Sunday, March 05, 2017

The Bad Beginning

I am embarking on a reading binge (more accurately, I have already begun a reading binge) and thought that I would write a very short review of the books as I complete them. The first book that I have finished is The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), the first book in A Series of Unfortunate Events. I have been watching the Netflix series of the same title and thought I'd begin to read the series again. The first time through, I only read up to the middle of Book 5; there are 13 books in the series, so I still have a long way to go. I believe this was the third time I have read The Bad Beginning.

I have a love-hate relationship with these books, I think. This relationship extends to the Jim Carrey movie and these Netflix episodes as well. I like the idea of the books: the world that Snicket (AKA Handler) creates is whimsical, but not in a Diagon Alley way. To explain, I was immediately perturbed by the first Harry Potter book because of the reference to Diagon Alley, which seemed a silly name for a place, a place that is supposed to exist in the real world (not in some alternate dimension). There is little reference in The Bad Beginning to the real world (though the Netflix series talks about Winnipeg).

What I found pleasurable in reading this book this time, though, was the feel of the physical book in my hands: the print was big, the chapters short. The story was simple and humourous. It was a bit of a break from Proust, which I am trying to slog through in this reading binge. My plans are not to read the second book right away (I'll try to get through one of my other books first). My reading binge began with too many books at once (12, I think).

So, look forward to these write-ups after each book is completed. I'll refrain from doing a sort of Barthesian reading of this book at this point. Don't think it will never happen, though.

Friday, August 26, 2016

“I Started to Fade Away”: Feist and Barthes’ Notion of “Recuperation.”

Here is a paper I originally presented at the IASPM Canada conference in 2007. Some of the theoretical material on the voice made its way into my book on Morrissey, published by McFarland and Company in 2011. The application of Barthes' "recuperation" is of recent interest due to my rereading of Barthes' The Pleasure of the Text.

There are challenges in discussing the singing voice, due to the lack of a good critical vocabulary with which to engage with the subject in a meaningful way. I would like to explore the singing voice in popular music, and to embark on the consideration of a new framework with which to discuss it, using the writings of Roland Barthes on the pleasure of a text as a starting point. This new framework can be considered in the discussion of Canadian singer Leslie Feist, whose star image is often based around her voice. Also, Feist is a figure placed within a rich context informed by French cultural history and the Canadian independent music scene, as well as the larger context of successful Canadian female singers.

To begin a study of the singing voice and, in turn, its characteristics in eliciting desire, it is useful to consider Roland Barthes’ concept of the “grain of the voice.” For Barthes, this “grain” does not only refer to the timbre, tone or character of the voice, but a process of communication within the voice: “the signifiance it opens cannot be better defined, indeed, than by the very friction between the music and something else,” that is, language. (Barthes 1977, 185) Between these two communicators of meaning—music and language—there emerges, for Barthes, signifiance within the “grain” of the voice. On the one hand, the “grain” refers to the physicality of the voice, pointing not to any sort of meaning but rather to the present physical body. On the other hand, signifiance suggests a continuing process of some kind. Barthes talks about the “grain” of the voice as the “very precise space . . . of the encounter between a language and a voice.” (181) For Barthes, meaning can come from the voice itself, and not only from what it communicates through language. (Barthes 1985, 183-184)

Barthes refers to an “imaginary” in music which serves to “reassure, to constitute the subject hearing it.” Barthes recognizes that there is a difficulty in discussing music in a satisfactory way, suggesting that “this imaginary immediately comes to language with the adjective.” (Barthes 1977, 179-180) Instead of changing the language by which one talks about music, Barthes wishes to “change the musical object itself, as it presents itself to discourse.” (180)

Challenges in discussing the singing voice are evident in musicological literature, as demonstrated in the following examples. In an article discussing opera singer Maria Callas’ voice in cinema, Michal Grover-Friedlander recognizes the problems inherent in discussing the singing voice apart from the “anchoring body,” and apart from suggesting that “the voice itself . . . has ‘body.’” (48) Citing Žižek and Dolar as scholars who also claim the “materiality of the voice,” she suggests that Barthes’ “grain” is “insufficient.” (48-49)

