En Abime: Listening, Reading, Writing
An archival fiction
En Abime explores listening and reading as creative and critical activities driven by memory and return, reshaped into the present. It introduces an idea of aural landscape as a historically defined cultural experience, and contributes with previously unexplored references to the emerging area of listening as artistic practice, adopting an expansive approach across poetry, visual art and literature.
An archival fiction of listening, where landscape is reinvented and abstracted across autobiographical narratives of sounds, books, pictures and songs.
"…poetic, incisive, grounded in politics and history yet continually pushing at the edges of what we now consider to be sound. She interrogates notions of music and the shifting experience that is silence with a freshness and coherence that is inspiring"
David Toop, Author of "Ocean of Sound", "Haunted Weather" and "Sinister Resonance"
"… compulsive and fast, rushing with you through textual territories that seem spoken, direct and contemporary while being nostalgic - invoking a past that creates the present tense."
Salomé Voegelin, author of "Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art"
Read an interview by the author at http://earroom.wordpress.com/2012/09/01/daniella-cascella/
And more at http://www.danielacascella.com and http://enabime.wordpress.com/
REVIEWS & ENDORSEMENTS
- Mise en abyme means placed into the abyss. In art theory, it refers to an image containing a smaller copy of itself; in postmodern literary theory it becomes a tool for analysing complicated texts that contain a number of subtexts. To be thrown into the abyss could also be a description of what happens when we listen to music, especially that which contains unfamiliar, non-musical sounds. Here, it’s a writing device, allowing Daniela Cascella, who is Italian, to use English as a Verfremdungseffekt, or distancing effect, which reflects the polyphonic nature of memory and indeed the multiple texts of the mise en abyme. Among the stories she tells is one of a real abyss, recounting how Nero’s villa, Domus Aurea, was rediscovered in the 15th century by a boy who had accidentally fallen into a hole that led to the ruin. Such vivid, bodily experiences recur throughout En Abîme.
African-American poet Audre Lorde coined the term biomythography; here, Cascella complicates the genre of memoir by referring to an “archival fiction”. Her book is a personal meditation on her life, giving the impression of someone trying to pick up the pieces and put them together in a meaningful way. As a music writer and art historian, she has travelled widely to her objects of passion, curiosity or fascination, and the book oscillates between several geographical spaces, which in turn evoke metaphorical spaces. One is a Protestant cemetery near the Spanish Steps in Rome, where Gramsci, Keats and Shelley are buried. Another is New York, where Cascella researched a dissertation on the interdisciplinary avant garde magazine Possibilities, edited by William Baziotes with John Cage and Robert Motherwell. In New York she befriends Baziotes’s widow, Ethel. And in Berlin, she meets Mika Vainio, who, instead of giving her a straightforward interview, plays records to her.
Rome, a place of pilgrimage for many poets, writers and artists, is a city that åprovokes memories for Cascella. One of these is of listening to Bella Ciao, a compilation of workers’ and partisans’ songs, with her brother. The compilation is named after a famous song sung by the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy and later covered by punk groups. In 1964, at the Spoleto festival, Giovanna Marini, a friend of communist film director Pier Paolo Pasolini, sang this song to a scandalised public who were not keen to be reminded of the past. But Cascella is haunted by the past because she wants to understand it, and she draws upon the experiences of other visitors to Rome – Herman Melville, Rainer Maria Rilke and Italian poet Carlo Emilio Gadda, whose work uses various dialects and languages – to help her to put together her own existence. A novel by Melville, Pierre: Or, The Ambiguities (later filmed by Leos Carax as Pola X, with a soundtrack by Scott Walker), where a prospective author writes two versions of a book – one for the reader and one only for himself – is the basis for a chapter of direct self-commentary on the author’s own reading and writing.
