Negotiated Moments: Improvisation, Sound, and Subjectivity
Gender, Trauma, and Memory
This chapter analyzes two key female characters in Ann-Marie MacDonald’s epic novel Fall on Your Knees who use experimental, improvised performance to disrupt prevailing power relations that privilege white, male heterosexual identity. Materia’s and Frances’s performances destabilize notions of meaning and identity as coherent and unitary, and they thereby open up the possibility for new forms of signification. Their performances assert a profound and complex connection between bodies, sensuality, and meaning. Fall on Your Knees also, however, situates the liberatory potential of improvised performance very clearly in the context of the violent oppression that often mutes it.
In Gayl Jones’s 1975 novel, Corregidora, the protagonist’s great-grandmother repeatedly reminds us that the “evidence” of life lived is sedimented in flesh and bone for generations. This evidence constitutes a “countermemory” that largely fails to fit the official cultural memory of a given era. Countermemory is created by life as it is physically experienced, acted out, acted on, chiseled into individual bodies and passed on to those around us. Using this idea of potentially subconscious bodily knowledge, this investigation of improvisation examines how the body’s acting out of that knowledge results in sound-making. All physical activities and experiences take part in shaping the body that in turn also functions as a musical instrument. Hence the sounding body offers an opportunity for a corporeal archeology. If the body is a repository of knowledge, then this knowledge will emerge in the sonorities resulting from music making and improvisation.