Friday, 24 March 2017

Voices and books: a new history of reading - a public lecture by Jennifer Richards

Voices and books: a new history of reading

Jennifer Richards, Joseph Cowen Professor of English Literature at Newcastle University delivered last night's public lecture, exploring the importance of the physical voice – breath and tone – to reading.

She explained how the recovery of the lost reading voices of the past, as well as the art of listening, can help us to re-imagine the books of the future.

It is not uncommon to regard reading as a silent action, and although it is often represented as being so, silent reading is a relatively recent practice. There is a history of books being heard as well as seen. Jenny Richards began her lecture by exploring how the printing process contributed to the rise of silent reading.

"Writing moves words to a world of visual space"

Print organises information e.g. contents, chapters, index to make information easier to access.

The format of the book, and indeed the format of a text, shapes the way that it is read.

In The Gutenberg Galaxy, Marshall McLuchan states 'the reading of print puts the reader in the role of movie projector'.

But Richard argues that the physical voice adds meaning to text, and brings the words off the page. She concluded the lecture with a brief introduction to the work she is doing with Professor Michael Rossington (English Literature), Professor Magnus Williamson (Music), and Professor Paul Watson of the Digital Institute at Newcastle University.

"This project is titled Animating Texts at Newcastle University (AtNU). Over three years we will be exploring how the digital can complement rather than replace the print edition, exploring different ways of understanding, explaining, and experiencing text as mobile, variable, adaptable, performable, while also helping us to re-imagine the reading experience."

In terms of my own work, it emphasised the importance of choosing a style and a means of visually presenting my text in a fashion that will guide the reader in how to read it.

I couldn't help but think of the work of Samuel Beckett, particularly the text 'Not I' which i find nearly impenetrable when presented visually, but, when performed, is one of the most powerful pieces of monologue that I have experienced.

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