Review of Peraino, Judith. 2006. Listening to the Sirens: Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press

Raykoff, Ivan

Peraino’s roadmap is inviting: the premise of the book, in part following Adorno, is the idea that music has always opened a space for ambivalence, productively serving the complexities of personal identity and subjectivity; at the same time it has also provoked anxiety, society’s frequent response in trying to contain those complexities through categorical hierarchies and ideological superstructures. In brief, Listening to the Sirens pursues a quest devoted to queerness, that is, a dynamic of questioning the established cultural assumptions that regulate sexual identity and desire. Music lends itself well to such an interrogation, Peraino argues, because it “demarcates a space and time wherein gender and sexuality lose clear definition”. An impressive and expansive range of case studies demonstrates music’s potential to subvert normative categories, and to represent (often through subtle means) constructs of identity and subjectivity that do not conform to hegemonic models. Thus music can facilitate resistance as well, a potential role that numerous composers, performers, and listeners have harnessed by using music as a tool for personal expression and cultural comment. As an innovative framework for these case studies, Peraino develops Foucault’s concept of “technology” as a set of processes by which individual identity is produced, enacted, and transformed. In Peraino’s expanded theoretical view, what gets composed and performed and listened to are not only sounds but identities, too-especially questioning and disruptive ones.


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August 18, 2022