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Fr. 406

October 4, 2013

Although increasing attention is given to the phenomenon of the orality of language and texts, it remains unclear on what theoretical resources the study of orality might be thought to draw and which the analysis of particular cases of orality might be thought to advance.

What is here meant by orality? Quite simply, the fact that such and such a series, repetition or string of sounds and the quality thereof are held as evoking something quite other than their mere denotation. More simply, the repetition of “f” might suggest the sound of a body hurtling through the hair, a string of “b” the sound of water.  To what extent can this analysis be carried out scientifically and from what source can it be said to derive?

Starting with this second question, one might hold it to derive from the artist’s intent. Yet this a highly problematic claim in an increasingly desubjectivized world where text is more often seen as the artifact of vehicle of socio-historico-economic expression. Certainly, intent of such a kind can exist in the oral tradition, where emphasis is on the spoken quality of the word, both practically for the sake of transmission from one generation to another and creatively for auditory imagery. One might also extent this status to certain modern works, where there is a renewed emphasis on musicality as the prominent feature of language (such as “Sirens” in Ulysses or certain post-Holocaust poetry on the sound of trains).

As to the first question, it is doubtful if it can be carried out scientifically as its own general mechanism and as a self-ground practice. The analysis of orality is associationist in that it works by way of piecemeal, ad hoc associations. This or that comes to mind in virtue of the sound’s effect on the hearer. Accordingly, all analysis takes place on a horizontal dimension, and the practice of this analysis works from side to side or, rather, on the side. It merely adds on to that which is explicitly in the text, rather than referring it to any deeper structure.

Perhaps, this can be spoken of as another dimension, but this dimension is on the same level as the textual and is unable to provide an explanation for the practice and carrying out of this analysis. There is no movement to a higher level or vertical dimension so as to make sense of this practice. One simply does what one does unthinkingly. This lack of a meta-dimension entails that this analysis has little explanatory power or predictive function at the level of fundental structures and future cases and can only be meaningfully implemented as a partial explanation in conjunction with other tools or analyses.

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