“In the age of media facts are generally defined by their signal-to-noise ratio.”
––Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter
“Noise is the things that are not yet known, meaning that it is the future,”
At thirteen, my friends and I taped halves of ping-pong balls over our eyes and plugged our ears with white noise. If you denied yourself all sensory stimuli, we had read online, your mind would fill in the gaps, sculpting fuzzy audio and blurred light into all kinds of sights and sounds.
We needed the white noise for this exercise because ears adapt. When the room goes quiet, you start to hear the whirring of the air conditioner and the hums of lamps and radiators. You drag audio signals out of the sonic backdrop in order to have something to fill up your ear canals. Silence is relative––there’s always something more to hear. There’s a room somewhere in Ohio where they suck all the sound out, as if you could vacuum it up. Your ears adjust; you start to hear the behavior of your own organs. If you sit in there long enough, you’ll go mad listening to blood make its way through your body.
Since we’ve been working on this issue, I’ve been paying attention to the acoustics of rooms where people gather. In the Harvard Art Museums’ atrium, like in most atria, the ceilings are so high and the stone so absorptive that sound diffuses into auditory mist at a five-foot radius. The air feels thick with the cancelled noise of the conversation next to you. In every bar where you have to shout, you will eventually forget you’re shouting. There are quiet cafés where you feel yourself being overheard, where you can hear your voice striking the ear drums of others and it sounds terrible. Most restaurants play music to help you avoid this.
Noise lives a double life. It’s the random fluctuations in the background, where voices and images are born and where they go to die. It is also the car alarm, the lawnmower, the kid crying on a plane where you can’t get away and can’t make it stop. It tends to get between you and whatever you actually want to be hearing. “Noise is unwanted sound,” says the collective voice of Wikipedia’s legion of anonymous editors, speaking from the digital abyss.
These pages are home to a silent unwanted uproar. They are dedicated to sights and sounds neglected, to everything that reaches your eyes or ears but still evades notice. This issue of The Harvard Advocate tries to listen.
L: Four times a year, our printer deposits a mountain of
boxes in our front hall. We pull off the tape to get our hands
on the new issues, our glossy seasonal produce. Upstairs the
magazines are variously pored over, flipped through, tossed
on the ground, stacked on the tables, organized
chronologically one day and repurposed as coasters the
next. Every other cover bears a sticky purple ring of dried
wine like a bruise. Some of the boxes don’t get opened.
These migrate into a particular closet, and then, after a
decade, to a second closet across the hall, and then, at
twenty years of age, to the sad cement nook beneath the
basement stairs. Down there, dust and water form a paste
that glues the issues’ pages together. The ones that survive
stick around for a while: the rough paper of the early
Advocate’s pamphlets cohabitates in our bookshelves with
the smooth prismatic matte of the past decade. Our first
fifty volumes have retired to bound tomes. When we poke
through copies from the 90s, we imagine our predecessors
lounging around these very couches while we––the future
so-called collegiate literati––were napping in our baby
strollers. This fall, we’ve resurrected the glossy vibes of the
70s Advocate. Paper: slick. Spine: stapled. Content? Fresh.
L: A naturalization of the eerie, or exposing of the sinister?
A fall from grace, or a courageous leap? Was it said, or was
it embodied? Cyclical motion, or an arrest of momentum?
New England autumn points ambiguously to mortality and
vigor in the face of it, toward the moral and the sensorial,
forward and backwards. In this issue, the light and dark
consider their changing relationship. The retrospective
is constructed, and the new smiles back uncannily. And
featured contributors Sarah Nicholson and Jorge Olivera
Castillo publish work, for which we are extremely grateful.
Winter, at 21 South Street, is nesting season. We cozy up to archives and take stock of the aging boiler; frigid winds keep us cloistered indoors, so we indulge in extra macaroons and some retrospective navel-gazing. This year, though, we have a good excuse: 2016 marks The Harvard Advocate’s 150th Anniversary. In recognition, we revisit our founding motto—Dulce est Periculum—for our sesquicentennial winter issue theme: Danger.
