Final feedback


75 / 100

Final grade: publishable.

General Comments Instructor

This is an excellent dissertation. It is methodologically and theoretically thoughtful and makes an impressive effort to develop an innovative approach well suited to the tenor of the material and critical contention. The dissertation is a beautiful, sensitive and well- researched exploration of the haunting past of Amsterdam through the use of sound. There are many wonderful points and formulations, so in addition to comments on the work itself, this feedback will also offer some suggestions since it seems that you wish to continue the work. The work is well structured and presented, making good use of key theorists such as Sharpe, Gordon, Schafer, et al, and actually using their work (something that often doesn’t take place in dissertations) to make an argument. The ‘field notes’ were compelling. Overall, this is a great example of engaged research, with a clear sense of your motivations and positionality, as well as attendant ethical considerations.

The introduction clearly sets out the historical context and critical problematic; it is also thoughtful and well referenced, signaling relevant debates and silences. The theory section offers a useful point regarding the city as a ‘landscape of memory’ and the use of Derrida and framing of hauntology is well done. There is also a good sketch of the hierarchy/democracy of the senses and the necessity of elevating sound and hearing against occularcentrism and the privileging of sight. (However, as a related aside, I would encourage you to consider the extent to which this ostensibly reparative concern might actually reinforce the privileging of ableist discourses in relation to deafness and hearing – see, for example, the work of Paddy Ladd on deaf cultural studies and deafness as an ethnicity with a specific culture, language etc. that is misunderstood and marginalized within a normative hearing society/world).

The multi-media website is skillfully done, but I’m not entirely convinced about the efficacy of the actual sounds presented. In other words, while all the affirmations of sound as an important sense and mediatory device are totally valid and important, I’m not sure that the dissertation actually does respond to the question of ‘the ways in which the sonic can offer a better understanding about the haunting past of the city’ (p. 55). This said, what does work is the use of sound as a device to transport the reader to your time and place of research, to interrupt/give pause to the act of reading and ask the reader to engage in a more sensory mode. And also to close the distance and delay of graphematic inscription that is the basis of Derrida’s hauntology (i.e., différance) and bring the reader closer to the specific space-time of your research. Beyond that, I’m not sure what, specifically, the reader learns from these particular sounds, in particular about Amsterdam’s silenced history and ‘echoes of slavery’. The question would be how to activate this experience beyond the individual listener/reader. Here reference to animated ‘postcolonial’ walking tours (there have been many in European cities) could be useful, as well as tours that make use of apps with geolocated recordings/information – both have been used quite a lot recently to success with dealing with ostensibly hidden colonial histories. In actual fact, a map with the locations you engaged with would have been welcome (see p. 27 re: maps). Also, reference to contemporary forms of slavery and oppression in the same places would have been useful (e.g., ‘the ongoing systemic oppression and resistance in Amsterdam’ that you mention on p. 23.)

The methodology section offers a strong justification for the sonic focus and makes a good point regarding the multimedia website to create and offer a ‘more intuitive experience of reading and listening’. However, what is this enhanced intuitive engagement/experience exactly? It would have been useful to have this unpacked in detail. Here it seems that a more sustained note on the use of sound, as method (see Henriques for instance), would have been useful. I.e., on sound and listening quite literally, beyond the expanded or metaphorical sense of ‘listening’ as an ethical practice of attending to and opennness, also vis-à-vis the ‘silence’ of certain stories not being told (e.g., re: the Leusden, p. 29). Also, more could have been made of the specificity of ‘echo’, ‘resonance’ and ‘hum’. (For interest, see also Laurence Abu Hamdan’s work on forensic listening. The forensic approach would also be useful in terms of what buildings, for instance, aesthetically sense, as on p. 34. And also Ayesha Hameed’s Black Atlantic performance, which relies a lot on sound. See also Sabine Groenewegen’s recent film about blackface in the Netherlands.)

There is also a good recognition of ethical issues and responsibility especially as there are no ‘live’ research participants, which in turn reinforces the vitality of the slaves who are central to the topic and dissertation yet silenced historically and contemporaneously. The reflection of ‘white listening’ and how sounds are heard as discussed in the water section is close to reifying the racialized senses but then contextualizes listening in relation to positionality and historiography as a ‘filtering mechanism’ which is a compelling formulation where listening, like history and commemoration and eschewing , is the act of constituting the distinction between the signal and the noise.

A few other important references might interest you if you wish to follow through with this work. On the sonic as a mode of knowledge (an ‘auditory epistemology’) and ‘thinking through sound’, see Julian Henriques’ work, and, importantly in the Dutch colonial context, see Ann Laura Stoler’s work on ‘imperial debris’, anmesia and aphasia. In terms of undoing the prioritisation of the sense of sight, see Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, and indeed his and Jean-Luc Nancy’s work on touch. On a Derridean note, one thing that would have been worth noting, given your prioritisation of his quasi- concept of hauntology (over ontology) would have been his undoing of Western metaphysics’ prioritisation of speech (as supposedly self-present) over the absent- present traces of writing. I.e., it could have been made clear that the sound you’re prioritising is one of traces, rather than presence. And beyond the article that you reference, Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination is important for what you’re dealing with. See also TJ Demos’s Return to the Postcolony, where the focus is on hauntology in Belgium.

