I think he was actually at New College, but that’s not really relevant to this. But woven into the stuff of other men’s lives; this expression is now standard in all translations of Thucydides.
And it just happened that shortly after we had visited and seen this memorial, (David has already mentioned William’s friend Arthur Miller) Arthur Miller’s wife, Inge Morath died and Arthur Miller was asking William is there any consolation and, William being a good god fearing atheist, said ‘no’. And then he hesitated and said ‘Well there is some consolation. She had a very wonderful and meaningful life’ and then this passage from Pericles came back, ‘but she does live on woven into the stuff of other men’s lives’, and that seems to have struck a chord with Arthur Miller because he kept mentioning it years afterwards, and that’s one of the reasons I’ve chosen this particular bit from Pericles.
I had three or four passages, but I think you’re probably getting bored with this St Clair double act - we’re not technically a double act - but it may come across as that.
So I’ll maybe give you two of them, the first is about respect for people’s private lives, of which David told you all about, quite how important this principle was. So Pericles says:
“let me say that our system of government doesn’t copy the institutions of our neighbours; it’s more the case of ours being a model to others than of our imitating anyone else. Our constitution is called a democracy because powers are in the hands not of a minority but the whole people. When it is a matter of settling private disputes, everybody is equal before the law, when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of a particular class, but the actual ability a man possesses.”
I’m not sure if the Tory party has been reading this recently.
“No one so long as he has it in him to be of service to the state, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty, and just as our political life is free and open , so is our day to day life and in our relationships with each other, we don’t get into a state with our next door neighbour if he enjoys himself in his own way. Nor do we give him the sort of black looks, which though they may not do him any real harm still do hurt people’s feelings. We are free and tolerant in our private lives. But in public there is a need keep to the law. This is because it commands our deep respect.”
So that is the ideal that the private life is meant to be private. I know that it is posthumous that my brother shed some life on William’s private life, but that was more an honour to the dead. And there is another passage in this address where he compares Athens to Sparta -- we don’t go in for military training. The Edinburgh Academy never had a CCF until you couldn’t get into the army unless you’d been in the CCF. It didn’t believe in military training the way that Sparta did. It believed in courage and elan and breeding and a liberal education.
So I think I’ll just end with the passage about woven into the stuff of other men’s lives. What he says is:
‘what I would prefer is that you fix your eyes on the greatness of Athens as she really is, and should fall in love with her, (this is addressing the people who are widows or orphans of soldiers who have been killed). So think of the city and that will help you take your attention away from your bereavement. When you realise her greatness, then reflect that what made her great was men with a spirit of adventure. Men who knew their duty. Men who were ashamed to fall below a certain standard. If they ever failed in an enterprise they made up their minds that at any rate the city shouldn’t find the courage lacking to her. And they gave to her the best contributions to her they could. They gave her their lives. To her and to all of us and for their own selves they won praises, that never grow old, the most splendid of sepulchres, not the sepulchre in which their bodies are laid but where their glory remains, eternal in men’s minds.”
And then he goes on to say that monuments all over are to heroic men, but their monument is not made of bronze or clay but it is that they are woven into the stuff of other men’s lives.
And the very final, and then you can get back to carousing or whatever you do in your private lives, I’m going to quote this book William had as a teenager. It is a book of the Roman poet Catullus’s poems and I came across this poem of Catullus, and it moved me. And I hoped I would never have to quote it. But Catullus wrote a poem, 101, to his dead brother.
And it says that
Multās per gentēs et multa per aequora vectus
I’ve travelled through many nations and over many seas to come to my brother’s funeral.
But he ends it by saying
accipe frāternō,multum mānantia flētū,
which means receive fraternal,
And then by saying
Atque in perpetuum, frāter, avē atque valē.
And for those that are not so quick off the old Latin as you used to be, that means…
please my brother, receive these rites, drenched in your brother’s tears, and forever my brother, hail and farewell.
Catullus’s poem 101
Multās per gentēs et multa per aequora vectus adveniō hās miserās, frāter, ad īnferiās, ut tē postrēmō dōnārem mūnere mortis et mūtam nequīquam alloquerer cinerem quandōquidem fortūna mihi tētē abstulit ipsum heu miser indignē frāter adempte mihi nunc tamen intereā haec, prīscō quae mōre parentum trādita sunt tristī mūnere ad īnferiās, accipe frāternō multum mānantia flētū. Atque in perpetuum, frāter, avē atque valē.
Carried through many nations and over many seas, I arrive, brother, for these wretched funeral rites so that I might present you with the last tribute of death and speak in vain to silent ash, since Fortune has carried you, yourself, away from me.1 Alas, poor brother, unfairly taken away from me, now in the meantime, nevertheless, these things which in the ancient custom of ancestors are handed over as a sad tribute to the rites, receive, dripping much with brotherly weeping. And forever, brother, hail and farewell.
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!We are excited that today’s post on Wu Tsang’s Anthem, currently on view at the Guggenheim through September 6, 2021, is written by Freddie Cruz Nowell, co-author of the exhibition texts! He is related to the curator of the exhibition and cares deeply about the collaborative, creative endeavors of Wu Tsang & Moved by the Motion.
The artist and filmmaker Wu Tsang (b. 1982) creates atmospheric performances, video installations, and films that envelop audiences into spaces where narratives become sensually ambiguous, collective experiences. Tsang’s new site-specific installation, Anthem (2021), was conceived in collaboration with the singer, composer, and transgender activist Beverly Glenn-Copeland (b. 1944, Philadelphia) and harnesses the Guggenheim Museum’s cathedral-like acoustics to construct what the artist calls a “sonic sculptural space.”
Occupying the entire rotunda, Anthem revolves around an immense, eighty-four-foot curtain sculpture that flows down from the building’s glass oculus. Projected onto this luminous textile is a “film-portrait” Tsang created of Glenn-Copeland improvising and singing passages of his music, including a cappella descants and his rendition of the spiritual “Deep River.” Filmed during the COVID-19 pandemic, near Glenn-Copeland’s home in rural Nova Scotia, this non-linear video alternates between scenes of the musician performing with various instruments and stunning landscape shots of the eastern seaboard sky.
