Sound, Gesture, Image: Translations of Performance and Genre in the Digital Age

Marina Warner

From The MHRA Centenary Lectures (2020), doi:10.59860/cl.c6b5ffd

Part of the book: The MHRA Centenary Lectures

Edited by Graham Nelson


Modern Humanities Research Association

Full text.  This contribution is published as Open Access, and its full text is given below.

Sound, Gesture, Image

Translations of Performance and Genre in the Digital Age

Dame Marina Warner

Royal Society of Literature

When Alison Finch and her colleagues kindly invited me to become President of the MHRA in its anniversary year, I felt proud and honoured, unworthy and daunted. In the present climate of discouragement for all of us who hold the Humanities dear, I have decided to look at one of the worst threats, or so it seems: the dumbing down consequent on digital media. In a spirit of hope against hope, I want to offer some reasons for optimism, and explore the activity and the potential of the www as a forum for literature. In spite of an instinctive recoil I feel for digital media, I believe is possible to consider and reframe the question of ‘reading’ on the web. It then leads to the further question, Can literature be found beyond the printed book? This era of fundamental and global transformations in the technologies of literary encounters may not be as fatal as we fear; on the contrary, the internet is spurring writers on to creating things with words that are not primarily aimed at silent readers, but at an audience that is listening and viewing and feeling — and also, maybe, reading all at the same time.

The web provides a stage for literature as event, not text.

I’ll look at properties of digital communications in relation to literature, and in the conclusion, I’ll discuss the revival of ritual, assembly, and participatory acts; the phenomenon has become central to the role of the arts in forging secular communities, as expressed by such public art works as the field of poppies at the Tower of London in 2014, and the significant rise in current conflicts over historical memory, as enshrined in monuments.1

Paul Cummins, ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ (2016), an installation of 888,146 ceramic poppies

The internet and mobile phones can muster vast crowds behind a slogan or a cause: for the most part, we have seen damaging consequences. Yet I think — I hope — that it is a mistake to take the current products of the web for ineluctable consequences. Indeed, the metaphor of the web is itself misleading, because the Internet is more of a loom than a net or a web; it is a tool and its products can take myriad forms: many varieties of fabric — and fabrication. The hubbub of the Internet — as we know in our deepest anxieties — swallows up individuals in fanatical elective affinities and magnetises many to sectarian and extreme causes. To think it must lead to Trump, Cambridge Analytica, trolling, and hate speech only is to mistake the artefact for the tool, the irrigation system for the water that flows through it and for the loaf of bread grown from the field of corn it was used to water.

‘The medium is the message‘, McLuhan’s historic aphorism, expresses an ideological parti pris, and accepting it now, in changed circumstances of communications, offers a counsel of despair.2 Digital media are open doors — so far. They invite entry, and the space beyond asks for occupation.

The comparatist scholar Bruce Robbins argues, in a recent essay about contemporary cosmopolitanism, that:

The desire for justice is also normal within a global tradition of storytelling that’s much larger than realism. [...] narrative as such poses the broader question of what circle of readers can recognize themselves at any given moment as a political collectivity or community of fate, whether in any given narrative enough guests have been invited.3

The concept of ‘communities of fate’ defines a possibility of imaginative co-existence, a way of dwelling in fractured space and interrupted time. Robbins continues,

But I would also like to think that there exists a narrative, or a possibility of narrative, within “world literature,” a narrative in which the emergence of the category of “world literature” would constitute a significant event. Contemplating a seemingly endless series of atrocities receding into the depths of time, atrocities that no longer seem easily divided between modern and ancient, it may seem that meaningful history has become impossible and that literature itself, taken as existing outside of time, is the best refuge from the centuries and centuries and centuries of meaninglessness.4

I will take up this question: can the internet’s reach and capaciousness help build ‘a country of words’ where the humanities and its lovers can flourish? Beyond the borders of nation and language and economic interests at this time of high tension in the world? Does the WWW work as a vehicle for literature? If so, what forms does literature take in this global communications system, this virtual infinite library as if the encyclopaedic fantasy of Borges’s story, ‘Tlön Uqbar Orbis Tertius’ 1were a prophecy?

I will explore the intrinsic properties of the internet in relation to texts: multiplicity; archival capacity and speed of retrieval; attenuation of sensory contact; and multi-media communication; I will suggest that the rise in spoken word, performance and multimedia literature events and their afterlife on the web, present a direct counterinsurgency to the antiseptic, textureless experience of reading text on line.

The digital age is also seeing a vigorous renewal of Performance and ‘Spoken Word’, and innovative work is being done on this development, for example by Haun Saussy in his bold and incisive manifesto, The Ethnography of Rhythm and before him, by Florence Dupont in The Invention of Literature.5 They both invoke voice rather than script as they review the history of literary expression and the communication of stories, poetry and, sometimes, history. Oral embodiment: rhythm, rhyme, meter, beat, transmit words more memorably: pictures punctuate the recitation or performance. The work of the rhapsode in Greek culture is returning, the role of the bard is being self-consciously re-occupied by poets — from the poise and enraptured quality of Alice Oswald’s recitations to the rap commentary on the world of Hollie McNish, writers are performing their work by heart as if they were born digital, and publishing the text as text later, as the cast sheaths of the live creature they filled literally with their breath during the performance.6 In the lacerating narrative poems of Kate Tempest, which she writes ‘to be read aloud’, rock music meets Ovid, and both Samuel Beckett and Kathy Acker are remembered. In cultures of the Middle East and the Caribbean and the continent of Africa, historical traditions are being reclaimed: The Palestinian-Egyptian Tamim al-Barghouti is purposefully reoccupying the role of the rawaii or reciter, and the ancient Arabic bardic tradition, with impassioned, agile — and often caustic — variations on ancient prosody.

