Sonic Meaning and Language Politics

Real-to-Reel: Social Indexicality, Sonic Materiality, and Literary Media Theory in Eduardo Costa’s Tape Works

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by Tom McEnaney

The essay begins:

In 1968, Vogue magazine featured an unusual new accessory. Ear (1966), a 24-karat gold anatomical replica that entirely covered model Marisa Berenson’s own ear, was one of a number of fitted extensions—there was also a finger, a toe, and strands of gold hair—that Argentine-born artist Eduardo Costa included in his Fashion Fiction 1. Photographed by Richard Avedon on one of Vogue’s most famous models, Costa’s jewelry—part sculpture, part ornamental prosthetic—attempted to parody the fashion industry even as it was absorbed into its pages. Playful and seductive, Ear wavered on the boundary—quickly eroding in 1968—between high-end fashion and vanguard art. At its most critical, Ear and other Fashion Fictions by Costa literalized the familiar reification of commodity culture: turning human body parts into objects, the works winked at fashion’s claim to be an extension of yourself. In repurposing the language of fashion, they also made sense in the Vogue of the late 1960s alongside the work of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and other artists. For, like these contemporaries in pop art or works from the Latin American neo-baroque, Costa’s ornaments reveled in the surface rather than condemning the superficial. This fascination with surfaces found an ideal corollary in Avedon’s photography, which celebrated the foreground. With Ear, Avedon’s portrait of Berenson became an almost mythic testament to the “statuesque” model, whose image recalls both a passing victim of Midas’s touch and a Galatea on the verge of breaking into the auditory world

If Ear stopped there, however, we could stack Costa’s Fashion Fictions alongside Oldenburg’s everyday objects or Warhol’s Brillo Boxes—all three artists shared work at the Fashion Show Poetry Event held at the Center for Inter-American Relations in New York in January of 1969. But Ear distinguishes itself from pop art standards not so much for its send-up of commodity culture, as through its emphasis on the auditory image. This sculpture, or ornament, or prosthetic shows what it doesn’t tell: sound is everywhere implicit but nowhere physically present in the work. Asking its viewers to look at listening, Ear transforms the apparently ephemeral world of sound into a physical object.

This objectification of sound, whose effect on the wearer, it’s worth remembering, would be to mute or dull audition, ties in to the revolution in materializing sound in the 1960s. Like our own moment’s explosion of new technologies and formats for producing and consuming sound, postwar innovations in audio engineering, largely linked to the emergence of newly popular recording materials such as magnetic tape, renewed older concerns about fidelity and the realism of reproduced sound. Yet, notably different from most current criticism of digital sound’s apparent loss of fidelity, the 1960s technologies helped produce the cult of high fidelity, renewing nineteenth-century discourses of sonic fidelity and the belief that sound reproduction could become indistinguishable from the recorded source.

As I will explain in greater detail in what follows, Costa’s work at this time went beyond sculpture and concept to draw from new sound recording technologies’ ability to register and (re)produce sonic phenomena, and to bind these transformations to language and literature. In terms familiar to media studies, just as photography or film’s chemical imprint of the sun’s rays onto photographic negatives indexed physical traces of light, high fidelity seemed to expand what Friedrich Kittler would celebrate as the gramophone’s ability to inscribe the material “real” of sonic vibrations onto cylinders or shellac discs. Yet, while Kittler declared that electrical sound recording tolled the death knell of literature, Costa’s tape recording work in the late 1960s fuses the material index of media studies with what linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein calls the “non-referential social indexicality” available in language. Such social indexicality exists, for example, in the sonic attributes of a voice that can index a speaker’s age, nationality, sex, and so on. Against what has often been understood as the impasse between literature and media in the wake of Kittler, Costa brings together these two sides of the index to create a literary media theory and practice based in sound recording. Continue reading …

This article develops a linguistic media theory that brings together Peircean materialist indexicality from Barthes, Bazin, Doane, Krauss, and others with linguistic anthropologist Michael Silverstein’s nonreferential (social) indexicality. Following Argentine sound artist Eduardo Costa’s practice with tape recording, the article challenges critical theory to account for the sonic meaning at play in pragmatic (nonsemantic) communication related to gender, race, and diasporic community. More than a mere supplement or limit, material sonic media expand aesthetic representation, and media archaeology opens new possibilities to intervene in language politics.

thumbnail_Tom-McEnaney+Faculty+PhotoTOM McENANEY is Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Cornell University. He is the author of several articles and the forthcoming book Acoustic Properties: Radio, Narrative, and the New Neighborhood of the Americas (Flashpoints Series, Northwestern University Press, 2017).