Harnessing the generous sound-reflecting quality of the Guggenheim’s concrete walls, Anthem weaves Glenn-Copeland’s voice and body percussion into a larger tapestry of other voices and sounds placed along the museum’s circular ramp, building a soundscape that wraps around the space. When I asked the exhibition’s curator X Zhu-Nowell about the striking ethereal, translucent quality of the curtain sculpture, X remarked,
It was a collaboration with the textile company Kvadrat. Wu visited their showroom a few times to select textile from thousands of the samples. This particular textile called power is semi translucent (created almost a hologram feeling), but still able to capture the light from the projectors very well. Wu once said that ‘when there is a curtain in the space, it turns the space into a stage.’ Curtain is very important to Wu’s practice.
The installation’s dimmed light ambiance also veils the fourteen speakers that Tsang positioned along this darkened path, each of which plays a uniquely composed track that accompanies Glenn-Copeland’s music.
Working in collaboration with musician Kelsey Lu and the DJ, producer, and composer duo of Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda, Tsang conceived this arrangement of sounds as a series of improvisatory responses inspired by the call of Glenn-Copeland’s voice. The musical responses created by this diverse group of musicians include ethereal string tremolos, dreamy whisper sequences, and impromptu drum patterns, among other ambient sounds that help cultivate an alluring and reverberant listening environment.
Harnessing the generous sound-reflecting quality of the Guggenheim’s concrete walls, Anthem weaves Glenn-Copeland’s voice and body percussion into a larger tapestry of other voices and sounds placed along the museum’s circular ramp, building a soundscape that wraps around the space. X Zhu-Nowell described the process for the exhibit’s speaker placement:
We had a few mock-up to test the speaker placement. The two loudspeakers are placed on the rotunda floor because it’s unique capacity to fill the entire rotunda. The 12 additional Bose speakers were placed throughout ramp 3 – 6. We evenly distributed them, 3 speakers for each ramp. Ultimately, the goal is to work with the unique acoustics of the building, and working with the decay, allowing the time and space for the sound to bound on the concrete walls. The piece is 18 mins long, and in a continuous loop. It was not designed to cultivate a single prime viewing location. Instead, the piece was built to be experienced as one move through the space, and 18 mins is around the pace of one walk from the bottom of the rotunda floor to the top of ramp 6.
Visitors are encouraged to traverse upward from the bottom of the museum to the top of the building, and vice versa, and explore how Anthem ascends and descends along the spiral path.
The title of this exhibition, Anthem, draws from lesser-known histories of the word meaning antiphon, a style of call-and-response singing associated with music as a spiritual practice. Unlike a conventional anthem, which amplifies the power of a song through loudness and uniform sound, this installation enhances the call of Glenn-Copeland’s voice by combining it with ambiguous vocal timbres, changing tints of ambient sound, and other heterogeneous sonic and visual textures. Within this lush yet complicated auditory environment, Tsang’s Anthem also cultivates moments of quiet, rest, and reflection, reimagining the rotunda as a compassionate atmosphere for collective listening and looking.
In addition to the immersive video installation on view in the rotunda, this exhibition also includes a touching companion film, titled “∞,” which visitors can access behind a luxe pleated curtain that divides the first floor side gallery from the main space. This video is a short interview that Tsang shot during the filming of Anthem of Glenn-Copeland and his partner, Elizabeth Glenn-Copeland, a theater artist, storyteller, and arts educator.
This dialogue captures autobiographical aspects of the couple’s intertwined creative process and artistic development, reflecting on myriad meanings of love in relation to their lives and work. Within the context of the oppressive and exploitive conditions of transgender “visibility” in contemporary culture, Tsang’s seemingly conventional yet uncommon record of this elderly and interracial couple exists in tension with the normative frame of transgender representation. It also extends the conversation within Tsang’s artistic practice around the centrality of collaboration, specifically long-term and intimate collaboration.
Since 2016, Tsang has frequently worked with a “roving band” of interdisciplinary artists called Moved by the Motion, cofounded with the artist Tosh Basco. Core members of this revolving cast include Maroof, Pineda, the dancer Josh Johnson, the cellist Patrick Belaga, and the poet and scholar Fred Moten. Anthem exemplifies how she uses collaboration as an aesthetic strategy for undoing conventional modes of authorship and to make space for marginalized narratives. For Tsang, “making art is an excuse to collaborate.”
On View at the Guggenheim, New York City, July 23-September 6, 2021
Featured Image: Still of banner/ installation View of Wu Tsang’s Anthem (2021) at the Guggenheim, courtesy of curator X Zhu-Nowell
Frederick Cruz Nowell is a Ph.D. Candidate in Musicology at Cornell University. He is a scholar with a specialty in historical avant-gardes, and cross-disciplinary research into the history of music theory, contemporary art, and popular music. His dissertation research (Supervisor, Prof. Andrew Hicks) lies at the occult intersection of artistic experimentalism, Euro-American counterculture, and the history of music theory in the early twentieth century. It traces how speculative music-theoretical concepts (i.e., cosmic harmony, biological rhythms, color-harmony, and ontologies of sympathetic vibration) fused into the practices of European avant-garde artists via fashionable occult religious movements (i.e., Theosophy and Anthroposophy) and various cults of health and beauty (i.e., harmonic gymnastics, Eurythmics, free body culture (Freikörperkultur)). Intimately intertwined with one another, these social developments were integral to the larger infrastructure of the unwieldy “back to nature” Lebensreform (the reform of life) movement, which laid the foundations for progressive counterculture in the twentieth century.
Before pursuing graduate studies in musicology, Frederick was a University Fellow at Northwestern University in the Department of Art, Theory, & Practice, where he received an MFA. He also holds a BFA from SAIC (the School of the Art Institute of Chicago). Since 2018, he has co-curated exhibitions with X Zhu-Nowell under the moniker Passing Fancy.
REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig this:
On May 5, 2018, the C-ville Weekly, a newspaper based out of Charlottesville, Virginia, published an article titled “Sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll: new apartment complex promises at least one of those.” The headline referred to the complex being built at 600 West Main St. in Charlottesville. The complex has since been completed and studio bedrooms currently cost more than $1000 a month. As the C-ville Weekly headline shows, the developers were using the term and connotations of “rock ’n’ roll” to sell exclusive – and in many ways unaffordable – housing.
