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"Affordances of Literary Forms and Media Formats: Towards a Sociology of Literary Historical Audiotexts"

This lecture will outline some of the theoretical and methodological parameters that inform our study of spoken sound recordings (from cylinder and flat disc records to magnetic tape and MP3 files) as literary artifacts. Drawing upon ideas from format theory as recently articulated by media historians Lisa Gitelman and Jonathan Sterne, media-technology concepts of material affordance, as well as Caroline Levine's affordance-oriented theory of literary forms, my talk will present examples of spoken recordings with the aim of showing how we can begin to understand their literary and cultural significance.  The concept of “affordance” emerging from media and design theory refers to the latent possibilities for interaction embedded within a material artifact.  Levine’s work migrates the concept to the field of literature because it is “valuable for understanding the aesthetic object as imposing its order among a vast array of designed things, from prison cells to doorknobs.”  Historical literary sound recordings are useful artifacts for considering the interaction between literary generic and material affordances, or, to put it another way, between literary form and media format.  To think about the relationship between form and format is to articulate a sociology of the text (or, in this case, a sociology of the audiotext).
Speaking of the technology of the book, but really in reference to all artifacts of communication, D.F. McKenzie articulates the following idea of a sociology of texts: "[A] book is never simply a remarkable object. Like every other technology it is invariably the product of human agency in complex and highly volatile contexts which a responsible scholarship must seek to recover if we are to understand better the creation and communication of meaning as the defining characteristic of human societies.”  A sociology of the audiotext attends to the formal structure of the sound signal under consideration, but only as one facet of the broader consideration of the social realities and functions of the media in which it has appeared, and, again in the words of McKenzie, of “the human motives and interactions which texts involve at every stage of their production, transmission and consumption,” including “the roles of institutions, and their own complex structures, in affecting the forms of social discourse, past and present.” In my pursuit of a sociology of audiotexts, I will consider how the technological and material manifestations of spoken sound recordings of different historical periods and media formats can be understood to have had a hand in shaping production, use and socio-cultural meaning through their functional affordances which both enabled and constrained certain possibilities of activity and meaning, over others.
Jason Camlot’s critical works include Style and the Nineteenth-Century British Critic and Language Acts: Anglo-Québec Poetry, 1976 to the 21st Century (co-edited with Todd Swift). His articles and essays on topics ranging from Victorian literature and media to contemporary North American poetry have appeared in journals such as Postmodern Culture, Book History, Victorian Review, Journal of Canadian Studies and English Literary History. His recent research projects have focused on the history of literary sound recordings and the digital presentation of analogue documentary poetry readings (see, for example, He is Associate Professor of English and Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Concordia University in Montreal.



Friday, March 10, 2017. 04:00 PM


Humanities Center Board Room


Material Imagination, Department of Art & Art History, Department of English