Tuning in to Soundwriting

Resounding History: A Rhetoric of Sonic Historiography (in Two Parts)

by Jonathan W. Stone

Part 1: Sonic Rhetorical Methods: Writing About Writing About Sonic History (cont.)

Sound Rhetorical Historiography

The earlier evocation of my graduate training was to emphasize the ways that those doing historical work bring a set of values, assumptions, experiences, and (therefore) biases to a project. Kenneth Burke's (1966) "terministic screen" metaphor, or the idea that ways of seeing are always also ways of not seeing, sums up this reality well. Burke's insight works well to provide an exigence for the need to consider multiple perspectives, and also for changing the sensory metaphor (to sound, for example) to discover what else might be gleaned. What works about Burke's visual model is the sense that the gaze can only be focused on one thing at a time. Seeing something requires ignoring something else. Expanding that line of thinking to sound leads to some different conclusions. Unlike visual stimuli, sound is much more amenable to layering and mixing—be it natural or composed—and to different attunements, from harmony to dissonance. Though it is true that the direct communicative act of speaking is more in line with the "screen" model (it is difficult to listen to two incoming signals at once), a terministic soundscape would still have a different kind of bandwidth than its visual equivalent. Rather than highlighting the disparity equation that visual focus requires, a terministic soundscape complicates the purity of the communicative act by reminding us that communication is never a pure knowledge transfer of information. Even the "clearest" aural experience requires reliance on a kind of built-in automatic interpretation—embodied hermeneutics, if you will—that sorts the complexity and simultaneity of listening into meaning. Listening with an understanding of the terministic soundscape is listening that recognizes and attends to the complexity of sounded data and therefore recognizes that "tuning in" is both an act of tuning out and an act of constant aural synthesis.

Burke's theory (and this sonic permutation) can be applied as a methodology that values more-than-meets-the-eye/ear communicative elements and can also be used to inform more practical methods of rhetorical historiography. Indeed, and returning to the general thesis of this chapter, as the understanding of and attention to our tools for interpretation become more complex (including an understanding of their limitations), the historiographical process becomes more transparent. Rhetorical historiography, then, should include careful examination of the biases, trends, and even bibliographies that our lives and (therefore) work are embedded in, and sonic rhetorical historiography is historical work with sonic archival elements that challenge the tendency towards "easy" historical listening. The following points in this section are recommendations for curating content and methodologies to that end. The final section, "Working in the Sonic Archive," offers some practical advice for composing sonic projects and histories.

1. The championing of underrepresented rhetorics is a scholarly value with a history that deserves our ongoing attention and reverence.

As I addressed earlier, the recovery of marginalized voices has become a disciplinary value and, as such, a part of the epideictic discourse that now flows through the veins of our various journals, conferences, and graduate programs. This is a triumph of and testament to those who have gone before—those giants upon whose shoulders we stand—but there is still work to do. While working on a larger book-length project on the Alan Lomax archive titled Listening to the Lomax Archive: The Sonic Rhetorics of American Folksong in the 1930s (J. W. Stone, forthcoming), for example, it didn't take long before I realized that the important rhetorical and historical work to be done was not on Lomax, the archivist and field worker at the center of that project. Lomax's voice already resounds distinctly in both popular and scholarly history. No, the important voices were those that had been relegated in his archive to the status of "subject" and "artifact." Harkening back to point 2 in the previous section, a preexisting interest/care in the Lomax history was the inspiration for the first research dive. Once there, I was able to narrow the focus toward subjects and people that were left secondary to the typical Lomax narrative. But there is room for continued improvement. As my book manuscript was being wrapped up, I realized that while it has a number of important case-study examples, all of them were from the perspective of African American men. There are no women included. This project—an extended listen to (and celebration of) Vera Hall—is one way that I hope to make up for this exclusion.

2. Historiography is about correction, revision, and also, therefore, resoundings.

We should strive for accuracy, but history is always incomplete and often has glaring omissions. Above, I mentioned an omission that has haunted me a bit: In a book-length project about the sonic rhetorics of African American voices, not a single voice was female. In order to make my needed correction, I needed some help: models, theory, and a sense of the history of historiographical and archival processes about recovering and/or amplifying underrepresented, and especially in this case, women's voices. In short, I needed to review the literature (see point 3 in this section).