After reading this headline, I began to develop an idea for a summer course at my institution, the University of Virginia (UVA). I ultimately titled that course “Black Music and Corporate America” which I offered online during the summer of 2021 (syllabus available for download via the link above). Although the course discussed varied content – from the multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-gendered histories of rock and roll to the endorsement of conspicuous forms of consumption in hip hop – I wanted to spend one unit focusing on the interrelationship between music, corporate America, and gentrification. I strove to solidify this connection by assigning two related articles. The first article, by geographer and sociologist Brandi Thomson Summers, argues that black residents in Washington D.C. adopt go-go music as a form of reclamation aesthetics to combat their city’s increasingly rampant gentrification. In the second article, ethnomusicologist Allie Martin conducts a soundwalk of D.C.’s Shaw District to forefront the experience of a black woman in the city and help displace white hearing as the default standard of interpreting sound (see Sounding Out!’s Soundwalking While POC series from Fall 2019). These two articles served as a foundation for one of the assignments the students had to complete in class: conducting a soundwalk of their own in which they had to walk around a field site of their choosing and think critically about the sounds they were hearing.
Throughout the summer sessions, students completed three main assignments related to the course topic. They had to think about marketing themselves and thus wrote a cover letter for a job or internship they were interested in pursuing in the future. We also, as a class, sent a suggestion to literary scholar John Patrick Leary, who has created a list of “keywords of capitalism:” buzzwords that get adopted in corporate lingo; we suggested “rockstar” as a term and offered him a brief explanation why:
Students also had to conduct a soundwalk. I asked them to model it after Martin’s and to also take into consideration Summers’ arguments about gentrification, white policing of black sound, and a community’s response to attempts to silence their music and culture.
The soundwalks I received merit sharing with readers of Sounding Out for three primary reasons: 1) The assignment benefited from the online format, especially since students could conduct soundwalks in Charlottesville as well as in their homes across the country. 2) the students made compelling arguments that deserve recognition. 2) the students brought up issues that teachers interested in assigning soundwalks in the future might want to preemptively address.
Students who walked around Charlottesville focused mostly on The Corner, the portion of the city where most of UVA’s student body eats, shops, and drinks. As one student noted, during the regular semester, hundreds of students populating The Corner on any given day during the semester can silence out – literally – the concerns of the homeless and the panhandlers who make the area their home. However, over the summer, Charlottesville’s Corner becomes significantly less populated and, as this student noted, much more silent. As a result of this silence, pedestrians might be much more attuned to Charlottesville’s rampant inequality. This student, over the course of their summer soundwalk on The Corner, came to a radical conclusion: while communities might need moratoriums on evictions, or moratoriums on construction, maybe Charlottesville needs a moratorium on student noise as well.
In addition to focusing on inequality, many students’ soundwalks pointed out discrepancies between what they saw and what they heard while on their soundwalks. Another student writing about The Corner noted how, as a transfer student, the music that they heard emanating from a barbershop helped make them feel at home in Charlottesville. Businesses on The Corner have historically not been entirely welcoming to people of color. Additionally, most pedestrians and patrons of The Corner are white. However, this student remarked how comfortable they felt on The Corner because they could hear one of their favorite artists, Moneybagg Yo, playing from the sound system of the barbershop they were going to visit. Long before they could visually see the business, the soundscape let this student know they were welcome. In this way, this barbershop helped create a sense of community in a similar way that the broadcasting of go-go music from Shaw’s many businesses helps create in Washington D.C.
Another student focused specifically on the contradictions between the activism they “saw” demonstrated in their upper-class Boston suburb and the activism they “heard” while walking around their neighborhood. This student noted that residents of their neighborhood strove to create an inclusive atmosphere by putting up “Black Lives Matters” and “Immigrants Welcome” yard signs. However, they also cited Jennifer Lynn Stoever’s work – who we read in class – and noted the presence of what Stoever calls the “sonic color line.” As this students’ own field recordings of their neighborhood illuminated, most residents of this neighborhood valued silence. Harlemites during the 1940s and 1950s, as Stoever writes, certainly appreciated restful nights, but her scholarship also demonstrates how dominant narratives constructed black communities as “noisy,” “chaotic,” and “dangerous,” and white ones as “silent,” “efficient,” and “disciplined.” Although residents in this Boston suburb think of themselves as progressive and demonstrate their liberalism through visual signifiers such as yard signs, this student concluded that they still live in a community that privileges certain (silent) soundscapes. In doing so, such communities continue to perpetuate the sonic color line.
Admittedly, several students living in America’s suburbs struggled to conceive of the sounds they heard as worthy of discussion. For instance, the sounds of cars made frequent appearances in their writing but were often dismissed as inconsequential. Instead, students lamented that they were not experiencing a vibrant public sphere that resembled the setting of Spike Lee’s 1989 film, Do the Right Thing(a film we watched together in class), as if that representation wasn’t a very particular historicized and localized representation. On an individual basis, I tried to get students to think more critically about the sounds of cars in their neighborhood. We read about the role of automobile in the development of G-Funk during the early 1990s as well as the death of Jordan Davis, who was murdered in his car for playing rap too loudly. However, neither article resonated with students’ experience on their soundwalks since they were simply hearing cars passing by their houses or driving down the street. Most of the time, they could not tell what type of music was being listened to at all inside the car nor could they hear it emanate onto the street.
Therefore, teachers, depending on the living conditions of their students, might want to preemptively include discussions of car culture within American society. After all, more than go-go music broadcasted from storefronts, or second line parades, or music playing from boomboxes, or the noise of nature, (my) students typically hear cars in their day-to-day life. As a result, teachers assigning soundwalks may want to talk about the role of highway construction and the automobile industry on suburbanization and white flight. Discussions of automobiles within the context of environmental racism might also be useful for students to consider. Steph Ceraso’s Sounding Composition also discusses the immense time and energy corporations have devoted to car sounds and soundscapes within cars, buffering occupants from car noise as well as that of the neighborhoods outside.
In addition, I found that students need a more robust historical understanding of suburbanization in the United States, particularly alongside an understanding of their own racial and ethnic histories. Some students living African American suburbs could have benefited from some contextualization about when and how they came to be. Talking about suburbanization in general, the development of White suburban liberalism in the 1970s and 1980s would have helped the student living in a Boston suburb make more sense of the politics of their neighborhood. Karen Tongson’s Relocationsalso provides context for shifts in America’s suburban landscape after sweeping changes in immigration law in 1965, as well as a rethinking of expressions of sexuality in the suburbs. These are just some topics I wish I had focused on more to help prepare my students for their soundwalks.