Somehow this cascade of disrupted impressions makes sense. I felt at times as if the voice of the late Chris Marker was speaking to me – Cascella has a similar aphoristic style that recalls Sans Soleil’s meditations on memory. She never neglects the political aspect of her stories, all of which are painfully immersed in history, like the song “Bella Ciao” – the book’s real heart, and its musical leitmotif. En Abîme is, like Marker’s films, a road book, and as in his creations, there is at the end an elusive but firm sense that our world has transformed a little. ~ Agata Pyzik, The Wire
- En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing: An Archival Fiction. By Daniela Cascella. Zero Books, 2012. $16.95. enabime.wordpress.com
Reviewed by Lola San Martín Arbide, University of Salamanca, Spain.
Throughout En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing: An Archival Fiction, the reader will find a repeated confession by the author, Daniela Cascella: “I lost all of my strength, I lost my ability.” This literary leitmotif is the true raison d’être of the text, to stick with the French in the title. En Abîme, a collection of Cascella’s criticism, resulted from an effort to put together a scattered body of work. As she has explained in interviews, the selected fragments have been extracted from a private notebook written concurrently with the press articles she published between 1998 and 2011. A type of counterpoint was created between these two parts, especially as the former are often more poetic, inventive, and personal than the latter. Books read in the past inform the way we listen, hear, and feel, and this creates a special kind of sound map, which in turn can develop into an intimate mental panorama. Cascella takes the reader for a walk through her inner landscape.
Embracing this concept of inscape, the author grants us access to her personal approach to writing sound. “Call me a writer of sound,” she writes. It is her inscape that sets the mood, the ethos for each piece. As if writing were the “other side of sound,” Cascella explores the ways that listening, reading, and writing are so closely imbricated. She explains this connection through her personal experience bringing together memories about the sound of novels by Herman Melville or traditional Alpine songs and linking them to actual places in Rome. Listening, sound, memories; these are concepts often considered too abstract to attempt to define normatively. However, Cascella’s book is an example of the concrete way that the three concepts are actually applied in the process of creative writing. She is an example of the listening art historian, to whom synesthesia, or “cohabitation of worlds” as she terms it, is the required medium towards any sort of artistic initiative.
The narration itself is a literal mise-en-abîme, employing repetition as one of its most distinctive stylistic characteristics. Extracts from quoted writers and musicians such as Pier Paolo Pasolini, Giovanna Marini, and Carlo Emilio Gadda, appear frequently in varied versions, creating a feeling of closeness to the author and to the story being told. All of these fragmentary elements, which appear scattered at the beginning, are emotively tied up in the end. The quoted artists are the elements of the subjectively crafted landscape in which Cascella’s literary criticism texts are rooted. These memories and personal stories exemplify the ways in which the cultural wealth accompanying our lives is an ever-changing corpus of potentially artistic materials. Despite the number of visual elements present throughout the text, there is not a single reproduction of them. This enhances a deeper sense of “archival fiction” and sets an ambiance where abstract reflection takes over from the precise and descriptive analysis typical of traditional research.
Most libraries will classify this book under the general title of “literary criticism” as it does not quite fit into the standard tag of “music” or even that of “sound studies.” Elegantly leaving aside the style of academic writing, which tends to favor linear discourse, these fragments of a self-ethnography are of great interest when analyzed in terms of bilingualism. Writing in a foreign language for the sake of the sound of it – its natural melody, intonation, and pronunciation – must have been a beautiful and pleasurable challenge for the author. The book is set in a middle ground between a vernacular style and that of an adopted tongue, which calls for a renewed musical attitude from the native English-speaking reader. Cascella defines sound art as the “non-canonized way of shaping listening,” whereas En Abîme might well be described as a non-canonized subgenre of autobiography. It is a journey into Cascella’s ability to explain her artistic sensibility and part of her professional life in terms of past experiences, re-visited places, and artworks.