You might wonder why our magazine’s founders swore allegiance, not to truth or beauty, but to this less examined value. In fact, they had an immediate reason for doing so. As we remind every incoming class, “the Advocate was lucky to survive a year. Its precursor, the Collegian, had barely drawn breath enough to pronounce an attack on mandatory chapel attendance when the faculty, scandalized no doubt by a certain freedom of expression at a university, had the publication closed. The Pegasus which rose from the ashes retained, however, the Collegian’s motto.”
Since then, the aphorism has taken on a semantic and symbolic life of its own. We invited contributors and invite you to interpret Danger broadly, but offer a few framing remarks: Danger dwells and broods, skirts institutional logic and peers in with a critic's eye. Then, in a moment, it lashes out, and the paradigm shifts. It is not always good, not always correct--but it is an opening. Never staying liquid for long, it soon crystallizes into the very structure it aimed to shift. As such, danger can be a historical metric, a way to take the pulse of the past. We have a sense of what was comic in 1866, but how well do we grasp a nineteenth-century peril?
To both commemorate and critique that century-and-a-half-long lineage, Danger includes some additional self-regard: excerpts from our archive and reflections on the magazine’s history. Our Anthology Committee has paired selected submissions with previously published works that link up thematically across generations. At times, these pieces can be jarring, even distasteful, but rather than leave them buried, we’ve chosen to expose juxtapositions both provocative and harmonious. Our intention is to track and illuminate important moments of transformation, aesthetic and social, in the Advocate as both publication and institution.
Columns showcase that institution at its most contemporary. They trace Elena Ferrante’s authorial persona, mediate today’s polemics on coddled millennials, and question conceptions of “irrational fear” in the wake of recent mass-shootings.
The Features Board, on the other hand, recalls danger from a safe distance. For them, it can be found in the retelling of past events, mobilizing words to encroach on the reader's sense of security. In doing so, they hope to convince you that language is the most dangerous weapon of all, containing the power to free, shackle, or conjure hidden perils at will. Acts of dancing, spraying, hooping, thinking, being, and watching happened as written in the issue, or at least they believe they did.
The Fiction Board is somewhat less epistemically flimsy, and in each selection, danger of a distinct kind lurks. Plumbing mortal, financial, social and narcotic perils, the pieces highlight the variability of both fear itself and writers' attempts to represent it. Together, their diverse terrors form a paean to fiction’s ability to make our spines feel like they’re made of soft-soap—whether the fear is born of a dead body or an alarming bank statement.
The Art Board eschews economics to locate danger in questions of territory, performance, the body politic, and the increasingly-problematized self. Garrett Allen’s hog-tied Cocoon fidgets against the page, while Ellen Gallagher’s Dew Breaker floats, a palimpsest of marine forms and hues. Traversing grounds luminescent and eerie, the forty-odd images curated here confront precariousness in process and materiality.
Speaking of precarity, The Poetry Board is anxious about the difference between representations and reality of the vanguards of aesthetic and political action. Do Danez Smith’s political blows seem more like an example of real poetic force, or are Hillman and Toscano better able to claim the edginess of danger using wilder formal invention? Perhat and Abduwéli, from Xinjiang Province in China, force us to be more careful about our model of literary history: Uyghur poems have a markedly different past to reckon with.
Some works might not strike as openly dangerous: Maria P. Vassileva's dreamlike, strangely moving interlude; Faye Yan Zhang's delirious, witty meditation on narrative; Lev Mamuya's jazzy and cryptic stuttering shuttle; and Alyssa Moore's dystopian and scriptural chapter. But Wordsworth's private lyric was only "reactionary" relative to the social, economic, and political context in which his words were written. As Clare Cavenaugh points out, in the Soviet Union, public, political poetry was the officially sanctioned form, and writing personal, apolitical poems was punishable by marginalization, exile, and death. The Poetry Board points out that if we think danger is a genuine aesthetic value—if our art should be dangerous—then the right question might be: dangerous to what, or to whom?
