“Deftly unites insights from sound studies with in-depth literary analysis to examine the ways in which emerging auditory technologies influenced the narrative strategies of modernist novelists.”—Julia C. Obert, author of Postcolonial Overtures: The Politics of Sound in Contemporary Northern Irish Poetry
“A trenchant study of the diversity of sonic experience both discussed within and provoked by modernist literature.”—Sam Halliday, author of Sonic Modernity: Representing Sound in Literature, Culture and the Arts
At the turn of the twentieth century, new technologies such as the phonograph, telephone, and radio changed how sound was transmitted and perceived. In Modernist Soundscapes, Angela Frattarola analyzes the influence of “the age of noise” on writers of the time, showing how modernist novelists use sound to bridge the distance between characters and to connect with the reader on a more intimate level than before.
Frattarola tunes into representations of voices, noise, and music in works by Dorothy Richardson, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, Jean Rhys, and Samuel Beckett. She argues that the common use of headphones, which piped sounds from afar into a listener’s headspace, inspired modernists to record the interior monologues of their characters in a stream-of-consciousness style. Woolf’s onomatopoeia stems from a desire to render the sounds of the world without mediation, similar to how some contemporaries hoped that recording technology would eliminate the need for musicians. Frattarola also explains how Beckett’s linguistic repetition mirrors the mechanical reproduction of the tape recorder.
These writers challenge the traditional emphasis on vision in art and philosophy, characterizing the eye as distancing and analytical and the act of listening as immediate and unifying. Contending that the experimentation typically associated with modernist writing is partly due to this new attentiveness to sound, this book introduces a fresh perspective on texts that set the course of contemporary literature.
Angela Frattarola is senior language lecturer in the Expository Writing Program at New York University.