The Language of Evangelism

Transducing a Sermon, Inducing Conversion:

Billy Graham, Billy Kim, and the 1973 Crusade in Seoul 

by Nicholas Harkness

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The essay begins …

In the spring of 1973, the American evangelist Billy Graham traveled to Seoul, South Korea, for one of his famous crusades. The evangelical campaign took place on Yoido, an island along the Han River. Although this island would emerge over the next decades as a dense urban center of government, finance, and broadcasting, in 1973 it still was largely an empty plot of sandy earth. General Pak Chung-hee, the autocratic ruler of South Korea from 1961 until his assassination in 1979, gave permission for organizers to hold their crusade on an asphalt expanse on Yoido that was used for official state events and military demonstrations. Prior to that, the area had been used as an airstrip by the US military and, earlier, by the Japanese colonial government. On May 30, the first day of the event, more than 300,000 people attended. Each day, the crusade grew in attendance. On June 3, the fifth and final day, Graham preached to a crowd estimated to exceed one million (fig. 1). It was the largest crowd ever amassed for a Billy Graham event.

Next to Billy Graham at the pulpit, and backed by a choir of 6,000 singers, was Billy Jang Hwan Kim, the South Korean minister of Suwŏn Baptist Church, who reproduced Graham’s sermon verbally and peri-verbally—utterance by utterance, tone by tone, gesture by gesture—for the Korean-speaking audience. Kim explained in his autobiography that he watched film footage of Billy Graham’s preaching so that he could “practice the accents, gestures, and intonations of Billy Graham” in order to “become a Korean-speaking Billy Graham” for those five days. In documentary footage of the event, Kim explained that while his own style at the pulpit was different from Graham’s, for those five days he did not want to “divert,” “change,” or make Graham’s message “any different” from what or how Graham preached. Kim described the interactional effect of interpreting for Billy Graham as two voices becoming one voice. He explained this accomplishment in supernatural terms: “Well, once I got in with him, I didn’t even know what I was doing. And I think I was completely influenced by the force that, uh, you know, we call the Holy Spirit.”

Christian leaders in South Korea praised Kim’s performance. Pastor Kim Kyong Nae, secretary general of the crusade, described Kim’s interpretation as capturing Graham’s “spiritual flow” (yŏngchŏk in hŭrŭm) and characterized the interaction of the two preachers as one of “harmony.” Pastor Pang Chi Il, a member of the organizing committee for the crusade, claimed that Kim had not translated Graham’s sermon (pŏnyŏk) at all. Rather, according to Pastor Pang, Kim seemed to have given his own sermon, which, Pang claimed, is why it had made such a deep impression (kammyŏng) on the audience. There was similar praise from US Christians who witnessed Kim’s performance. According to Billy Graham’s official biographer, “Billy Kim actually enhanced Billy Graham. In gesture, tone, force of expression, the two men became as one in a way almost uncanny. A missionary fluent in Korean who knew Graham personally thought that Kim’s voice even sounded like Graham’s. Some TV viewers, tuning in unawares, supposed Kim the preacher and Billy Graham the interpreter for the American forces.” Henry Holley, Billy Graham’s Crusade Director for Asia, put it simply: “The two of them functioned as one.” At a press conference during his trip to Seoul, Graham himself thanked the thousands in Korea who had been “working and praying and preparing” for the success of the crusade and then added: “And I would be absolutely nothing were it not for my good voice, Billy Kim.”

