"The Siren's Song: The Poetics and Politics of the Auditory Imagination in Ann Petry's Fiction" Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman

"The Siren's Song: The Poetics and Politics of the Auditory Imagination in Ann Petry's Fiction"
Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman (English, SUNY Binghamton)
Director of the Binghamton University Sound Studies Collective, Stoever-Ackerman has published on African American literature and culture, nineteenth- and twentieth-century American literature, popular music, and sound and audio cultural studies. In 2011, Stoever-Ackerman published "The word and the sound: listening to the sonic colour-line in Frederick Douglass's 1985 Narrative" in SoundEffects An Interdisciplinary Journal of Sound and Sound Experience. She is currently completing a book entitled The Sonic Color-Line: Race and the Cultural Politics of Listening.

"The Siren's Song: The Poetics and Politics of the Auditory Imagination in Ann Petry's Fiction"

This presentation examines Ann Petry's early fiction as central to conversations regarding the role of aurality in literary works, particularly as a representational strategy to remediate sound and its uneven political impacts, both within and without textual worlds. In particular, I explore Petry's use of aural imagery within the critically neglected "On Saturday the Siren Sounds at Noon" (1943) to represent the lived spaces of segregation and its deleterious and distorting psychological effects. Through the overwhelming image of the air raid siren, Petry examines the emotional power of sound and experiments with stratified aural imagery, the layered sounds of competing narratives that would form a crucial leitmotif throughout her later fiction. Amplifying an often overlooked element of Petry--her critiques of the raced and gendered dynamics of American nationalism and mass media during World War Two--I argue her innovative use of aural imagery challenges any limited sociological readings, revealing how political and social intervention within fictional texts happen through language, not in spite of it. Or, as Petry put it in 1950, the "craftsmanship that goes into [sociological novels] is of a high order. It has to be." Within the segregated spaces sounded out by her sirens, black voices are not only silenced, but black listening practices distorted by layers of competing, conflicting, and overwhelming sound, challenging the idea that listening offers immediate resistance to and relief from visually-based discrimination. Instead, Petry's bold evocation of the sound within/through the world, reveals the powerful, interconnected--and often devastating--materiality of both, hailing her readers as listeners and urging them to hear through white supremacy's obscuring roar.