Future teachers may feel inclined to refer to the conclusions my students came to, as well as the literature I wish I had included in course, as they think about assigning soundwalks in their own classes. Both my students and I appreciated the soundwalk assignment and its invitations to listen differently. Teaching soundwalks in a course focusing on “Black music and marketing strategy” prompted my own necessary meditation as a non-Black scholar working in this field. Guided by Loren Kajikawa’s new research on “Music, Hip Hop and the Challenge of Significant Difference” that examines how the popularity of courses on black music help subsidize a university’s classical music offerings, I want to incorporate future discussions of Black music as sonic diversity marketing in contemporary higher ed, both at the microlevel of scholarship and the macro- institutional level, which remains far from equitable despite ongoing challenges to its status quo. For students, the soundwalks–in their words–allowed them to learn about themselves and think differently about the area in which they live. They also become more attuned to their surroundings–questioning what makes a neighborhood and for whom?–and how different cultures use their voices where they live, necessary skills for our moment that will help us envision a world beyond it.
Featured Image: Wall Mural right next to Bowerbird Bakeshop in Charlottesville, VA, image by Tom Mills, (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Rami Toubia Stucky is a PhD candidate at the University of Virginia and scholar of the music of the African diaspora, music of the Americas, commercial culture, intercultural exchange, and music and migration. Sometimes he composes/arranges jazz music and plays drums. He is currently writing a dissertation on the arrival of Brazilian bossa nova to the United States during the 1960s. He runs a personal and professional website dedicated mostly to talking about the songs his sister likes.
REWIND!…If you liked this post, you may also dig all this good stuff about sound studies pedagogy! Good luck with Fall semester, folks!:
According to one of the most consulted of the global university rankings services, the QS World University Rankings 2022, the University of Toronto is the top ranked university in Canada. It shouldn’t take more than a brief pause to reflect on this statement to see the fiction in what is presented as objective empirical information (pseudoscience). In the real world, it is mid-June, 2021. The empirical “facts” on which QS is based are still in progress, in a year of pandemic with considerable uncertainty. It is not possible to complete data on 2021 until the year is over. Meanwhile, QS is already reporting stats for 2022; perhaps they are psychic?
Scratching slightly at the surface, anyone with even a little bit of familiarity with the universities in Canada is probably aware that the University of Toronto is currently under a rare Censure against the University of Toronto due to a “serious breach of the principles of academic freedom” in a hiring decision. Censure is a “rarely invoked sanction in which academic staff in Canada and internationally are asked to not accept appointments, speaking engagements or distinctions or honours at the University of Toronto, until satisfactory changes are made”. I don’t know the details of the QS algorithms, but I think it’s fair to speculate that neither support for academic freedom or a university’s ability to attract top faculty for appointments, speeches, distinctions or honours is factored in, or if factored in, weighted appropriately.
Digging just a little bit deeper, someone with a modicum of understanding of the university system in Canada and Ontario in particular would know that the University of Toronto is one of Ontario’s 23 public universities, all of which have programs approved and regularly reviewed for quality by the same government, and funded under the same formulae and provide the same economic support for students. Degrees at a particular level are considered equivalent locally and courses are often transferable between institutions. When not under censure, the University of Toronto is indeed a high quality university; so is the University of Ottawa, where I work, Carleton (the other Ottawa-based university), and all the other Ontario universities. Specific programs frequently undergo additional accreditation. My department offers a Master’s of Information Studies program that is accredited by the American Library Association (ALA). Both the Ontario government and ALA require actual data in their QA / accreditation process. This includes evidence of strategic planning, but not guesswork about future output.
If QS is this far off base in their assessment of universities in the largest province of a G7 country (the epitome of the Global North), how accurate is QS and other global university rankings in the Global South? According to Stack (2021) and the authors of the newly released book Global University Rankings and the Politics of Knowledgehttp://hdl.handle.net/2429/78483 global university rankings such as QS and THE and the push for the Global South to develop globally competitive “world class universities” are more about reproducing colonial relations, marketizing higher education and commercializing research than assuring high quality education. The attention paid to such rankings distracts universities and even countries from what matters locally. As Chou points out, the focus on rankings leads scholars in Taiwan to publish in English rather than Mandarin although Mandarin is the local language. A focus on publishing in international, English language journals creates a disincentive to conduct research of local importance almost everywhere.
My chapter in this work focuses on the intersection of critique on metrics-based evaluation of research and how this feeds into the university rankings system. The first part of the chapter Dysfunction in knowledge creation and moving beyond provides a brief history and context of bibliometrics and the development of traditional and new metrics-based approaches and major critique and advocacy efforts to change practice (the San Francisco Declaration on Research Assessment (DORA) and the Leiden Manifesto). The unique contribution of this chapter is critique of the underlying belief behind both traditional and alternative metrics-based approaches to assessing research and researchers, that is, the assumption that impact is good and an indicator of quality research and therefore it makes sense to measure impact, with the only questions being whether particular technical measures of impact are accurate or not. For example, if impact is necessarily good, then the retracted study by Wakefield et al. that falsely correlated vaccination with autism is good research by any metric – many academic citations both before and after publication, citations in popular and social media and arguably a factor in the real-world impact of the anti-vaccination movement and the subsequent return of preventable illnesses like measles and a factor in the challenge of fighting COVID through vaccination. An alternative approach is suggested, using the traditional University of Ottawa’s collective agreement with APUO (union of full-time professors) as a means of evaluation that considers many different types of publications and considers quantity of publication in a way that gives evaluators the flexibility to take into account the kind of research and research output.
It’s understandable to resist reading or thinking about Covid in late-2021, even as the Delta variant’s new surges are making headlines around the world. Covid has surrounded and overwhelmed us for over a year, and many people’s reluctance to engage meaningfully with it at this time is fueled by feelings of fatigue, mental exhaustion, and frustration. However, I urge in this post that we have a continued responsibility to sustain our sonic engagement and listen to what the Covid-19 soundscape teaches us.