By a sharp paradox, the immaterial internet has become the vehicle of record for creations with words which are attempting to overthrow the medium’s lack of tactile, sensuous qualities, the way its smooth screens and their uniformity of presence fail to hook its contents into the mind: I have found that when I read a work of literature on a kindle or on the screen it slips from memory as if the ink were instantly dissolving in water, or indeed, the words were written in invisible ink. I will bring in here, to exemplify resistance to the glabrous lack of purchase to sense and senses that web-based literature suffers, the work of the artist Joan Jonas, who was the subject of a huge show at Tate Modern in 2018, and the writer-artist-performer Caroline Bergvall and especially her book-and installation entitled Drift (2014), a remarkable art and sound essay-poem. Visual artists such as Tacita Dean and Jonas are exploring multiple media technologies to create artefacts in which the media’s worst tendencies are frequently transformed, its speed slowed, its attention deficit disorderliness utterly resisted. Jonas, who is now in her eighties, precedes the coming of the internet, but in the Seventies she was a pioneer with webcam technology, and her art has been in the vanguard of digital experimentation ever since. She is first and foremost a live performer, but she has grasped the tools computers offer and brought them to add layers of sensuous experience to her works, which run deep taproots into fiction, poetry and other literature, including H D’s Memoirs, Aby Warburg’s art historical writings and the wry apocalypses of Halldór Laxness.7

The need to agglomerate all these different descriptions of these creatives’ modes and methods demonstrates how the multiplicity and connectivity of digital media gives scope for hybridities and grafts between genres and forms of creative expression.

The book of the work is one impression of it, the Youtube or online vimeo an archival memory a brass rubbing off the acoustic track of the performance. Several of these performer-writers, these new rhapsodes, have audiences online that run to the millions, beyond the wildest dreams of the most famous print poets in the world. The poets’ voices and/or their texts blur the generic boundaries between pop music, rap, entertainment, film and even dance, on occasion. The 2018 music video ‘This is America’, which Childish Gambino made, epitomises the generic multiplicity of such word-events: it was an incendiary thing — a danced poem on digital film online.

Platforms for such work, such as UbuWeb, Button Poetry, Asymptote and The Archive of the Now provide showcases for poets whose popularity equals rock stars, and sometimes also for writers of fiction, essayists (bloggers), and dramatists. Some of the poets have especially come under enemy fire: in the pages of PN Review, the poet Rebecca Watts lashed into Hollie McNish, Warsan Shire, et al., all stars of the spoken word circuit.8

But there is another literary quality of the web which the poet and translator George Szirtes, for example, singles out: its temporality is quick, the contact immediate. Szirtes is a consummate wordsmith in a solid tradition, yet he has for a while been writing poems on Twitter and trying out new work on Facebook posts. He says:

it is exciting to be ‘exposed, immediately, to any passing reader.... Klee said drawing was taking a line for a walk. This is rather like that kind of walk. You walk off into a forest and have to find your way to somewhere while continually glimpsing events beyond your path.9

I am hoping that this lecture — which is being webcast — will likewise take you — viewers and readers — on an enjoyable and unexpected path.

1. Multiplicity

In a memorable series of lectures just before his death in 1985, Italo Calvino defines Multiplicity as one of the qualities he most desires from literature, alongside Quickness and Lightness, among others.10 He mentions many branching works, such as Ovid’s Metamorphoses and the Thousand and One Nights. He died before the era of the internet, but digital media might have been a natural playground for his Oulipian games with stories and motifs. The web’s multiplicity matches the polymorphous forms of literature, mostly classic works which exist in multiple versions, through variations, editions, and translations: Virgil’s revisioning of Homer; Racine’s reworking of Euripides, and, in our own times, such memorable revisionings as Philip Pullman’s recasting of Paradise Lost, in the trilogy His Dark Materials (2005); Naomi Alderman’s The Liars’ Gospel (2012), and Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary (2012) and an extreme instance of heterodox retooling: J.M. Coetzee’s own Gospel stories, The Childhood of Jesus (2013) and The Schooldays of Jesus (2016). These fictions take place within complex genealogies, and represent encounters with and responses to works which in their origins were voiced: either because they claim to set down words which were once recited and spoken — Homer, or part of the Gospels, or because they are written to be performed, and indeed benefit from being read out loud — as in the case of Racine and Milton.

Many much-travelled stories are myths and fairy tales, intrinsically filled with imaginary elements; such narratives are not works of literature in the prevalent sense of the genre: they have no authors or several (think of the multiple branches of the story of the Epic of Gilgamesh, of the Trojan War, or the legends about Arthur and Roland/Orlando and other tales of chivalry and crusades; think of the myth of Oedipus, the Norse sagas, and animal fables ascribed in Europe to Aesop, and in Arab countries known as Kalila wa Dimna: all of them travelling tales. Literature is migratory: if it can, it will travel, and move across languages and cultures; as texts translocate, they change, but still retain recognisable features).

Works such as these suffuse cultures rather than define free-standing landmarks: they are like rivers, fed by tributaries and fanning out in deltas. Many of them are not even well-written in the conventional sense (as CS Lewis pointed out, for example).11 The principal reason for reading the four gospels is not their value as literary artefacts of late Greek/Aramaic; at least that is not the principal reason. The New Testament flows through international culture in translations carried in the bloodstream of story, maybe inspiring a masterpiece now and then Pasolini’s The Gospel according to St Matthew (l967) for example. The same can be said of other works, which are likely to have originated in verbal form but which circulated in images and other media down the centuries, and are gaining wider circulation in digital media today.

We are living now in a new Tower of Babel before it fell — not because we share an ideal Adamic unity of language, but because we are increasingly familiar with a common narrative lexicon: from Troy to The Game of Thrones, from Jerusalem to Stranger Things. The individualistic idea of the author as onlie begetter, the long held romantic and commercial aesthetic that is committed to the originality of a work of literature, and rejects imitatio as a modus operandi and an ideal, still exercises a hold on ways of writing and reading, but this authorial principle now stands alongside an understanding of collective cross-pollination, of grafting and splicing, re-shaping, recovery and rediscovery, excavation, retrieval and reassembly.

One of the impulses behind this shift to fabulism is a growing consciousness that fiction can be a forum for exchange, a cosmopolitan arena. Translations are growing in number into English, and the value of the translator’s work has been brought into the limelight and applauded far more than in the past, when his or her name sometimes did not appear anywhere in the book.12 It is striking that while re-working inherited stories has become the pursuit of many contemporaries, at the popular level, the GDP of New Zealand surged after the The Lord of the Rings, and blockbuster films dramatizing the sagas have significantly swelled the numbers of tourists to Iceland. No need to mention the industrial scale of Harry Potter’s spread through the web and other media. All these record-breaking artefacts are the offspring of old stories, conjugated in different patterns.

The multiplicity also marks the flow of sheer material through the web. We are seeing on the one hand a worldwide dissolution of boundaries and enclosures around global networks of culture - music, literature, knowledge, money, and nation states and, at the same time, furious, countervailing oppositional forces (Brexit, Trump’s wall, the Israeli wall surrounding Palestine, and the miles of barbed wire rolled out throughout Europe), the detention centres and refugee camps that aim to contain these flows and prevent further movement of people. I see this as a contest between a classical geometry of Euclidian forms — the cube, the pyramid — which are defined containers that include some and exclude others — and a modern, fluid topology, as embodied by arabesque tiling patterns that keep generating and branching, endlessly dynamic and embracing, proliferating with exuberant variations and flipping figure and ground so that exclusion or inclusion need to be redefined.

