Since Michael Drout blogged about the journal Oral Tradition becoming a free online journal before I got around to it, and since he wrote a more thoughtful post about it than I have the time to, I’ll point you to what he has to say and whole-heartedly agree with his statements about Oral Tradition Studies as a vibrant field with much to offer.

As I’ve argued before, those of us studying digital texts and digital culture need to pay attention to the scholarship on oral and chirographic traditions as well as that of print. I went from browsing the most recent issues of OT — while I should have, I haven’t looked at it in the past year — to watching/listening to Daniel Anderson’s “Where I’m At,” and was struck by the connections. In the last three issues of OT there are multiple articles on poetry readings as performance; on oral performance and the visual; and on transcribing, reading, and representing oral performance in print and digital forms. (If you check out nothing else, take a look at Ruth Finnegan’s”The How of Literature” in OT 20.2.) As I experienced Dan’s performance of “Where I’m At,” I realized I was experiencing a poetic performance, and if I ever get to teach my course “Song, Story, and Slam: An Introduction to Oral Traditions” I need to include Dan’s piece or some pieces like it.

While John Miles Foley identified four types of oral “poems” determined by their media dynamics (Oral Performance: poems orally composed for oral performance and aural reception; Voiced Texts: poems written for oral performance and aural reception (such as slam poetry); Voices from the Past: poems which may have been composed orally or in writing for oral or written performance and aural or written reception (such as The Odyssey and Beowulf); and Written Oral Poems: poems written in the oral tradition for the purpose of being read), I see Dan’s piece falling into a new category. Dan’s new media poem was clearly composed for watching as well as hearing. While the visual has often played an important if understudied role in oral performance, Dan’s piece is a different sort of visual and oral performance. The differences in media dynamics are important here: In addition to the visual aspects and the aural reception of Dan’s piece (though not a live performance), as a new media text, the mashup and sampling are foregrounded in a way they’re often not in earlier oral traditions. (I say this while at the same time while fully recognizing that the mashup and sampling have always been a part of oral tradition. In fact, it might just be that we find these elements foregrounded in new media because we’re too accustomed to the logic of print.)

Damn, I wish I had the time to think more about this. I guess I just need to file it with my digital media dynamics musings to return to next year.

My point, however, is that once again I’m struck by how oral tradition studies and new media studies can speak to one another just as long as we’re willing to listen.

Almost as a meta comment to my own post, I want to point out that I decided to use the phrase “experience Dan’s performance” rather than using “watch” or “listen” to it. While we go to “see” plays and movies and while we “watch” television, for most of us, we’re listening as well as viewing the performance. We don’t have a term that includes both. People like Ong, working within the phenomenological tradition, have been dealing with issues like this for decades (see, for instance, “’I See What You Say’: Sense Analogues for Intellect.” Human Inquiries 10.1-3 (1970): 22-42; Rpt. in Interfaces of the Word: Studies in the Evolution of Consciousness and Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1977. 122-44), and yet we still don’t pay enough attention to these issues. Materiality and performance studies, while growing, are still largely niche specialties within both literary studies and rhetoric and composition. I’d love to seem more interaction and cross-disciplinary work taking place.

Hmm…I wonder if I could get Anne Wysocki and John Miles Foley on the same panel sometime.

Cross-posted to Kairosnews.