What I found during that review of dozens of articles and book chapters was a meticulous roadmap for engaged study in women's sonic history. In one of the earliest works in feminist rhetoric, Man Cannot Speak for Her: A Critical Study of Early Feminist Rhetoric, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell (1989) reminded us that our understanding of the history of rhetoric is limited by the fact that, for a large portion of recorded history, women were not permitted to contribute to it. This prescribed silence can be found in the ancient (Western) rhetorical texts of Plato and Aristotle as well as in the epistles of Paul, but the tradition of limiting women's contributions to public discourse (spoken or written) stretches well into the twentieth century and is arguably with us still (p. 7). "Feminist historiographers," wrote Lindal Buchanan and Kathleen J. Ryan (2010), "developed research methods and methodologies capable of recovering women rhetors of whom little record remains. Further, feminist scholars discovered women's rhetorics in formerly disregarded sites and genres and, in the process, broadened what counted as rhetoric" (p. xvi). This broadening of the rhetorical palette, along with Cherly Glenn's (1997) statement that "feminist historiography points to a different set of subjects" (p. xxx), is all the exigence needed to introduce Vera Hall into rhetorical history as an important figure. Hall was not a writer nor a public speaker or figure; nevertheless, her vernacular rhetoric is powerful and has been heard by millions, but deserves a more thorough and thoughtful exploration and presentation.

3. Intersectionality is a key to sound rhetorical historiography.

As I have chronicled in small part above, preparation for this chapter has included the review of several important works in feminist rhetorical theory and practice, African American and LGBTQ+ rhetorics, rhetorical historiography, sound studies, and the Lomax archive. These various inclusions show the breadth of possible research avenues, but they also show the various ways work with sound and sonic archives encourages researchers to think not just about singular subjects in a vacuum, but about subjects situated within complex networks where history is inextricably enmeshed with places, bodies, identities, and any number of other material and nonmaterial realities and forces—including those of systematic oppression. Kimberlé Crenshaw (1989) called this complex web "intersectionality." Paraphrasing what Crenshaw, bell hooks (2014), and others have written about the subject: As a theoretical extension of and revision to aspects of feminism, intersectionality evokes and teases out the layers and complexities of sexist and racist oppression, reminding us of the far-reaching and overlapping realities and effects of white supremacy, patriarchy, and the like.6 6 "Intersectional feminism" (or "intersectionality") as both a concept and a practice has seen wide attention both inside and outside of academia, including within rhetoric and writing studies. Many if not most of the citations in this chapter relating to feminist rhetoric reference and apply intersectional values or methods and might be drawn upon for further exploration of the subject. Additionally, I found Hailey Nicole Otis's (2019) Quarterly Journal of Speech article, "Intersectional Rhetoric: Where Intersectionality as Analytic Sensibility and Embodied Rhetorical Praxis Converge," useful as a as a touchstone for accessing ongoing conversations around intersectionality and rhetoric.

If theories of feminist intersectionality instruct us of the simultaneity of these oppressive regimes, intersectionality in practice should work as a corrective in acknowledging and accounting for these various layers. The audio essay in Part 2 of this chapter is an explicit exercise in this kind of work, bridging a feminist and antiracist methodology. But in this first part I've sought to acknowledge some ways that sound and sonic archives create opportunities for intersectionality through new historiographical inroads in the recovery and instantiation of marginalized voices to the historical record. Such work requires care and vigilance. As Dànielle Nicole DeVoss, Angela Haas, and Jackie Rhodes (2019) have written, even in well-intentioned feminist work "there is marginalization of Black women's experiences" and "anti-racist and anti-sexist policies that fail to account for the interactions between race, gender, class, and subordination." Adopting intersectionality as a value, then, is a commitment—there are many conversations to listen in on and process, some difficult, and many likely to challenge traditional paradigms of thinking and being. Making such a commitment, however, promises to add crucial depth, empathy, and veracity to our archival scholarship.7 7 As mentioned, much of this research has been referenced or footnoted already, but a number of articles address the "archival turn" and work productively to theorize that intellectual space for rhetoric and writing studies: a recent special issue of College English highlighted the role of the digital in our ongoing archival and historiographical work. The issue, titled "The Digital Humanities and Historiography in Rhetoric and Composition" (Enoch & Gold, 2013), was instructive to this larger work. Also, see Jessica Enoch and Pamela VanHaitsma's (2015) College Composition and Communication article, "Archival Literacy: Reading the Rhetoric of Digital Archives in the Undergraduate Classroom."