The Internet at its most fertile can be placed under the sign of the branching systems, such as the structure of the Arabian Nights and the generative arabesque of Arab ornament. As Marshall McLuhan noted a while ago that when he wrote, ‘Electric circuitry is Orientalising the West. The contained, the distinct, the separate — our Western legacy — is being replaced by the flowing, the unified, the fused.'13 Its social effects can be understood in this light. Its potential for connectivity generates clusters, rather in the same way as a tray of shapeless piles of sand or grit will, when its receptacle is shaken or vibrated, gradually settle into coherent and even beautiful patterns and relations. The messiness of the web can crystallise into sets of collectibles for the surfers of E-bay, into groups of like-minded connoisseurs and hobbyists, of desirous specialists in taste for this or that, and Facebook friends. And one sphere of activity that can grow, through this efflorescing property of the Internet, is narrative: the web is a sea of stories, where flowing streams of creative imagination meet and memories and fantasies intermingle.

2. Archival capacity and speed of retrieval

No matter how distant geographically, how abstruse the topic, the Internet makes and will continue to make research accessible to a degree we could never before imagine. With the expanding digitisation of archives, as well as books, it is possible to land with quicksilver speed and a simple ping or swipe on an item that would have taken a distant journey, and long days’ trawling through dusty boxes.

The web offers genealogies of archival deposits at a previously unimaginable swiftness and breadth. But you must have means to judge the quality of the information and to grasp its relations: the Internet's vast hangars do not teach or train this use of the tool, and it is indeed crucial to its commercial operations that you don't know how to discriminate but only to crave more.

The capacity of the web gives users unprecedent access to literary material in archival forms: to manuscripts and to photography and other visual ephemera, while the British Library Sound Archive has built — and continues to build — a remarkable collection of writers’ recordings. You can hear Alfred Tennyson reciting his poetry, his thin quaver making him feel much closer to our time than his pictures. The remarkable website UbuWeb continues to accrue an ever growing anthology of avantgarde texts in several languages; on Asymptote and Library of Babel, compendia of works in translation are judiciously selected and presented, introducing visitors to literature from distant points on the globe, difficult to obtain or know about. It is telling that Asymptote’s editor is based in Taiwan.

Tennyson's voice, from a wax cylinder, accompanied by a speculative animation

These sites do not pay particular attention to the sound potential of the web. By contrast, the Archive of the Now, created and curated by Andrea Brady, a fine poet herself, commissions and stages recordings of poets in a huge variety of voices and styles.14

The Archive of the Now, at

Brady’s editorial interests do not lie with spoken word poets as such. The Archive of the Now is not as much a phenomenon of the Now as several other platforms which do specialise in spoken word, such as Button Poetry. Button Poetry is based in America and its stars, for example Neil Hilborn and the British-born Suli Breaks, reach — literally — millions of views, followed by a terrific rise in book sales for the writers involved.

3. Proximity and Connectedness

The Internet also interacts symbiotically with the mass movements of peoples, including those fleeing war zones, as it can keep them in touch retrospectively with their dispersed relatives, their abandoned mother tongues, and, prospectively, to their longed-for destinations elsewhere. The powers of the mobile phone with its camera and its recorder are both lifesavers and catalysts for all the people swept up in the huge dislocations convulsing the world. Young refugees in Sicily, who have landed there after risking the terrible passage across the Mediterranean, hold on to their mobiles when all else has gone. When they have no papers or possessions, they will keep a sealed waterproof pouch around their necks to hold the device. If they lose their phone at sea, it is one of the first things the authorities try to provide for them or they choose to acquire: earphones dangling their white threads are a symbol of their human citizenship of the world and they are extremely adept at using them, at Instagram and Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat.

As Virginia Heffernan points out at the beginning of her book Magic and Loss: The Internet As Art, it is the poor and disadvantaged who desire and need this kind of connectivity, but that is not a reason to despise it.15 Immense distances, social and physical, have shrunk through telecommunications; clusters of individuals and even large proportions of some populations are regrouping in different patterns in other places, as their conversations across space bring them closer to one another. This new proximity shrinks the world - and also flattens it; as horizons grow nearer, the sense of time also changes: the past feels closer, the future more graspable.

These qualities of internet reading and writing — agility, speed, range, accumulation, connectivity, acceleration, and proximity — have immensely fertile potential, and when the words are sounded not read in silence, and are also accompanied by images, these sensory effects can help overcome the fugitive character of digital communication and imprint the poem or work more deeply on memory and its processes. The web mimics the branching and firing of the brain in many ways, or at least it appears to offer a dazzling mirror of thought itself, its aleatory quickness of association and retrieval. But this effect of replication, of the software acting as a quasi-organic prosthesis for the mind, is misleading, and this delusion, and the damaging effects that are consequent upon it, need some attention and redress through other channels of inquiry and learning and art, it seems to me. For one of the sharpest problems of digital technology and literature arises from the data’s immateriality, which leads to sensory deprivation and the attenuation of haptic knowledge.

The chief drawback of internet reading arises from the absence of the full sensorium. And this lack can’t be fixed by adding scratch and sniff patches to the screen — a whiff of lime blossom or a salt breeze — or embedding them in virtual reality headset, as no doubt will happen. The mémoire involontaire Proust tapped into required acts in space and time (stubbing his toe, dunking the madeleine in the tea), to activate the connections; his novel then retrieves and reorganises the coordinated senses and feelings involved in acts of memory — and in acts of imagination as memories are re-membered, resurrected and reimagined. We all know how memories of someone or of a story can come back to mind by re-orienting oneself in space, where one was at the time: the neuroscientists tell us this returns us to our beginnings as hunters and our needs to sense where we were in relation to others — to helpers, to prey, to dangers. Similar ancient capacities form our sense of smell.

