Sonic Bodies: Text, Music, and Silence in Late Medieval England (Sound in History)

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Author in the category "Miscellaneous"
  1. Tekla Bude
Sonic Bodies

What is the body when it performs music? And what, conversely, is music as it reverberates through or pours out of a performing body? Tekla Bude starts from a simple premise—that music requires a body to perform it—to rethink the relationship between music, matter, and the body in the late medieval period.

Progressing by way of a series of case studies of texts by Richard Rolle, Walter Hilton, Margery Kempe, Geoffrey Chaucer, William Langland, and others, Bude argues that writers thought of "music" and "the body" not as separate objects or ontologically prior categories, but as mutually dependent and historically determined processes that called each other into being in complex and shifting ways. For Bude, these "sonic bodies" are often unexpected, peculiar, even bizarre, and challenge our understanding of their constitutive parts.

Building on recent conversations about embodiment and the voice in literary criticism and music theory, Sonic Bodies makes two major interventions across these fields: first, it broadens the definitional ambits and functions of both "music" and "the body" in the medieval period; and second, it demonstrates how embodiment and musicality are deeply and multiply intertwined in medieval writing. Compelling literary subjects, Bude argues, are literally built out of musical situations.


A first book, at least in my experience, is about the art of losing, inscribed in 12-point font and peer-reviewed, and the story of this book is one of let- ting go: of places I love, both begrudgingly and unabashedly (Ann Arbor, Oxford, Philadelphia, Johannesburg, Cambridge, Cleveland); of material pos- sessions that couldn’t, for reasons of space or expense, travel with me as I moved (I sold all of my books, in 2013, to a secondhand bookstore in Melville). Over the course of its writing, I have lost parts of myself to surgery and lost a child through miscarriage. I have charted the loss of relationships, some forever, others happily resutured; of time (I began to conceive of this book as a young adult, and now am teetering on the edge of middle age); and of words—so many words!—both less material and more personal than these other things.

But of course, it’s not all loss, and the move I’m going to make here, from negativity to positivity, is as earnest as it is hackneyed. When I set out to write acknowledgments in my undergraduate honors thesis in 2006 and then, the next year, my master’s thesis, I couldn’t think of anyone to thank, or to dedicate the text to. I was lonely, angry, and not in a mood to thank anyone, even if thanks were due.

I couldn’t feel more differently now, and the list of friends, colleagues, and mentors to thank here—for their companionship and their brilliance— should, rightly, take up the rest of these acknowledgments, because if this book is anything but loss, it is because of them.

To the wonderful English faculty at the University of Michigan who gently warned me about the dangers of going to graduate school, all while supporting me unconditionally, in particular Marjorie Levinson and Jonathan Freedman; to Vincent Gillespie, my master’s adviser, who intimidated and molded me in equal measure; to my PhD advisers, whose unparalleled guidance, acuity, and kindness shaped this project and my career: David Wallace, Emily Steiner, Rita Copeland, Emma Dillon, and Ann Matter; to my fellow
PhD students at Penn, whose intellectual and political rigor should be a template for all grad students everywhere: Claire Bourne, Kara Gaston, Bronwyn Wallace, Simran Thadani, Lucia Martinez, Marissa Nicosia, and Marie Turner; to the open-hearted, sarcastic, and ironizing wit of my friends in South Africa, who upheld me at my weakest moments: Colette Gordon, Judy Sikuza, and Michelle Schenck; to the women at Cambridge whose conversation kept me tethered: Alex Vukovich, Fiona Stewart, and Sarah Harris; to the wonderful women of the pre-tenure writing group at Oregon State University, who are friends and guardians who model how to be unflinching yet caring professors: Ana Milena Ribero, Trina Hogg, Rena Lauer, Megan Ward, Lily Sheehan, Cari Maes, and Mila Zuo; to my colleagues in SWLF and at OSU, who supported me both personally and institutionally: Rebecca Olson, Tara Williams, Christopher Nichols, and my department chair, Peter Betjemann; to my medieval community more broadly, especially those who took the time to talk with me about this book: Sarah Baechle, Ruen-Chuan Ma, Sarah Watson, Liza Strakhov, Laura Saetveit Miles, Rosemary O’Neill, Carissa Harris, Megan Cook, Jen Jahner, Lucy Allen-Goss, Julie Orlemanski, Andrew Albin, and Christopher Michael Roman; to the readers and editors of this manuscript, who gave more of themselves than was required, especially Andrew Hicks and Elizabeth Lyon, whose excellent Latin translations are a pivotal part of this book; to the institutions—to the corporations of people—without whom this book could not have come to be: the Mellon Foundation, Newnham College, and the Oregon State Center for the Humanities, all of which gave me time to think and to write when time was sorely needed; and, finally, to my husband, my cat, my dogs, and my daughters, who (in that order, temporally) have accompanied me and sacrificed for me as I’ve worked to complete this book.

If this book is constituted by my serial losses, it is also comprised of their presence.
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