DOI: 10.1515/jlt-2024-2005 ISSN: 1862-5290

Experiencing Literary Audiobooks: A Framework for Theoretical and Empirical Investigations of the Auditory Reception of Literature

Lukas Kosch, Annika Schwabe, Hajo Boomgaarden, Günther Stocker
  • Pharmaceutical Science


While the act of listening to narratives has deep historical roots, it has gained renewed prominence in the contemporary literary landscape through the rise of audiobooks. Despite their resurgence, research on literary audiobooks, particularly within the realm of literary studies, remains notably limited. The audiobook has struggled to gain acceptance among the humanities as a legitimate aesthetic form, which can be attributed to the fact that it is often compared to the printed book as the leading medium for experiencing literature. By transforming a written text through the performativity of the voice into a spoken, analog, or digitally recorded, repeatable audio text, it becomes a completely different object of research that must be analyzed with different premises and approaches than the underlying written literary work. Nevertheless, literary analysis has predominantly focused on the visual and cognitive aspects of reading, thereby overlooking the auditory dimension.

Especially in literary theory, there is a lack of both differentiated, proven descriptive criteria that take into account the specific auditory signification processes, including all the relevant paralinguistic features, and a theoretical foundation. This article aims to address this gap by developing a comprehensive framework for investigating the auditory reception of literature that seeks to elucidate the transition from reading to listening and its profound implications for the literary experience. By delving into the intricacies of auditory reception, literary theory can gain deeper insight into the cognitive and emotional facets of literary experiences, contributing to a more comprehensive understanding of how individuals engage with literary works. Reviewing the still fragmented and nascent state of audiobook research, which barely focuses on the aspect of reception, the proposed framework explores five key dimensions: text, medium, listeners, situations and practices, and the resulting effects of auditory engagement with literature.

Through a meticulous examination of these multifaceted factors, this article endeavors to provide a holistic understanding of the auditory reception of literary texts. Moreover, this avenue of research underscores the dynamic nature of literature, providing a richer perspective on the interplay between text, medium, recipients, situational context, and practices, thereby enriching the tapestry of literary theory. For example, a reexamination and customization of narratological categories is crucial, particularly concerning the incorporation of the physical voice, which is now actually present and independent of Genette’s category ›voice‹. Similarly, the transition into the auditory medium necessitates a reevaluation of situational context and its associated practices. This reassessment is driven by the temporal co-occurrence of cognitive processes and physical activities, facilitated by the liberation of hands and eyes from their prior engagement with printed books.

This contribution does not solely aim to establish a theoretical foundation for the research field and identify essential factors related to literary listening; instead, the framework is substantiated with empirical evidence drawn from diverse academic disciplines. This synthesis of empirical data and theory sheds light on audiobooks, offering an approach that transcends conventional research paradigms. Moreover, it underscores the need for interdisciplinary collaboration in the investigation of audiobooks. Ultimately, the integrative framework presented here serves as a foundation for further research, offering a nuanced and comprehensive approach and terminology for exploring the evolving landscape of listening to literature.

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