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Vol. 1 No. 2 (2020): Soundscapes, Sonic Cultures, and American Studies

Sonic Others in Early Sound Studies and the Poetry of Edward Sapir: A Salvage Operation

  • Elisabeth A. Reichel
May 2, 2019


Characteristically, early research in soundscapes is suffused with a sense of sonophilia; that is, a fascination with auditory perception and sound as the inferiorized Other of sight. Soundscape scholars have thus often conceived of their work as a salvage operation, which is conducted to save what would otherwise be irretrievably lost to a visual regime. This moral impetus to redeem the "sonic Other" is at the center of this article, in which I investigate how notions of sonic alterity interweave with treatments of social and cultural alterity. To explore and interrogate the nexus of social, cultural, and sonic alterity for its political and ethical ramifications, I analyze the acoustics of the poetry of Edward Sapir. Sapir played a key role in the formation of cultural anthropology and the early development of linguistic anthropology. What is far less known is that he is also the author of over six hundred poems, some of which were published in such renowned magazines as Poetry and The Dial. Focusing on the poems "To a Street Violinist" and "Harvest," I probe the dynamics of an anthropo-literary project that sets out to salvage both non-visual sense perceptions and other-than-modern, Western ways of life.


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