SPAN-497-01 Sounds of the City
Spring for 2012-2013
Sounds of the City: Hearing Modernity in Hispanic Literature and Film
What do cities sound like, and what do those sounds mean for understanding local and global communities? Does Havana sound like Barcelona? Does American music sound different in Mexico City than it does in Santiago de Compostela? How do literary representations of city sound compare to cinematic ones? Do we hear an audiobook as language or as sound, and what are the psychological and social implications of hearing it that way? How do radios, mp3s, and ipods change our relationships to the space around us? What does listening to natural and manmade noise in the city tell us about Latin American and Spanish society, politics, and community?
These are just a few of the questions we will consider in this course. For decades critics have studied how city space is visually and architecturally arranged in literary texts and film. However, in the last few years Sound Studies has emerged as a new way to understand relationships between physical space, community, and the individual by focusing on how we hear space on a daily basis. If we listen closely, we will notice how globalization, local culture, and historical traditions intersect in the languages, noise, music, and natural sounds of a place.
Taking such an approach, we will examine how recent texts, films, audiobooks, music, and websites from Spain and Latin America (~1970-today) allow us to “hear” modernity in Latin America and Spain. They do so by assimilating industrial noise, foreign and indigenous languages, and global music into spatial representations of cities, the country side, and places in-between. We will see how, in the process, these texts turn local places into globalized spaces through the sounds of otherness that are incorporated into them. We will also examine what the effects of daily sounds are on individuals—as listening and speaking subjects, as well as ideologically-informed members of community.
Thus, on one hand, when discussing the sounds of the city we will take into account the physical impact sound has on the body, as well as the emotional relationships sound creates between individuals locally. But, on the other, we will also analyze the social, political, and cultural frameworks that determine how we interpret sound in community, and the conflict between natural sound and ideology that occurs whenever we listen to the spaces around us.
Primary texts to be studied may include: films by Fernando Pérez, Ventura Pons, and other cineastas; an audiobook of Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao; recent texts by Latin American and Spanish authors, such as Beltrán Mena’s Tubab and Quim Monzó’s short stories; and a variety of blogs and websites that use sound to create online space.
We will also study a number of theoretical texts on sound. These will discuss topics like sound’s impact on the body; how race and class are heard through voice and music; the relationship between visual and aural space; the globalization of sound through industrialization, telephony, pop music, and the internet; the psychoacoustics of mp3s; and the politics of polyglot spaces.
This will be a highly collaborative course. During the semester students will not only be responsible for preparing and engaging with primary and secondary texts at home; they will also engage in creative projects related to recording and analyzing local sounds. Most primary texts will be in Spanish, but discussion and written work can be in English or Spanish; all students with advanced reading knowledge of Spanish are welcome in the course.
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