Drawing on examples such as John Cage’s dissemination of Thoreau’s diaries until his words were nothing but abstract sounds, Cascella shows how sonic experiences become a shivering body, a rhythm that finds parallels in literary, filmic, or visual experiences. The book calls for a highly synesthetic sensibility from the art critic and writer. This approach can be of equal value to the ethnographer as well as to any kind of researcher. In general terms, Cascella is defending a broad approach to humanities, a holistic consideration of any art piece. The mise-en-abîme comes in when the reader is confronted with the assertion that a critique of an art piece is also subject to yet another critique, which in turn is subject to another in an endless repetition of critique. By making public our opinions and thoughts on what other people created, we are equally exposing our own creativity and its background. Cascella’s work seems to suggest that the best attitude a researcher can embrace is to acknowledge subjectivity, as long as clarity and honesty about its sources prevail. Quoting Jean Luc Godard, what matters “is not where you take things from, it’s where you take them to.” ~ Lola San Martín Arbide, Ethnomusicology Review
- Daniela Cascella’s En Abîme is a fascinating consideration of the art of writing about sound—the process of l i s t e n i n g a n d re-listening and responding to what one has heard. The result of a moment of crisis, when Cascella’s ten years of writing seemed to her to carry no real consistent shape or form, Cascella turned towards the silent abyss of words to reconsider them. The resulting book is shaped as a Sebaldian series of walks along via Appia in Rome, often ending with the author at or near the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. Antonio Gramsci’s ashes are kept here and from those ashes the story spirals out—Pasolini’s short film La ricotta; Giovanna Marini’s sung lament to Pasolini’s death; a recording, featuring Marini, of workers songs cherished by Cascella as a child and later re-heard when covered by the post-punk band, CCCP. All of these references become pathways to consider the way sound carries the past along with the present moment of listening. Cascella wonderfully models how the act of listening for a writer also becomes the consideration of silences. She brilliantly weaves in deeply felt considerations of the music of Mika Vainio and Steve Roden, two artists whose work she has followed for a long time. Roden’s process, especially serves as a reversal of her own, often moving the silence of a text into the creation of a sonic piece. His work inspired her to write, “I began to write from the side of somebody who listens. Sound appeared as a perceptual asymptote for my words: they
would tend constantly to it, they would be forever disjointed from it.” En Abîme serves as a way for Cascella to regain her ability to write along the edges of sound, dipping into its resonances and pulling out detailed moments of inspiration and memory. It is an inspiring sound-memoir that models a way to listen to sound and write about its aftermaths. ~ Chris Kennedy, MusicWorks magazine #115
- En Abîme is one of those books that can be read in one sitting, letting yourself be caught up in the thick web of references and paths, and by the rhythm of the text itself. It is developed as an open structure, through a way of writing which is free from chronological orders and fixed divisions between real and fictional. It finds nourishment in recurring digressions and shifts in physical and literary spaces, in listening and reading, building and intertextual net through absolutely personal threads.
http://www.digicult.it/news/en-abime-a-journey-across-listening-reading-and-writing-with-daniela-cascella/ ~ Elena Biserna , Digicult
- This slim volume from the Zero Books series is a collection of brief, interrelated reflections on sound by Daniele Cascella. There are extracts from journals, close readings of literary texts, snippets from interviews (with Steve Roden, among others). While the emotive exploration of sound's role in cultural and personal life is adventurous, perhaps the strongest aspect of Cascella's adoption of sound technique's writing is the way she repeats various themes, even phrases and sentences, as the probes her material and develops her argument. ~ Marc Weidenbaum, GoodReads.com
Our senses are as old as the cities we live in and the way we encounter and revisit sound is a thick knot of coincidences, words, colours and visions. Daniela Cascella’s ‘En Abime’ is a beautiful and delicate journey to the depths and different layers of such a difficult exploration of sound through reading and writing. It is physical and metaphysical, poetic and open ended. Rome becomes the field where the characters of La Ricotta cohabit with Pasolini’s verses from The Ashes of Gamsci, laments, the partisan song Bella Ciao, alpine chants, paintings, literature, Mike Cooper’s Hawaiian Shirts or Steve Roden’s plasticity with words. It is not so much about the nostalgic glance of the narrator to the past but more of a struggle to bring back the resonance of her listening experiences through words, to embody them through different archival devices and associations, real or fictional, little does it matter.