Laura DeMarco, in discussing the differences between the castrato and countertenor varieties of the male voice, describes those voices in terms of their characteristics rather than in terms of their potential for non-verbal communication. She discusses how the voices sound—for instance, calling the castrato voice “dramatic”—without attempting a discussion of what those sounds mean. (179)

Benjamin Givan recognizes the problems with discussing the voice in his attempt to explore the vocal technique of jazz musician Louis Armstrong. Givan writes that characteristics of Armstrong’s voice “are neither readily transcribed into Western musical notation, nor easily described verbally.” (190) Instead, Givan focuses on “Africanisms” in Armstrong’s vocal style.

Even in these few articles, it is clear that there is a definite lack of appropriate vocabulary within musicology with which to approach the study of the voice. Musicological discourse generally focuses on the text of the music—that is, the score—rather than the instrument. For example, in a discussion of an instrumental piece and its interpretation by a player of a particular instrument, the focus is often on the piece itself—the text and its interpretation—rather than the tone or quality of the instrument that performs it. A marked exception to this is if a performance is being discussed in terms of proper historical accuracy, or performance practice. But what is the “text” of the performing voice? This is an important question when one considers popular music, and vocal pop or rock music in particular, where the composition is generally written for—and by—a particular singing voice.

There are instances in which a celebrity persona is actually built around a singing voice. An example of this, which I would like to use as a case, is the Canadian singer Leslie Feist, often referred to by her last name only. Her voice is part of her present image or persona; she has been linked to French chanson or popular song, as well as the independent music scene in Toronto. She also carries with her a certain authenticity because she injured her voice in the late 1990s from her involvement as a punk singer. This resulted in her changing her style from “harder” music to become more of a singer-songwriter. These elements of her persona—an authenticity derived from injury, a change of style—force a study of interconnections. In other words, these elements compel one to explore the voice apart from the music itself and to consider what drives that voice.

Feist as a commercially successful singer seems to conform to a type of Canadian, female, white, solo performer, such as Avril Lavigne, Alanis Morrisette, Shania Twain and Céline Dion. This is something that will be explored in future work. The goal of this present project is to formulate a new framework with which to approach the singing voice, and thus contribute to a more meaningful vocabulary for the study of the voice.

Through an application of Barthes’ writings about the voice and his notions of how pleasure can be afforded from a text, a more valuable theoretical framework can emerge. Applying Barthes’ broader idea of an erotics of reading, fleshed out in what Richard Howard calls proses, and more specifically, his thoughts on what he calls “recuperation” presented in his book The Pleasure of the Text, to a practical case like Feist can prove a novel and valuable way of speaking of the “text” of the voice. It is through his proses that Barthes “speaks pleasure.” (Barthes 1975, vii)

Barthes’ book explores the ways in which a reader produces meaning, and continues Barthes’ earlier assertion that the “author” is “dead.” That is, simply, intention of the author means nothing, and that the interpretation (or meaning) of the text takes place in absence of the author. The book is set up in short segments, with the subjects or themes of each segment arranged alphabetically, and thus randomly in terms of subject matter. Throughout this “random” structuration, Barthes does discuss the binary of plaisir (pleasure) and jouissance (bliss or ecstacy). This is not a binary of opposites, and the relationship between the two terms is open and fluid. The “pleasure” from the title of the book should be thought of as both the pleasure that a reader takes from reading a text, as well as the pleasure that is apparently inherent in the text itself.

Those texts which do not overcome the “boundaries” of “traditional” literary norms are those texts which can be placed under the rubric of plaisir or “pleasure,” while those texts which disrupt the expectations of what a text should do are texts, then, of joissance or “ecstacy.” Of these latter texts, Barthes writes, “Pleasure in pieces; language in pieces; culture in pieces. . . . nothing is reconstituted, nothing recuperated.” (51-52) Thus this kind of text upsets all expectations, therefore scattering one’s subjectivity.