Archive pairings for each section offer some clues to answering that question. Some selections uncover how we have navigated and discursively defined identity—both in its primary construction and later reconstructions. For example, “Feminology” and “Private Parts,”essays that vary greatly in their historical moments and authorships, provide different lenses into how we conceptualize and discuss the feminine body. Similarly, reflections from John Ashbery and Francine Prose charting the sexual and gender attitudes at the Advocatemay at once upset, confirm, and color the alluring satire of “Hoopla.” Next to such pairings, Henry Miller’s legendary “Glittering Pie” reads like a revelatory testament to a singular historical moment. A peerless case study for “Nico Perrino and Alex Morey’s “Censorship with a Smile,” Miller’s text remains in need of both critical unpacking and sensual appreciation.
Other matches draw attention to formal concerns. The playfully restrained sarcasm of Jean de La Fontaine’s “La Montagne qui accouche,”translated by a young Robert Fitzgerald, augments the raw, imagistic impact of Joshua L. Freeman’s translations of Uyghur poetry. We place T.S. Eliot’s underwhelming juvenilia next to Lev Mamuya’s “post-snap” and dare you to say our most laureled alum does not find himself bested by a sophomore. In a more complementary vein, Louise Bourgeois’s palpably intimate diptychs and Gabriel García Márquez’s interview with The Advocate remind us of art’s implacable tendency toward the personal and the geographically specific—a tendency explored and unmasked in Simon Dybbroe Møller’s homage to D’Angelo’s love affair with the camera and Mark Chiusano’s interview comments on his short fiction. The Anthology Committee hopes that these pairings make for engaging reading and conversational fodder among friends—but also that they help to elucidate the Advocate’s complicated past, and where we would like to go as we careen, publish, and celebrate art in the next 150 years.
Speaking of the future, our Technology Board has successively integrated our blog, Notes from 21 South Street, into our redesigned website. Visit it to find more information on our ongoing Capital Campaign and 150th Anniversary Fundraiser Event in New York this May.
As our editorial board retires—today’s crème de la crème souring before its time—we hope that Danger tempts you to be a bit more perilous, to risk a walk in the latest gales and newest galas, to step outside into freedom’s square. After all, new seeds are taking root and, come next year, those saplings will yield sweet golden apples.
Fall finds The Harvard Advocate floating and spinning in good foliar form: physical injuries abound, new locks and lists are rendered irrelevant by infenestrated revelers, and those prone to suspicion let anxieties take the reigns as winter looms. Still, dizziness marks maturation, and a closer look shows our green chlorophyll acquiring elder hues of red and gold.
For columns, in fact, we have three close-readings: the first on representations of the female body in today’s sexual assault discourse, the second on translated poetry’s lauded bluntness, the third on CityTarget as an emblem of the suburban émigré’s urban gaze.
The Art Board, on the other hand, eschews gaze for works that venture into new modes of representation—overlaying and compressing various signals, patterns, identities, and forms. Their experimental consideration of process is the translation of the familiar into the unknown.
Speaking of unknown, it's been a sunny semester for the Poetry Board: Not only do all three poems feature prominent solar imagery, but they are penned by poets new to the Advocate. "Sunset" is generically omnivorous, reedy and ready, tendentious as a spider's web; "hear fell their sinew" is a blood-soaked--or sap-soaked--family narrative; and reading Leah Xue's tiny "Moles" is like watching Nik Wallenda slowly begin to tip over, while beneath him the Grand Canyon sucks in its gut.
Though they avoid Arizona, the Features Board also grapples with vertiginous journey. Paths wind through cornfields, on cobbled Spanish stones, across Europe’s airspaces. The view from above might be dizzying, but these writers lead us, hand-in-hand, through whatever experience arises.
The Fiction Board offers two such experiences: one of a birthday party, the other of a man reincarnated as a chicken. The tales seem unlikely to complement each other, but the board views its selections as very much in sync—united by formal ingenuity, elements of the bizarre, and some ambiguity.