I have two aims for this paper. First, I want to reveal in detail the semiotic processes of synchronization and calibration by which Billy Kim’s sequential interpretation of Billy Graham’s sermon into Korean for a Korean-speaking audience had the semiotic effect of fusing two voices into one. These processes complicate the question of “who” was speaking at any given moment, and they suggest that we must investigate higher-order cultural frameworks that make these processes semiotically legitimate for participants. Second, I attempt to demonstrate how this semiotic fusion of voices drew upon and intensified the very ideological principles of evangelism that brought these two men to the pulpit and justified their speech in Seoul in 1973. As I explain in detail in what follows, this analysis hinges on our methodological expansion from the narrow translation of denotational text to a broader semiotic “transduction” of indexicality through which denotational text emerges interactionally. Although I cannot adequately represent the virtuosity of the performance, my analysis focuses on the dynamic pragmatics of this historic event documented in a film recording that captures the increasingly dense layering of temporal and spatial deixis across codes, the compounding of vocalizations and figurative voicings across speakers, and the way these semiotic dimensions of preaching linked theological principles of radical universality to personal experiences of radical individuation. Continue reading …

This paper is an analysis of the final sermon of Billy Graham’s 1973 Crusade in Seoul, South Korea, when he preached to a crowd estimated to exceed one million people. Next to Graham at the pulpit was Billy Jang Hwan Kim, a preacher who, in his capacity as interpreter, translated Graham’s sermon verbally and peri-verbally—utterance by utterance, tone by tone, gesture by gesture—for the Korean-speaking audience. I examine the dynamic pragmatics (for example, chronotopic formulations, deictic calibrations, voicing and register effects, and indexical dimensions of entextualization) by which a sermonic copy across linguistic codes became an evangelical conduit between Cold War polities. In so doing, I demonstrate how the scope of intertextual analysis can be expanded productively from the narrow translation of denotation across codes to the broader indexical processes of semiotic “transduction” across domains of cultural semiosis.

NICHOLAS HARKNESS is John L. Loeb Associate Professor of the Social Sciences in the Department of Anthropology at Harvard University.

After the Parade

A little green from our archives …

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Beckett’s Tattered Syntax
ANN BANFIELD

The Indigent Sublime: Specters of Irish Hunger
DAVID LLOYD

Bad Art, Quirky Modernism
Aoife Monks (with an appearance by Michael Flatley)

Ulysses by Numbers
Eric Bulson

Exhumation and Ethnic Conflict: From St. Erkenwald to Spenser in Ireland
PHILIP SCHWYZER

The “Minor Writer” and Literary Value

The Metapragmatics of the “Minor Writer”: Zoë Wicomb, Literary Value, and the Windham-Campbell Prize Festival

by Aaron Bartels-Swindells

The essay begins:

UnknownIn the festival program for the 2013 Windham-Campbell Prize for Literature, Zoë Wicomb, a South African writer primarily known for her work during the postapartheid era, construed her success as “impossible. For a minor writer like myself, this is a validation I would never have dreamt of.” The prizes, given by Yale University, are among the most lucrative individual cultural awards in the world, worth $150,000 each, and the honor was well publicized: in addition to generating global media coverage, Yale hosted a four-day festival that included a prize ceremony and reading. Wicomb’s self-identification as a “minor writer” seems slightly paradoxical in light of such publicity and remuneration. What, then, does “minor writer” signify? How is that significance shaped by broader frameworks that change throughout time and space?

My approach to these questions understands signification as the effect and effectiveness of social action. My adoption of language-in-use methodologies is inspired by Wicomb’s pragmatist analyses of contemporary South African literature and culture, which demonstrate an acute sense of how utterances interact with contexts fashioned through social action. In one such essay, “Shame and Identity: The Case of the Coloured in South Africa,” Wicomb examines how contemporary discursive formulations are produced by and engender “coloured” shame. She uses the past and present of coloured shame to consider the fate of South Africa’s “youthful postcoloniality,” analyzing “ethnographic self-fashioning” and “discursive construction by others” in relation to “the narrative of liberation and its dissemination in the world media that constructed oppression in particular ways.” This formulation provides the impetus to consider how narratives about oppression emanate and are taken up in ways that effect localized articulations of identity. Wicomb’s paper encourages us to examine the significance of the “minor writer”—and its poetic resonances with “minority”—in relation to her claim that “the newly democratized South Africa remains dependent on the old economic, social, and also epistemological structures of apartheid, and thus it is axiomatic that different groups created by the old system do not participate equally in the category of postcoloniality.” We should also think about how the term “minor writer” functions in relation to Wicomb’s literary works, following her discussion of the deleterious influence that these epistemological structures and narratives about oppression have on metropolitan reading strategies that stress cultural hybridity.