The substantive part of the dissertation is well structured within sections on the ships, the shipped, the stored and the water. I’m not convinced that the soundscapes work as well as intended or thought to work, but at the same time I cannot say that they don’t work either. In the main my sense is that they work well but perhaps in an unintended way. The historical vignettes of forgotten, silenced and erased histories are evocative against what are, for this reader at least, mundane soundscapes. The normalcy and even banality of the soundscapes are especially evocative of this willful ignoring and elision. The dissertation seems to want to assert/affect a more direct association between the soundscapes and traces of the past, which seems somewhat forced at times. Nonetheless, the notion of ‘lost sounds’ and how the buildings hold testimony to the past and excavation of kauri shells is extremely poignant. Similarly, the yellowing grass denoting the sunken gravestones set against the mundane sounds of water is evocative of the rippling effects of the latter.

The politics of burial in the ‘Shipped’ section is really interesting. There are many resonances with Sophocles’ Antigone (see Tina Chanter on this and slavery). I was surprised not to see Saidiya Hartman’s essay ‘Venus in Two Acts’ referred to here (beyond Lose your Mother): this would have been useful in your exploration of memory, the archive and the fragility of singular human voices, especially as concerns the ‘ethics’ of working with the silenced voices and stories of lost subjects who cannot defend themselves or offer consent. Her emphasis on the ‘unspeakable’ would also resonate with your questioning of how to capture the stories that cannot be told (p. 11). This question of the unspeakable is of course at the heart of trauma studies in relation to the Holocaust, and some interesting work has been done in terms of reading that body of work alongside – or echoed through – the spectres of colonialism. See for instance the classic by Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization.

This dissertation excels at pointing to how the soundscape enables thinking about the (lost/silenced) past in relation to the present – e.g. the preparation and drinking of coffee in a café set amongst buildings where coffee transported from the Americas was previously stored is a profound meditation. However, as a footnote, you maybe should be cautious of speaking of slavery in terms of the ‘unexplainable’, so as not to forego accountability and the need to ‘settle accounts’ through reparations (see the recent debate with Ta Nehisi Coates in the US context, and the ongoing discussions in France and other European countries). (See for instance on p. 21 where you speak of the ‘economic interest’ in slavery—to align this with the unexplainable would perhaps be problematic.)

Overall, extremely encouraging work. You have made a great effort, produced a carefully thought through piece of work and excellent dissertation – well done!

General Comments Instructor

This is an excellent dissertation. It is methodologically and theoretically thoughtful and makes an impressive effort to develop an innovative approach well suited to the tenor of the material and critical contention. The dissertation is a beautiful, sensitive and well- researched exploration of the haunting past of Amsterdam through the use of sound. There are many wonderful points and formulations, so in addition to comments on the work itself, this feedback will also offer some suggestions since it seems that you wish to continue the work. The work is well structured and presented, making good use of key theorists such as Sharpe, Gordon, Schafer, et al, and actually using their work (something that often doesn’t take place in dissertations) to make an argument. The ‘field notes’ were compelling. Overall, this is a great example of engaged research, with a clear sense of your motivations and positionality, as well as attendant ethical considerations.

The introduction clearly sets out the historical context and critical problematic; it is also thoughtful and well referenced, signaling relevant debates and silences. The theory section offers a useful point regarding the city as a ‘landscape of memory’ and the use of Derrida and framing of hauntology is well done. There is also a good sketch of the hierarchy/democracy of the senses and the necessity of elevating sound and hearing against occularcentrism and the privileging of sight. (However, as a related aside, I would encourage you to consider the extent to which this ostensibly reparative concern might actually reinforce the privileging of ableist discourses in relation to deafness and hearing – see, for example, the work of Paddy Ladd on deaf cultural studies and deafness as an ethnicity with a specific culture, language etc. that is misunderstood and marginalized within a normative hearing society/world).

The multi-media website is skillfully done, but I’m not entirely convinced about the efficacy of the actual sounds presented. In other words, while all the affirmations of sound as an important sense and mediatory device are totally valid and important, I’m not sure that the dissertation actually does respond to the question of ‘the ways in which the sonic can offer a better understanding about the haunting past of the city’ (p. 55). This said, what does work is the use of sound as a device to transport the reader to your time and place of research, to interrupt/give pause to the act of reading and ask the reader to engage in a more sensory mode. And also to close the distance and delay of graphematic inscription that is the basis of Derrida’s hauntology (i.e., différance) and bring the reader closer to the specific space-time of your research. Beyond that, I’m not sure what, specifically, the reader learns from these particular sounds, in particular about Amsterdam’s silenced history and ‘echoes of slavery’. The question would be how to activate this experience beyond the individual listener/reader. Here reference to animated ‘postcolonial’ walking tours (there have been many in European cities) could be useful, as well as tours that make use of apps with geolocated recordings/information – both have been used quite a lot recently to success with dealing with ostensibly hidden colonial histories. In actual fact, a map with the locations you engaged with would have been welcome (see p. 27 re: maps). Also, reference to contemporary forms of slavery and oppression in the same places would have been useful (e.g., ‘the ongoing systemic oppression and resistance in Amsterdam’ that you mention on p. 23.)

