[posted for James]
[reflection on audiobook]
The idea of a do-it-yourself audiobook struck me as very much within the scope of an English class seeking to both honor its roots in a certain literary tradition but to extrapolate vastly forward into the technological age we live in. I have perused LibriVox only a handful of times, once having downloaded a few dry works of Continental philosophy like some kind of self-help serum that goes down easier through the ears. However, my time with the works was fairly short lived, and I recall their quickly serving me more as a sleep aid than anything else. In my younger years, though, I once had a very positive experience with an audiobook in the car of an English teacher who took me on a summer camping trip—this one, as I recall, had a single narrator who very deftly took on voices of various characters, considerably unlike the tone of the narrator in the LibriVox work I encountered. Anchored in this positive memory, and also recalling the juvenile eagerness with which I always volunteered to read out loud in elementary school, I was pretty enthused at the idea of working on an audiobook.
Like many others in the class, I felt considerable alarm at the prospect of a group project. I scratch my head, but fail to recall the last instance in which it was necessary to collaborate with others on schoolwork. Like many others noted as well, I quickly became aghast with the sound of my voice—it is probably good that I waited till all my takes were done to listen back to any single one, because I fear that the anxiety induced by a single listen would have tainted the quality of the work moving forward. Surely, this feeling is not unique. However, upon listening to the work of my group mates, I felt greater pleasure at the quality of their narration than of my own, and hoped perhaps someone in the group might have a parallel sentiment as a way of soothing myself.
The editing work was probably the most fun part of the entire process. I enjoyed the multitude of bodily sounds—gurgles, slurps, throat noises, phlegm—that had been afforded by the very sensitive iPhone microphones we opted to use. Luckily, cleaning these kinds of things up was fairly simple—in a digital rendering of the sound files, little bumps in the wavelength corresponded to these minor disturbances and a quick scan made it easy to locate and eradicate the unwanted byproducts. I contemplated amplifying them and embracing the absurd humor of such an act, but I figured the rest of the class might not find it as funny as I do. After several rounds of cleaning, I proceeded to check that each portion of audio ran comfortably (meaning, no awkward pauses within a single file, or uncomfortable gaps between portions of text, and smoothly running transitions between narrators), and lined everything up. Finally, I added a track by Nils Frahm to augment the emotional weight of Ezra’s reading of the book’s conclusion.
All in all, a fun attempt at a forward thinking exercise that hit mark in remediating a traditional text that benefited from its sonic treatment.
[post on Benjamin]
“This patient process of Nature… was once imitated by men. Miniatures, ivory carvings, elaborated to the point of greatest perfection, stones that are perfect in polish and engraving, lacquer work or paintings in which a series of thin, transparent layers are played one on top of the other—all these products of sustained, sacrificing effort are vanishing, and the time is past in which time did not matter. Modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated.”
In his discussion of oratory tradition, Benjamin makes this note about a fundamental way in which temporality and artistic process has changed. I can only take guesses as to what has contracted modern man’s patience, but my best guess will be something about a shift in the mode of production, and one’s relationship to land.
Benjamin’s notion of the storyteller is bimodal, being the combination of the land-bound artisan who stays permanently in place (on the land: fixed spatially but thus hyperaware temporally) and the sea-farer who brings with him stories of far-away (here, the temporal dimension is somewhat suspended but the spatial changes are what engender the storytelling). But the scale of time they are working with seems to be pre-modern, or of antiquity. Just as a craftsman prior to industrial-mechanized-automated labor worked as a lifelong process of improvement, the oratorical traditional was like, as Benjamin figuratively describes, many thin transparent layers of lacquer culminating in an organic enrichment of the story. Works handed down over generations (religious texts strikes me as a good example) seem to engage a passing of time that feels supernatural in scope—in the Biblical voice, the feeling of time is somewhat timeless, a procession of events that cannot be pinned to any temporal marker comfortable to our modern minds. The works handed down over the years exist in relationship to their setting, where the craftsman has been fixed, subsisting from the Land to whom these stories belong.
When Benjamin notes that “modern man no longer works at what cannot be abbreviated”, it feels like a jibe, and disingenuous dismissal of modernity (even he, later in this essay, seems to concede that literary time enables, like a Futurist or Cubist artwork, the colliding of multiple time-perspectives). The relationship to the land (or at least the immediacy of that feeling) seems to be lost; humans no longer think or feel out in the world—perhaps labor alienation has caused them to withdraw deeper into their own psyche, where I feel the realm of the novel is situated. And a more inner, psychological assessment of time feels timeless (not in that monumental Biblical sense mentioned earlier), all senses and scales of time compounded and folded into a single point of access within one’s mind, from which one can travel back, forth, and dilate at will. I would argue that perhaps it is not that modern man fails to have patience at anything that can’t be truncated (though I would argue that perhaps over time, our attention spans have narrowed—and this discussion is more than pertinent to Digital Humanities if it seeks to grapple more with our relationship to technology), but rather that modern man no longer sees the need to conceive themselves in sweeping arches of time that emanate from Earthly posterity. In conceding to the thought of Lukacs and his idea of “transcendental homelessness”, it feels that Benjamin does certainly grasp this symptom of modern man and thus the novel, in which “the meaning of life”, and its unity, can be “compressed in memory”.