In one compelling segment of the book, Roland Barthes discusses how art is “compromised,” because of the effort of artists to destroy it. For Barthes, “this destruction is always inadequate.” If the effort on the part of the artist to destroy the art takes the form of continuing to work within art—for instance, in changing the type of art that an artist produces—then it “quickly exposes itself to recuperation.” (54) He concludes that “there is a structural agreement between the contesting and the contested forms,” but that this agreement does not take the form of a dialectic relationship between the art and its destruction for the production of a synthesis. Instead, there results the production of “a third term, which is not, however, a synthesizing term but an eccentric, extraordinary term.” (55) (see Note #1 below) This third term, then, is what Barthes suggests is the result, a “recuperation” of the art. For Barthes, the art has been changed or “compromised” through the production of this new term. This “eccentric, extraordinary term” might point to Barthes’ notion of jouissance.

Locating a moment of destruction in the art and music of Feist is not difficult. The destruction took the form of personal injury. (see Note #2 below) During her time with the punk band Placebo in the 1990s, Feist began to bleed from her throat, due to the high volume and frequency of forced singing during a tour. This resulted in her visit to a musical injury specialist, who employed a holistic approach to healing the voice, over a full year of therapy. Asked whether it is easier to sing softly, Feist replies that it is easier to sing now that she has stopped trying to sing well, or with precision.

Not only has Feist received accolades for her voice in her new style (and now that she is more popular), but she was also lauded during her time with Placebo. In an article from June 1995, Brooker Buckingham writes that, while comparisons with other modern singers like P.J.Harvey and Björk are not completely accurate, Feist does share with them “the determination to find personal truth in the breath of the voice. It’s all about the abandonment of traditional pop vocal syntax, stretching words and stressing sound until the voice becomes an instrument that exceeds its physical source.” (15) Like the proclamation attributed to Vanity Fair on the plastic wrap of Feist’s compact disc released in 2004, Let It Die, that her voice is “one in a million,” it his her voice which is in focus even early on in her career. As an aside, it should be noted that Feist is not only a singer. She also plays the guitar on most of her solo recordings, as well as in concert. Furthermore, she was the guitarist for the Toronto band By Divine Right the same year she released her first solo recording after her injury. In fact, she learned the guitar while recovering from her vocal injury.

If one accepts that the injury to Feist’s voice was an inadvertant destruction of her art, then it could be argued that what comes after is a recuperation of that art, in the form of an “eccentric, extraordinary term.” It seems that one way in which this term is extraordinary is its placement into a milieu of French chanson. Feist moved to France in 2003, and though she has been featured singing in the French language, she claims that she does not speak it: “I didn’t speak a word of French when I arrived and now I speak three words of French.” (Burgel) In November of 2004, Feist was asked to sing with the famous French singer Juliette Gréco, performing a new rendition of Gréco’s famous song, “La Javanaise,” written by Serge Gainsbourg. In the live performance, Gréco sang the first part of the song. Feist, with frequent collaborator Gonzales on piano, sang the second part in a slightly different arrangement. Feist exclaims that it was “kind of like the old guard passing the torch to the new guard.” Thus, Feist suggests that she is in fact part of the cultural milieu of French chanson, a peculiar position to be in considering her uncertainty in the French language, as well as her Canadian nationality.

Another way in which the “extraordinary term” manifests itself is in the description of Feist’s music as “jhai” [pronounced like the letter ‘j’]. From publicity during the promotion of Let It Die, “jhai” is described as “a detached manner of singing especially suited to very emotional material. The emotion is underplayed, never quite lets go and leaves room for the listener to crawl inside.” ("Feist Biography") Also, “Like line drawings as opposed to detailed paintings, these songs leave you space to fill in the emotional blanks.” This style of singing manifests itself with the singer no longer worrying about singing well or with precision. “Jhai” also carries with it a suggestion of relaxed singing, without much worry or stress. For Feist, “jhai” is also an opposite presentation of her teenaged self. She states, “When you’re 17, drama fires up everything you do. . . . Everything is so intense—I sang like that when I was 17. Now I’m 28 and I’m beginning to realize that being calm is OK.” (Ferranti)

Thus, there are some possibilities as to what might be happening here. On the one hand, there is the possibility that the stereotypical result of the passage of time and the maturity that comes with age manifests itself in the new style of Feist, with the singer now comfortable to sing in a calm way, allowing the “drama” expressed through the art to be repressed, and to be more subtly expressed in the music. On the other hand, the recuperation of her art, after its destruction, might result in the production of the “extraordinary term,” a style of singing that Feist calls “jhai.”