Our upcoming winter issue will mark the Advocate’s 150th Anniversary and, in recognition, we will revisit our founding motto, Dulce est Periculum. We find ourselves wondering, at a cultural moment dominated by the question of safety, why the arts and letters have often been oriented, not by tropes of truth or beauty, but by this less examined value: Danger. We welcome contributions that breach habit, cast off comfort’s apathy, or risk a new form of thought. Look for Danger in 2016, as well as other opportunities to help us celebrate our sesquicentennial.
Summer is the most languorous season. Boundaries deliquesce and bleed into each other the way the calendar warps, slowing toward the crescendo of heat and gathering speed with crisper weather’s approach. Accordingly, the newly renamed summer issue is an envoy to be savored slowly, stretched between May and September, lounging in extended afternoons until the fireflies come out. Suitable to sinusoidal sun waves and climate-controlled cabins alike, the summer issue travels with you. Like many in the estival months, the issue indulges in self-analysis, trending towards meta-reflections on media, narrative, and representation. Columns offer: an examination of how the cultural reappearance of slavery supplants contemporary issues of race, a polemic on the commodification of women writers, and two cautionary analyses—one of our postmodern addiction to SoulCycle, the other of click-happy social media activism.
The Features Board largely remains cloaked in the innocence of youth, with three pieces that attempt to understand childhood, or rather, the childhoods of each writer as they consider the moments that seem to define them, those waddling ducks in the back of their minds. Only one braves the adult realm, unpacking the media strategies of the Islamic State and their moral and aesthetic implications.
This cycle, the Fiction Board publishes “Congregation” and “Love on the Installment Plan.” The stories have about as close to nothing in common as possible, but the board likes to think that both are seasonally appropriate. “Congregation” describes a summer spent on Cape Cod; it is the kind of sprawling, meditative, first-person narrative that could only unfold during the warm, languid months. “Love on the Installment Plan” tackles the subject of mail-order marriages with playful aplomb—a surprising tone that makes it all the more haunting, touched with an air of midsummer madness.
The art in this issue manipulates space in novel ways, compressing and expanding it into otherworldly landscapes. Interior Courtyard, Guiding Light, and Currents entreat the viewer to traverse their virtual expanses, while I Lived Here, Wave, and Forest permit a few stylized glimpses into distant places. Spatial awareness informs, but does not alone define, the value of these pieces. Adrift in a dimming seascape, peering down a corridor populated with figures of art history, and thrust into the commotion of Beijing, the viewer, too, is incorporated into subterranean narratives.
The poetry this round is a rollicking ride. Preston Craig’s “Preparation ritual” experiments with space and silence. Loose and elusively underspecified, it is a dance step we don’t know the name for. Alice Ju’s “Sestina of the Missile JFK” is obscenely full and full of force. With tremendous syntax and end words that have no business working perfectly in a sestina, she seems to have found a subject fit for her form, or the other way around, or made it so. Read this aloud. Michael M. Weinstein’s work too deserves the adjective, already spoken for, “loose,” or perhaps “loosened,” though it is heavy with grace and a scrupulous, responsible care for words. “Official Happiness”—wry and without histrionics—is about outer space and being alone. “I’m sad I’m not a beast...” is based on “??? ????? ??? ? ?? ?????,” by Aleksandr Vvedenskii (1904–1941), a poet who felt strongly that his words were just right the way they were. The present version, however, is more of an imitation than a faithful rendering. We at the Advocate don’t always publish translations, but when we do, they’re loose—and they’re damn good.
The fall semester promises a website tinkered to maximize readability. But, for now, the Design Board brings us melting psychedelic visions and the Tech Board maintains a dynamic, ever-growing online and social media presence. Look for them on Twitter and in the blogosphere, and, in the meantime, flip this issue’s sticky pages to the thaw of summer precipitation, from cascading monsoons to air conditioner drips or the condensation on an icy beverage.