Kazantzakis once wrote that we come from a dark abyss, we end in a dark abyss, and we call the luminous interval life. Kazantzakis’s idea of abyss was closely connected to the pursuit of truth; a long and arduous deambulation encompassing stories of personal and collective histories, politics, religion, painting, poetry, literature, people he met and places he visited. En Abime, to me, evoques Kazantzakis’s abyss but most importantly the luminous interval in between where all the scattered pieces and ruptured memories make sense, when one comes to terms with one’s many voices. It returns to the past to make a critical figuring of the present that then opens up to a suggestion for the future. Cascella creates a highly compelling, intimate yet collective journey of discovery and traces a new path of thinking about sound both embodied and in absentia. ~ Maria Papadomanolaki, Fluid Radio
- Daniela Cascella's En Abîme both describes and enacts the dynamic between writing and sound that gets put into play whenever we write about the auditory or sound out the phonetic limits of writing. Her soi-disant "archival fiction" thematizes the writing of sound in scenes where phonographs serve as mnemonic triggers or are deployed as answers in an interview, but the archival sense of "records" also plays throughout. Moreover, in its investigation of the dynamic between writing and sound, Cascella's work makes a compelling argument for rethinking the metaphors by which we understand both reading and listening: moving from surface and depth to horizon and edge to entanglements and knots. Picking up on Herman Melville's description of his unsuccessful book Pierre as a "shallow nothing of a novel," Cascella patiently demonstrates that the depth-model of value ("shallow") and the ontology of "nothing" (as John Cage had proved for "silence") are far from certain and stable. Indeed, with its five blind-printed pages, her own second-hand copy of Melville's novel reanimates the metaphors of ghostly haunting and diminished echoing that echo and haunt her text in turn. A visual version of an echo, "en abîme" names the recursive relationships that animate the formal structure of the eponymous fiction, but the abyss is also a formation where echoes emanate — the space required for resonance, the cry of the voice de profundis. Like Robert Walser's poetry, Thomas Mann's Doktor Faustus, and Gert Jonke's novels (such as Der Ferne Klang and Erwachen zum großen Schlafkrieg), En Abîme conducts philosophy by other — narrative and aural — means. Cascella is a phonographer of the mind, and her work repays the replay of repeated auditioning. ~ Craig Dworkin, Professor, University of Utah. Author, No Medium (MIT Press, 2013)
- I consider Daniela Cascella to be one of the leading theorists and explorers of an exciting new discourse growing up around the practice of listening. Her book is poetic, incisive, grounded in politics and history yet continually pushing at the edges of what we now consider to be sound. She interrogates notions of music and the shifting experience that is silence with a freshness and coherence that is inspiring. ~ David Toop, author of Ocean of Sound, Haunted Weather, Sinister Resonance
- Two recent trilogies, of very different types, are particularly inspiring in regard to current considerations of the archive: Orhan Pamuk’s The Museum of Innocence, The Museum of Innocence, The Innocence of Objects – an extraordinary trilogy of novel, museum, catalog; and Daniela Cascella’s fascinating En Abîme: Listening, Reading, Writing, described as an “archival fiction,” where the trilogy is internal to the volume: meditative, discursive, nostalgic. I received En Abîme accompanied by the postcard of Salvator Rosa’s Jacob’s Dreams (1665), one of the most famous representations of the biblical passage (Genesis 28: 10-19) recounting Jacob’s Ladder, the dream that the Patriarch experienced after falling asleep during his flight from Esau. Particularly enticing – for the gastronome and wine-lover that I am – is the wine flask that appears at Jacob’s side, perhaps the efficient cause of this most famous of dreams, as I like to think that this is the earliest example of the aesthetics of intoxication, but I am nevertheless wary of anachronism. Vertically, we see the ladder, with the ascent and descent of angels, a fabulous axis mundi that proffers the very heart of the dream, articulating sleep and wakefulness, reverie and thought, immanence and transcendence, exile and