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SoundsThe Ambient Humanities$
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John Mowitt

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780520284623

Published to California Scholarship Online: January 2016

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520284623.001.0001

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(p.21) 1. Echo

John Mowitt

University of California Press

This chapter presents a reading of Michael Ondaatje's text on the birth of jazz, Coming through Slaughter, to examine the structure and logic of the echo. Ostensibly a “bio-text” on the jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden, this study is also a sustained, high-pitched meditation on what it means to situate a musical sound in a sociohistorical context. The syntactic structure of the text—including the relay between story and plot, the past and present of narration—could be said to be structured like an echo. This means not only that the text's beginning and end echo one another, but that Ondaatje's text, at a metafictional level, understands itself as the echo of its source material, some of which is charged with the authority of oral history. In Coming through Slaughter, Ondaatje invites readers to ponder the relationship between cetaceans, language, and music. It is also important to recognize that his ontology insists that this relation is echoed “all the way down.”

Keywords:   Michael Ondaatje, Coming through Slaughter, echo, Buddy Bolden, metafiction, oral history

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