Performing Text:
Orality, Literacy, and Performance

ENGL 781. Section E6R2A. 3 Credits.

Day and Time: Thursday 6:30–8:20 pm

Location: Rathaus Hall 106

Instructor: Corey Frost

Office: Klapper Hall 317

Office hours: Thursday 5:15–6:15 pm

The word “literature” (from the Latin littera, letter) implies a written text; increasingly, though, literary scholars are interested in audiotexts—that is, oral literature, whether recorded or live. If the term “oral literature” seems self-contradictory, consider that we also often refer to the “audience” of a literary work (from the Latin audiens, listening). This course will explore the complex, contested relationship of speech to writing, and the relationship of both to performance. Why, for example, is the written text of a poem often privileged over the audiotext? What if the poem is made not of letters but of sounds? What are the different ways that literature can be performed? Can a book be a performance? We will read, watch and listen to texts that blur the boundaries between theatre and poetry, from Dadaist Hugo Ball’s “poetry without words” to 21st-century slam poetry. Secondary readings will include Plato’s critique of writing in the Phaedrus; Walter Ong’s Orality and Literacy; J.L. Austin’s foundational work of speech-act theory, How to Do Things With Words, as well as Jacques Derrida’s engagement with it in Limited, Inc.; Charles Olson’s “Projective Verse”; and selections from Charles Bernstein’s anthology Close Listening. Readings and listenings will be available online or as a CD, including selected audiotexts from the past century and a half.

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  • Listening “Literature” implies a written text. But what about the audiotext? Why do we refer to the “audience” (from the Latin audiens, listening) of a literary work? This course is about listening to literature and reading performance. ____________________________________
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