Department of English

University of Toronto

ENG483H1S L0101

ENG483H1S L0101 MW 12-2
Acoustic Geographies in Canadian Literature
Instructor: Vikki Visvis

Brief Description of Course: This course will examine representations of sound and aural engagement in contemporary Canadian fiction and poetry. We will adapt the term “acoustic geography” from music-education theorist R. Murray Schafer, who argues that a sound or combination of sounds arises from an immersive environment, whether natural and/or urban. Expanding the definition of “acoustic geography” to include the immersive environment of literature, this course will consider literary depictions of the sounds of nature, silence, music, and speech in recent Canadian fiction and poetry. Specifically, it will explore how these sounds are represented in terms of region, genre, linguistics, stylistics, sociocultural systems, and identity. Crucially, the term “acoustic geography” also includes the listener’s perception of sounds, and so this course will investigate not only the production of sound but also its reception as aural engagement. .

We will begin with an examination of sound poetry in Canada, and continue by considering the sounds of North, particularly in relation to Marshall McLuhan’s concept of “acoustic space” and Glenn Gould’s notion of contrapuntal listening. We will then critique representations of deafness as the absence of sound and as an aural disability, and go on to examine the intersections between jazz and genre, especially biography and history. The course will also study linguistic and stylistic resistance to colonial sonic environments by both Jamaican-Canadian dub poets and Indigenous soundscapes. It will then refer to portrayals of an early electronic musical instrument named the theremin to assess capitalist and communist sociocultural systems. We will close by reviewing the influence of jazz and blues music on constructions of racial and bi-racial identity in Nazi occupied Europe.

Required Reading: Course Reader with poetry by bill bissett, Four Horseman, Christian Bök, Louise Bennett, Lillian Allen, amuna baraka-clarke, Gregory Scofield, Marylyn Dumont, and Neal McLeod. Elizabeth Hay, Late Nights on Air (McLelland&Stewart); Frances Itani, Deafening (HarperPerenial); Michael Ondaatje, Coming through Slaughter (Vintage); Sean Michaels, Us Conductors (Random House); Esi Edugyan, Half-Blood Blues (Thomas Allen). Novels available at the University of Toronto Bookstore (214 College Street, 416-640-7900). Poetry will be posted on the course Quercus site.

First Three Authors/Texts: Bill Bissett, Four Horseman, Elizabeth Hay.

Method of Evaluation: Five short response assignments, 1-2 pages each (15%), participation (10%), seminar presentation, 15 minutes (20%), essay proposal and annotated bibliography (20%), final long essay, 15-18 pages (35%).

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