Covid-19, as most of us now know now, is a virus caused by the coronavirus strain SARS-CoV-2. While the symptoms of Covid-19 are many and varied, one symptom seemed most vital and censorious—a nagging and persistent dry cough that became referred to as the “Covid cough” in everyday vernacular. The Covid cough became an intrusive and yet all too familiar presence in the Covid soundscape—an isolated acoustic environment that allows us to study its characteristics. For instance, investigations within the Covid soundscape have studied the noise annoyances of traffic, neighbors, and personal dwellings; have recorded the quieting of the usually bustling streets of New York City; have researched whale stress hormones linked to less noise pollution in our ocean waters; and have analyzed the reception and aural imagery of sirens. I seek to add to this research by bringing the sounds of the Covid body (or a body perceived to have Covid) into the larger soundscape conversation.
It is of vital importance to attend to the Covid soundscape while we are still in it because the Covid soundscape is bound by time and place and is ever-changing. Once Covid is eradicated, our access to the sounds surrounding it disappear as well. So, I dwell in the soundscape where the Covid cough is still an everyday reality. With the Covid cough present in approximately sixty percent of Covid cases according to WebMD, the cough quickly became the virus’s warning bell, identifying who might be infected with the virus. In the early days of the viruses’ rapid spread in the United States, coughing became an acoustic red flag—a sign that danger could be near. So much about the virus and its spread was unknown, and the uncertainty heightened desires for control and reassurance. Because of this, we attended to coughing in ourselves and others, consciously and unconsciously, in ways we probably never had before.
All of this auditory attention focused on coughing is a process of listening. Different from hearing—perceiving sounds—listening requires attentiveness and consideration. Listening to sounds, as Ceraso states, “influences our feelings and behaviors as we move through the world” (176). I, like Eckstein and other sound scholars, insist that sound is an argument and that sounds have persuasive power. Sounds can evoke different responses from different people—perhaps your favorite song elicits painful memories for someone else. Listening then, can be personal. However, sound studies scholars know, and Covid-19 has amplified, that listening is also shaped by social and cultural contexts (Rice, “Listening”). During the pandemic, people listened to bodies in ways that were shaped by the news, the medical community, the culture, and the environment. While listening as a medical practice is used to diagnose and treat, the listening I refer to here is not one of compassionate care, but rather a practice of fear, surveillance, and othering.
For many people—in the United States, particularly white, hetero, cis-gendered, able-bodied, people—their bodily sounds came under social and cultural scrutiny for the first time——bringing up issues of autonomy and self-control. “It’s just allergies,” folks muttered while passing someone in the grocery store, just as a cough that could no longer be suppressed escaped their lips. Suddenly, as suspicious eyes were cast every which way, people felt compelled to disclose their medical histories to complete strangers in order to have their coughs—their bodily sounds—be deemed socially acceptable and their public presence allowable. Shildrick reminds us that bodies are leaky, but Western medicine and practice reinforce European-descended cultural teachings that our bodily boundaries should be secure (i.e. not leaky) and that otherness should be excluded. The “Covid cough” taught many of us for the first time that our bodies are leaky, noisy, and permeable, and they are not always under our command. Listening to our bodies took on an all-new meaning as we attended to our bodily sounds in hyper-vigilant ways.
Attending to the leaky, noisy nature of bodies, however, was certainly not new to everyone. Stoever’s The Sonic Color Line details the hypervigilance and rigid compliance long demanded of Black and brown bodies—often violently—by the white listening ear’s norms regarding “propriety” and personhood. Ehrick’s concept of the “gendered soundscape” thinks through surveillance in regard to female-presenting bodies and vocal gender. Casillas’s notion of “listening loud(ly)” while Chicanx, Martin’s Black feminist soundwalk methodology , and Blake’s discussion of the “gas station voice” many trans people take on to protect themselves from attack reminds us that the stakes for surveillance are higher at the intersection of race, gender, class, sexuality, accent, and citizenship status, but that resistance can also be also quite powerful.
For individuals with health conditions, impairments, or disabilities, too, concerns about control and disclosure are not recent issues, as their bodies have long been listened to in ways non-disabled bodies simply have not. For example, for a time after my mother had emergency surgery for colon cancer, her body required the use of a colostomy bag. One day she and I were shopping in a department store when a sales clerk heard my mother’s body leak (i.e. make sounds that we’ve been taught to believe are only acceptable in private spaces and bathrooms). The sales associate listened to my mother’s body in a way that bordered on disgust and looked at her in a way that beckoned my mom to justify her leaky, fallible body.
This kind of listening—the surveillance of others’ bodies—is used to regulate and control bodies, and is a long-standing tradition in disability history. For instance, St. Pierre highlights the embodied act of stuttered speech that is not only constructed by cultural norms but that challenges our cultural fantasy of the body as an invisible channel for communication and disrupts the disabled/able-bodied binary. Mills’s research on deafness and hearing technologies explores the irony and paradox that hearing aids and cochlear implants were invented to “treat” the invisible disability of deafness, but yet visibly mark their wearers. And while not explicitly writing of disabled bodies, Booth and Spencer contend that non-vocal bodily sounds are rhetorical and therefore create rhetorical challenges and provoke us into attempted management of the sounds our body produces. Individuals with impairments, diseases, and disabilities have long been listened to, scrutinized, and surveilled in these ways. Such listening is culturally bound and rooted in the ableist myth that bodies should be self-contained and controlled at all times.
As the Covid-landscape meant that our ability to visually surveil bodies was diminished due to masks, barriers, and plexiglass partitions, our impulse to sonically surveil became heightened. Thus, many of us listened differently. Our fears of being surveilled were heightened by the fear of the Other—in this case, the fear of being othered as unwell. Our anxiety about the Covid cough was attached to ableism and the horror of being perceived as sick because, as Davis states, the “nightmare of the body is one that is deformed, maimed, mutilated, broken, diseased” (Normalcy: Link 7). The Covid cough reminded all of us that we are not as self-controlled and autonomous as we would like to think, and that we are all capable of being–or of becoming–a dissed (diseased or disabled), othered body, if we are not already.
