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Forgotten Histories of the Audiobook


This article investigates the different affordances of magnetic tape and print as they are entextualized in various co(n)texts by writers, ethnographers, and musicians throughout the Americas in the late 1960s. I analyze printed books made from tape recordings—Cuban anthropologist Miguel Barnet and his interview subject Esteban Montejo’s Biografía de un cimarrón (Biography of a Runaway Slave, 1966), Rodolfo Walsh’s true-crime denunciation ¿Quién mató a Rosendo? (Who killed Rosendo?, 1968), and Andy Warhol’s experimental a: a novel (1968)—to ask why these writers transduced their recordings into print rather than release them as audiobooks, how or if listening to those tapes would alter the meaning of their printed entextualizations, and what musical interactions with the same media in the same contexts can tell us about the limits both of print and of symbolic musical notation. Tracing the intersection of musical and literary works, the article argues that a writerly ethics of distortion, rather than fidelity, arises from this mutual encounter with sound on tape, and ponders how dialogic audiobooks might contest older issues of power and representation for those writers, North and South, who worked in support of marginalized (Afro-Cuban, working class, and queer) subjects.

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