There are many questions which this short exploration into Barthes and Feist raises. First, is it even possible to apply Barthes’ thoughts about written texts and literature to other arts and their participants? Furthermore, why would an artist purposefully destroy their art? What if the artist inadvertently destroy their art, as might be the case with a figure like Feist? Does the inadequate destruction of the art always result in the production of an extraordinary term? If so, what are the effects of this “extraordinary term”? Finally, how does the production of this “extraordinary term” affect the art and its consumption or expression?

This exploration serves to ask more questions that provide answers, and ultimately seeks to explore new ways in which to discuss the singing voice, and to attempt to provide new vocabularies with which to discuss the singing voice in a more meaningful way. It is my hope that this present work constitutes a start in that direction.


Note #1: Barthes illustrates this by using Bataille: “Bataille does not counter modesty with sexual freedom but . . . with laughter.” [emphasis in original]

Note #2: This was revealed by Feist in an interview with David Dye on the National Public Radio programme World Café. The complete interview can be heard at the NPR website, available from (accessed 2 November 2006).


Author Unknown, “Feist Biography.” High Road Touring. Available from Internet. Accessed 26 March 2007.

Barthes, Roland. The Grain of the Voice: Interviews 1962-1980. Translated by Linda Coverdale. New York: Hill and Wang, 1985.

_____. Image—Music—Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977.

_____. The Pleasure of the Text. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1975.

Buckingham, Brooker. “Come On In, the Water’s Fine.” Core Magazine (June 1995). 15-16.

Burgel, Sheila. “An Interview with Feist: Canada’s Smooth Operator.” Cha Cha Charming Magazine. Available from Internet. Accessed 26 July 2006.

DeMarco, Laura E. “The Fact of the Castrato and the Myth of the Countertenor.” The Musical Quarterly 86:1 (Spring 2002). 174-185.

Ferranti, Lauren. “Feist: Once More, with Less Feeling.” (4 June 2004). Available from Internet. Accessed 26 March 2007.

Givan, Benjamin. “Duets for One: Louis Armstrong’s Vocal Recordings.” The Musical Quarterly 87:2 (Summer 2004). 188-218.

Grover-Friedlander, Michal. “The Afterlife of Maria Callas’s Voice.” The Musical Quarterly 88:1 (Spring 2005). 35-62.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

“A Swaying and Fluttering Form”: Foucault’s Heterotopias in Eco’s The Name of the Rose

In honour of Umberto Eco upon his death, here is a paper I originally presented at the CISPCR Symposium in 2013. Some of the material was modified and applied to Bowie, and appears in my book on Bowie, published by McFarland and Company in 2015.

Michel Foucault writes of certain spaces that “suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect.” (Foucault 24) He calls such spaces heterotopias. For Adso, the narrator-protagonist in Umberto Eco’s best-selling novel, The Name of the Rose, the biblical text of the Song of Songs acts as a sort of heterotopia, a mirror which reflects (and distorts) his position; “it exerts a sort of counteraction on the position.” To clarify, there are moments in the novel where Adso’s heterosexuality, a subject position assumed by his piety, by his position in monastic life in the early part of the second millennium, is suspect: “even today my old age is stirred ... when my eyes ... happen to linger on the beardless face of a novice, pure and fresh as a maiden’s.” (Eco 159) At another moment, Adso reflects on an incident of heterosexual impropriety, and uses the text of the Song of Songs in order to deflect, perhaps, suggestions of sexual impropriety in the text. None of this is sure, though; in fact, the novel as a whole seems to enact a sort of heterotopic space. It is what could, what might, but what is not (necessarily).

