Kyessa L. Moore

Kyessa L. Moore is a Ph.D student in the English Literature Department at Princeton University. Her interests include: African American/Black Literature, critical theory, film studies, cultural studies (i.e. the historicized production of race and gender, visual studies, sensory studies, haptic theory), and Futurama.



"(Sub)Spacialized Urban Sound, Expressive Communion and Identificatory Dislocations"

In the collection of short films titled Subway Stories(1997), New York City is presented as a transportation system – a promiscuous intermingling of drastically different people in states of destabilized temporality, irregular movements, involuntary motion – hence extreme disorientation. In selecting this subterranean framework, the filmmakers produce works which organically challenge elements of the expected continuity and stability of communicative (inter) actions, including: power dynamics, gender roles, non-verbal cues, temporal continuity, and inherent linguistic meaning.

Within writer/director Julie Dash’s contribution, Sax Cantor Riff, these challenges are presented through ambiguous narrative form and privileging of synesthetic sonic framing; all further enveloped by the impromptu mourning cry of a Black woman. Dash uses the space of the subway platform to make possible her dismantling of emotive, ethnic/racial, religious, and gendered identificatory strictures, tied to common negative tropes, by focusing on the significance and preoccupation with the significance of sound.

The sonic utterances of a Black woman in mourning are dislocated from their historically delineated moorings and rendered concomitant with, and syncretical to, a Hasidic Jewish man’s lament, a saxophone’s trill, the sounds of trains, the crackle of subway detritus, and people’s chatter. In other words, I argue that the Black woman’s voice, (re)positioned as part and parcel for experiential life for the various ethnic and gendered people, marks Dash’s film as a profound example of the power of embodied, sound/sonically oriented film-making, that draws on the multivocal density of urban life, to (re)frame social relationships; ultimately imbuing her characters with a generously expanded representational complexity.