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Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia

Allen S. Weiss

Publication Year: 2002

Breathless explores early sound recording and the literature that both foreshadowed its invention and was contemporaneous with its early years, revealing the broad influence of this new technology at the very origins of Modernism. Through close readings of works by Edgar Allan Poe, Stephane Mallarme, Charles Cros, Paul Valery, Villiers de L'Isle-Adam, Jules Verne, and Antonin Artaud, Allen S. Weiss shows how sound recording's uncanny confluence of human and machine would transform our expectations of mourning and melancholia, transfiguring our intimate relation to death. Interdisciplinary, the book bridges poetry and literature, theology and metaphysics. As Breathless shows, the symbolic and practical roles of poetry and technology were transformed as new forms of nostalgia and eroticism arose.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press


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Title Page

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pp. xi-xiv

This book found its first manifestation in the plot of a short story I had begun to write for a volume of my "theoretical fiction," The Aphoristic Theater. In this tale, the protagonist was to have been a radio producer who made his fortune by creating an apparatus that permitted the dead to speak. This electronic...

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p. xv

An early version of part of "Death's Murmur" appeared in Essays in Sound, no. 4 (1999); the other part was published in Women & Performance, no. 21 (1999), as "Pierrot contra Derrida. A short version of "Erotic Nostalgia and the Inscription of Desire" was also published by Essays in Sound, no. 2 (1995); the...

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1. Purity of Essence

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pp. 1-27

In January 1842, Edgar Allan Poe's young wife, Virginia, sustained a horrifying accident: while singing, she began to bleed from the mouth. This incident was in fact a pulmonary hemorrhage, symptomatic of tuberculosis, the "white plague" that would take her life. For two weeks after this event, Virginia...

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2. Death’s Murmur

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pp. 29-66

"I am dead, and resuscitated with the bejeweled key to my last spiritual Casket." So writes Stephane Mallarme to his friend Theodore Aubanel on 16 July 1866, with the certainty that he has discovered the secret to his life's work. It is a secret that stems from an impossible subject position, a paradoxical...

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3. Erotic Nostalgia and the Inscription of Desire

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pp. 67-85

Sacred love is often transmuted into profane desire, as when Claudio Monteverdi surreptitiously transformed the lament of the Virgin at the cross into the Lamento d'Arianna, a musical memorial for his recently deceased wife, Claudia. Toward the end of 1885, Charles Cros and Villiers de I'Isle-Adam...

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4. Narcissistic Machines and Erotic Prostheses

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pp. 87-114

The transformation of the theological notion of demonic possession into scientific concepts of hysteria and psychosis is contemporaneous with the epistemological shifts of early modernism. The emblematic, and historically originary, case occurred in Morzine between the years 1857 and 1873 when...

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5. Libidinous Mannerisms and Profligate Abominations

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pp. 115-138

"I am dead" (15:142; 16:301; 17:139), This seemingly impossible enunciation, this existential oxymoron, operates in Artaud's last works as an expletive, in protest against that living death he suffered as a result of both of his schizophrenia and the pains of electroshock. In tales spoken from the point of view...


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pp. 139-163

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 165-173


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pp. 175-177

E-ISBN-13: 9780819572523
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819565914

Page Count: 170
Publication Year: 2002

OCLC Number: 731690633
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Breathless

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Subject Headings

  • Death in literature.
  • Literature, Modern -- History and criticism.
  • Sound recordings.
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