An article, “Of Other Spaces,” was published in 1986, a translation of Michel Foucault’s lecture, “Des Espaces Autres,” given in March 1967. In the english translation by Jay Miskowiec, Foucault describes a sort of history of space. Of note, he suggests that the “actual” space of the Middle Ages constitutes what he calls a “space of emplacement”: “a hierarchic ensemble of places: sacred places and profane places; protected places and open, exposed places; urban places and rural places (all these concern the real life of men).” (22) This is an important observation considering the setting for Eco’s novel, that of a monastery in the fourteenth-century. For Foucault, the Middle Ages demonstrated “this complete hierarchy, this opposition, this intersection of places” in a particularly marked and compelling way. The Middle Ages was an age in which one was strongly placed in a certain space, without possibility for mobility. Each space, also, was marked as what it was, without the possibility of change; categorization of space, and of its occupants, was fixed. As in other areas of Foucault’s study, the study of space reveals power relations.

To only slightly oversimplify, Foucault suggests that the spaces that one lives in that define one’s life are also defined by society, and other power holders and discourse creators and reinforcers. The spaces or sites in which one lives are related to each other: these spaces are through which order is established in society. Foucault states, though, that such mundane sites are not of ultimate interest to him:
I am interested in certain ones that have the curious property of being in relation with all the other sites, but in such a way as to suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect. These spaces, as it were, which are linked with all the others, which however contradict all the other sites, are of two main types. (24)
The types to which Foucault refers are “utopia” and “heterotopia.” For Foucault, then, utopia is unreal, a presentation of society “in a perfected form, or else society turned upside down, but in any case . . . fundamentally unreal spaces.” Heterotopias, on the other hand, are real spaces: “these places are absolutely different from all the sites that they reflect and speak about.” Between the utopia, which is unreal, and the heterotopia, which is real, is what Foucault calls the mirror. He seems to conflate the two ideas as well: while the heterotopia is reflected or mediated by the mirror, the mirror becomes a sort of heterotopia in itself:
it makes this place that I occupy at the moment when I look at myself in the glass at once absolutely real, connected with all the spaces that surrounds it, and absolutely unreal, since in order to be perceived it has to pass through this virtual point which is over there. (24)
The mirror exists in the real world, and thus reflects the unreal idea of utopia in a solid object. Such ideas are compelling if one considers the role of Eco’s own novel—the actual, perhaps physical, idea, or concept, or narrative—as heterotopia: “The heterotopia is capable of juxtaposing in a single real place several spaces, several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” (25) For a moment, consider the actual novel, the very narrative that constitutes the reading text. This is a single space of heterotopia, but one can continue the chain. The Song of Songs in the novel acts as heterotopia, the mirror in which Adso sees himself acts as heterotopia, and, ultimately, the story of the kitchen girl acts as heterotopia.

Foucault discusses various principles of heterotopia; one of his principles suggests that “Heterotopias always presuppose a system of opening and closing that both isolates them and makes them penetrable.” (26) Haft, White and White, in their massive work, The Key to the Name of the Rose, suggest that the Middle Ages, that space that Foucault calls a “space of emplacement,” is “an historical ‘open work.’” (Haft, White and White 23) That period has no definitive opening or closing, which works to make the novel itself both “isolated,” in that its temporal definition is difficult to immediately ascertain (especially for the contemporary reader), but this very fact also makes it penetrable. It is not hard to presume that many readers would need to be reminded of the actual historical time period of the novel; while the abstract “Middle Ages” is obviously the temporal setting of the novel, its importance is not necessarily the key to understanding the narrative. Certainly understanding the key elements of the historical background of the novel helps to further flesh out the story, a fact which is made clear by the popularity of such books as The Key to the Name of the Rose, Theresa Coletti’s Naming the Rose from 1988, as well as Eco’s own, rather substantial, Postscript to the Name of the Rose, from 1983. But such knowledge is not required in order to begin to read the book. The difficulty for the reader begins, though, with the first introduction of language other than the text of the story; whether we consider the source Italian or the translated English, some of the first words the reader encounters are in French. As the reader continues her journey in the story, she encounters Latin, French, Italian, and the patois of all three as manifest in the speech of the character Salvatore. Rocco Capozzi, in his study of the “unlimited intertextuality” of the novel, writes,
Eco’s novel is a perfect example of conscious (and unconscious) “hybridization”; it is a text in which many other texts merge, fuse, collide, intersect, speak to, and illuminate, one another—each with its own language and “ideologue.” The Rose, succinctly put, is a skillfull (con)structure of an intentionally ambiguous, polyvalent, and self-reflexive novel intended to generate multiple meanings. Moreover, it is a novel which wishes to be: an intersection of textual “traces” and “textures”; a dialogue with many texts; and a literary text generated through the endless process of writing and reading, re-writing and re-reading, etc. (Capozzi 413)
Such discussions of the novel certainly evoke at least the reflection of utopia in the form of heterotopia.

