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York University

Curriculum Vitae


Alain Badiou recently proposed the need for a new “popular discipline” to reinvigorate political discourse and engagement. Similar calls have been made in recent years from a number of directions, yet there is a paucity of examples of what such a popular discipline might be. In Popular Discipline and Sound, 1950 – Present, I seek to develop an adequate theory of what “popular discipline” means, through an examination of data from historical and contemporary events, movements, groups and works as they relate to music and sound. 

I track a set of global developments over the last fifty years that link up the better known European and North American avant-gardes with emergent movements in colonial, postcolonial and developing societies.  I argue that the possibility of a popular discipline emerges at the moment of the various liberation movements of the 1950s and 1960s, in which traditional aesthetic and political structures are taken apart, in a moment that, following Lucy Lippard, I label “the dematerialization of art”.  In that moment of dematerialization, folk forms re-emerge in transfigured forms as new collective practices and modalities of inhabiting the world together.  Very little research has been done on this period, since the cultural products and forms created tended to be fleeting, and were either dismissed or repressed as ephemeral or ineffective political forms, or as inauthentic cultural forms, or appropriated back into the capitalist marketplace as “subcultures”.  Such subcultures operating through globally disseminated diasporic forms such as hip-hop, house and punk today, connect subaltern populations, and offer one of the few examples of a “counter-globalization”.  Once the complex entanglement of aesthetic and political practices that are bracketed as “subculture” are fully explored and understood, my hypothesis is that some of these scenes may be understood as nascent forms of popular discipline.

Marcus Boon is associate professor of English at York University in Toronto, where he teaches contemporary literature and cultural theory. He is the author of The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs (Harvard UP, 2002) and In Praise of Copying (Harvard UP, 2010), and the editor of America: A Prophecy! The Sparrow Reader (Soft Skull, 2006) and Subduing Demons in America: Selected Poems of John Giorno 1962-2007 (Soft Skull, 2008). He writes about contemporary music for The Wire and Signal to Noise. He is currently co-editing a book on Buddhism and critical theory, and a new edition of William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s The Third Mind. His current work concerns a crisis in the concept of practice in contemporary life, and various possible remedies.

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