In January of 2011, I shared my dissertation proposal on Alex Caldiero’s sonosophy and my comprehensive Ph.D. exam lists with the AMV community. I passed my comps in early June 2012 and defended my dissertation the first day of May this year. I won’t lie: while I’ve been changed as a person and a scholar by engaging Caldiero’s work, it’s been nice to have the weight of grad school off my shoulders and to be able to relax again, although now I’ve got a handful of other writing projects and a teaching position to occupy my mind. One of those projects is revising my dissertation into a book, something I’ve become more amenable to the further I get from my dissertation defense, preparations for which amped my nerves up so high that it took a few weeks to settle myself.
To the end of sharing my work with and seeking feedback on my work from interested parties in the MoLit community, I’m posting an excerpt from my dissertation here. The excerpt (see the end of the post) includes the acknowledgements, the abstract, and the ForeWord. If, for whatever reason, you’re interested in reading the entire dissertation (all ~350 pages of it), shoot me an email at tawhiao [at] gmail [dot] com.
Here’s the abstract to (I hope) pique your interest in my discussion of the problem and promise of sonosophy:
Utah-based poet, artist, and teacher Alex Caldiero calls his performative mode of language-making “sonosophy,” a neologism that can be taken to mean “sound wisdom,” “I am/they are wisdom,” and “I am/they are sounding the wisdom of sound.” Caldiero’s mode of poiesis, which often manifests as disruptive speech acts, calls upon various cultural figures and performance traditions to explore and practice language as a process of communion and relationship-making. I call this intermingling of figures and traditions Caldiero’s performance ecology; it consists of influences that he claims and that can be seen emerging from his lived experience and his personal ideas about sonosophy. These influences include his Sicilian cultural heritage; his mystical experience; his participation in Catholic and Latter-day Saint faith communities and religious rites; the embodied poetics of Allen Ginsberg’s “Howl”; the playfulness of Dada plastic, performance, and language arts; and a tradition of seers that contains (among others) the Paleolithic shaman, the premodern bard, and ancient Hebrew prophets.
My dissertation seeks to flesh out this ecology by exploring the ways in which Caldiero can be seen enacting the history and character of each figure and tradition as he performs. I do this by using a methodology I call “dialogical coperformative ethnography,” a mode of representation and interpretation that begins with ethnopoetic transcriptions of Caldiero in performance and that then uses those descriptions to analyze, contextualize, and interpret patterns across representative work from Caldiero’s oeuvre. Applying this methodology to Caldiero’s work, I suggest that an understanding of his performance ecology can shed light on his performative persona and provide a lens through which to interpret what he seems to be doing with sonosophy and to evaluate its ethical and pedagogical implications beyond its function as a mode of poetry-making. Along the way I draw from my personal experiences to respond to, play with, push back against, and elaborate on the influence sonosopher and sonosophy have been on my presence in the world, my relationships with others, and my thinking about the acts of language- and relationship-making.