The Song of Songs exists as heterotopia within the novel as well. Foucault states, “There are others [that is, other heterotopias] . . . that seem to be pure and simple openings, but that generally hide curious exclusions.” (Foucault 26) It might be that the Song of Songs acts as an “opening” that hides the “exclusion” that is homosexuality. Adso uses the words of the Song of Songs to describe his liaison with the kitchen girl because, first of all, the experience did not occur, and secondly, because he is unable to describe the experience, having never experienced such a liaison. The Song of Songs, then, is a kind of “entry door” as Foucault seems to describe it. In his article, Foucault describes what he calls “famous bedrooms” that existed in South America, as containing an entry door that did not lead to the central chambers in which the family lived, but rather to an open bedroom in which a stranger was allowed to stay, but only for a time, that is, for the evening. Foucault makes a compelling observation: he suggests that these South American bedrooms are akin to the “famous” American hotel rooms in which “illicit sex is both absolutely sheltered and absolutely hidden, kept isolated without however being allowed into the open.” (26-27) For Adso, the biblical text works as a kind of “entry door” or “open room”: it allows Adso entry but only for a time. It works for him to keep the act isolated or sheltered—the language of the biblical text is not his own text, and thus, shelters him from needing to experience the actual act in reality—and it works for him to keep the act absolutely hidden—he uses the biblical text to mask what has actually happened, by displacing the more immoral experience of homosexuality with the liaison with the kitchen girl, through the lens of the biblical text. As heterotopia, though, the text functions in another way, as an actual, real, example of utopic love, something that is reflected in the text of the novel, while being ignored in the narrative of the novel.

The mirror itself, which Adso encounters in the library, is also a heterotopia. Adso’s first experience of the mirror is described as follows: “Holding the lamp in front of me, I ventured into the next rooms. A giant of threatening dimensions, a swaying and fluttering form came toward me, like a ghost.” For Adso, the mirror is something that, as William explains, “reflects your image, enlarged and distorted.” Adso continues to describe the experience: “I saw our two images, grotesquely misshapen, changing form and height as we moved closer or stepped back.” (Eco 196) Recall Foucault’s description of those spaces that are not the spaces which define the lives of those in society, but rather those spaces that convey something else: they “suspect, neutralize, or invert the set of relations that they happen to designate, mirror, or reflect.” (Foucault 24) In this case, the actual mirror, and its reflection, seems to signify this space, a kind of space of possibility, a possibility with “threatening dimensions, a swaying and fluttering form,” that is, the form of Adso’s fabrication, a sort of reflection of himself that is misshapen. It is a true reflection, yet it is distorted; it is a representation of Adso’s experience of pleasure, but an encounter with Ubertino, which occurs directly before his supposed encounter with the kitchen girl, as described in the narrative.

Another heterotopia is the story of the liaison with the kitchen girl itself. It functions as many of the heterotopia discusses thus far function. It is a heterotopia which neutralizes, which hides “curious exclusions,” to use Foucault’s terms. Foucault also suggests, though, that heterotopias are able to juxtapose “several sites that are in themselves incompatible.” Furthermore, these are heterotopias of deviation, what Foucault describes as “those in which individuals whose behavior is deviant in relation to the required mean or norm are placed.” (25) Certainly Adso’s behaviour is deviant if one considers the liasion with the kitchen girl, and so it seems to function well, then, as a heterotopia. As such, it is a space of experience, where a figure without (prior) experience can express the experience of sexuality, in a space which, in such a way, is utopic, a space of expression of experience. It is a distorted reflection of the actual event between Adso and Ubertino, at the very least an example of sexually charged homosocial behaviour.

