Paper Abstracts

Thursday 7 June, 18:00–21:00

Garrett Stewart (Iowa): ‘Secondary Vocality’
For Walter Ong, writing is a technological apparatus supplementing the spoken word. Writing is forever, sound ephemeral. Orality, having given way to chirography and then typography, awaits its attenuated derivative, beyond script and print, in the ‘secondary orality’ (as Ong terms it) of later and supervening technologies, from phonography through radio to web chat. Building on Stewart’s Reading Voices: Literature and the Phonotext, this paper listens instead for the ‘secondary vocality’ of literary (more than simply literate) culture: the silent sounding of phonetic language in its full phonic stress. Apart from any technological prosthesis, at issue is the return of writing’s oral repressed in the revived form of a phonemic event, with examples drawn from Romantic and Victorian poetry, Dickensian through Joycean prose, on down to the sonorous cadences of Toni Morrison’s phrasal play. In terms extrapolated from philosopher Giorgio Agamben, secondary vocality will be heard to generate the paradoxical ‘present potential’ of silent inscription as sounded speech.

Matthew Rubery (QMUL): ‘Phonographically Cultivated’
Scientific American announced in 1878 that being ‘phonographically cultivated’ meant listening to recorded verse. This talk documents the tradition of spoken word recording that began simultaneously with Thomas Edison’s invention of the phonograph. In doing so, it makes the case that 1878 is a more important year to the history of literature than has yet been recognized for its experiments with recorded verse and debates about the role of books in light of new sound-recording technology. Recordings to be examined include ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’ and scripts by poets such as Alfred Tennyson, Caroline Norton, and Edgar Allan Poe. These recitals illustrate how the talking machine influenced the reception of spoken texts, and, more important, how sound technology gave rise to verbal performances unheard of in traditional oral cultures.

Saturday 17 March, 11:00–17:00

James Mussell (Birmingham): ‘“Scarers in Print”: Literacy and Media Practice from Our Mutual Friend to Friend Me on Facebook’
Building on the work of Walter Ong, this paper explores a broad definition of literacy that considers what we do with objects as an integral part of making them meaningful. By placing that extended Victorian discussion of literacy, Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, in dialogue with current discussions of literacy in the digital age, I advance a model of materiality that is emergent and rooted in practice. Considering materiality in this way directs us to the multivalent and unsuspected properties of objects, bringing to light their disruptive potential when out of place. Moving from nineteenth-century mechanisms for ordering information to more recent implementations in digital culture, I argue that mediation is always in some way haunted. When Mr Boffin says that he did not know there were such scarers in print, he not only alludes to the macabre details told by Silas Wegg, but also reminds us of the necessary processes of repression that allow us to make sense of the world.

Bob Nicholson (Manchester): ‘“Goodbye, old fellow, I must skedaddle!”: Reading the American Voice in the Late-Victorian Press’
Abstract not available

Claire Potter (U Paris Diderot): ‘The Weight of the Voice/The Slant of the Word: Circulations of Melancholia in Hardy’
(‘In writing, what is spoken comes to a stand.’ – ‘The Grammar of Being’, Heidegger.) This paper seeks to understand how certain words, spoken and written, are understood to metaphorically carry weight within narrative discourse. The question of whether this weight is indeed something linked to metaphor as conduit, word as signifier, or whether, alternatively, it is the nominal category which confers a sense of who and what carries ‘weight’ in language, is approached via two works by Thomas Hardy: The Withered Arm and ‘The Voice’. It is argued that essential to both texts is the presence of melancholia as well as melancholic language. Of particular interest is how melancholia circulates, as well as halts, within the texts, functioning as a means to communicate information as well as indicate breakdowns. These moments which depict psychic and linguistic disintegration necessarily supersede the visual and become invisible inasmuch as they enter the realm of the voice — for having been ‘heard’ and recognised by the reader. Paradoxically here, it is precisely the ‘invisible’ in writing that produces the ‘visible’ in the voice: we can be visibly moved by a voice and we can hear an invisible voice in a text. In Hardy’s two texts, poetic form is imbued with a melancholic voice which is heard by the reader. This reflection is reinforced by evidence that oral tradition predates writing inasmuch as writing can be apprehended as a ‘translation’ and not a facsimile of the voice, and indeed, as Heidegger suggests, as a phenomenon in which the spoken comes to a stand, is weighted, received, and thereby circulated within and without, again.

Roisin Quinn-Lautrefin (U Paris Diderot): ‘Giving Utterance: Mary Barton and the Language of the Working Class’
This paper addresses the manner in which working-class speech is articulated in Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton (1848), and particularly the ways in which orality and textuality are negotiated. Announcing her mission as ‘giv[ing] utterance’ to those which she considers to be ‘dumb people’, Gaskell strives to give a voice to her working-class characters. Moving away from a literary tradition of representing working-class speech in a comic way, Lancashire dialect is carefully reproduced in Mary Barton, and references to popular language and culture intermingle with quotations from highbrow literature. The working classes are, therefore, portrayed as a vocal and articulate society, whose ‘dumbness’ is construed as a reticence towards the written word and a mistrust of textuality, rather than an inability to speak. While Gaskell initially claims to provide a common language between the classes, this intelligibility seems, therefore, to be flawed: if working-class society is a society of orality while literacy belongs to the middle classes, any attempt towards communication and understanding seems impossible.

