A (Perhaps) Not-so-modest Proposal

Or, Tyler’s Making Progress


The past half-year I’ve been consumed with dissertation preparations: narrowing down a topic, questioning that topic, narrowing it again, compiling a bibliography around which my comprehensive exams will be built, drafting a dissertation proposal, revising that proposal, and revising again, then again. And I’ve only really just begun. Now that my proposal has been approved by the graduate director in Idaho State’s Department of English and Philosophy, I have to tackle the real work. This includes 1) gutting the works on my exam lists so I can be ready for my comprehensive exams, which are tentatively scheduled for mid-may/early-June, and 2) beginning to draft my dissertation, which I’ve committed* to finish by the end of spring semester 2012.

But I digress.

This post is really meant to pass along that approved version of my dissertation proposal, which dissertation is titled (at this point)—drum roll, please—“Performative Poesis and the (Un)Making of the World: Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy as Ethnography.”

Contrary to what I’ve written in the past about this all-consuming writing project (see here and here), I’ve moved away from a sole focus on Mormon poetry, though Mormonism as part of Caldiero’s cultural/performance heritage is at the heart of my interest in his work. As such, it will be a sustained presence in my dissertation. This change to writing about Caldiero was spurred on by, among other things, 1) recent efforts to archive, share, and discuss Caldiero’s work—including Torben Bernhard and Travis Low’s documentary The Sonosopher: Alex Caldiero in Life . . . in Sound (now available for pre-order from Ken Sanders Rare Books), Scott Abbott’s continued engagement with Caldiero, and the publication of Caldiero’s latest collection of poems, Poetry is Wanted Here—and 2) by my fascination with Caldiero in performance. I’ve yet to see him perform live (one of the drawbacks of living in Idaho), but from what I hear and what I can sense of him in these online recordings, he asserts a powerful presence on the stage and has much to say about the making and maintaining of poetry, culture, language, and humanity. So I’m investing my scholarship in him and his performative poetics for at least the next seventeen or so months.

For anyone interested in reading my complete proposal (all 47 pages of it, including works cited and exam lists), here’s a full-text copy. And for those who’d appreciate the Reader’s Digest version, here’s a summary my advisor wrote when she wanted to help me be sure I was getting my point across (and I think her summary is spot on):

Alex Caldiero, a contemporary performance poet who lives in Utah, calls his poetics sonosophy, which literally means sound-wisdom. Sonosophy is a useful idea not just for understanding Caldiero but also for helping us understand other performance poets and performance itself. We can use performance theory to analyze Caldiero and sonosophy. This requires an ethnographic method (which is not what literary scholars usually do): transcribing the poetry to reveal how sound and movement are meaningful in the poetry, as well as the words, and analyzing meaning through relating the poetry to its performance arenas, to the contexts that Caldiero claims as influences, and to other applicable contexts such as the late 20th century performance art movement. This analysis reveals the expressive power of performance poetics. Ultimately, the analysis further reveals sonosophy as an auto-ethnographic practice through which Caldiero meaningfully questions his own culture and its assumptions.

Any feedback you’re willing to offer is welcome.


*To the only person that really matters: my wife.

8 thoughts on “A (Perhaps) Not-so-modest Proposal”

  1. .

    Ambitious schedule. Sounds like you are genuinely increasing the edges of human understanding. Go fight win.

  2. Good luck with things! And make sure your wife has a good support structure in place… (Sorry I can’t give any more substantive comment, but you’re clearly working outside my knowledge base.)

  3. So let’s see, we have:

    Situation in two major aesthetic traditions or streams (Dada and performance art).

    Both Catholicism and Mormonism and in particular ritual and sacred space.

    Avant-garde moments that are distributed via the great democratic avatar of performance (YouTube).

    Transcribing of performance in to a specialized vocabulary.

    Conceptual underpinnings from aesthetics (performance theory), anthropology (ethnography) and poetics.

    A major nod to one of the most, if not the most, influential 20th century poems.

    And all this about a minor figure with a rich biography and a transgressive yet fully located within the post-French theory academy body of work.

    Sounds to me like it’ll work.

  4. Caldiero is awesome. That documentary from Torben Bernhard and Travis Low was one of the best movies I saw last year. Blew me away.

  5. Sounds fascinating! Both Torben and I would love to be of any assistance that we can. We have spent the last 3 years working pretty closely with Alex…very intensively in 2008 and 2009. We travelled around Utah with him, and to New York, Italy, and Sicily with him as well…all places that are important to his work and life. We’ve read all of his published works, and a large quantity of his unpublished (but essentially ‘finished’) material. And, we’ve captured/catalogued 100+ hours of video/audio with him. Needless to say, having the film ‘done’ now, we are pretty wiped out from this project, but we’d certainly love to help out however we can. …you absolutely need to see him perform and to be in that performance space with him, at least a couple times… I’m sure we could set something up there at Idaho State to have him do a reading/performance…or we could try to have you come down, for an event or a guest lecture, to Utah Valley University (where Alex teaches) to talk about your project and/or to see him perform.

    Anyway, be in touch. Travis Low – grabloid@gmail.com

  6. p.s.

    I just read the proposal that you linked to in your post, I’m very excited about this. I’m really fascinated by your methodologies, concepts, and perspectives on Alex’s work…and your research is very interesting and insanely exhaustive. I’d love to talk with you about this.

    As a person who has been deeply interested in and affected by Alex and his work for at least the last 6 years, and has someone who has spent the past three years working closely with Alex and documenting his work and life, I feel that you have a thoroughly unique and fresh perspective on him — and at the same time, I think that you are hitting the nail right on the head. Great work, and good luck!!!

  7. It’s about time someone did a serious study of Alex’s work!

    Alex, by the way, teaches in the Department of Philosophy and Humanities as Senior Artist in Residence, and not in the Integrated Studies Program.

    And if you’re interested in further writing about Alex’s work, you might look here:http://works.bepress.com/scott_abbott/

    Essays under both “Reviews” and “Essays”

    Good luck with this!

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