“Dark Was the Night—Cold Was the Ground” (Blind Willie Johnson)

On September 12, 2013, Voyager 1 became the first Earth-made object to enter interstellar space. Perhaps more importantly, the “Golden Record,” curated by a Carl Sagan-led group, is affixed on its outside, offering what has been deemed a “global anthology” of Earth life as conceived in the early 1970s. Containing images, sounds, music, and “spoken greetings” in fifty-five languages, the LP was also meant to serve as a document of our shared “cosmic loneliness.” And the contents of the disc (folk-ed trax, especially) parallel the problem the record was to solve: how to bring people together by transcending difference that redeploys difference in order to communicate our “diversity.” Along with “Melancholy Blues” by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Seven, Blind Willie Johnson’s piece represents the blues on the disc. Marked by forlorn humming and at the edge of speech, Johnson’s trax resists what Jeffrey Carroll deems the “directly expressive [and ‘wordless’] . . . rhetoric of the interjection” (When Your Way Gets Dark: A Rhetoric of the Blues). If one invests in the “emotion” of sound, what’s abandoned is the articulation of abandonment that emerges from a homeless wanderer. And this isn’t Simmel’s “stranger,” who serves as a marker of and diagnostic for group belonging, but a manifestation of isolation articulated toward the other. “Meaning” isn’t present as such. What is: the disturbance of being at home in this world. Or: the alien-ness that comes from (punishing) relation.


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“What Does the Fox Say?” (Ylvis)

In 1965, Fisher-Price created See ‘n Say, a pie-shaped toy divided into twelve wedges, and each with an image of an animal. Using the center pointer, you chose your animal, and pulled the string.  You then heard the sound, such as: “The cow says, ‘Moo’.” Choices included sheep, dog, duck, frog, horse, coyote, rooster, pig, cow, bird, cat, and turkey. But no fox. Add just one more pie wedge and Fisher-Price might have included the fox. But if the fox had been included, then we’d all be wondering about the hedgehog, the tapir, and the orangutan. OK, no problem: let’s add three more wedges. Yet the best estimates today are that there are over 1,500,000 animal species on this planet, and no toy company could make the pie big enough or the wedges small enough to account for such diversity. But perhaps we could throw it all onto a computer, giving the child access to every sound of every creature. Now, though, we’ve made it completely useless to a two-year old. Thus, in order for the child to learn to remember a certain number of animal sounds, it has to begin by “forgetting” the rest. We might say that there must always be a “fox,” operating as a black hole and aiding memory. Ylvis isn’t trying to overcome an oversight or omission in the multicultural woods; and that’s why, when the singers claim to speak for this “fox,” they sound just like a Skrillex break.


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