Jessica Schwartz

Jessica A. Schwartz is a PhD candidate in Ethnomusicology at NYU. She is currently completing her dissertation that focuses on the sounds that emerged from the US nuclear testing program in the Marshall Islands.



"Conform or Die: Composing the City as National Security Threat, 1945-1962"

The “Nuke York, New York Exhibition” that took place at Cornell University in September 2011 stated, “…depictions of a nuclear attack on New York City are as emblematic of the atomic age in the United States as is the mushroom cloud.”

This paper expands upon the latter by considering the ways in which sonic depictions of New York’s nuclear demise were foundational in affectively communicating postwar desires and fears of conformity and complacency and also contributing to the suburbanization of America. Following Giorgio Agamben’s work on sovereign power, I examine the role of the aural—testimony and eavesdropping—in the Cold War milieu of suspicion and anti-communist sentiments as sensibly mediating a justification for US nuclear proliferation. Framed by the latter and insight into postwar US racial tensions, I probe the relationship between sonic elements in Civil Defense productions that “nuked New York,” musical depictions of “the city” as rebellious teenager, and the subversive labeling of the mid-1950s to early 1960s folk music revival in New York City as “testimonial” evidence that the city--the gateway for upward mobility and location of cultural, political, and socio-economic diversity--became an allegory for a nation potentially destroyed by its own diversity and mobility. Emphasized by the value placed on homogeneity in American suburbs, the threat of the mobile teenage is sounded by teenage tragedy songs (late 1950s-early1960s), often termed “allegorical bomb songs.” Teenagers who attempted to escape the suburbs, or challenged authority, met the same fate as New York: vehicular or technological demise.

My Speakers Sessions

Friday, March 23

9:00am EDT