This article explores the relationship between writing and sound recording technologies by constructing a genealogy of “phonographic fictions” connecting Spanish America to the United States. Starting in the early nineteenth century, the circulation of a system of shorthand known as “phonography” (or fonografía) touted the benefits of “sound-writing” for literature, commerce, and democratic law. Yet these connections became more fraught with the invention of the mechanical phonograph, given that the emergence of the recording industry and other inscriptive technologies was fueled first by the Spanish American War and then by the United Fruit Company’s creation of banana export enclaves in Central America and the Caribbean, which relied on and reinforced repressive political regimes. How did literature respond to these contradictions? The article dwells first on Spanish American modernismo before tracing trajectory of novels set in so-called banana republics that feature phonographs in brief but revealing roles. After examining a long-overlooked text by the U.S. writer O. Henry, it winds its way through several pillars of the Spanish American canon─including examples of magic realism and the dictator novel─and asks how an attention to the material infrastructures of sound recording can shed light on the development of the Spanish American literary field.


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pp. 197-216
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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