HERMES Seminar 2012: Impact and Intervention: The Relevance of Literature in a Changing World location:University of Amsterdam date:10-14 June 2012
In the ocularcentric society we live in, the ear has grown a distant second to the supremacy of the eye in the hierarchy of the senses. This well-established supposed evolution (Walter Ong, Marshall McLuhan) has recently been challenged (Hillel Schwartz, Leigh Schmidt) in attempts to put forward a more sophisticated image of our sensory history. The importance of the aural at the beginning of the twentieth century (which coincided with the emergence of influential aural media such as the phonograph, the gramophone, the telephone, and the radio) especially, cannot be underestimated. Nevertheless, it seems to have faded from our collective memory. In the growing field of sound studies, tracing sounds in literature has been one of the primary instruments used to efface the muteness of history (e.g. The World Soundscape Project) and rediscover the ‘soundscapes’ (Murray Schafer) of our past. This contribution argues that reaching out to the field of sound studies could enrich literary studies much in the same way as sound studies have benefited from their collaboration with literature. By drawing on the vast terminology of sound studies, I propose a theoretical framework for the study of narrative sound, enabling the reader to once again capture the rich sonority of fiction at the beginning of the twentieth century.