But what if we could revisit the Covid cough and consciously listen to it in other, less fear-driven ways? If we move from listening to the cough as a surveillance practice and situate our listening as a critical rhetorical practice–a practice that examines the relationship of discourse and power and advocates for social change–then we can begin to think about what the Covid cough can teach us. Novak and Sakakeeny claim that sound only becomes known through its materiality. The Covid cough is indelibly material and embodied; it requires lungs and airways, breath and mucus. The Covid cough, distinguishable from other coughs, was described similarly by medical professionals around the world, reminding us that while listening is a highly cultured act, our sound bodies are comprised of blood, bones, and organs—substance that tethers our listening practices to a material body. We are, as Eidsheim claims in Sensing Sound, interconnected in material terms: “we cannot exist merely as singular individuals” (20). The stuff and guts of our material bodies reminds us of our connectivity, of our shared humanity, of our oneness.
The sound of the Covid cough, then, assures us of our vulnerability—a vulnerability precipitated by our lived, material body. It is important to note that not all individuals have been equally vulnerable. Individuals who are immunocompromised and essential workers, for instance, were much more susceptible to being exposed to the Covid-19 virus, as was anyone unable to work to home and many Black and brown Americans made more vulnerable by years of racist neglect by the nation’s health care system. But, still, no one is invincible. The sounds of the Covid-19 soundscape reify this truth and reinforce that through our material bodies, we are interconnected; we are all sound, and sounding, bodies.
Covid-19 brought, and is still bringing, daily horrors. The sounds of the Covid-19 soundscape are not yet absent from our consciousness or our communities. My hope is that by re-immersing ourselves into its soundscape, we can continue to remember that our fight against Covid-19 is a collective one and that we all have a shared responsibility toward our fellow humans. It is also important for sound studies to think critically and rhetorically about normalized listening practices and how those practices shape cultural understandings of what it means to be sick or disabled. Listening is not only an embodied practice; it also has bodily implications. While the Covid-19 soundscape heightened our awareness of our own vulnerability and, for some, their fears of “the other”—and (hopefully) some reflexivity on how one’s own listening can drive practices of othering—it also reassured many of our connectivity, for better or worse.
We remember those whose lives were lost to Covid-19. We listen to honor them and we listen to learn. . .and hopefully we can listen to one another with renewed empathy to build new collectivities that will forever change the Covid soundscape, along with the many other intersecting inequities that collectively brought us here too.
Featured Image: Coronavirus, Playground on Lockdown, Sheffield, UK, Image by Tim Dennell (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Sarah Mayberry Scott (Ph.D., University of Memphis) is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, Arkansas. Her research centers on representations and rhetorics of deafness. Scott is particularly interested in how sound impacts the Deaf community and how multi-modal literacies can be of particular interest and utility. She explores these issues in her works, “Re-Orienting Sound Studies’ Aural Fixation: Christine Sun Kim’s ‘Subjective Loudness,’” (2017), “Disability Gets Dissed: How Listening Rhetorically with Cultural Humility Amplifies the Concerns of Disability Culture,” (2021), and “Toward a More Just Rhetorical Criticism Through Situated Listening” (in press).
This week, the sixth edition of Conservation Evidence’s flagship publication, What Works in Conservation, is published. What Works provides a freely-available, comprehensive overview of the expert assessment of evidence for the effectiveness (or not) of management actions collated within Conservation Evidence synopses. It is a freely-available resource for conservation managers, practitioners and policy-makers who want to incorporate evidence into their management decisions.
Flying high - expanding the evidence-base for Bat Conservation
The 2021 edition of What Works includes the results from the assessment of the third annual update of the Bat Conservation synopsis. With new evidence published each year, and summarised in each edition of the synopsis, our revised assessments highlight the value of continually updating the evidence base for conservation. What Works 2021 includes new evidence for 29 conservation actions, 16 of which have changed effectiveness category from What Works 2020 as a result of the newly summarised evidence. This includes 11 actions, ranging from “Use non-lethal measures to prevent bats from accessing fruit in orchards” to “Prevent turbine blades from turning at low wind speeds”, where experts are more certain than previously that the action is beneficial for bats, and two actions where the new evidence remains too limited for a conclusion to be drawn. However, three actions are a little more complex. The use of prescribed burning had previously been assessed as “Likely to be beneficial”, but three new studies have highlighted potential harms, leading to the new assessment concluding there is a trade-off between the benefits and harms to bats of this action. For two other actions, “Deter bats from turbines using ultrasound” and “Breed bats in captivity”, the addition of new studies with mixed results has increased the uncertainty in their effectiveness, changing their assessment category to “Unknown effectiveness” (from “Likely to be beneficial” and “Unlikely to be beneficial”, respectively). This demonstrates the importance of continually building upon a comprehensive, global evidence base, which captures the variation inherent in biological responses to conservation actions.
Deep dive - mixed results for Marine and Freshwater Mammal Conservation
Back on dry land - training marsupials for Terrestrial Mammal Conservation
Reading studies from around the world, and from over 70 years of conservation, we love coming across ingenious tests of conservation actions, as well as ingenious actions themselves. In the Terrestrial Mammal synopsis, we discovered that conservationists in Australia have tested whether naive native mammals can be trained to avoid non-native predators, such as cats and foxes. By comparing “trained” bilbies, which were exposed to a ‘mock attack’ by thrusting a dead cat at them and spraying them with cat urine, with “untrained” bilbies not exposed to an attack, researchers found that despite some evidence for changes in behaviour, there was no increase in long-term survival in the trained group. Our assessment concluded that the evidence for that action was too limited to determine its effectiveness, as there were only two studies and ideally this would be tested on a wider range of target species. The assessment was similar for evidence for training captive-bred mammals.
Bringing it home - conservation in your back garden
The first five editions of What Works in Conservation have been read online, downloaded (for free) or purchased as a book from the publisher’s website over 67,000 times. We hope that this sixth edition will generate thousands more reads, as conservationists around the world work to incorporate the evidence for what works in conservation into their decision-making, with the ultimate goal of enabling more effective conservation for the benefit of biodiversity and society.
Cet ouvrage collectif rassemble les connaissances scientifiques les plus récentes sur les réformes du financement de la santé en Afrique subsaharienne, que ce soit à propos des politiques de gratuité, des financements basés sur les résultats ou des mutuelles de santé. Outre l’origine et le contenu de ces différentes politiques, les textes analysent les défis de leur mise en œuvre, mais aussi leurs effets et leur pérennité.
