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38 - Hearing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2019

Charles Forsdick
Affiliation:
University of Liverpool, and Arts & Humanities Research Council Theme Leadership Fellow for ‘Translating Cultures’.
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Summary

Emerging etymologically from Germanic roots, the term ‘hearing’ – relating to perception of sound via the ear, meaning both the sense that allows such auditory perception and the action of perceiving sound – has been in use for over a millennium, although the concept is an ancient one relating to human sonic interaction with other humans or their surroundings. Hearing has long been a source of fascination for philosophers, with thinkers ranging from Aristotle to Jean-Luc Nancy devoting important work to the subject (Bull and Back 2015). Specific references to the principal bodily senses are, however, absent from either edition of Williams's Keywords, although sensory perception is inevitably key (not least etymologically) to the discussion of ‘aesthetics’, the term with which the volume opens. ‘Taste’ is included by Williams but explored in terms of its metaphorical extension in order to betoken various degrees of discernment in intellectual, artistic and social matters. The sequel to Williams's volume, New Keywords, includes ‘audience’, etymologically associated with the experience of ‘hearing’, but understood more as a term to designate consumers of various forms of media and communication. ‘Hearing’ is, however, attracting increasing attention as a keyword in its own right, with Keywords in Sound (Novak and Sakakeeny 2015) including an entry on it and a series of cognate terms (including ‘acoustics’, ‘echo’, ‘noise’, ‘silence’, ‘voice’). The publication in Keywords for Disability Studies (Adams et al. 2015) of an essay on ‘deafness’ by Douglas C. Baynton underlines the growing interest in the impairment of this sense, a development that is as pertinent for studies in travel writing as it is for a series on other fields of enquiry.

Although travel writing has often been seen as a vehicle of ocularcentrism and the generalized cultural and ideological primacy of the gaze (Jay 1993; Pratt 1992), hearing nevertheless remains central to the form. The very title of Mary Louise Pratt's (1992, 206) Imperial Eyes underlines the hierarchies of the senses often evident in Western cultural production, a phenomenon she encapsulates in what she describes as the predominance of the visual in the ‘monarch-of-all-I-survey’ trope. The field of study known as the sensory humanities (Howes 2004, 2014) has, however, encouraged exploration of alternative understandings of the ways in which the senses filter the traveller's experience of space and place.

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Keywords for Travel Writing Studies
A Critical Glossary
, pp. 111 - 113
Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2019

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