Bird Talking? Finding speechfulness in the songs of birds

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Title: Bird Talking? Finding speechfulness in the songs of birds
Authors: Bennett, Emma
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Date: 29-Apr-2019
Online since: 2020-11-11T13:03:11Z
Abstract: This is an essay about birdsong, and an attempt to speak with, of, and in place of, it. Alongside a transcription, composed of the words and sounds I made in my effort emulate the song of a robin, it charts the process by which an apparently flippant declaration of artistic intent, to ‘make a performance about birds’, was actualized in practice. Aristotle may have famously characterized the human as a ‘speaking animal’, but what happens, I ask, when a human capacity for speech gets tangled in an effort to catch, or grasp, a more-than-human sound? As I discover, a sound that runs always-ahead of my ability to describe it elicits neither eloquent nor exalted words, but instead a hesitant and spluttering array of ‘oohs’ and ‘umms’, ‘yeahs’ and ‘likes’. Moving from Aristotle’s most basic definition of speech, ‘the articulation of the voice by the tongue’, toward Paolo Virno’s theorization of phatic talk as emphasizing the fact-of-speaking over what-we-say, I listen again the kind of speech we usually consider inarticulate, diseloquent or downright formulaic. Frequently disparaged as bad speech habits, rising intonation (‘you know?’), and descriptive inexactitude (‘sort of like … ’) are, I suggest, the means by which speech relinquishes its authority over what remains outside, or beyond, it. These tonal, rhythmic and communal patternings of chit-chat are precisely the means by which human speech might become songful, though only, I argue, through a concerted effort, a multiplicity of versions. Finally, I reflect on how this low-level chit-chat may be expressive of a minor sentiment of 'liking' birds, an easily dismissed, yet widespread, and it may be added, determinedly non-grandiose, mode of engagement with the lives of non-human others.
Type of material: Journal Article
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
Journal: Performance Research
Volume: 24
Issue: 1
Start page: 94
End page: 103
Copyright (published version): 2019 Taylor & Francis
Keywords: LanguageBirdsongPerformance art
DOI: 10.1080/13528165.2019.1593739
Language: en
Status of Item: Peer reviewed
ISSN: 1352-8165
Appears in Collections:English, Drama & Film Research Collection

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