Suzanne Cusick

AMS President’s Endowed Plenary Lecture: Dreaming Reparative Musicologies in a Paranoid Time

Thursday, 9 November 2023, 6:00-7:00pm
Grand Ballroom II


The 2023 President’s Endowed Plenary Lecture will by delivered by distinguished scholar and former AMS President, Suzanne G. Cusick.


We live in frightening times. Challenges to what seemed like a stable world only five or six years ago come at us from “everywhere, all at once.” Some are so shocking or so profound that a person can barely think, much less think well about the complex phenomenon we call music, or the internal intellectual challenges to the several kinds of music studies, or to the mundane but crucial matter of whether and how some form of musicology or music studies will survive as a credible, justifiable good in the world. Beset on so many fronts, we in this society have good reason to be paranoid.

In her oft-cited article 2003 “Paranoid Reading and Reparative Reading….” the late Eve Sedgwick wrote “just because you have enemies”—just because things are scary—”doesn’t mean you have to be paranoid.” As a counterbalance to the then-overwhelming fashion for knowledge formation from a paranoid position that brimed with negative affect that continually confirmed its negativity, she proposed a position for knowledge formation based on moving “toward a sustained seeking of pleasure” [italics original] that “inaugurates ethical possibility… an empathetic view of the other as at once good, damaged, integral, and requiring and eliciting love and care.”

This lecture stages one scholar’s struggle to find such reparative positions from which to do the intellectual work of musicology amid the swirling tangle of public and disciplinary paranoia that, to a greater or lesser extent, afflicts all of our intellectual lives. Among her heterogeneous helpers in that intellectual struggle are Marsilio Ficino, Robin James, Audre Lorde, Dylan Robinson, and a goodly number of card-carrying musicologists who will not be too numerous to be named.

Suzanne G. Cusick has published extensively on gender and sexuality in relation to the musical cultures of early modern Italy and contemporary North America. Additionally, she has studied the use of sound and sexual shaming in the detention and interrogation of prisoners held during the 21st century’s “global war on terror.” The winner of prizes from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women (Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court, 2009) and the American Musicological Society’s LGBTQ Study Group, as well as teaching prizes at the University of Virginia and NYU, she has received fellowships from the ACLS, the NEH, and has been in residence at both Harvard’s Center for Italian Renaissance Studies and its Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History. She is an honorary member of both the American Musicological Society and the Society for Ethnomusicology, and will serve as President of the AMS 2018-20. Her current research focuses on gendered, eroticized and political modes of hearing in Medicean Florence.