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Notes Toward the Media History of Gibberish

John Durham Peters , Yale University

September 20, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · Betts Auditorium

Department of English; Humanities Council
Twombly, Cy. Untitled. 1970. Oil-based house paint and crayon on canvas. 13' 3 3/8" x 21' 1/8" (405 x 640.3 cm). Museum of Modern Art. Acquired through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest and The Sidney and Harriet Janis Collection

Gibberish has historically inhabited three media: voice, letter, and analog device. Since the beginning of speech, people have been making and hearing unintelligible sounds; since the invention of the alphabet and later of moveable type, spirits of all kinds have conjured with the combinatorics of letters; and since the 19th-century invention of audiovisual transmission and recording, new kinds of white noise have erupted.  This talk aims partly to inventory and exemplify forms of gibberish, and partly to consider the necessarily nonrandom fates that chase us symbolic animals.

John Durham Peters teaches and writes on media history and philosophy. He is the María Rosa Menocal Professor of English and of Film & Media Studies at Yale University. He taught at the University of Iowa between 1986-2016. He is the author of Speaking into the Air: A History of the Idea of Communication, Courting the Abyss: Free Speech and the Liberal Tradition, and most recently, The Marvelous Clouds: Toward a Philosophy of Elemental Media.

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