Unknown-1Wicomb’s second novel, David’s Story, from which she read at the Windham-Campbell Prize (henceforth WCP) festival, stages many of her concerns about shame, cultural hybridity, the effacement of history, and the past and present status of women in the struggle for justice in postcolonial society. The novel, according to critic Dorothy Driver, is “self-consciously positioned as a postmodernist text” and “dramatize[s] the literary, political, philosophical and ethical issues at stake in any attempt at retrieval of history and voice.” Set in 1991, after the release of Nelson Mandela, and told by a nameless amanuensis, the narrative weaves a number of related plots that imply connections between past and present around that of David Dirkse, a former guerilla of the African National Congress (ANC), who, after the unbanning of the movement, researches the history of his coloured roots. The segment that Wicomb chose to read does not mention David and is drawn from the second narrative of David’s Story, which is about a “minor Griqua chief.” How does this excerpt from the narrative function in relation to Wicomb’s self-description as a “minor writer”?

This article considers postapartheid narratives of liberation and the activity of parsing a text in relation to the creation and circulation of literary and social value. Thus, while I focalize my discussion through the term “minor writer,” my aim is to understand how the expression functions in relation to the schemata of value to which its usage points. The article proceeds in two parts. The first examines how two distinct usages of “minor writer” index different schemata of social knowledge. From Wicomb’s use of the phrase in an interview from 2002 about writing and nation, I explicate how “minor writer” articulates a self-reflective orientation to the intersection of literary and social value in South Africa. I then contrast this usage with the section on Wicomb from the WCP program, which effects a transformation of social value by yoking representations of Wicomb’s literary persona and voice to a particular kind of chronotopic formulation of South Africa. My reading of this artifact demonstrates how microdescriptions of Wicomb and her work evoke macroconstructions of South African society, a process that occludes Wicomb’s self-positioning in the earlier interview. The second part asks how discourses from the WCP festival concerning value circulate beyond it, and whether they affect how we read texts that move between schemata of value. At stake throughout is how the power to consecrate literary value is metapragmatically constituted and contested in relation to the term “minor writer.” Continue reading …

How does the significance of Zoë Wicomb’s description of herself as a “minor writer” in the 2013 Windham-Campbell Prize festival program contrast with her other uses of the term? Arguing that the term’s usage at different times and places indexes distinct schemata of value, I examine the program as an artifact that sediments a certain formulation of Wicomb’s literary persona and provides affordances for parsing her literary works.

AARON BARTELS-SWINDELLS is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at the University of Pennsylvania.

Bergamo’s Poetry

The Blacksmith’s Feet:

Embodied Entextualization in Northern Italian Vernacular Poetry

by Jillian R. Cavanaugh

The essay begins:

How does one know if poetry is good? While there are many ways to answer this question, and as many arguments arising in response to each answer, here I take a linguistic anthropological approach to discuss the production and evaluation of good poetry and good poets—specifically vernacular poetry and poets—as social and cultural processes. I want to undertake, in other words, a cultural poetics or ethnopoetics, explicating a culturally specific structure of evaluation that depends on local understandings, practices, and values. Such projects have a long history in anthropology, at least since Franz Boas’s Introduction to the Handbook of American Indian Languages, which included an investigation of poetry as part of anthropological inquiry, and Edward Sapir’s writing on the anthropological importance of portraying a group’s aesthetics, or their “feel” for the rightness or wrongness of fit of form to function. To consider poetry as a social practice is to consider the local aesthetics within which such poetry comes into being, is evaluated, and circulates. As such, it necessarily means to consider the social positioning of genres as well as social groups, since any local aesthetic practices and standards are built upon connections across genres, environments, texts, speaking contexts, types of speakers and listeners, and modes of evaluation particular to a group.

