K. A. Laity
The Sounds of Salvation: Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet
While best known for her visual art, Leonora Carrington wrote many wonderful tales that explore adventures as mystic and surreal as her paintings. The Hearing Trumpet, although written in the 1950s when Carrington was barely middle-aged, offers a prescient view of the frustrations of age. The novel follows Marian Leatherby, nonagenarian, who is forced into elder care by her family. Her best friend Carmella (based on Carrington’s friend and fellow artist Remedios Varo) gives her a silver and mother of pearl hearing trumpet which enables extraordinary powers of hearing. While the visual sumptuousness of Carrington’s work has received the most attention, her prose and—here in particular—her appreciation for the power of sound shine. In applying the discipline of sound studies, I ‘aim to disrupt narratives of the so-called hegemony of the visual and the privileging of the eye’ (Sterne 7). Like the visual attack of surrealist collage, the aural surrealism presented in the novel also achieves the form that is ‘simultaneously the most organically poetic and potentially revolutionary’ (Veal 463).
The information Marian overhears uncovers a capitalist, patriarchal conspiracy that reaches back in time. The subterranean recovery of the Grail/goddess in the novel (presciently) triggers the eventual total climactic evolution of the planet, turning Mexico into a kind of ‘Lapland’ which after the heat of this summer sounds wonderful. Marian regards the results with satisfaction, saying ‘The planet is peopled with cats, werewolves, bees, and goats. We all fervently hope that this will be an improvement on humanity.’ Deborah Gaensbauer calls the outcome of this Alice-like dive into the underworld, ‘a successful irreverent ambush of all the multiple father figures…that haunted or constrained her’ (280). I want to demonstrate that while the visual imagination is an important part of Marian’s rebellion against age and masculinity, sound is its genesis and the link that joins the apparent chaos around her to a hidden truth.
K. A. Laity is an award-winning author, scholar & critic, serving both as History Witch for Witches & Pagans and as Associate Professor of English at the College of Saint Rose. Her books include How to Be Dull, White Rabbit, Dream Book, A Cut-Throat Business, Lush Situation, Owl Stretching, Unquiet Dreams, Chastity Flame, and Pelzmantel. She has edited My Wandering Uterus, Respectable Horror, Weird Noir, Noir Carnival and Drag Noir, plus written many short stories, scholarly essays, songs, and more. A wide variety of publications (creative, scholarly, esoteric) can be found at http://kalaity.com