homecoming. Horizontally, opposite the celestial ladder appears a wild landscape – more reminiscent of the terrible beauty of the Apennines than of a biblical topography – a paysage moralisé that distinguishes fantasm and nature, nostalgia and utopia, the autobiographical and the historical, the intimate and the political, the promised land of the biblical dream and the actual site of the painter’s awakening to landscape. But it is a most silent painting, despite undertones of the visibly apparent murmurs of the angels’ prayers, the rustling of leaves, and the breath of the wind. The oppositions, contradictions and paradoxes suggested by this painting offer a veritable allegory of En Abîme, a sort of pictorial epigraph. An irresistible impulse in the context of a book on sound would be to evoke Arnold Schoenberg’s Die Jakobsleiter (the unfinished oratorio of 1917-1921), that fascinating moment when the composer moved from free atonality to dodecaphonic music, from the decomposition of an old musical regime to a new sonic world order. This move from silence to sound suggests the necessary supplement to Cascella’s archival fiction, the archiving of those sounds that inspired her words. Where Pamuk has already written an elegy to Museums of Reading and Writing and created a museum thereof, what we now need is a Museum of Listening. ~ Allen S. Weiss
- En abîme is compulsive and fast, rushing with you through textual territories that seem spoken, direct and contemporary while being nostalgic - invoking a past that creates the present tense. It produces a wonderful séjourne into history that brings with it the contemporary condition of being, remote, apart, unseen, but in constant contact. Its words compose a listening journey that reminds of diaries written before the computer and the internet: crafted by hand, meticulously inscribing every shard of the travellers experience and thought. And so it talks intriguingly about listening to culture and cultural artefacts, not to know about sound but to know about culture, the social, the political and to make you understand rather than know the expanding function of listening.
I read its voice aloud in my mind. A strong single narrating voice that is dispersed but not distracted, connecting in sound the circumstance of now as a fluent stream of poetry, philosophy, fiction, description and reverie. ~ Salomé Voegelin, author of Listening to Noise and Silence: Towards a Philosophy of Sound Art
- With the incantatory circularity of a responsorium, Daniela Cascella weaves the threads of sound and life in a tapestry of ringing depths and aching beauty.
Cascella plays on the same emotional chords, on the same poetical league as the artists she draws from: Marini, Melville, Pasolini.
And just like in "Pierre"'s recalling and refashioning, she constructs a fresh form out of mutilated remembrances, out of physical and psychological remotednesses: the listener has become a composer. ~ Luciano Chessa, composer, author of Luigi Russolo, Futurist. Noise, Visual Art and the Occult (University of California Press, 2012)
- En Abîme is a highly individual work of aural archaeology, sifting layers of sound, literature, autobiography and history. Cascella's project of writing sound dramatises both the continuities and the discontinuities between reading, writing and listening. The range of references and disciplines embraced by these reveries is remarkable: from Pasolini to Cage, Melville to Mika Vainio, protest songs to Alpine chants. Cascella has a wonderfully sensitive ear for the ways in which private and public histories resonate together. ~ Will Montgomery, English Department, Royal Holloway University of London
- Daniela Cascella is a talented writer whose research into the literary
aspects of silence is original and timely. Danielas work is, by nature,
transdisciplinary yet manages to retain an intensive methodological focus
on its subject. ~ Maria Fusco is a Belfast-born writer based in London, and Director of Art Writing at Goldsmiths University of London
- At Sound and Music Ive had the pleasure of commissioning Danielas writing on a number of occasions. As an organisation that explores the wider contexts of music, listening and sound we have found her discursive and personal approach particularly suitable at a time when the celebration of biographical approaches to listening, and the emergence of a wider analysis of sound references within non-sounding art forms are on the rise. ~ Richard Whitelaw, Senior Producer, Sound and Music