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Listening to the Sirens

Listening to the Sirens: Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig

Judith A. Peraino
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition: 1
Pages: 369
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/j.ctt1pp2wk
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  • Book Info
    Listening to the Sirens
    Book Description:

    In this fresh and innovative study, Judith A. Peraino investigates how music has been used throughout history to call into question norms of gender and sexuality. Beginning with a close examination of the mythology surrounding the sirens-whose music seduced Ulysses into a state of mind in which he would gladly sacrifice everything for the illicit pleasures promised in their song-Peraino goes on to consider the musical creatures, musical gods and demigods, musical humans, and music-addled listeners who have been associated with behavior that breaches social conventions. She deftly employs a sophisticated reading of Foucault as an organizational principle as well as a philosophical focus to survey seductive and transgressive queerness in music from the Greeks through the Middle Ages and to the contemporary period.Listening to the Sirensanalyzes the musical ways in which queer individuals express and discipline their desire, represent themselves, build communities, and subvert heterosexual expectations. It covers a wide range of music including medieval songs, works by Handel, Tchaikovsky and Britten, women's music and disco, performers such as Judy Garland, Melissa Etheridge, Madonna, and Marilyn Manson, and the moviesThe Rocky Horror Picture ShowandHedwig and the Angry Inch.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-92174-0
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    Sailing home from war, Odysseus decides to make a brief detour in order to listen to a song sung by creatures called Sirens. Legend tells that listening to this song has dire consequences; it draws the listener to a rocky shore and certain death. But Odysseus plugs the ears of his crew with wax and has himself bound to the mast so that he alone can listen. With his cunning plan, he manages to hear the song and escape its consequences.

    Or does he?

    This ancient Greek story about the warrior Odysseus, as recounted in Homer’sOdyssey(ca. 700 b.c.e.),...

  6. 1 Songs of the Sirens desire
    (pp. 11-67)

    The history of Western thought about music has been, in part, a history of ambivalence and anxiety. Since before Homer, musical creatures, musical gods and demigods, musical humans, and music-addled or -inspired listeners have given evidence of a moral dilemma. Music presents an occasion of conflict between discipline and desire that seems not only irreconcilable but also inexplicable. A musician may discipline voice, fingers, breath, and mind in order to attain control over them in musical performance, but the performance itself may evoke undisciplined, frenzied emotions in those who hear it. Through the medium of a musical performance, then, a...

  7. 2 A Music of One’s Own discipline
    (pp. 68-109)

    Foucault called attention to the paradox that behavioral restriction can produce intellectual expansion; in other words, asceticism and prohibition can yield “self-knowledge.” The point of intersection of these seemingly perpendicular vectors is confession, which can be regarded as an evacuation of self (a bearing of witness against oneself as a purification of the psyche) simultaneously with an articulation of self (a fundamentally egocentric expression).¹

    In this chapter I explore how the notion of confession applies to music, that is, how music can function as disclosure and as discipline. My primary focus will be on the post-Freudian cultural climate, in which...

  8. 3 Queer Ears and Icons sign systems
    (pp. 110-151)

    This chapter will consider how music operates as an aspect of what Foucault calls the “technology of sign systems, which permits us to use signs, meanings, symbols, or signification.” The technology of sign systems does not refer to semiotics—how sign systems work—but rather to how relationships of power are implicated in the assignment of meaning to abstract sounds and symbols. I will, however, offer some comment on how and why musicians as “icons” become an integral part of the sign system of queer identity; further, I will discuss how musical icons, along with music in general, can serve...

  9. 4 Homomusical Communities production
    (pp. 152-194)

    Musicians “make music”: they set in motion sound waves that produce something, but that something has no physical substance. Lovers “make love”: they too produce something that has no physical substance. Once “made,” and assuming the involvement of at least two persons, the intangibles “music” and “love” often have consequences—influencing or even regulating behavior, defining relationships of power, opening up channels of material and economic exchange. Making music changed dramatically with the technological development of amplification and recording: music became a thing that could be “played” by anyone, regardless of their musical skill.

    In this chapter, I consider music...

  10. 5 Flights of Fancy power
    (pp. 195-252)

    Foucault describes “technologies of power” as practices that “determine the conduct of individuals and submit them to certain ends.”¹ He first worked out this idea of technologies of power inDiscipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, where he studied disciplinary practices designed to produce docile, governable bodies. Foucault believed that practices of domination emerged as technologies of power in the eighteenth century and can be traced in multiple institutions, such as prisons, the military, and schools. All three use strict codes of conduct, surveillance, and physical control to keep peace and ensure governability.²

    The idea of technologies of...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 253-306)
  12. WORKS CITED
    (pp. 307-332)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 333-355)