In this talk, Gustavus Stadler explores Woody Guthrie's personal writings alongside two other key “texts”: the recordings Guthrie made in 1946-7 that would become the album Ballads of Sacco and Vanzetti, released in 1960 without his consent; and Guthrie’s experience with a state-of-the-art New York treatment center for sexual “deviance” after his 1949 arrest on obscenity charges under the Comstock Laws. In his failed mourning of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1947, Stadler argues, Guthrie seems pervaded with melancholia about the passing—whether in him, the nation at large, or both—of a dynamic sense of collectivity made possible by the class-focused left of his own past. Where there was once a redemptive loneliness that fed easily into defiance, there was now a resignation to the inevitability of abjection, stigma, and shame—a transition embodied both in Guthrie's emerging symptoms of Huntington’s Disease and in his encounter with a move among post-war, post-Kinsey progressives to de-criminalize, and instead re-pathologize, non-normative sexualities. Gustavus Stadler is Associate Professor of English at Haverford College, where he teaches courses on American literature and culture as well as gender and sexuality studies. He is co-editor of the Journal of Popular Music Studies and the author of Troubling Minds: The Cultural Politics of Genius in the 19th-Century U.S. (U of Minnesota P, 2006). In addition to his work on Woody Guthrie, he has an essay on Andy Warhol, listening, and distraction forthcoming in Criticism and is at work on a study of sound media and racial violence in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Co-sponsored by the Binghamton University Sound Studies Collective; the Department of Performing and Media Arts; and the Society for the Humanities.
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