Evan Strouss (University of California, Berkeley)
Fellow in Research Area 3: "Future Perfect"
October 2022 – March 2023
Distant Voices: Vocal Philology in Early Modernity
Proceeding from the understanding of writing as a sound-recording technology, this project seeks to analyse the trans-historical and trans-geographical "voices" captured in the folk song anthologies in vogue in 18th century Germany, with an ear attuned to the ways in which voice – as material and metaphor – becomes yoked to emerging conceptions of identitarian expression. At the centre of this study is an analysis of the strange sense of temporal dilation and compression in Johann Gottfried von Herder's decades-long folk song project. In his attempt to build a bridge between an ancient song tradition and his own present moment, Herder gives new resonance to songs of diverse geographical and temporal distance, making them legible to his contemporary readers through a process of collection, translation, contextualization and anthologization.
Moving away from the now-familiar narrative of a passage from ancient orality into modern textuality, this project reimagines the genesis of Weltliteratur as rooted in the recording of voice in and across time. Of interest is the operation that makes the voice a productive object of study for Herder and his contemporaries – a material that promised access to the singers that wielded it, opening those singers and their cultures to world-literary analysis; making audible their song in a comparative project while reducing their differences onto a single material and temporal plane. What makes it possible for these distant voices to sound in the present tense at a distance of miles and centuries? And how might we now "hear" the voices of these anthologized early modern poets, songwriters, theorists and singers in full consideration of their own – and our own – time-bound listening?
Evan Strouss is a PhD candidate in the Department of Comparative Literature at the University of California, Berkeley and a member of the Renaissance and Early Modern Studies Designated Emphasis programme. He works primarily between the German and Italian literary traditions of the early modern period, with an interest in the history of sound and performance in those traditions. At the EXC 2020 he will begin work on his dissertation, which centres particularly around shifting theories of voice in German literary history between the 16th and 18th centuries.