Untamed Wellspring of Language

The first technologies of sound recording are hardly one hundred and fifty years old. Authors for whom declamation and the spoken word, whether recited or simply spoken, were relevant could only dream of Thomas A. Edison's cylinder phonograph. This holds especially true for periods with a culture of reading aloud. In the Middle Ages, texts, in their reception as well as their production, were tied closely to corporeal experience. The expressive possibilities of the voice accompanied by gesture enlivened not only sermons and theatrical events, but also public readings of stories and poetry in ways no different from those that continue to inform readings and other forms of oral performance today.

Hence, the idea that medieval literature remained the exclusive province of silent, private reading nonetheless leads to the misleading modern perception of thought as incorporeal. Some medieval authors compared the communication of a text by means of, on the one hand, the human voice, on the other, parchment or paper. Henry Suso opted very clearly for the voice, the emphatically spoken word. He praised the enlivening effect of the human voice which, as an instrument of presence, prevents thought from becoming stale and drying out. No doubt Suso would have taken a keen interest in Edison's invention and its further technological development.

Contemporary authors also eagerly dive into this "untamed wellspring of language". Audio media permit medieval texts once again to acquire an expanded living presence for modern audiences.