This analysis focuses on the particular connections that are grounded in bodies, the bodies that appear in poetry and the bodies that produce poetry, as well as how these two categories may or may not align. Briefly, bodies enter into and engage with texts—they write, perform, evaluate, and listen to them—in culturally specific ways that are the intertwined processes of embodied entextualization. How bodies and texts are connected is embedded within local aesthetic systems, such that evaluations of good and bad poetry will at least in part be based on which bodies produce and encounter texts, how bodies are portrayed in texts, and how these two categories may or may not align with each other as well as with culturally specific aesthetic standards about bodies. Continue reading …

Piero-ScuriVernacular poetry is generally evaluated according to culturally specific aesthetic standards, what anthropologists call ethnopoetics. This article offers embodied entexualization—the culturally specific ways bodies are incorporated into as well as produce texts—as a means for analyzing how ethnopoetic systems reflect social and political histories and contexts. The poetry of the northern Italian town of Bergamo, and specifically a poem by a locally celebrated poet, Piero Frér, provides an illustrative case.

JILLIAN R. CAVANAUGH is Leonard and Claire Tow Research Professor at Brooklyn College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. She is a linguistic anthropologist whose research centers on language, food, value, and the construction of meaning.

Celebrate International Women’s Day

With some rabble-rousing from our archives:

233The End of Educated Democracy
Wendy Brown

 

 

faculty-thompson-168x210The Evidence of Things Not Photographed: Slavery and Historical Memory in the British West Indies
Krista Thompson

 

grigsbyNegative-Positive Truths
Darcy Grimaldo Grigsby

 

img_0218_2Shadowed by Images: Rafael Lozano-Hemmer and the Art of Surveillance
Kriss Ravetto-Biagioli

 

AnneHeadShot2Skins, Tattoos, and Susceptibility
Anne Anlin Cheng

Book Chat with D. A. Miller

Join a discussion with Berkeley professor D. A. Miller about his recent book Hidden Hitchcock 

Wednesday, Mar 8, 2017 | 12:00 pm to 1:00 pm
Geballe Room, 220 Stephens Hall, UC Berkeley

Presented by the Townsend Center for the Humanities

No filmmaker has more successfully courted mass-audience understanding than Alfred Hitchcock, and none has been studied more intensively by scholars. In Hidden Hitchcock, D. A. Miller discovers what has remained unseen in Hitchcock’s movies, a secret style that imbues his films with a radical duplicity.

Focusing on three films—Strangers on a Train, Rope, and The Wrong Man—Miller shows how Hitchcock anticipates, even demands, what he terms a “Too-Close Viewer.” Dwelling within us all and vigilant even when everything appears to be in good order, this “Too-Close Viewer” attempts to see more than the director points out.

author photo in colorD. A. Miller is Professor of the Graduate School and the English Department at the University of California, Berkeley. His recent books include 8 ½ and Jane Austen, or the Secret of Style. In 2013, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Miller has published on Hitchcock twice in Representations: “Hitchcock’s Understyle: A Too-Close View of Rope“ (121, Winter 2013) and “Anal Rope“ (31, Fall 1990).

Hazlitt’s Ephemeral Style

Talking with Texts: Hazlitt’s Ephemeral Style

by Tristram Wolff

The essay begins …

Since social life, like art, is a problem of appeal, the poetic metaphor would give us invaluable hints for describing modes of practical action which are too often measured by simple tests of utility and too seldom with reference to the communicative, sympathetic, propitiatory factors that are clearly present in the procedures of formal art and must be as truly present in those informal arts of living we do not happen to call arts. . . . Is not the relation between individual and group greatly illuminated by reference to the corresponding relation between writer and audience?

—Kenneth Burke, Permanence and Change

Introduction: Mouthiness

When he wrote this passage, in 1935, Kenneth Burke was—as ever—looking for ways to persuade readers not only to observe written texts themselves as forms of social action but also to observe social action through what he called “the poetic metaphor.” According to this view, social life is a kind of “composition”: it is guided by questions of address (the “problem of appeal”); its “assertions,” as he puts it, must be “socialized by revision.” Though generally overlooked, the “communicative, sympathetic, propitiatory factors” foregrounded in art similarly bear the weight of social interaction (such “factors” belong, in the context of this special issue, to the indexical threadwork that allows “participation frameworks” to hang together). In the epigraph’s final line, Burke suggests that cultural-historical relations of a literary kind, as between “writer” and “audience,” revealing lines of separation imaginable between individual and group in a given social formation. Better remembered for arguing that literary forms bespeak and contest broader cultural convictions, here we are reminded that Burke also advocated thinking about social relations themselves through categories of verbal art.