The image most closely associated with the heterotopia is a boat, an item at its most comfortable (for lack of a better word) on the sea, in an unfixed position, always swaying to and fro. Foucault states, “the boat is a floating piece of space, a place without a place, that exists by itself, that is closed in on itself and at the same time is given over to the infinity of the sea.” This is a fascinating idea that might be applied to the novel of The Name of the Rose itself. The polysemic nature of the text, the labyrinthian levels and layers of meaning, those spaces of emplacement that are also juxtaposed into sorts of networks of manifest utopia, point to a kind of unfixed text, a space which becomes, as Foucault suggests, “the greatest reserve of the imagination.” If the novel presents chains of heterotopia, then it also presents a real example of the ideal utopia. Without that “greatest reserve of the imagination” which characterizes the novel, Foucault continues, “dreams dry up . . . and the police take the place of the pirates.”


Capozzi, Rocco. “Palimpsests and Laughter: The Dialogical Pleasure of Unlimited Intertextuality in The Name of the Rose.” Italica 66:4 (Winter 1989). 412-428.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Translated by William Weaver. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. 2006.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Translated by Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics 16:1 (Spring 1986). 22-27.

Haft, Adele J., Jane G. White and Robert J. White, The Key to the Name of the Rose. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. 1998.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

David Bowie 1947-2016

Yesterday morning, I found out that a very large part of my academic formation and work, died. David Bowie was 69 years old. No one lives forever, but we don't always think of our celebrities as real people. We see them mediated, outside of the normal stream of time. As I write this, I'm listening to Bowie's voice, back from the grave: "Ain't it just like me," he sings.

Back around 1993, I remember hearing the first strains of _Black Tie White Noise_ in an Ottawa CD store, and I walked out with that album. "You've Been Around" was the catalyst that began my academic pursuits, I think. Once _Outside_ came out in 1995, I was hooked. I remember talking to one of my music profs about the music on that album, about what was going on there, the "problem" that needed to be "solved."

Bowie became the subject matter of my Master's thesis. Antonella Bilich Greco and I listened to Bowie constantly during that time, in the TA office at McMaster.

When we saw Bowie in concert in Montreal in 2004, we were told to sit down by those sitting behind us, who seemingly were only there for the hits. And we did.

When I had the opportunity to revisit some of my earlier scholarship for the book, I happily did so, (re)discovering that Bowie was still the "problem" that needed to be "solved," and a delightful one at that.

Yesterday was a whirlwind, with something like eight media interviews throughout the day, not to mention a blurb for a Greek daily newspaper. And then a first class.

We don't know these celebrities, but we feel like we do. Yesterday, my friends and colleagues sent messages of condolence and stopped by my office. And I thank them for that.

And I thank David Bowie for his music. If it wasn't for him, I'm pretty confident to say that I wouldn't be the scholar--or the person--I am today.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Happy New Year!

Well, now I'm 42 (my birthday was on December 27) and 2015 is history. I wish I would have finished Smith's book on desire and culture, but the busy-ness of the school term got the best of me. I thought I'd post a quick note at the start of the new year.

What is on my horizon in 2016? Academically, there are a few things: I hope to present at the Popular Culture Association of Canada annual conference (in collaboration with the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada) in Montreal in May; at the end of May, I'm planning to attend the International Association for the Study of Popular Music joint conference of the Canadian and American branches in Calgary (taking place during Congress); and finally, I am hoping to hear from a publisher about moving forward on a major study of U2 and cosmopolitanism.

I'm teaching three courses, starting in a week: Popular Music and Culture, Media in Crisis: Print and Radio, and Principles of Journalism. I am looking forward to teaching Popular Music. I've never taught this one alone, but it is sort of my specialty (at least on paper).

As for personally, I don't really have many wants. I'd love to buy myself an "expensive" watch (a Seiko SARB065 "Cocktail Time - Cool" to be exact). Even $500 seems a really crazy price for a watch, but it's so nice looking! I'd like to buy myself a big comfy chair from IKEA, but there is no room for it in our house or in my office at school. Probably, we'll have to buy a new home computer, and we'll be travelling to Ontario to visit family around the conferences in May. No vacations this summer, but maybe we'll begin planning for Summer 2017 and WDW.

