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Hilarie Ashton

Hilarie Ashton is a doctoral student in English at the CUNY Graduate Center, where she focuses on embodiment in American studies, composition and rhetoric, cultural criticism, and pedagogy. She teaches composition and literature at Queens College. Her essays have appeared in Anamesa and Journal of Popular Culture, among others, and she has presented her work at a range of conferences, including the American Comparative Literature Association, the Northeast MLA, and the South Atlantic MLA.

“Are You There, (Oh) G-d: Rapture in Pop Music Sound/Voices”
I will consider Madonna's performance of religious belief, physical passion, and acceptance (of the physical and metaphysical kinds) in the “Like a Prayer” lyrics and video. Madonna has been making statements her whole career, and “Like a Prayer” is a watershed offense moment for her. On April 5, 1989, the New York Times reported that Pepsi had decided not to broadcast the video, produced as its latest mega-commercial, “after finding that consumers confused the commercial with a music video by the singer that included religious imagery.” Most recently, Madonna sang an emotional, acoustic version to commemorate the victims of the Paris terror attacks. The song is not strictly about prayer, though: it advertises itself as a simile from the very title, and the chorus offers more context: “When you call my name, it's like a little prayer.” The next line brings sex firmly into its orbit—“I'm down on my knees”—thereby blurring the line between the kinds of rapture at stake here. The sonic grammar of “Like a Prayer,” I think, also shows this kind of sliding in a liminal space—Madonna and her backing choir play around with power and authority in shifting ways. Finally, the video's visual element brings in a narrative of race, gender, and commerce, drawing a more robust plot around the bare lineaments of the song's lyrics. Reconsidered in this light, the recent tribute version sets (some of) the innuendo and the camp aside—or perhaps reaffirms them as part of life, part of coping, part of being human.

“Throwing Voices”
Throwing the voice is a ventriloquist’s trick. Cast it off and it comes back strange, remade, another’s. This panel will collectively propose that this is in fact the condition of all voices.  Voices are not singular, essential, and unitary but are shot through with the voice of the other, from the ones that schooled it to the ones that surround, mediate, and remake it.  Voices are blood and guts made machine, instrumentalized matter suffused with other voices and other states and structures of being.  We investigate some of these, from cross-racial ventriloquism to Black Pentacostal resonances to healing erotic raptures to ventriloquial reverberations of fictional voice. Hilarie Ashton reads the liminal sonic grammar of Madonna’s “Like a Prayer,” particularly in its recent iteration as an acoustic tribute to victims of the Paris terror attacks, as a rapturous playing with power and authority in several registers, affirming camp and sexual innuendo as part of its healing power.  Ashon Crawley attends to the Black Pentacostal intensities of the Hammond B-3 organ as it resonates otherwise, activating vibrations of spirit, breath, and voice that verge on the mysterious beyond of undetected worlds. Joon Oluchi Lee contrapuntally explores the novelistic voice of Mary Gaitskill and the pop musical voice as she deploys it in order to think about her ventriloquizing of pop as a sort of fictional reverb.  Eric Lott takes up the racialized ventriloquism of the Black backup singer, who enables the white male lead singer’s voice by throwing it off, breaking and entering it, thereby producing its truth. In one way or another these presentations see the pop voice as supplement of the other—other states, cultural others, other machines.


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