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date: 03 June 2020

Abstract and Keywords

What does it mean for printed literature to have a “sound”—for people to “hear” what they silently read? This essay formulates a theory of “potential sound” in literature by examining the word “O” or “oh” as it appears across the history of poetry, performance, media culture, and language philosophy. Examples range from poems (by Tennyson, Frost, Rankine, Patti Smith, etc.) to TV programs (from The Wire to Will & Grace)—from YouTube supercuts (of each “Oh!” in The Sopranos, each “Oh, geez” in Fargo, etc.) to theater-historical anecdotes (e.g., acting exercises, famous Oh’s of performances past). Together these objects show how our habits of hearing, the vocal cultures to which we belong, and the various (often, imagined) performances we witness can color our acts of private, silent reading.

Keywords: sound, hearing, silent reading, poetry, performance, new media, television, acting, language philosophy

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