WORDS OF HOPE // Friday, Sept 29  9-10:50am (Rm 201)

An Alphabet of Hope in the “Hierarchy of Grief”
Leah Cameron

In the Judeo-Christian context, hope is grounded in lamentation and encountered and experienced in and through the vocalization of grief in its poetic and musical forms. Assisted by philosophers, theologians, theorists, and composers, including Walter Benjamin, Gersham Scholem, Judith Butler and Henry Purcell, I explore apocalypse, particularly in its poetic and musical expressions, as embedded with interstices of hope, by means of literary and musicological readings of specific classic works of lament.

Judith Butler, writing after 9/11, (Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence, 2004), describes mourning as the only language that addresses the “hierarchy of grief” fundamental to human existence; she further claims it as transformational in that it reconceives the construction of our identity. In the Jewish theological imagination, lamentation offers a space in which both texts and their music speak the language of hope embedded in the act of reading and vocalization of human lament. Indeed, Jewish philosopher Gersham Scholem argues that poetry inhabits a liminal space in which language and silence converge; there, mourners may express their lament in ways that transcend the limitations of language.

Likewise, theologian and poet Paul Mariani, and countless others, uphold music as a medium which transcends the constraints of rational thought and linguistic expression, and, as such, offers a unique site for the expression of grief. Furthermore, the canon of lament in the Western tradition of classical music exhibits recurring musical conventions, indicating that certain aural techniques are intrinsic to its expression. To this end, I examine the literary and musical conventions that facilitate lament and, ultimately, offer the vital spiritual affect of hope.


Leah Cameron is a part-time instructor in English and Music at Trinity Western University and a sessional instructor in English at Columbia Bible College. Her MA in Interdisciplinary Humanities (English) was supported by a Canada Graduate Scholarship (SSHRC). She has published and presented on subjects such as theopoetics, poetry and music, and theological aesthetics. Leah is a classically trained lyric soprano who has sung with artist programs such as the Vancouver International Song Institute and Early Music Vancouver and with ensembles such as Pacifica Singers and UBC’s Collegium Musicum. Leah teaches voice to students of all ages from her studio in Langley.