The Noises of American Literature, 1890-1985:
Toward a History of Literary Acoustics

Philipp Schweighauser

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"Philipp Schweighauser's The Noises of American Literature joins a growing number of scholarly voices calling for attention to literary noise, considered here both in acoustic terms and in relation to systems theory. In the process of providing a new and compelling way to understand the evolution of modern American fiction, Schweighauser offers sophisticated, informed close readings (and close listenings) of many of the representative works of naturalism, modernism, and postmodernism."--John Picker, Harvard University

"Following the work of Jacques Attali, Philipp Schweighauser has written an important cultural history of literary acoustics from the literary naturalists to the postmoderns. Schweighauser argues convincingly that changing literary attitudes toward noise provide an important framework for understanding broader cultural changes. This book is essential reading for scholars in American Studies, American Literature, and Critical Theory."--John Carlos Rowe, University of Southern California

Schweighauser traces the acoustic imagination of American literature from naturalism to postmodernism. He reads the noises writers represent as fictional responses to the social, cultural, and political changes and conflicts of modernity and postmodernity. Exploring the social functions of literature, he also suggests that literature itself, in its constant search for new language forms, has become a source of revitalizing noise in the channels of cultural communication.

The author provides substantial new readings of a broad range of canonical texts, from the naturalism of Theodore Dreiser, Frank Norris, and Stephen Crane to the modernism of Jean Toomer, Zora Neale Hurston, John Dos Passos, and Djuna Barnes, to the postmodernism of Thomas Pynchon, Ishmael Reed, and Don DeLillo. Across almost 100 years of literary history, he listens to the hum of traffic and the fracas of war and to immigrant accents and African-American vocalization. From the late 19th-century writers' often anxious responses to the new soundscapes brought about by industrialization and urbanization, to the modernists' decision to let the noises of social discontent seep into the very forms of their texts, to late 20th-century literary oscillations between acoustic mysticism and ecological critique, he shows that changing representations of sound indicate writers' stances on issues of class, gender, and race.

Drawing on soundscape studies, systems theory, sociology, media archaeology, and literary theory, this book explores the acoustic worlds and changing social functions of American literature.

Philipp Schweighauser is a lecturer in the English department at the University of Berne in Switzerland.

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…a lively and engaging study…
--Studies in American Fiction

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