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  • Aurality: Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia by Ana María Ochoa Gautier
  • Maria del Carmen Suescun Pozas
Aurality: Listening and Knowledge in Nineteenth-Century Colombia, by Ana María Ochoa Gautier. Series: Sign, Storage, Transmission. Durham & London, Duke University Press, 2014. xiii, 266 pp. $89.95 US (cloth), $24.95 US (paper).

Ethnomusicologists and historians reveal a rich repository of sounds and silences in their examination of how voicing, hearing, and listening as interpretive acts are used politically to promote belonging and recognition, and in so doing, in conflicting ways, create unequal modern power dynamics. Building on extensive experience working in the creation of cultural policy in Colombia and knowledge of music and transculturation in Latin America and the Caribbean, Ochoa examines the interpretation and meaning of the aural in nineteenth-century Colombia. Her work is a much-awaited contribution to the cultural history of Colombia, and to the body of literature on how sound links humanity to environment.

The junction of Europe and the Americas provides the backdrop for Ochoa’s examination of the ways nineteenth century scientists, intellectuals, and politicians lent an ear, transcribed into writing, and policed the sounds of a geographically fragmented and racially divided colonial society, built by a Catholic Conservative elite, which crystalized linguistically at the century’s end. Ochoa describes the different ways in which sound united Europeans, peoples of European descent, and the Conservative elite with indigenous peoples, Afro-descendants, and mestizos, or mixed-raced peoples, in unexpected ways, and the intellectual authority, beliefs, and values the former drew from in order to set themselves apart from and above the others. [End Page 614]

Ochoa’s analysis of the works of prominent scientists, intellectuals, and politicians published during the nineteenth century, in Europe, the US, and Colombia, sheds light on the constitution of political subjects and their relation to the natural environment. In chapter one, the travel accounts of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859), amongst others, on the Magdalena river offer a glimpse into the sounds made by the bogas, mixed-raced oarsmen, which were likened to the lowly sounds of animals, defying description as either speech or song. Chapter two turns to fiction, histories of literature and songbooks, and renowned men of letters such as José María Vergara y Vergara (1831–1872), Candelario Obeso (1849–1884), and Jorge Isaacs (1837–1895) in order to discuss the gap between popular song and what is heard (or misheard), what is felt, and what is recorded in writing (or misspelled). These two chapters address the problem of the inscription of the Afro-descendant voice and the normalization of speech utterances. The works of Ezequiel Uricoechea (1834–1880), Isaacs, and Miguel Antonio Caro (1843–1909) relate the inscription of indigenous languages, between the sixteenth and the nineteenth centuries, by use of the Spanish alphabet by Catholic missionaries to its place in the national project. In chapter four, Ochoa discusses the tension between popular vocalization and technologies of the human voice such as eloquence, etymology, orthography, and musical notation in order to standardize the Spanish language in the writings of Caro, José Manuel Marroquín (1827–1908), Rufino José Cuervo (1844–1911), and Diego Fallón (1834–1905). Hearing and listening in the latter work constructs separate domains of knowledge and constitutes the separation of the human from the natural and political inclusion and exclusion.

Silence is as overarching a theme as sound in Ochoa’s work. By addressing the question of human versus non-human forms of sound, she acknowledges the bogas’ invisibility as subjects of speech. To sound like an animal involved a different conception of ecology, acoustic creativity, and unconventional sound use among Afro-descendants, Indigenous peoples, and those of mixed race. The homogenization of expression in song and voice, in particular that of Afro-descendants, Indigenous peoples, and peoples of Jewish descent, is commonly found during this time as folk song was transcribed into the literary; thus enacting a racial/ethnic politics of whitening was a common occurrence as folk song was transcribed to give it literary merit, politically whitening their voices. Putting aside etymological purity and grammatical correctness, some authors of the period valorized the singularity...


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