4. Haptic knowledge; kinesic intelligence

In his recent, incisive account Thinking with Literature, Terence Cave applies cognitive psychology and consciousness studies to the written artefact and stresses the crucial role played by ‘kinesic intelligence’, that is understanding through embodied, mobile, and sensory processes.16 I want to look now at the kinesic experience of the digital devices that have become so indispensable to our relations with one another as well as our communings with our own thoughts. The look of the stuff on our screens — the miserable design of emails above all — has been devastatingly critiqued by many commentators, so I take that for granted and shall move now from software to hardware, from the spatial and immaterial operations of the net and of word processing. The dominant sensation involved in using a smart phone or a keyboard is smooth, even slippery: the surfaces are cold, glassy, gleaming, opalescent, and slick to the touch to start with: when they heat up, they convey a certain unease — warmth is not the most desirable or healthy state. The aesthetic, brilliantly developed by Dieter Rams for Braun in the Fifties, and then refined by Jonathan Ive at Apple, aligns the new technology with forensic utility: the metal and glass and plastics are hygienic, sterile, hard, trim and easily wipeable. They are made to look clean, even enthrallingly inviolate. Ive has also adopted immaculate whiteness as the unmistakeable brand of Apple products: a whiteness unadorned except by translucent logos, in silver print or in opaline glass. It is not far-fetched that one of Dieter Rams's most famous designs, for a minimal radio, is known as 'Snow White's coffin'.

Radio-Phonograph model SK 4/10, 1956, designed by Dieter Rams

The design tunes the perceptive range of the owner of the device to certain sensations, and not to others. It relegates sensory experiences that extend beyond this limited, hygienic compass. Or, to look at this context in another way, the design excludes certain forms of knowing from the start and consequently blunts the sensorium of the user. The glassiness is literally glazing: the attentiveness it asks for does not alert us: it dopes us. The attention that is being bought is being shaped and depreciated. Although, as I said before, sound has returned to literature through the web, the senses of touch, smell, and taste are shrunken, while depthless and weightless images enclosed in the screen dominate the visualising processes. One consequence is that the visual effects are constantly being turned up in volume, as it were, in order to make them communicate better. Although listening is better served, it is not always the case in relation to precision of hearing or quality of sound. Our ways of acquiring understanding, especially in the zone of eroticism, are denatured.

The smooth white cheek even of Mars, from Canova's Mars and Venus (1815-19)

The mot juste for this smooth aesthetic is glabrous, meaning gleaming and hairless like the marble Venuses sculpted in the nineteenth century, imitated the Greeks under the mistaken impression their sculptures were unadorned and colourless. The taste for glabrous artefacts then saturated Salon paintings, which were heavily varnished to produce slick surfaces. Part of the Impressionists’ revolution was their rejection of this polish, this resistant sheen; they advocated sensuous haptic, textured paint, stroked and dappled and stippled by bushy brushes and/or palette knives onto hollows and peaks.

Devices do not have to kindle these mortuary or surgical associations: they could be made of durable fabrics, such as burlap or cork, or of knobbly stuff satisfying like pebbles — I don’t know, I am not a designer. But I do call for some new ideas that would restore sensuousness to learning on the web.

You may think this is trivial, a mere detail — icing, indeed. But its restriction of intelligent cognitive capacities reinforces the medium's control of the human being, making it easier to nail our attention and treat us as commercially minable data.

Does this matter? Am I being fussy and eccentric in complaining about glabrous aesthetic?

To my mind, it is damaging in two evident ways, one rather general, the other rather particular, but both serious. I have noticed while teaching students who have grown up in the cyber-age that they don’t grasp and hold mind-pictures from downloaded texts read on screen. In some ways the eerie match between data flowing weightlessly on a computer screen with the immateriality of mental processes cuts out that passage through the senses that sets memory working and storing. It’s not only that schoolchildren and students today can’t concentrate, as so many teachers and parents have noted. Not exactly. It’s that they can't retain things because they haven’t developed kinesic cognition and the haptic and sensory faculties to make their memories absorbent, and they aren’t offered prompts to bring them into action, which helps form mental images of a scene. Such sensuous lines and tactile images from Keats’ ‘The Eve of Saint Agnes’, for example, failed in class to conjure up sensory connections:

the tiger-moth's deep-damask'd wings...
Rose-bloom fell on her hands, together prest,
And on her silver cross soft amethyst...17

The unholy union of the internet and porn may be acting as a massive opiate, like soma in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, stimulating the senses in certain directions and dulling them in others. As Jonathan Crary has commented, 'the more habitual and repetitive one’s perceptual response to one’s environment is, the less autonomy and freedom characterise that individual existence.'18

I have never forgotten a story the poet Ruth Padel once told me, about a primary school group on a visit to the London Zoo in the days when the Big Cats enclosure still contained tigers. The children had been carefully prepared by the teacher for the outing, with lessons about the animals they would see, web materials, video footage, maps, and photographs. When they reached the big plate glass window of the Big Cats enclosure, one little girl looked and then gasped and turned to her teacher with shining eyes and said, 'But Miss, you never said the tigers would be REAL.'

Of course, we gain knowledge without immediate sensory access (I hadn’t seen a real tiger when I first read Blake’s ‘Tiger, Tiger’, and his poem was thrillingly vivid). It would be absurd to suggest that nothing can be experienced imaginatively that has not been experienced actually: imagination and memory don’t demand a match of amethyst for amethyst, jasmine for jasmine, tiger moth for tiger moth or tiger for tiger. But we can’t build moth’s wings or amethysts in the mind’s eye without the kinesic work of enfleshed association, and that needs imagination in conjunction with memory, and these cognitive powers are formed by the perceptions, themselves developed by the acquisition of experience by the senses.

The web is filled, as I’ve tried to convey, with gloriously rich archival websites of the new cultural oracy. It is entirely in keeping with this trend in cultural taste that the Nobel committee chose Bob Dylan. This last property of the internet — its symbiosis with oracy — leads me back now to the main topic of my lecture: the potential of the new technologies for web-based literary creativity.

Bob Dylan accepts the Nobel Prize (2016)

5. Acoustic Redress

After a brief spell of silent reading from the page — an era that lasted, roughly speaking, from mass printing and mass literacy to the invention of radio and the wireless technologies that followed — literature is returning to its ancient habit, performed events, orally communicated. The web has made possible new forms of acoustic and oral performance — records of everything from elegies to stand up comedy. It has become a forum for innovatory literary work, although, when we consider literature on the web, ambiguity wraps the very nature of literature itself.

The artist Taryn Simon recently created, in a subterranean panopticon in Islington, an installation called An Occupation of Loss.19 In the cells arranged around the central courtyard of this disturbing bunker small groups stood or sat: men and women, usually swathed in black, sometimes in white, they came from twenty different cultures; after a single voice was raised in lamentation, they all began singing — or rather keening, for they were all mourners by profession, employed at funeral rites to help the dead person to leave this existence and pass over into the next world, to commemorate the deeds and character of the deceased, and to console the bereaved, weeping and crying out on their behalf.

