Join | Contact Us | FAQ | Print Page | Sign In
President's Plenary Lecture: Carolyn Abbate

Carolyn Abbate to Deliver Plenary Lecture in Boston

The AMS President’s Endowed Plenary Lecture will be delivered at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday, 31 October, immediately preceding the traditional opening reception. Carolyn Abbate will present “Certain Loves for Opera.” Abbate describes her talk as follows: 

“How we do love objects! Beyond innate desiderata like actual weight and presence, the attraction of objects has motivated an important swerve within the humanities—a move away from texts and exegesis, linguistics, semiotics, a move towards the body, the senses, materiality, physiology, with, however, the potential irony being that a parallel lodestar litany arises to substitute for the first one, by opposition and intervention. A musical instrument, a scientific artifact, a collection of sounds, an antique postcard: yes, all these objects are expressive, sometimes aesthetically pleasing, and in being so they can be understood to embody an epistemology, with theories and realms of knowledge written into their every contour. Or become traces of global exchange and displacement. At other times, they are seen to have an even more potent capacity, inspiring the move away from disembodied systems into affective realms, where feeling calls to feeling across interesting vibrational networks, before we have a chance to begin analyzing anything whatsoever. But what if the object is not very good, not loveable at all? Crumbling, toxic paper, banal images, with no exit from some historical or cultural space to which we might wish to know ourselves to be averse? Or, what if the object is misdirecting? What if it is ephemeral, like sound, something that cannot be handheld? These questions are woven into a reflection on the forms taken by certain loves for opera, as well as those forms’ implications for writing history.” 

Carolyn Abbate is Paul and Catherine Buttenwieser University Professor at Harvard University. She has held faculty positions at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania, and, as visiting professor, at the Freie Universität Berlin; and fellowships at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin and the Institute for Advanced Study Princeton.  Outside academia, she has worked as a dramaturge and director both in the US and Europe, and as a French-English translator. Abbate’s writing has focused on opera as it has evolved over the past four centuries, with special emphasis on the 19th and 20th centuries. Her work ranges widely, drawing on diverse disciplines, including linguistics and semiotics, philosophy, film sound studies, history of science. Recent projects delve into sound technologies from the late-eighteenth century to the Machine Age, and links between obscure sound-technological artifacts and ideas about human hearing in past historical eras.