The methodology section offers a strong justification for the sonic focus and makes a good point regarding the multimedia website to create and offer a ‘more intuitive experience of reading and listening’. However, what is this enhanced intuitive engagement/experience exactly? It would have been useful to have this unpacked in detail. Here it seems that a more sustained note on the use of sound, as method (see Henriques for instance), would have been useful. I.e., on sound and listening quite literally, beyond the expanded or metaphorical sense of ‘listening’ as an ethical practice of attending to and opennness, also vis-à-vis the ‘silence’ of certain stories not being told (e.g., re: the Leusden, p. 29). Also, more could have been made of the specificity of ‘echo’, ‘resonance’ and ‘hum’. (For interest, see also Laurence Abu Hamdan’s work on forensic listening. The forensic approach would also be useful in terms of what buildings, for instance, aesthetically sense, as on p. 34. And also Ayesha Hameed’s Black Atlantic performance, which relies a lot on sound. See also Sabine Groenewegen’s recent film about blackface in the Netherlands.)

There is also a good recognition of ethical issues and responsibility especially as there are no ‘live’ research participants, which in turn reinforces the vitality of the slaves who are central to the topic and dissertation yet silenced historically and contemporaneously. The reflection of ‘white listening’ and how sounds are heard as discussed in the water section is close to reifying the racialized senses but then contextualizes listening in relation to positionality and historiography as a ‘filtering mechanism’ which is a compelling formulation where listening, like history and commemoration and eschewing , is the act of constituting the distinction between the signal and the noise.

A few other important references might interest you if you wish to follow through with this work. On the sonic as a mode of knowledge (an ‘auditory epistemology’) and ‘thinking through sound’, see Julian Henriques’ work, and, importantly in the Dutch colonial context, see Ann Laura Stoler’s work on ‘imperial debris’, anmesia and aphasia. In terms of undoing the prioritisation of the sense of sight, see Derrida’s Memoirs of the Blind, and indeed his and Jean-Luc Nancy’s work on touch. On a Derridean note, one thing that would have been worth noting, given your prioritisation of his quasi- concept of hauntology (over ontology) would have been his undoing of Western metaphysics’ prioritisation of speech (as supposedly self-present) over the absent- present traces of writing. I.e., it could have been made clear that the sound you’re prioritising is one of traces, rather than presence. And beyond the article that you reference, Avery Gordon’s Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination is important for what you’re dealing with. See also TJ Demos’s Return to the Postcolony, where the focus is on hauntology in Belgium.

The substantive part of the dissertation is well structured within sections on the ships, the shipped, the stored and the water. I’m not convinced that the soundscapes work as well as intended or thought to work, but at the same time I cannot say that they don’t work either. In the main my sense is that they work well but perhaps in an unintended way. The historical vignettes of forgotten, silenced and erased histories are evocative against what are, for this reader at least, mundane soundscapes. The normalcy and even banality of the soundscapes are especially evocative of this willful ignoring and elision. The dissertation seems to want to assert/affect a more direct association between the soundscapes and traces of the past, which seems somewhat forced at times. Nonetheless, the notion of ‘lost sounds’ and how the buildings hold testimony to the past and excavation of kauri shells is extremely poignant. Similarly, the yellowing grass denoting the sunken gravestones set against the mundane sounds of water is evocative of the rippling effects of the latter.

The politics of burial in the ‘Shipped’ section is really interesting. There are many resonances with Sophocles’ Antigone (see Tina Chanter on this and slavery). I was surprised not to see Saidiya Hartman’s essay ‘Venus in Two Acts’ referred to here (beyond Lose your Mother): this would have been useful in your exploration of memory, the archive and the fragility of singular human voices, especially as concerns the ‘ethics’ of working with the silenced voices and stories of lost subjects who cannot defend themselves or offer consent. Her emphasis on the ‘unspeakable’ would also resonate with your questioning of how to capture the stories that cannot be told (p. 11). This question of the unspeakable is of course at the heart of trauma studies in relation to the Holocaust, and some interesting work has been done in terms of reading that body of work alongside – or echoed through – the spectres of colonialism. See for instance the classic by Michael Rothberg, Multidirectional Memory: Remembering the Holocaust in the Age of Decolonization.

This dissertation excels at pointing to how the soundscape enables thinking about the (lost/silenced) past in relation to the present – e.g. the preparation and drinking of coffee in a café set amongst buildings where coffee transported from the Americas was previously stored is a profound meditation. However, as a footnote, you maybe should be cautious of speaking of slavery in terms of the ‘unexplainable’, so as not to forego accountability and the need to ‘settle accounts’ through reparations (see the recent debate with Ta Nehisi Coates in the US context, and the ongoing discussions in France and other European countries). (See for instance on p. 21 where you speak of the ‘economic interest’ in slavery—to align this with the unexplainable would perhaps be problematic.)

Overall, extremely encouraging work. You have made a great effort, produced a carefully thought through piece of work and excellent dissertation – well done!