Taryn Simon describes An Occupation of Loss

Taryn Simon organised her individual mourners, who had come from Japan, Albania, Ghana, Azerbaijan, Korea and elsewhere, to enact their usual business in unison, which raised a huge shield of sound echoing in the concrete cavern of the mysterious Islington underground edifice, while in New York, their voices resonated up tall columns like organ pipes, forming altogether a vast symphonic chorale, rising to a diapason and then falling away.

The tradition of lamentation is under stress, Taryn Simon informed us, as state authorities and representatives of official religion disapprove of these rituals, as in many cases they are so ancient they precede established faiths. In Luxor in Upper Egypt, where, in the Eighties, the anthropologist film maker Elizabeth Wickett collected mourning songs, the custom was already being suppressed as non-Islamic, heterodox and pagan. Wickett found that the texts of these laments directly echoed the words of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, set down in hieroglyphs three thousand years ago, some of the oldest texts in the world.

Images of flying and dying, fanning and mourning, are joined together in the ritual death rites of ancient Egypt and are accompanied by laments sung by women who can be seen in tomb paintings raising their arms at the side of the bier. These death songs are aimed at helping the dead to pass over as well as to find another existence in the afterlife. To a young girl, for example, the lament cries out:

When you are intent on the grave, turtledove
Take with you your wedding gown of red silk
When you are intent on the grave though a mere child
Take your wedding gown of silk that will not dissolve
When you are intent on the grave though just a girl
Take your wedding gown of silk that will not fade20

In the villages around the ruins of Luxor, some of the old women still know such laments for the dead and sing the deceased on their way to the underworld. One of these, sung by a mourner called Sargawiyya, was recently written down by an English woman anthropologist and filmmaker:

There is a garden there and the source of water is beside him
There is a garden there and the source of water is beside him
He went to the archangel where there is a garden and I went to him
For I am a garden and the source of water is within me.21

Taryn Simon wishes to extend the private grief of such rituals to the larger theatre of war, flight, and genocide, she has said in interviews, and she adopts these men and women as her media: their voices, their gestures, their music become her materials. I have many misgivings about the piece, because it does not seem to honour the distinctiveness of each mourner’s tradition, but merges them together to express meanings of her own, but the relevant question to pose here, in relation to literature and digital media, arises from the oral quality of the laments: is this literature at all? It is verbal, it has been committed to memory from a long time ago, remembered over unfathomable distances of time in several cases, and as far as the audience knows, it only exists as voiced by the professionals whose chosen role requires them to know the words by heart, and in some cases, to embroider them to fit the occasion and the circumstances of the dead person’s life and character — be it a child, a man or a woman, for example. The programme the artist Taryn Simon produced for the installation did not include the words or any account of the elegies as texts; instead it reprinted the paperwork produced by the visa applications of all these citizens of foreign countries. This voluminous, mind-numbing, brain-crushing bureaucratic heap of forms directed the audience towards the interpretation Simon intended to deliver, regarding ever growing numbers of borders, the rising support for barriers against others, the new approval for exclusions and measures to stop people — some people — moving.

If the laments were written down most of us, I think it is fair to say, would include them in the annals of literature: when Wordsworth and Coleridge called their collection Lyrical Ballads, they were consecrating a spring of inspiration for them: popular anonymous poems written by culture itself as it were:

... will no one tell me what she sings
Perhaps the plaintive numbers flow
for old unhappy far off things
and battles long ago.22

The Albanian writer, Ismail Kadaré, independently evoked the lamentations of his country’s culture in relation to literary innovation, in a thoughtful essay about the origins of tragedy. He takes an anthropological view, stressing the communal character of the impulse to create, and its social function — to testify, grieve for the dead and redeem the crimes of the past in order to safeguard the future. He writes:

Just as the man who after rain falls on him unexpectedly remembers the crimes of his youth, so the conscience of the Greeks was surprisingly awoken, and it in its age of maturity the Greek nation remembered a crime it had committed in its childhood. Eight hundred years ago the Greeks had suffocated the Trojans in their sleep.... If you were to take out the rotting corpse of Troy from Greek literature, the canon would be diminished by at least half.23

He senses an intimate connection with his own culture’s rituals of mourning — and situates the first stirrings of art in funeral chants and their joyful counterpart, marriage songs or epithalamia — which still continue, he points out, all over the Balkans, as in many parts of the world.

The United Nations has started to respond to the immaterial needs of displaced peoples — that cultural heritage — connectedness and belonging established through memory and imagination, might be a human right has become what is being called the new frontier. Such compass points are formed, often, not by material goods, but by immaterial artefacts: by words spoken, recited, performed, sung, and remembered. They may be preserved in books but they also travel by other ethereal conduits, especially in the age of the Internet when they are at one and the same time vigorous and fragile. They may inhere in things, containers of memories and history. In 2003, Unesco declared protection for intangible cultural heritage, but the dominant implication was that this applied principally to the culture of unlettered peoples — to orature. This needs adjusting — highly literate civilisations also flourish through oral — performed, played — channels of transmission.

Cultural and literary transmission of myth and story as a process of constant, deep and fruitful metamorphosis. These metamorphoses take place in dialogue with written texts, but are not constrained by writing: indeed, mobile narratives are a dynamic feature of contemporary culture because the internet and digital technologies have opened up a vast arena for varieties of performance, recitation, speech, combining sound, image, voice. The traffic in mobile myths is rising with the strong and omnipresent return of acoustics to communication — we have entered a hybrid era, in which the oral is no longer placed in opposition to the literate — when Borges commented that he had always imagined Paradise will be a kind of library’, it is interesting to remember that the great writer was himself blind for a great part of his life, and he was read to — books for him were sounded.

The question of orality needs further exploration in the digital age, for the internet is an acoustic medium as well as a word machine. The lack of purchase that digital media suffer becomes less of a problem when it comes to hearing rather than looking, especially texts: reading silently on a device slides off perception more quickly than listening to an actor reading it, and imprints more deeply when it is performed: the combination of sound, gesture and image wakes up attention and the capacity to absorb and commit to memory.

