Lisa Henderson and Josh Kun, Co-organizers and Co-chairs
“Critical karaoke” is poet and critic Joshua Clover’s phrase for re-signifying cultural material through the eye and voice of the critic. Critics always re-signify, but can we, like Clover, integrate our perspectives with cultural forms, rather than speaking separately about them? Can we use speech, gestures, sound, image, editing, rhythm, and even improvisational moves to communicate analytic and affective meanings? We think so, and invite the audience to join us in this experiment in performative scholarship.
“Critical karaoke” is poet and critic Joshua Clover’s phrase for re-signifying cultural material through the eye and voice of the critic, and presenting that gesture alongside cultural material in a consciously performative way. “The conceit,” said Clover, “was this: you get to talk about a single song, for the length of the song, while the song is playing behind you.” Clover debuted critical karaoke at the Experience Music Project in Seattle.
Critics always re-signify, but can we, like Clover, integrate our perspectives with cultural forms, rather than speaking separately about them? Can we use speech, gestures, sound, image, editing, rhythm, and even improvisational moves to communicate analytic and affective meanings? Buoyed by rehearsal and experimental spirit, can we mix modes of address, hail our audience, and work out the effect of critical form on content? Does our work change when we change how we talk about it?
Last year, four of our seven proposed panelists presented an ICA session titled “Research Creation,” which theorized and illustrated the convergence of cultural scholarship and production. This year, we walk the walk, as scholars who’ve long attended to form in music, film, video, dance, and television and have also largely relied on well-worn conventions of academic address in public. Those conventions claim authority, precision, dispassion, specialization, argument, and the bright line between research and affective ways of knowing. We do not revile or dispense with those claims, but experiment gently in order to locate ourselves differently in the fields of academic and cultural production. With such an experiment, we know to expect uncertainty and exposure, and our willingness to endure those qualities in the name of process is no guarantee of depth. But, we learn by doing. Here, we “do” with a range of popular and populist forms, including web art integrated into a web series that pushes the boundaries of relationships on screen (Christian); off-center situation comedy about the lost opportunities of male friendship (Henderson); science cinema and taking back the dialogue on evolution and climate change (Boulton); dance as the embodiment of a city’s racial histories (Arzumanova); hoarded digital archives as signs of sociality (Hogan); self-produced documentary as critique of cultural policy in Puerto Rico (Diaz Hernandez); and collaborative musical activism (Kun). We want to see how our group of critical karaoke sets might re- shape expression in the spirit of intervention and participatory pedagogy, and we invite the audience to join us in this experiment in performative scholarship.
While our substantive topics are broad, we hope it is clear from our Abstract that our proposed presentations are integrated by (1) “critical karaoke” as formal experiment, and (2) a commitment to critique in the name of social and cultural solidarity and change, a commitment long developed and curated in the Popular Communication Division. We intend this proposal as a follow-up to last year’s success with “Research Creation” (though have added three new presenters) and as an opportunity to keep research creation alive in the ICA. Like last year’s panel, each presentation will be 7-8 minutes worth of tightly prepared material (with short clips narrated in real time). This allows us to include 7 participants in this high-density roundtable.