In the work of British romantic essayist and political radical William Hazlitt (1778–1830), vivid accounts of the sociable worlds of everyday speech in early nineteenth-century London—in the tavern, parlor, pulpit, theater, or Parliament—are often likewise enmeshed in questions of literary form, in a comparable if unsystematic fusion of literary and social criticism. Burke’s comments (and the ethnopoetic and metapragmatic fields of research that Burke indirectly influenced) retrospectively help clarify that what enables Hazlitt so readily to assume continuities between literary writing and sociable ways of speaking is a version of the belief that language, whether literary or not, is active in and constitutive of the worlds around it. Moreover, the inseparability for Hazlitt of politics and style points to his intuitive grasp of the latter—in any of the discursive genres he analyzes, including his own writing—as practical activity.

In this he seems to have had an early sense of how, as V. N. Voloshinov emphatically put it, “poetic work is a powerful condenser of unarticulated social evaluations,” and reciprocally the way that “these social evaluations . . . organize form.” If the Marxist-inflected idea of language as practical activity elaborated by the likes of Burke and the Bakhtin circle aided later influential theoreticians of sociolinguistic practice like Erving Goffman, Dell Hymes, and Michael Silverstein in bridging analytic domains by offering theories of social discourse imagined through categories borrowed from verbal art (for example, performance roles, genres, meter), the point of departure for this article is to open backward onto a longer history of thought that presumes the mutual involvement of linguistic styles and social fractions. For this account, the prehistory of a literary sociology like Burke’s materializes in an earlier view of language as constitutive social activity. Though their narratives conflict in some respects, critics seem to agree that, for various reasons, views of language as historical, “public,” and active take recognizable shape in the literary era we now call romantic; indeed, one head of the difficult hydra called “European romanticism” was a rapid shift in available theories of linguistic change and interaction. Under romanticism’s monstrous shadow, then, this article zeroes in on William Hazlitt as one idiosyncratic precursor for language-in-use. Continue reading …

This article considers how the essayistic style of William Hazlitt’s printed texts produces, in its form, a critique of what it considers conservatism in speech and its uncritical reception. Situating Hazlitt in a longer history of thought that considers language a form of practical activity, I argue that the conversational character of Hazlitt’s writing is calculated not to resemble speech, but rather to take aim at speech’s false spontaneity.

Tristram-WolffTRISTRAM WOLFF teaches in the Comparative Literary Studies Program at Northwestern University. He was a cowinner of the ACLA’s 2015 Bernheimer Award for best dissertation in the field of comparative literature. He is currently completing a book on the poetics and politics of the linguistic root, titled Frail Bonds: Romantic Etymology and Language Ecology.

Pleasing Everyone

New from Jeffrey Knapp:

9780190634063Pleasing Everyone: Mass Entertainment in Renaissance London and Golden-Age Hollywood

Oxford University Press 2017

Shakespeare’s plays were immensely popular in their own day–so why do we refuse to think of them as mass entertainment? In Pleasing Everyone, author Jeffrey Knapp opens our eyes to the uncanny resemblance between Renaissance drama and the incontrovertibly mass medium of Golden-Age Hollywood cinema. Through fascinating explorations of such famous plays as Hamlet, The Roaring Girl, and The Alchemist, and such celebrated films as Citizen Kane, The Jazz Singer, and City Lights, Knapp challenges some of our most basic assumptions about the relationship between art and mass audiences.

Jeffrey Knapp is the Eggers Professor of English at the University of California, Berkeley, and a long-term member of the Representations editorial board. He is the author of several books, including An Empire Nowhere: England and America from Utopia to The Tempest (1992), Shakespeare’s Tribe: Church, Nation, and Theater in Renaissance England (2002), and Shakespeare Only (2009). His essay “Throw That Junk! The Art of the Movie in Citizen Kane, included in Pleasing Everyone, first appeared in Representations 122 (Spring 2013)

A Hapax Legomenon in Kiksht

The Fieldwork Encounter and the Colonized Voice of Indigeneity

by Michael Silverstein

The essay begins…

Ethnographic and linguistic fieldwork generates inscriptions of various sorts and, in our contemporary multimedia world, in various modalities as well. A mode of Amerindianist fieldwork rendered canonical by Franz Boas and his students centers on native language texts taken down from dictation-speed informant speech and later translated and published in bilingual editions. In this philological enterprise on behalf of the otherwise unlettered, the goal was to establish through publication a reliable corpus bespeaking a culture’s—not merely an individual’s—cosmogony and reflexive historical consciousness, its members’ view of their sociocultural universe, no less than to provide sufficient primary verbal material for an inductive grammatical analysis of the indigenous language of the corpus of texts.

