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:
After nine years of doctoral study, I’m finally putting my PhD to bed. I defend my dissertation the morning of May 1 and will be presenting some of my research in a colloquium that afternoon. If anyone’s in the Pocatello area and would like to drop in for my presentation, here are the details:
Title: “Enter the Poetarium: On the Problem and Promise of Alex Caldiero’s Sonosophy”
When: Monday, May 1st, 3-4pm
Where: Room 329, C H Kegel Liberal Arts Building, Idaho State University (880 South 5th Street, Pocatello, Idaho)
Here’s a rundown of what I’ll be discussing:
Utah-based poet Alex Caldiero calls his performative poetry and poetics “sonosophy.” This mode of poiesis 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. In this colloquium, I will introduce sonosophy and discuss this ecology of influences, which include Caldiero’s Sicilian cultural heritage; his mystical experience; his participation in Catholic and Latter-day Saint faith communities and religious rites; the embodied poetics of the Beat generation; 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. I will focus specifically on how this ecology was cued in Caldiero‘s 2010 “Poetarium” performance at the Utah Arts Festival and explore ways that an understanding of his performance ecology can both shed light on and provide a lens through which to interpret what Caldiero seems to be doing with sonosophy.
Earlier this month, I presented some of my research on Alex Caldiero’s sonosophy at the AML Conference. After I posted my presentation proposal here, Scott also posted his, and Th. expressed his hope that we would record our papers “for the internet since that’s the only way nonattendees can be assured of hearing them later.” Th.’s request solidified my intention to record my presentation and post it online. So I packed my Samson Go Mic (love that thing!) and my laptop and sound-captured my presentation using Audacity (in case you were wondering). When I listened to the presentation later, I realized I had left some stuff out the day of and made a few additions to the audio to make up for my neglect; I also made some minor cuts where there was too much empty air or where I commented on how slow the classroom’s computer was (O, so slow!). Then I combined the audio with my Prezi, screen-captured the presentation using , and uploaded the file to YouTube.
I mention my post-conference presentation-revision process and the digital tools I used to create the video I’m sharing because I wanted to show one way in which those tools can potentially augment (and disrupt) the historical modes of critical discussion that are favored in the humanities (i.e., sustained arguments made in writing). In his introduction to the BYU student-produced anthology, Writing about Literature in the Digital Age, Gideon Burton argues that we ought to welcome such disruptions because they can awaken us to the “ongoing vitality of literature as ‘equipment for living’ in the digital age.” They can help us see and experience and share and discuss literature differently, opening the mode of literary conversations to something (potentially) more dynamic and engaging than a monograph published in a print journal with a necessarily limited base of subscribers.
My thoughts on the state of academic publishing aside, I was both excited and disheartened to learn at the AML Conference that next year’s meeting might be held in Hawaii. The move excites me because it’s an attempt to break the Jell-O Belt’s hold on the Association (and the Association’s favor for the Jell-O Belt), to move its focus beyond the continental U.S. I just hope the attempt doesn’t, Humpty Dumpty-like break the Association. Which leads me to why the move disheartens me: as I mentioned in the post where I shared my AML proposal, my wife and I look forward to our annual pilgrimage to the AML Conference; but with the conference in Hawaii next year, we can’t afford to attend. Chalk it up to student loans coming due, a pending move, a mortgage, four kids, and so on. Whatever the case, I’m sad I won’t be able to be there. Yet, our impending conference-nonattendance has had me thinking about alternatives to the time- and geography-bound conference, about ways to approximate or augment the knowledge- and community-building aspects of such conferences, to potentially include more people on the program and in the conference discussions, to move MoLit’s critical culture beyond the ways critics have traditionally made their work public. Sharing my conference presentation online (in video and audio formats) is a gesture toward those alternatives, which I hope to address more later.
Your thoughts on such alternatives and on the content and form of my presentation (which at ~43 minutes is, I know, fairly long) are welcome in the comments.