Here's to 2016: may it bring hope and happiness and hearts' desires.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Karla Adolphe - Live at The Space EP

I first encountered Karla Adolphe, a singer-songwriter from High River, Alberta, when she played for a chapel service at Providence University College in Otterburne, Manitoba, a few years ago. I was immediately taken by this compelling and emotive performer. In concert, with only her voice and her guitar, she seemed to express a kind of victory despite loss, or an acceptance despite loneliness: her Christian faith was clearly present in that it allowed her to overcome the various difficulties that she experienced.

This was particularly evident during her last visit to Providence a couple of years ago, during which she expressed the difficulties she faced in the flooding of her house, and her community, in the floods of June 2013. She expressed how difficult the rebuilding process was for her, and as she presented her stories, I became part of her story: my own troubles (certainly not as difficult as her--and her family'--experiences) came to mind and I realized that our journeys in life, though unique to each of us, were more similar than different. And if she could overcome despite, then, perhaps, so could I.

When I found out that Karla Adolphe was putting out a live EP, I was excited. The five-song EP was recorded live at The Space, "a sound stage, post-production house and a recording studio" located in Red Deer, Alberta. The tracks feature Adolphe and her guitar, as well as a sparse band and complementary background vocals. Other than that, the production is light, and so the performance remains intimate and very easy to listen to.

The first track, "Trouble Won't Go," is a rousing number, evocative of a spiritual, a song that seems to bring to the forefront life's difficulties: "Ain't no refuge but you, my God." With all of the talk of levees breaking and earth eroding away, it is easy to make a connection (at least thematically) with Adolphe's own experiences in the 2013 floods. But her decision is to hold still in the arms of God. Her proclamation is loud and definitive. She will do this despite.

"Magnolia," a preview of the title track on her upcoming full-length release, begins with a couple of guitars and fingersnaps for percussion, and then Adolphe's blues-infused delivery. This song is a bit of a "soft" scorcher, that is until the chorus begins with the declaration of "I will rise up!" Again, the theme of victory in the face of looming defeat is strong. To say that the song is an encouragement is too strong: the song is a call of desperation, and a call to join together with her to yell at defeat and to tell it to go away.

Her rendition of "Ice Road," originally released on Honeycomb Tombs from 2012, is imbued with a positive energy not present on the studio recording. Though equally beautiful, the original is sad and sparse, evoking the loneliness of an ice road journey itself. This version seems to anticipate the arrival to a destination. Adolphe has now "gotten through," her desire throughout the song.

"No Grounds For Love" is soft and gentle, and reminds this listener of Feist's work, though with Adolphe's vocal power. It is a beautiful song which really demonstrates how talented a performer Karla Adolphe really is. She is able to disarm the listener: through her vulnerability, she makes the listener vulnerable. We are affected by her emotions. In the sonic spaces of the song, beneath and through the voice we hear, we breath, realizing that we are all on a similar journey through life.

Once I got to the last song, "Child of the King," I was saddened. It wasn't because of the triumphant sorts of declarations that Adolphe proclaims here; she continues to express this sort of victory despite. Rather, I know that the EP is over. Karla, we need a full-length, live, one-take, one-guitar, one-voice album. We need more of that spoken and sung victory despite so that we can continue to realize that we are not alone.

Until then, I suppose this will do.

You can pre-order/purchase both Digital Downloads and Physical CDs at

Look forward to Magnolia, a full-length album from Karla Adolphe, coming in March 2016. For more information on wonderful Karla Adolphe, see her website at

Friday, October 09, 2015

Affective Images

Smith explores the power of narrative in media (as well as narrative in advertising, in ”iconic” representations at a mall) as ”affective images,” which, in turn, affect our telos, the direction of our desire. (58) Further, habits are trained by ritual, precognitive actions of the body. He states:
Over time, rituals and practices--often in tandem with aesthetic phenomena like pictures and stories--mold and shape our precognitive disposition by training our desires. (59)
Interestingly, Smith suggests that, thinking back to Christian education, if the religious academy is concerned with "worldview," it might also want to be concerned with the "unconscious" (residing close to the sites of desire), which informs it. (61)