But of course even such a situation, bringing together a dictating speaker and a transcribing anthropological amanuensis, is a two-party discursive interaction. It is a social event in which individuals inhabit role relationships based on parameters of identity from which they are, as we say, relationally “recruited” to their roles in institutional circumstances that depend on wider background forces of sociohistorical reality. So the dictated material must perforce be read as a text precipitated in and pointing to (“indexing”) a complex and multilayered interactional context, to be treated no differently in this respect from the transcripts we make these days from videotaped interactions for purposes of sociological and anthropological analysis of their dynamics. In such analysis, we understand the self-contextualizing power of discourse to be semiotically parallel to that of pantomime. In both, much of what is interpretable in the interval of multiparty engagement is built up rom individual gestural acts and from the sequencing and chunking, the metricalization, of whole segments of behavior, whether verbal or kinesic, from which an addressee must reconstruct a cultural context in which the textual form—gradually coming, over space-time, to be “entextualized,” that is, rendered coherent as text—comes to make cultural sense (and by making cultural sense, affords one or more interpretations of what is going on). The relationship of any feature of text to its cultural context is, semiotically speaking, dynamically indexical; at every instant, such features of talk or movement point to an already in-play sociocultural frame and to one about-to-come-into-being, the first licensing the “appropriateness” of the occurrence of some textual feature, the second entailed in-and-by its very occurrence. The second is the so-called performative meaningfulness of what speakers do with words (as with kinesic motions), the social acts we understand their performance will have effected as social actors of particular characteristics in particular circumstances. Such indexical reading is central to discerning a generationally new kind of historical consciousness and hence indigenous voice in the long-ago event of fieldwork encounter on which I concentrate.

Peter McGuff, aged about thirty in the summer of 1905 and a speaker of Kiksht, the easternmost Chinookan language along the Columbia River—as well as of Klickitat Sahaptin and English—dictated a short text to the anthropologist Edward Sapir that the latter published in 1909 in Wishram Texts. A doctoral student working under Boas at Columbia University, Sapir published the text along with much other material spoken by far older speakers, principally Louis Simpson, then, in 1905, aged about seventy-five. As someone who has also done fieldwork on the language, in the 1960s and 1970s with a number of Kiksht speakers roughly of Mr. McGuff’s generation and life experiences, I have returned to this text several times in relation to the state of the language as I observed it now forty and more years ago, closer indeed to Mr. McGuff’s usage than to Mr. Simpson’s. I would like here to focus attention upon a grammatical hapax legomenon in Mr. McGuff’s dictation, a unique textual occurrence in the whole Sapir collection in fact, and to contextualize its occurrence in respect of the McGuff-Sapir interaction and what it seems to reveal about Mr. McGuff’s generational experience in the rapidly encroaching colonial context of turn-of-the-twentieth-century Native American reservation life. Continue reading …

This essay follows the indexical (context-indicating) clues of linguistic form in spoken Kiksht (Wasco-Wishram Chinookan) and reconstructs the emerging poetic or metrical structures of a long-ago Kiksht-mediated encounter during anthropological linguistic fieldwork, memorialized in a published text. In this way we can hear something of the voice of a Native American speaker coming to grips with the impact of social and cultural change in the American settler state of the turn of the twentieth century.

MS_photo_00MICHAEL SILVERSTEIN serves as Charles F. Grey Distinguished Service Professor of Anthropology, Linguistics, and Psychology at the University of Chicago, where he is also Director of the Center for the Study of Communication and Society. In addition to long-term work on indigenous languages and cultures of northwestern North America and of northwestern Australia, with Michael Lempert he has published Creatures of Politics: Media, Message, and the American Presidency (Indiana University Press, 2012).