Alex Caldiero’s Performative Poesis: The Makar, Making, and Mormonism
Alex Caldiero’s work emerges from a rich performance ecology that consists of many different influences. One of these is the figure of the pre-modern bard, whom Caldiero calls a makar (mah-ker). Makar is the Middle English antecedent of maker, although makar is still active in the Scots language where it’s used in reference to a poet or bard [see here, especially]. Caldiero may have assumed the title in an attempt to establish kinship with a primitive (prime-itive) culture, its language, and its poetics. He may have also taken the name to skirt around the social and cultural limitations related to calling oneself a poet, including the stigma attached to practicing an art that some say is dead and that others associate with greeting card sentimentalism or the horrors of high school English. By moving to avoid these limitations (albeit at the cost of having to endure others [like being what Scott Carrier calls a “categorical conundrum”]), Caldiero becomes better able to critique common conceptions of poetry while he at the same time foregrounds the term’s origins: the word poetry derives from the Greek concept of poesis, which signifies the process of making.
Caldiero’s self-affiliation with Mormonism brings an additional level of signification to his focus on making. In particular, his poetics seem to be in conversation with Mormon theology’s teachings about Deity; these include the following:
First, that the Gods are Makers: they create and they procreate.
Second, that God isn’t a singular Entity acting as lone Creator but is part of a coterie of creative Beings acting in concert, a Community of Gods.
Third, that the Makers have created and peopled not just this world, this universe, but many worlds and many universes.
Fourth, that Creation doesn’t occur ex nihilo: rather the Makers build things from materials extant in expansive cosmos.
Fifth, that Creation unfolds in an eternal round: the Makers’ creative acts occur in the present progressive tense, that these Beings haven’t just created, they are creating.
Sixth, that humans are the Makers’ offspring; as such we have the making gene in us and by virtue of heredity and training, we can emulate our Parents and become Makers ourselves.
My paper will explore the relationships among Caldiero’s performative poesis (which he calls sonosophy) and the figures/ideas I’ve described above: the makar (the pre-modern bard), poetry as the process of making, and Gods as Makers.
Over the past couple weeks I’ve received two emails from Alex Caldiero announcing projects he’s involved with. The first is a Kickstarter campaign, the second a new book.
First: the Kickstarter campaign.
As a native of Sicily, Alex spent his childhood in the shadow of Mt. Etna, the largest active volcano in Europe. Using the funds to be raised by their Kickstarter campaign—titled “Living with Etna”—Alex hopes to return to Sicily as the tour guide for emerging filmmakers Laura Kisana and Isaac Caldiero (Alex’s son), who hope to document the relationship between the mountain and the people who inhabit its slopes.
When I first watched their project video and read through their proposal, I recalled the instruction God gave to Joseph Smith in March 1833 that those involved with building his kingdom ought to make it their “business and mission” to “study and learn, and become acquainted with all good books, and with languages, tongues, and people.” There are, of course, many ways to fulfill this counsel. One of them may include supporting (however we’re willing and however we can) projects like the one Alex and Co. hope to undertake with this trip and the documentary that would flow from it. Continue reading “News from Your Friendly Nayborhood Sonosopher”
Back in April, I presented some of my recent research on Alex Caldiero’s performance poetics at the annual conference for the Association for Mormon Letters. Since then I’ve been thick in the middle of preparing for, then taking (and passing!), my comprehensive exams for my doctoral degree. Now it’s time to dig into that dissertation, which is on Alex’s work. The presentation I gave at the AML Conference, of which this post is an extension, is a result of my dissertating. It seeks to represent the performance ecology out of which Alex’s poetics has grown and to which it responds.
In order to get the most out of what follows, it’s probably best to view my Prezi presentation in conjunction with my commentary (maybe you can split the screen, with my comments in one window and the Prezi in another? I leave the logistics to you…). I’ve tried to make this as simple as possible by correlating my comments to each stop you’ll make as you move through the Prezi. And after you’ve made your way through it, I hope you’ll leave your comments on my ideas, which are, as all poetics, in process.
I just submitted this proposal for next year’s AML Conference. The theme: “Going Forth Into All the World: Mormon Literature in an International Church.” I hope it tastes international enough for the organizers’ palate.
“Situating Sonosophy: De/constructing Alex Caldiero’s ‘Poetarium.'”
Contemporary Utah poet Alex Caldiero”˜s performative mode of poetry and poetics, which he calls sonosophy, critiques conventional notions of epistemology, ethnography, language, pedagogy, performance, and poetry. It does so by maintaining what Caldiero calls a twin presence between holiness and farce, the magical and the mundane, the performance of the jester and the acts of the priest. Through this dynamic presence Caldiero aims to pivot the poet and his audience between sideshow and temple, clearing space in which to enact and to catechize the rites of language. Continue reading “Situating Sonosophy: Tyler’s AML Conference Proposal”