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Junting Huang: “Tongues of Blazing Fire: The Hermeneutics of Glossolalia”

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Junting Huang is a Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University. As a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellow, he completed his dissertation in the Department of Comparative Literature at Cornell University in 2021. His teaching and research interests include contemporary Chinese/Sinophone art, cinema, and media culture as well as Chinese diasporic culture in the Caribbean, with additional expertise in new media studies and digital humanities. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in ASAP/Journal, Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art, Journal of Chinese Cinemas, Sounding Out!, and Sinoglossia.

Abstract: There is an unsolved mystery in one of the greatest music battles of the 1960s. It was a decade-long feud between two black artists in Jamaica, Prince Buster and Derrick Morgan. Yet the key to this mystery lies in a series of Chinese sounding phrases in the music recordings, and decades since their original release, no one seems to have deciphered the semantic meanings of these Chinese sounds. Absent from the printed lyrics, these mysterious sounds have evaded critical scrutiny, as they turned into a fragmented puzzle confounding the listeners, readers, and interpreters of early ska music.

Indeed, the use of foreign languages reflects the historical presence of Pentecostalism in the Caribbean, as well as the religious practice of "speaking in tongues" that has influenced the music, literature, and oral traditions of the Caribbean and its diaspora. In this talk, I argue that Morgan's performance exhibits a postcolonial sensibility of glossolalia-a desire to speak in foreign languages as an expression of a yearning for political and spiritual liberation. This practice challenges the boundaries between linguistic and non-linguistic sounds, thereby questioning the limitations of semiotic meanings in language, sound, and cultural production. By examining Morgan's use of foreign tongues and the media ecology that enables it, I provide a reading of his song "Blazing Fire" as a text whose origins are deeply rooted in an auditory culture. To practice the hermeneutics of glossolalia, as I argue, is also to attend to the "noise" within the often-silenced narratives of written history.