Paper presentation is an important ritual in academia. It is a site in which scholars sound and resonate with knowledge, physically and intellectually. Deemed professionally significant, however, the practice of paper presentation is under-considered in almost all contexts of praxis. In humanities disciplines especially, scholars deliver their papers by reading them. The practice of reading prioritizes reason over emotion. The lack of a conscious engagement with the expressive, emotive, sense-based potentials of speech often makes audience’s experience of hearing a paper dull and uninteresting.
Reading reinforces the privileging of text over act, of print over speech. Print as a medium to express scholarly content connotes permanence; speech, by contrast, is a performance-based mode that is transient and inextricably tied to its temporal and spatial context. As a fixed object, a printed academic text can be used to construct a disembodied “reality” – the reality of an objective academic past, the grand narrative of the history of academic knowledge.* The act of reading an academic text as it is written promotes the value of permanence and context-free interpretations.
A critical software project, Paperphone provokes emerging conversations related to scholarly communication that foregrounds sound and voice. Enacting the performative possibility of knowledge transmission, this project encourages scholars to interpret meaning of scholarly texts through a sense-based engagement. This modal redefinition will hopefully spark a fruitful interplay among various intellectual, emotional, and other imaginative and sense-based relationships to texts.
*In his essays in Text and Act (1995), Richard Taruskin exposes the dominance of musical notation over performances in musicological research. The privileging of scores over performances in musicological research is illustrative of an underpinning ideology also found in print culture. Unlike performance, notated scores presume music as a fixed object, one that is unchanged by its context. Similarly, scholarship in the print medium connotes fixity.