"Open Tuning: Blind Tom, Back (Metaphysical) Noise & New Theatricality" a lecture by Daphne Brooks from Princeton University on Friday, February 19, 2010 at 4:00 p.m. in Blegen 225.
"Open Tuning: Blind Tom, Back (Metaphysical) Noise & New Theatricality"
Lecture by Daphne Brooks
Feb 19 Friday 4pm
This paper examines the intersecting racial, corporeal and sonic politics of Thomas Greene Wiggins--better known as the entertainer Blind Tom--and his performative repertoire in the years immediately following the Civil War, and it focuses on his cultural iconicity in the period of Reconstruction. Blind Tom's peculiar status as a disabled performer with extraordinary theatrical gifts earned him unusual "privileges" both in slavery (access to the master's parlor) and later in the Jim Crow era (access to segregated hotels), and yet these same gifts resulted in the extended duration of his lengthy theatrical servitude such that he was called by some the "last American slave." A radical, performative listener poised on the edges of slavery and freedom, he thus translated liminal 19th century America into embodied, phonographic spectacle. This paper examines the aesthetics of Blind Tom's sonic mimicry, his ability to absorb and reproduce the reverberations of the world around him, and his role as a (ghostly) medium whose performative repertoire invoked the cultural aesthetics of spiritualism and magic. Moreover, it aims to situate Blind Tom's performances within a genealogy of (black) modernity and black avant-garde praxis that would emerge more fully in the Gilded Age. In an era characterized by multiple forms of border crossings, Blind Tom's fugitive sonic selfhood underscores the extent to which we might better understand the politics of Reconstruction by listening to how it (re)sounded in the cultural work of black performers from that era.
Sponsored by: MA/PhD Program in Theatre, Institute for Advanced Study, English, African-American Studies, American Studies.