Paul Magee, Writing is Speaking

Join us for this week’s CuSPP seminar:

Writing is Speaking

Thursday 28 March, 1pm, Milgate Room, AD Hope Bldg, SLLL

Why is it that when we read a passage of dense theoretical prose, say in Frederic Jameson, or encounter a “garden path” sentence (e.g. The old man the boat), or just generally want more clarity from the text in front of us, that we slow down and sound the words out? The direct answer is that ‘intonation contours and sentence rhythms provide patterns which group words into phrases and highlight new and important information’ (Slowiaczek and Clifton 1980, p. 581). Sounding the words out is a way of performatively guessing at that missing grammatical coding, the sonic one. I am interested in what such a reparative act presupposes about the nature of writing. Does it not imply that the writer conceived those words—however un-colloquial their register (Biber and Conrad 2010)—as speech in the first place? Are distinctions between orality and the literary really that firm, once we hone in on what happens in “inner speech” (Vološinov/Bakhtin 1971; Vygotsky 1961), in the moments of a clause’s initial generation? Further: what relation does poetry-writing bear to that founding indistinction between the spoken and written?

Paul Magee is author of Stone Postcard (John Leonard Press 2014), Cube Root of Book (John Leonard Press 2006) and the prose ethnography From Here to Tierra del Fuego (University of Illinois Press, 2000). He is Associate Professor of Poetry at the University of Canberra.


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