Tout en s’inscrivant pleinement dans le débat actuel sur la couverture sanitaire universelle (CSU), l’un des principaux enjeux de cet ouvrage est aussi de nourrir les réflexions au niveau national, du Sénégal à la République démocratique du Congo, en passant par le Sahel ou le Bénin. Ainsi, une quarantaine d’autrices et d’auteurs partagent, dans une langue accessible, leurs analyses rigoureuses et pour la plupart inédites, pour mieux comprendre le chemin qu’il reste à parcourir afin que la CSU devienne une réalité pour l’Afrique subsaharienne, n’en déplaise aux tenants de la nouvelle gestion publique.
ISBN version imprimée : 978-2-925128-08-3
ISBN PDF : 978-2-925128-10-6
DOI : à venir
Couverture réalisée par Kate McDonnell, caricature de Damien Glez
Date de publication : juillet 2021
I click on a weblink that prompts me to join a room. The room is dark and drenched in a purple hue: blue and red hexagonal tiles rotate along the perimeter. Large text reads “WELCOME TO THE WWWUNDERKAMMER.” Up ahead is a massive VR headset with portals in the place of apps revealing a map that allows me to transport to other rooms. There are 22 from which to choose. I click on one and enter. From there, the tour begins.
Time feels slippery as you explore New York City-based transmedia artist Carla Gannis’s wwwunderkammer (2020), an immersive virtual installation. At once anachronistic and futuristic, you’re both taken back in time and catapulted into the future. This is how one might describe the internet, a database, or any other collection of information, which is what the wwwunderkammer is at its core: an archive. Inspired by the 16th century wunderkammer (German for “wonder chamber”) of Western Europe, the wwwunderkammer is a cabinet of curiosities updated for the 21st century, as denoted by the work’s name, a cheeky reference to the world wide web. The original wunderkammer were a kind of proto museum that housed a curated selection of objects. “They were entire rooms,” reflects Gannis, “often filled with exotica, and then we run into the problematic sub-orientalism, exoticism, and of course colonialism.” References to art history, popular culture, and politics are a fixture of Gannis’s work, but she is careful to avoid reconstructing historical references and, instead, contextualizes them pluralistically, a “remixing” of history that speaks to her interests, which are, in her words, “vast, and large, and maximalist.” In contrast to its predecessor, Gannis’s wwwunderkammer reflects this sensibility toward openness and maximalism. She and I spoke at length, avatar-to-avatar, while teleporting around the wwwunderkammer together to discuss how it came together and how she plans to expand it.
As an interactive digital installation, the wwwunderkammer’s behavior is, by design, performative and unstable, resisting a centuries-old didacticism and power dynamic common to curation and collection practices. Rather than entering a fixed space of collected information, one gets the impression of entering a place that is meant to be meaningful but shifting. Like many of Gannis’s projects, wwwunderkammer is iterative, entirely or in part translated into evolving formats to accommodate different venues, platforms, and accessibility requirements, and thus yields different participant experiences. The work began in a brick-and-mortar setting with a debut at Telematic Media Arts gallery in San Francisco, USA in the fall of 2020. Comprising physical objects, prints, video animation, and XR (virtual reality and augmented reality), the exhibition was cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. Like most things, the wwwunderkammer then went online: Gannis completely adapted the work to a virtual installation using Hubs by Mozilla, an open-source, customizable mixed reality VR chatroom accessible through headset or web browser. Being forced to move online was, in a sense, a useful fate for this project, as it then had the opportunity to not only engage but inhabit and enact the language of the internet more fully.
A screenshot of the runway leading to the game cabinet castle.
“It is an object of the internet with its own digital materiality,” says Gannis, who consulted her architect partner while creating the preliminary sketches of the chambers and access points of the virtual installation. Visitors can enter through multiple pathways. There is a lobby and a main gallery, both of which are organized to guide visitors toward different collections, plus a game cabinet castle entrance that leads you down a long runway toward a giant retro video game arcade cabinet. The environment references some of Gannis’s inspirations: the wallpaper inside the main gallery is a nod to Janet Murray’s pioneering Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (first published in 1997), the grid pattern on the “floor” is a reference to the science fiction horror film The Lawnmower Man (1992, dir. Brett Leonard); and “a cabinet of curiosities without a video game cabinet castle in the 21st century would be remiss,” quips Gannis.
There are references to popular culture, tech history, and science fiction everywhere. Gannis mentions Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s surreal TV series World on a Wire (1973) in passing, demonstrating her orientation toward speculative fiction. Digital objects line the walls of the main gallery and are perpetually animated, a stimulation of jittery GIFs. The names of content experts flash and link to pre-recorded interviews as hidden Easter eggs among the maximalist wall-to-wall collection. The vibrant aesthetic of the environment is owed to the use of high-key, saturated colors of mostly blue and red, which together form a bold purple. This color palette is a way to “subvert the formal or traditional architecture that we’re in right now.” One could say it’s also a way of pulling us inside our screens and into our long-term memories, accessing the fictional worlds of science fiction film and literature. The speculative fictional worlds of our collective imaginations are here reenacted.
The main gallery of the wwwunderkammer.
The sensation of mutability this produces is intentional. Having worked in a library — Gannis’s first job in New York was running the library at the New York Studio School — she acknowledges the limitations of archives as biased storage sites and narrow communicators of cultural knowledge and invites us to reconsider their static and didactic positions. “In terms of the experience itself, I like it being open to interpretation. You don’t see wall tags, things that are delineating what these different cabinets are, because I think of this as a visual language with a kind of surrealistic bent that is open to interpretation and has more fluidity in that way,” explains Gannis. In formally remaking the archive, she is in a sense rescuing the archive from itself by bringing it to life rather than allowing its contents to get lost in obscurity.