In many epic moments — in Homer, in Virgil — the writer will hand over the story to a speaker — a bard or a storyteller inside the narrative — and describe how the recitation has an overwhelmingly moving and disturbing effect on the audience. We are invited to read into the story the sound, the voice, and the body of the narrator-performer, and we hear the performance couched in the ongoing flow of the verse and its meter; these suggestions tighten the screw on our emotions, too, as well as on Penelope, Helen, Dido, Desdemona who are standing in here for the inflamed reader. Saussy calls this oral embodiment, which literally enfleshes the text by projecting it through a narrator: the summonses to such figments helps cancel out the fictive qualities — the necessarily phantom-like nature of a written text when read silently to oneself. As Olga Soloviev comments in her introduction to Saussy’s book, ‘Rhythm is the technology of oral inscription, and the human body with brain and muscle ... has been for ages its material base.’24 Katherine Hayles explains this perspective when she writes:

Understanding literature as the interplay between form, content, and medium, Medium specific analysis (MSA) insists that texts must always be embodied to exist in the world. The materiality of those embodiments interacts dynamically with linguistic, rhetorical, and literary practices to create the effects we call literature.25

The web is a performance space, a kind of electronic theatre, which gives poets and writers of other genres — a medium that includes sound, gesture and image accompanying the word. ‘Spoken word’ performances in live venues differ fundamentally from web-based artefacts, but they can then be transferred, archivally perpetuated, in digital form on to the web where they remain, capturing those moments in time however distant as if they were happening here and now. The symbiosis between these two manifestations replicates the movement between Demodocus’ live recitation of the epic he knows by heart and sings and the record of his song in Homer’s epic which has reached us in a manuscript made at some point long after the events evoked in the poem, after the scene of their recitation, and after the creation by the figure or figures we know as Homer. The poem we know is a transcription, and in some profound way its immateriality shares a kinship with the immateriality of the new medium, the internet. In both media the originary performance counteracts this phantom-like unreality — it feeds the ghosts, if you like.

6. Sonic Mapping

For the writer and artist Caroline Bergvall, the acoustics of her writing matter as much as its semantic message. She has been collecting aubades, or dawn songs, from all over the world, in small languages beginning with Provencal, to create a new, inclusive ‘sonic atlas.’

Caroline Bergvall on the disassembly of language (2018)

Norwegian on her father’s side and French on her mother’s, Bergvall has adopted English as her language and London as her home and explores her own chosen dépaysement through mapping territories of language and sounds in her work. She presses hard on her own English which she speaks with an unplaceable accent, to strikes harmonics off other cultures and their linguistic expressions, and revels in those parts of speech that might elude, one might imagine, robotic recognition software: ‘the materiality of voice, its tics, spit, accent, errors’.26

Aubades are poems of lovers parting at dawn and they are found in languages such as Breton, Icelandic, Welsh, Cornish and other threatened tongues more threatened with extinction (I heard Bergvall perform at the Poetry Festival in London in 2017: she recited her text, quoting some of the poems, and was accompanied by a trombonist and a keyboard player). Her interest in languages focusses on their acoustic character, and she listens in to the music of the words, as what they say cannot and should not be attended to as distinct or separate from their meaning. It is very striking, for example, when you look up a poem on the web, an explanation of what it means often appears alongside it, in the form of teaching notes, but these explanations risk denaturing the work itself, missing altogether the sensory qualities that bring about the poem’s beauty and effectiveness. In an early work, Alyson Singes, in which Bergvall speaks in the voice of the Wife of Bath, she creates a babel-like cascade of words, which she calls, ‘glottic profusion’.27 In more recent works, Meddle English (2011) and the most recent, remarkable composition, Drift (2014), she experiments with multi-channel, multi-media expression to produce a tormented text of testimony that turns outwards to events in the world and inwards to her own specific conditions of identity.28

Drift (2014), a marvellously complex work on the page, has also been staged as an immersive installation of great power. It tells the story of a boat full of refugees who in 2011 set out from Libya; they were abandoned by the traffickers without fuel or water, to drift in the Mediterranean and they were given no help by anyone including many who noticed them, until everybody on board died of thirst or drowned. It gives an account of this contemporary event — a matter for horror and shame — on many levels of language and visuals — frantic repetitive Cy Twombly-like drawings, aerial reconnaissance photographs of the doomed gommone or rubber boat, charts and log of the boat’s terrible lost wanderings on the open sea, reports of the coast guards as they tracked its drift, and the accounts of sighting and failures to come to the passengers’ rescue; these elements, now starkly registered and documented in official jargons, now scrambled in anguish, wrap around the core of the book, a reworking of the medieval Anglo-Saxon poem The Seafarer, an epic narrative of heroic sea voyaging, these sections consist of archaically spelt blocks of sounds and unfamiliar words that force you as a reader to sound them in your mouth to get at the sense. She jumbles and scatters and cuts up what she is making so that meaning leaks out of the gaps, according to William Burroughs’ principle that ‘When you cut into the present the future leaks out.’ These sections consist of archaically spelt blocks of sounds and unfamiliar words rwhich mimick the wreckage they evoke and force you as a reader to sound them in your mouth to get at the sense.

Then the wind ddroppe and they were beset by w inds from then
orth and fog for manyd ays they did not know where they were
sailing Thef air wind f ailed and they wholly l ost their reck their
reckoning did not not know from what direction D riven here and
there ... 29

Bergvall is preoccupied with the ways acquiring a foreign tongue can be treacherous: her own adoption of English ‘also showed me,’ she has written, ‘the extent of the negative and destructive hold language can have on us. And this, of course, applies to all sorts of majoritarian or segregational histories. So it is crucial and really exciting to me that a writer’s language can both release these and also create new linguistic connections and emotional fields. Renewed worlds.’30

This function, of providing a global, digital repository isn’t the only way the internet is changing the ways we encounter literature now. At a more radical level, the web and its digital potential has been changing the modes of literature itself, the ways writers put it out for their public. Recording and storing work, even performance and spoken word differs from creating poetry and stories for dissemination by digital media, combining sound, gesture and image with the words.

7. Voices

The poet Warsan Shire is Somali-British; she was born in Kenya, probably in the huge refugee camp Daabad, and was Young Poet Laureate for the Olympic Games in 2012. I first came across her in print: a postcard was sent to me by a friend working in the writing business, which proclaimed

I’m writing to you from the future to tell you that everything will be okay.

It was printed on crinkly gold sweet, like the wrapper of a mackintosh toffee, and I was very struck by the words: the gentle but incisive irony of their reassurance, the way Shire took up occupation of the prophetic role.

