Wednesday, July 17, 2013


The Spoken Word

Iris Origo (1902-1988), Images and Shadows (London: John Murray, 1970), pp. 98-99:
The second scene took place outside the walls of the sacred Algerian city of Kairouan, a few days before the beginning of Ramadan. The desert tribesmen were already gathering for the great annual festival and, squatting round a fire, soon after sunset, some of them were listening to a story-teller. I could not of course understand what he was saying, but this was hardly necessary. Every phase of the story, every dramatic moment, was reflected in the bearded faces of the listeners—taut with apprehension as some crisis approached, quivering with sensual delight over a love-scene or with cruelty and blood-lust at the climax of a fight, rising to their feet to shake their fists and interrupt the narrator with hoarse comments and cries, shaking with Gargantuan laughter over some Rabelaisian episode. This, I thought—as more and more listeners came from their tents or camels to join the circle, the firelight accentuating the lights and shadows on every face, the story-teller's voice quickened by his audience's response—this is how Homer must have told the story of Polyphemus or of the stealing of Helen; this is how men must have listened to the tales of the quarrels of the gods before the campfires of Troy, and, in a later day, the story of Tristan and Iseult and of Childe Roland's horn [sic, omit Childe and read Roland's horn?]. Every written word is only a thin substitute for this, and perhaps it is man's desire to return to it that has brought about the success of the radio and of television: the need to have beauty and terror and laughter brought to us, not by books, but by a human voice.

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