The wwwunderkammer does more than house information about history, politics, art, and cultural values. The work itself is performative. In this way, the wwwunderkammer performs the archive, not merely exists as one. This distinction is important. As we wander around the wwunderkammer together, Gannis clarifies how she thinks of each of the collections, which have their own locations, as places rather than spaces. “Spaces are more functional and serve a utilitarian function,” Gannis muses. “I feel that these are more places: they have a specific intent and cultural resonance.” Objects dance and jiggle in place, music pulsates, hyperlinks flash: all as if electrified by the material contents of the built environment’s infrastructure. The wwwunderkammer radiates an energy unique to the internet: an everchanging, dynamic place of cultural knowledge, both represented by the archivist and the archived. This is also advanced by the collaboration between Gannis and other artists and thinkers who’ve curated their own wonder chambers and given expert interviews with one of Gannis’s alter ego avatars. This phase of the project is about expanding the cabinets Gannis initially conceived based on the scholarship and expertise of others through interviews conducted by Gannis’s AI-controlled avatars, which are accessible from the main gallery. Charlotte Kent reflects on humor and the absurd; Leah Roh addresses the importance of sex positivity, and Regina Harsanyi discusses digital preservation. Gannis has plans to include additional chambers and interviews to increase the depth and breadth of cultural information offered through this evolving project.
A screenshot of Leah Roh being interviewed by Moira.
The wwwunderkammer is doubtlessly the product of a cyberfeminist ethos, which is a feminist approach to the use of and creation with technology that imagines and fosters alternative practices and politics toward operating differently in the world. One of Gannis’s cabinets features Lucille Trackball — an AI-based stand-up comedian Gannis created about three years ago — and is “dedicated to female-identified comedians from around the world, of different abilities and of different gender orientations.” Among other things, it’s a response to both the reinforcing of gender bias through female-sounding voice assistants in computing and the use of humor as a way for women to obtain agency. Lucille Trackball comedically interviews Charlotte Kent to talk more about the latter. AI, in this context, isn’t promoting a new commodity, rather a new interface and intelligence centered on humor. Likewise, AI is used to train the wallpaper lining of the shelves of the cabinets with image datasets Gannis created. Hardly noticeable without having it pointed out, it “speaks to the fact that almost all of our experiences today involve some aspect or mechanism of AI.”
The dark side of AI and computing sit in contrast to the high-key colors as crucial reminders of the reality and complexity of our digital environment and the world in which it is created. Though Gannis dispenses with labels and taxonomies that might restrict meaning, there are signs everywhere of her sociopolitical awareness. The word DECOLONIZE and a reference to Ruha Benjamin’s concept of the New Jim Code — discriminatory designs that encode inequity — flash alongside text that reads BLACK LIVES MATTER and an emoji wearing a protective face mask, among other signifiers of the past year and a half. In other cabinets, the word VOTE, an Etch-a-Sketch, a hashtag, a copy of Frankenstein, endangered animals, and other objects collectively and fragmentedly tell the story of life, death, humanity, society, politics, technology, and more.
As an archive, the wwwunderkammer performs the admission of its own limitations: it relies on the contributions of others, responds well to flexibility, and rejects the goal and claim of completion. These are markers of a unique kind of technical object that pushes against the established order in the age of the database, the primary mode of cultural expression and post-narrative device of the 21st century, to borrow from Lev Manovich. But Gannis’s work is additionally subversive in its attempt to decolonize the archive through its reimagining, shared authorship, and inclusivity. “We are faced with the reality,” writes Legacy Russell, “that we will never be given the keys to a utopia architected by hegemony.” As a work that performs the archive, the wwwunderkammer is designed to mutate and respond to various needs and prompts, being created in necessary fits and starts, which are sometimes presented in the form of a glitch or problem. Moving the work online is one important way to make it available virtually everywhere and for everyone, but even this has its limitations. Gannis recalls that an earlier iteration of the main gallery was created in a higher resolution, which prevented some visitors in Western Europe to easily access it, based on their connection. Gannis had to reduce the quality of the work, lowering the barrier to entry, to again conform to the language of the internet.
Here it’s easy to recognize hints of Hito Steyerl’s poor image. In her essay, In Defense of the Poor Image, she discusses the hierarchy of images and the neoliberal impulse to insist on the “aesthetic premise” of a “rich image” at the expense of sharing it. The tragedy of this snobbish inclination is that images are often rendered invisible, “disappearing again into the darkness of the archive.” Poor images, by contrast, are “popular images—images that can be made and seen by the many.” For Gannis, sacrificing quality benefits the masses, democratizing the image and thus rendering the archive an accessible place. Likewise, it doubles as a force against the possibility of feeling pedantic. “In a way, being less crisp, it gives more room for the intention of these kinds of constructions, these taxonomies not being static, not being fixed or completely clear.”
The wwwunderkammer behaves more like an archive for the people, a library open to all, than a proto museum, like its predecessor. The work, like every performance, will change and adapt, reflecting the material instability of the digital object as much as the culture, politics, and people it represents.
NATASHA CHUK is a critical theorist and writer whose research and interests focus on creative technologies as systems of language at the intersection of formality, expression, interface, and perception. She teaches courses in film studies, video game studies, digital cultures, aesthetics, and art history at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.
Theory on Demand #41 Pandemic Exchange How Artists Experience the COVID-19 Crisis
Edited by Josephine Bosma
News reports on the Covid-19 pandemic seldom include how the virus and the societal lockdowns affect artists. A lively circuit of cultural events, meetings, and exhibitions has come to an almost complete stop, leaving artists often not just with a significant drop in income but also bereft of their vital and supporting social communities. Art writer and curator Josephine Bosma, feeling quite cut off herself after a year of lockdowns and too much screen time, saw both desperate and relieved outcries from artists popping up through the glossy algorithmic veneer on social media. She decided to reach out to some of the more outspoken voices. From this an interview project was born, which grew into this collection of heartfelt stories and brief reports from artists trying to survive the pandemic and sometimes finding unexpected ways to do so.
Authors: Annie Abrahams, Lucas Bambozzi, Dennis de Bel, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, S()fia Braga, Arcangelo Constantini, Tiny Domingos, John Duncan, Nancy Mauro Flude, Ben Grosser, Adham Hafez, Sachiko Hayashi, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Garnet Hertz, Jennifer Kanary, Brian Mackern, Miltos Manetas, Lorna Mills, Daniela de Paulis, Tina La Porta, Archana Prasad, Melinda Rackham, Michelle Teran, Mare Tralla, Igor Vamos, Ivar Veermäe.
Editor: Josephine Bosma Cover design: Katja van Stiphout Design and E-Pub development: Agnieszka Wodzińska ISBN PaperBack: 978-94-02302-74-8 ISBN E-Pub: 978-94-92302-75-5