She has published two books and a pamphlet or two. Teaching My Mother to Give Birth includes informal poems — the term informal here provoking adverse critics to rail at the flouting of rules — and they move to colloquial unstructured rhythms.31 The irregular diction, the take it or leave it line breaks intentionally sounds like someone talking; the poems flaunt their orality. They could be tweets or text messages strung together.

Warsan Shire might have languished in the corners of poetry festivals, but her work was noticed by Beyoncé, the world star and singer, lately turned feminist champion, and she invited her to California where she worked with her on adapting some of her poems from to Beyoncé’s music video, Lemonade. The album-film is called after her husband Jay-Z's grandmother Hattie White, who had a saying, ‘I was served lemons but I made lemonade.’32

Grandmothers feature prominently, lovingly, mythically in the work of many of these writers on the web: they figure tradition and, above all, orality: old wives’ tales, proverbial wisdom, down home knowledge.

For example, Shire’s hit poems, ‘Anger’ and ‘For women who are difficult to love...’, inspired Beyoncé’s reworkings. The results are artefacts that combine the words, spoken by the singer, with her songs and performances. Here is an example:

Beyoncé’s Lemonade belongs to a strong trend on the web: the setting of writers’ reading from their works, to a montage of images in tribute to the inspiration, sometimes in the sentimental style of greetings cards, far from the spirit of the original work. For example:

Shire’s rightly celebrated poem, Home, is directed against rising racism against refugees and immigrants; it’s a witness statement, truthful, angry - in one recording her voice breaks with feeling that sounds true.33

It opens:

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

and towards the middle includes this unforgettable sentence:

that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land

Warsan Shire reading her work in 2014: but YouTube also has many readings by others, such as this one by an admirer, or this one fron a church service in New Hampshire

The voice is Shire’s but its tone sounds all over the web: it transmits defiance, protest, testimony; these forms of direct address and declaratory rhetoric suit the medium, for it shares in the historic character of the agora, the forum, the soapbox and the pulpit. Writers on the web have assumed the role of porte-parole for society’s conscience, the ancient role of the memory-keeper, the skald, the bard, though these words have a kind of fustian timbre, from which we flinch today. They are writing down things they have heard... the susurrations of the tribe... or things they have only sensed, the task being to catch them on the go. Writing does often involve private writers in public lamenting — and less often in jubilating, too. Susannah Herbert, the director of the Forward Poetry Foundation, — and I am very grateful to her for discussing these questions with me — comments that there is a distinct audience for spoken word performances — it is much larger for one thing than the usual audience for poetry readings. It is, she says, ‘an informal community, a participatory activity’ and the places where it gathers are closer to music venues. The poems respond to the moment, usually in the first person and frequently drawn from personal experience more directly: the witness statement and the lyric are the grounds of its flowerings and are created to be performed instantly — immediacy is of the essence. Often, they are only recited once, but then their life continues on the web, uploaded to YouTube by fans, and often supplemented with a montage of images and drawings responding to the material.

Susannah Herbert points out that these are ‘communities of affirmation’, and that several of its orators have religious backgrounds in childhood and have even been child preachers. Techno-orality asks for works with a speaking quality — not prose or poetry mouthed silently to oneself when reading or absorbed quickly by sight alone. The medium favours cries and groans, what Beckett calls, referring to Lucky’s railing, his vociferations. Its grandfather is Allen Ginsberg, the author of Howl, its family the Beats in general. It is close to prose that imitates music, jiving, scat, free form jazz — Kerouac’s On the Road. The lineage offers itself to cultures where books are very expensive and lending libraries poorly served: the continent of Africa has a flourishing literature on line — performed, to sound and gesture. The BBC made two very well researched programmes with a Johannesburg poet called Thabiso Moare, the first called Another Kind of Stage, the second Breaking the Window with a Poem, which were broadcast on 17 and 24 March 2018, but are sadly no longer available on iPlayer. This is truly a shame, as Moare interviewed and discussed the work of poet-performers from Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa, who are unlikely to find their way into print there or anywhere, really, not because of the quality of their writing, but because it is composed for this medium, the internet, and because poetry publishing struggles everywhere.

These performers in words have taken up the instruments of the griots, the storytellers and mourners of west Africa, and their work could be assigned to the category of protest song or lyric, to slam and rap and doing the dozens. But in my view, these practices are literary. Think of flyting, in Scotland, or of those poetic jousts at which the poets of the Abbasid court had to excel when they were pitted against one another by their masters, for these writers — and they were writers, prized for their exquisite calligraphy as well as their wit — were bought and sold as slaves.34

This voice has a proud tradition among subalterns which continues. But it would be a mistake to think the technotext that flourishes online is an especially black literature.

Hollie McNish, captured by the Irish broadcasting network RTE in 2013, reading her poem Mathematics

The most versatile of these new bardic voices, in my browsing, is Hollie McNish. She has a light voice and to my ears the same sort of accent as Tracey Emin and David Beckham — in her case she was brought up in Luton. Her range is wide, her material endlessly inventive, as she rises to occasion after occasion, creating love songs of real charm and tenderness as well as anthems of rage.35

McNish has made some tentative videos to accompany her recitations, but on the whole she sticks to disseminating her work orally — by her performances. You note she does not read from a text — this is the case with almost all the spoken word writers. You might agree with her detractors, but to my ear she strikes perfectly traditional, Larkin-esque notes at times.


The links between custom, ritual, and literary culture are becoming tighter, I believe, through the connectivity of the internet, which can gather participants together — form a large and instant congregation as it were — in a certain place to take part in an expression of common interest. The secular assembly — from flash dances when a crowd suddenly comes together for no reason other than wild, wilful mischievous joy, to political demonstrations — also crystallises to perform commemorative and symbolic rituals which have their roots in shared histories; and this consensus has have taken shape through writing — fiction, poetry and history itself.

The Catalan philosopher Eugenio Trías turned his attention most illuminatingly to the issue, and argued that symbolic communal events, rather than inward prayer or private acts of faith, have become the dominant means of reaching the sacred today.36 His perceptions about the transformations of religious and public uses of symbolism allude to currently thriving forms of assembly and manifestation; these range widely in form, but his thinking, first formulated in the 1980s, anticipates developments such as the political demonstrations of the Occupy movement, the mass sit-ins in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, and popular commemorative acts—including nationwide recitals of the names of the dead after recent massacres and disasters, and the cascade of poppies down the wall and into the moat of the Tower of London to remember those who died in World War I. This was a commissioned artwork, and an unprecedented ceremony that adapted religious requiems to a secular context; its aesthetic value was questionable in my view, but its emotional pull undeniable—crowds flocked to take part, planting the ceramic poppies until the huge castle was gradually lapped by a blood red tide.37

Several of the elements that distinguish contemporary arenas from traditional and official cult shrines, temples, sanctuaries, and places of worship have emerged slowly over time, and never more so than in the last fifty years, when performance artists have communicated with their audiences in spaces they designate as stages through gesture and movement—spaces that are not necessarily theatres or galleries, but acquire the character of a dramatic arena through the performance itself.

