Ghosts in the Phonograph: Tracking Black Canadian Postbody Poetics

  • Emma Cleary


Sound technologies enact cultural interventions and enable radical experiments of identity through the practice of stripping away, spinning, and splicing sounds — especially the sound of the human voice. This paper reads Black Canadian spoken word and turntable poetry for the symbolic use of sound technologies and other sonic schemas, focusing on Wayde Compton’s “The Reinventing Wheel” (2004) and Tanya Evanson’s “The African All Of It” (2013). In both of these works there is an emphasis upon the role of the body (and postbody) in the production of sound. I present both the spectral figure and sound recording technologies as postbody projections, and read the work of Compton and Evanson for transmissions that cross spatial, temporal, and body boundaries.

The paper engages with posthumanist thought and the work of musicologist R. Murray Schafer to advance that sound technologies forge portals through time and space, as the dub plate reincarnates Compton’s disembodied, pre-recorded voice. Compton’s ghosts are quasi-material, zombies dancing in cargo holds — a reference to the Middle Passage — enacting a kinetic impulse capable of “moving the text” (103); Evanson’s acoustic experimentations with antiphony stress the kinetic and the sensory, and debinarize the relationship between speaker and audience. Finally, I argue that the ghostly emanation of postbody sounds from the turntable challenges culturally constructed binaries and forges a blended space for the celebration of plural, hybrid, and mobile identity formations, demolishing paradigms that work to enclose and encode Black Canada.

Author Biography

Emma Cleary
Emma Cleary holds a PhD from Staffordshire University (UK), where she taught English and Creative Writing. Her research addresses representations of the city in black transnational literature, with a focus on sonic schemas and mapping. Her 2015 paper on James Baldwin's intimate cartographies of New York won the Graduate Student Essay Prize from James Baldwin Review. She lives and writes in Vancouver.