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It’s a process

At the beginning of our foray into the world of audio-books, I was concerned about the possibility of limiting interpretations of the text. Reading about Dicken’s audience and its reaction to his voicing of Sam Weller in Rubery’s piece, I saw the inkling of an issue posed by the medium: by providing a definitive voice through an audio ‘reading,’ a text risked losing aspects of the ambiguity that fosters criticism. It seemed rather monoglotic, privileging a select set of voices over the multiple ones an audience provides in solitary reading.

Now, with our projects coming to completion, I admit that this hesitancy was rather unfair. If anything, our work on audio-books only exposed the sheer vibrancy of language and ambiguity at play in a text. Consider my role as scrip preparer. Going through the novella to color-code individual character voices in order to aid recording, I realized that my task was consequently making the text’s internal dialogism more explicit. With each character voice symbolized by a color, I could simply glance through the text and understand how narrative voice was being challenged in dominance by noting how its symbolic blue was fragmenting into a rainbow of color – coincidentally in tandem with Bartleby’s increasing obstinateness. Sharing this script with my fellow group members, I saw the text further fragmented as dubbings were inserted so as to expose elements of humanity that contrasted with the automated recording we used as a base. Thus, not only could one see external challenges to narrative voice develop but internal alterations of the character could be visually manifested.

Of even greater interest was what the audio-book added to the text. An issue that impeded our work was deciding on how to ‘read’ our audio-book. Each group member had their own understanding of the text and we wanted to ensure that the project retained a collaborative nature that could accommodate this. However, as literary interpretation is a holistic phenomenon, we could not merely pick and choose which readings remained by mass agreement: the result would be schizophrenic. Rather, we had to decide on a format that allowed individual readings to prevail while also allowing them to yield to a holistic reading. That is, our individuals readings generated an alternate reading due to the demands of the audio-book itself.

This result reveals a flaw in my thinking about audio-books: I concentrated on the interpretation of the product, not the process. As in any collaborative activity, the audio-book involved a ‘circuit’ that incorporated multiple ideas and thoughts into the media artifact by sheer consequence of production. Having the opportunity to participate in this circuit, I feel as if my understanding of the authorial role, regardless of medium, has been altered. Where I considered the author as an ‘arranger’ of the language and ideas of his society, I now question whether he is better understood as a ‘negotiator’, developing techniques and forms to best accommodate all ideas that mediate through him.

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