The novelist Toni Morrison recently published powerful meditation, The Origin of Others, and in a chapter called ‘Being or Becoming the Stranger’ she writes:

The resources available to us for benign access to each other, for vaulting the mere blue air that separates us, are few but powerful... Language (saying, listening, reading) can encourage, even mandate, surrender, the breach of distances among us, whether they are continental or on the same pillow, whether they are distances of culture or the distinctions and indistinctions of age or gender, whether they are the consequences of social invention or biology. Image increasingly rules the realm of shaping, sometimes becoming, sometimes contaminating knowledge. Provoking language and eclipsing it, an image can determine not only what we know and feel but also what we believe is worth knowing about what we feel. These two godlings, language and image, feed and form experience.38

I am not sure language and image are godlings: I think they are more powerful than that sounds. They are closer to principles of energy, to light and gravity, pulsing and firing through the world, and literature and art are their most powerful vehicles and they can now be ridden on the waves of the internet.

Given at the Lansdowne Club, London, 11 May 2018; © Marina Warner 2018

1Paul Cummins and Tom Piper’s installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, Tower of London, July–November 2014, was extended in response to huge public demand. See the project web page.↩︎

2'The medium is the message' is the title of the first chapter in Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York, NY: New American Library, 1964).↩︎

3Bruce Robbins, ‘Prolepsis and catastrophe’, in Paulo Horta and Philp Kennedy, eds., Reinventing World Literature (New York, NY: NYU Press, forthcoming).↩︎


5See Haun Saussy, The Ethnography of Rhythm: Orality and its Technologies (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2016) and Florence Dupont, The Invention of Literature: From Greek Intoxication to the Latin Book (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999).↩︎

6Alice Oswald, William Tillyer, Nobody (London: 21 Publishing, 2018); Alice Oswald, Memorial: An Excavation of the Iliad (London: Faber, 2012); Alice Oswald, Falling Awake (New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company, 2018); Alice Oswald, Nobody (London: Jonathan Cape, 2019)↩︎

7Halldor Laxness's novel Under the Glacier (1968) was a major inspiration for Jonas's piece Reanimation (2015).↩︎

8Rebecca Watts, 'The Cult of the Noble Amateur', PN Review 239 Number 3, January-February 2018, (accessed 14 July 2020).↩︎

9See Yong Shu Hoong, 'Proust Questionnaire: 17 questions with George Szirtes', Quarterly Literary Review Singapore, 13.2 (2014), (accessed 14 July 2020).↩︎

10Italo Calvino, Six Memos for the Next Millennium, trans. William Weaver (London: Faber, 1999).↩︎

11Marina Warner, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014), p. 45.↩︎

12See Marina Warner, 'The Politics of Translation', London Review of Books, 40.19, 11 October 2018, pp. 21-24, and Marina Warner's William Matthews Memorial Lecture, June 2015, entitled ‘Translumination or Travesty? The Passage into English’, also published in Other Worlds: The Journal for Literary Translators, Winter 2015, Number 46, p. 77.↩︎

13Marshall McLuhan quoted in Virginia Heffernan, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art> (London: Simon & Schuster, 2017), p. 30.↩︎

14See Andrea Brady, Wildfire: A Verse Essay on Obscurity and Illumination (Krupskaya Books, 2010), and Mutability: Scripts for Infancy (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2012). The archive of authors can be found at (accessed 14 July 2020).↩︎

15Virginia Heffernan, Magic and Loss: The Internet as Art (London: Simon & Schusters, 2017), p. 25.↩︎

16Terence Cave, Thinking with Literature: Towards a Cognitive Criticism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016)↩︎

17John Keats, 'The Eve of St Agnes', for example online here.↩︎

18Jonathan Crary quoted in Díaz, Eva, The Experimenters: Chance and Design at Black Mountain College (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014), p. 25.↩︎

19See or the catalogue published, Taryn Simon, An Occupation of Loss (Berlin: Hatje Kantz, 2017).↩︎

20Elizabeth Wickett, For the Living and the Dead: The Funerary Laments of Upper Egypt, Ancient and Modern (London: I. B. Tauris, 2010), p. 174.↩︎


22William Wordsworth, 'The Solitary Reaper', for example online here.↩︎

23Ismail Kadare, 'Aeschylus, the Lost', Asymptote, (accessed 14 July 2020).↩︎

24See Olga Soloviev' foreword in Haun Sassy, The Ethnography of Rhythm: Orality and its Technologies (New York, NY: Fordham University Press, 2016), p. x.↩︎

25Katherine Hayles quoted in ibid., p. xi.↩︎

26Eva Heisler, 'Caroline Bergvall: Propelled to the Edges of a Languages’ Freedom, and to the Depths of its Collective Traumas’, Asymptote, caroline-bergvall-propelled-to-the-edges-of-a-languages-freedom/.↩︎


28Caroline Bergvall, Drift (Brooklyn and Callicoon, NY: Nightboat Books, 2014)↩︎



31Warsan Shire, Teaching My Mother to Give Birth (London: Mouthmark, n.d.) Find her on Twitter as @Warsan_shire.↩︎

32See (accessed 14 July 2020).↩︎

33Warsan Shire, 'Home', The Rights Angle, (video by Garrett Mogge) (accessed 14 July 2020).↩︎

34Ibn al-Sai, Consorts of the Caliphs: Women and the Court of Baghad, ed. Shawkat M Toorawa, trans. The Editors of the Library of Arabic Literature, intro. Julia Bray, foreword Marina Warner (New York: New York University Press, 2015).↩︎

35See for example A British National Breakfast, Mathematics, or Language Learning.↩︎

36Eugenio Trias, 'Thinking Religion: The Symbol and the Sacred', in Religion, eds. Jacques Derrida and Gianni Vattimo, trans. David Webb (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998), see p. 110, note 6 in particular.↩︎

37See note 1 above.↩︎

38Toni Morrison ‘Being or Becoming the Stranger’ in The Origin of Others (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017) pp. 35-36.↩︎