Out and Loud

When engaging with the written word, reading out loud is not the norm. Most reading happens in silence, external at least. The inner sound-world might be set ablaze by the inflow gathered by the scrolling eye, but the lips, more often than not, remain tightly sealed. 

True, exceptions abound, some more fortunate than others. A political proclamation, any kind of speech anchored on a written text preparation, a roll call or a checklist relying on immediate response and acknowledgment, a story told, a letter passed on to the ears of the blind or illiterate, and many others.

I have become fascinated by the practice of reading out loud for crowds or groups of people engaged in a task. Like the tradition, stemming from the mid 1800s, of reading to the workers in Cuban cigar factories during their work shifts. I remember vividly the example given of the book being read as being Cervantes’ Don Quixote. But anything went, from Jane Eyre to Paris Match, from the Quran to Das Kapital. Everywhere where the busy, repetitive bodies were deemed opportunities for the literary colonization of the headspace. Happening again and again, in industrial, religious, or pedagogic settings. I might actually have dreamt once that Ballard’s Crash was being read to an operating team during a hip reconstruction surgery.

At the current phase of the Living Anthologies project, I am constantly balancing between reading silently or out loud. Through the constant doubtful path of text selection, trying out resonances is both a priority and a willy strategy. The ear is, after all, quicker than the eye*.

Reading out loud activates listening in context. In the context of the acoustics of the reader’s immediate surroundings, but also in a deeper sense. Rooted in the situation of loaning a voice to borrowed thoughts, one is invited to embrace a mixture of fusion and resistance through an intense co-created exchange. And as I have written before, books are mostly dead things crafted by dead people – so reading, and particularly reading out loud in a very literal sharing of living time, is a task of thaumaturgic, even necromantic, overtones. Books take from the body in time so they can add to the soul – as medieval thinkers might have framed it.

For this to happen authors do not need to be dead, though some indeed are. Every written text carries dead time, a carefully wrapped package of irretrievability, miraculous donated onto every reader. And unpacking is always a practice of archeology. Indiana Jones in every bookworm, “the pen is mightier than the sword” and other cinephile jokes aside – this is very true, I swear. And by swear I mean “I curse”. Loud and proud.

Eduardo Abrantes, Roskilde, October 9, 2019

*According to research (quoting for example Horowitz’s 2013 The Universal Sense: How Hearing Shapes the Mind), an average brain takes at least 0.25 seconds to process visual recognition. But sound? One can recognize a sound in 0.05 seconds.

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