On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy

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:

On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy:
Doing Dialogical Coperformative Ethnography;
Or, Enter the Poetarium

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.

Follow this link to the excerpt.

(Cross-posted here.)


One thought on “On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy”

  1. Wow, Tyler. First, thank you for your kind words of acknowledgement. I have been in need of encouragement, and they encourage me! Second, your written language carries both clarity and reach–reach, in the sense of reaching across to an audience, in your offering an exchange, in seeking to create a shared space. Third, your focus on performance and oral tradition as “a moral act” (Conquergood) is itself an ancient wisdom worthy of carrying forward in continuance of a vital communal tradition that in a noisy, distraction-thickened world is at risk. I’m delighted to see you taking light from that torch and running with it.

    The prospect of your dissertation becoming embooked excites me. I look forward to it. Your 19 pages released here remind me of John D. Niles’s Homo Narrans: The Poetics and Anthropology of Oral Literature, the work where I first came upon the concept of the “maysie”. Perhaps you’ve read it. In a chapter called “Somatic Communication”, Niles remarks that storytellers, or “tradition-bearers”, “are not passive purveyors of texts…. They are specialists in wordpower, or what early speakers of English called the /giedd/. They demonstrate what happens in those moments when strong communication exists between a performer and his or her audience, bridging people’s separate identities and sparking recognition of their common character or fate. That this power–one that can accrue to language in any medium, not just song or voiced speech–is mysteriously enhanced by physical presence of the speaker is one of the substantial discoveries to which fieldwork can lead.” Intense moments of sending and receiving between a physically present performer and an audience, one of Niles’s study subjects called the “maysie”.

    Anyway, your focus on Caldiero’s sonosphony calls to mind Niles’s insights into oral performance focused on Anglo-Saxon works, though I like your writing style better. I have now set aside a place on my shelf ready for your book, when it swells the rest of the way into being.

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