AbstractsLanguage, Literature & Linguistics

Reading as Listening: The Birth of Cultural Acoustics 1764-1803

by Tanvi Solanki

Institution: Princeton University
Year: 2016
Keywords: Cultural Anthropology; Cultural Studies; German Literature; German Studies; Media Studies; Sound Studies
Posted: 02/05/2017
Record ID: 2095838
Full text PDF: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01j9602304c


In the dissertation, I analyze the multi-step process that is reading for Herder, the first step of which are acoustically derived techniques that I call “acts of prosodic reading” which include rhythm, tempo, tone modulation and meter. “Acts of prosodic reading” were to asymptotically approach an ardently desired, Romantic goal of listening to the printed text. The inchoate German reading public was to read according to a regulated tempo and rhythm and internalize the words they read according to trained accents. The production of homogenous national cultures was to be facilitated by the production of homogenous national styles of reading and interpreting. Figures like Herder modeled these styles after ancient and contemporary oral reading practices belonging to cultures outside Germany and in that regard aimed to transcribe these practices onto German soil. One of my emphases centers on how Herder and his contemporaries sought to integrate physiological and temporal considerations into techniques of reading. For example, for Herder, verse forms were physiologically connected to certain peoples. Thus, in his view, in order to asymptotically approach its original meaning, Greek hexameter had to be translated into a form that was suitable for the ‘German ear.’ Meanwhile, Herder and several of his contemporaries believed that modulating the speed of perceiving meaningful lexical-affective units would have an effect upon the readers’ understanding of the textual object at hand. For example, the quickened pace of silent reading, of distracted extensive reading meant that understanding remained at the surface and lacked the immediate, long-lasting impressions that cultural products mediated by sound had in which certain rhythmic patterns were considered better suited for certain populations than others – the hexameter for the Ancient Greeks versus chopped up, rhythmic prose for the ancient Celts for example. Beyond poetic verse forms and their translations, Herder, a full time pastor in Weimar, Riga and Bückeberg utilized these prosodic acts in his own sermons, whose massive popularity qualified them as the period’s prime media spectacles and positioned them to serve as models for exemplary reading practices and interpretation for his congregation. What was considered the proper understanding of language was no longer dependent upon meaning or semantics of written words but contingent on mastering particular kinds of privileged pronunciations and articulation. Listening to poems pronounced in these accents, articulations, rhythms would have the pedagogical benefit of training a reading public towards the goal of an ‘acoustic reading’ – a means towards forming a coherent, homogenous reading public. Despite being historically specific to a period 250 years past, these concerns remain a recurring contemporary motif as we experience shifts both in our practices of reading – from print to digital media – as well as in our educational institutions, from the live format of discussion seminars to the… Advisors/Committee Members: Wegmann, Nikolaus (advisor).