Mary L. Shannon (KCL): ‘Spoken Word and Printed Page: G. W. M. Reynolds and the London Riots, 1848’
In March 1848, the radical writer and editor G. W. M. Reynolds came face to face with some of the very people he hoped were his reading community, when he took a step out of the editor’s office and onto the speaker’s platform. Reynolds stood up in front of a protest meeting in Trafalgar Square, and turned the issue of the day away from taxation and towards revolution. In that critical year of Europe-wide revolutions, Reynolds praised the recent French uprising and declared solidarity with the French republicans. Reynolds’s actions on that spring afternoon earned him immediate prominence in the Chartist movement, a place on the platform at the ‘monster meeting’ at Kennington Common on April 10th, the status of a radical celebrity and a government file. The riots after the meeting lasted several days. This paper will consider Reynolds’s accounts of his own speech as printed in the pages of his best-selling serial narrative, The Mysteries of London (1844–48). This sprawling tale, often compared to the works of Dickens and Mayhew, made an implicit claim for fiction as just as legitimate a space for the discussion of radical politics as newspapers. Reynolds’s radical speech-making on that March afternoon continued his radical outbursts in his London fiction out into the London streets; he hoped that the combined work of both would push forward his political agenda. Drawing on the work of De Certeau and Ong, this paper will argue that Reynolds’s actions declared that printed matter was indelibly linked to the street theatre of political demonstrations. The Strand and its tributary streets offered the possibility that urban space could present the continuation and implementation of radical demands made in print, and could bring radical print vocally to life.

Sandra M. Gustafson (Notre Dame): ‘Orality and Literacy in Transatlantic Perspective’
Abstract not available

Saturday 25 February, 11:00–13:00

Matthew Bevis (Oxford): ‘Poetry for Laughs’
‘All the bad poetry of the moment is written with words’, William Empson noted in 1928, ‘I believe myself that poetry is written with the sort of joke you find in hymns’. Although this paper doesn’t take on hymns, it does wonder about what poems might have in common with jokes — and about what happens when jokes are written rather than spoken. Along the way I’ll consider what poets from William Wordsworth to Elizabeth Bishop have made of and with laughter. I’ll also try to figure out what T. S. Eliot was getting at when he observed that ‘from one point of view, the poet aspires to the condition of a music-hall comedian’.

Louise Lee (KCL): ‘Shattered Articulations: Darwin’s Evolutionary Jokes and the Deferral of Cognition’
In March 1834, Charles Darwin wrote to his friend J. S. Henslow from his five-year sea voyage on HMS Beagle: ‘I draw my own conclusions, and most gloriously ridiculous ones they are, I sometimes fancy.’ My paper takes Darwin at his word and considers how far the ‘ridiculous’ — defined by the OED as ‘capable of arousing laughter, funny, comic, amusing, absurd [and] silly’ — is deployed by the young Darwin as unvoiced scientific method in his earliest evolutionary writings and researches. I discuss Darwin’s many physical japes and pranks with animals in The Voyage of the Beagle (1839), suggesting that while the ridiculous may be an under-explored category in the serious aesthetic and scientific debates of the 18th and early 19th centuries, it is an inherently questioning epistemological mode: breaking up narratives of the past while deferring analysis to a future time.

Saturday 14 January, 11:00–13:00

Herbert Tucker (Virginia): ‘Unsettled Score: Structure and Play in Browning’s “A Toccata of Galuppi’s”’
After some brief remarks on the interplay within scansional studies of oral with literary modalities, and of vocal with visual marking of the poetic text as scanned and performed, this lecture/talk will lavish most of its space/time on a blow-by-blow interpretation of Robert Browning’s somberest dramatic meditation over the meaning/performance of a musical score, ‘A Toccata of Galuppi’s’ (1855). No holds barred, no bars holed. Copies of the poem will be provided on the spot to auditors, who may nevertheless wish to finger the text out for themselves in advance, or for exercise on other poems to visit the scansion website ‘For Better for Verse’:

William Abberley (Exeter): ‘Voices of Nature: The Oral Past in Victorian Historical Fiction’
The language historian Richard Bailey has observed that through the nineteenth century England shifted from a primarily oral society to one ‘awash with documents’. The paper considers how historical fiction from the second half of the century attempted to bridge this caesura between past and present. Victorian philology presented speech as the life of language, and writing mere dead fossils. Under this influence, authors like Charles Kingsley and R. M. Ballantyne idealized the oral past as an epoch of pastoral unity. The textual medium of their narratives, though, threatened to distance them from the past that they celebrated. Such texts confronted this problem by presenting themselves as transcribed speech. Ivan Kreilkamp argues that Thomas Carlyle’s published lectures reconceived writing as ‘a purified speech act’. The paper argues that a number of authors of historical fiction in the following decades similarly attempted to privilege their writing as eruptions of organic speech within a larger culture of literary mechanization. This fetish for organic spontaneity clashed, however, with the simultaneous demands of the genre for historical objectivity and accuracy, demonstrated through footnotes, citations and other tools of artificial, literary culture. Torn by this contradiction, much historical fiction ultimately linked oral past with literary present by racializing linguistic heritage.