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Broadcasting Modernism

Edited by Debra Rae Cohen, Michael Coyle, and Jane Lewty

Publication Year: 2009

It has long been accepted that film helped shape the modernist novel and that modernist poetry would be inconceivable without the typewriter. Yet radio, a key influence on modernist literature, remains the invisible medium.

The contributors to Broadcasting Modernism argue that radio led to changes in textual and generic forms. Modernist authors embraced the emerging medium, creating texts that were to be heard but not read, incorporating the device into their stories, and using it to publicize their work. They saw in radio the same spirit of experimentation that animated modernism itself.

Because early broadcasts were rarely recorded, radio's influence on literary modernism often seems equally ephemeral in the historical record. Broadcasting Modernism helps fill this void, providing a new perspective for modernist studies even as it reconfigures the landscape of the era itself.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

This volume had its origins in a seminar at the annual meeting of the Modernist Studies Association in Birmingham, 2003. During preregistration, the seminar filled quickly; when it met, there were almost as many auditors as official participants. Discussion was lively and continued in various locations...

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Introduction: Signing On

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pp. 1-7

In the 1920s and 1930s, radio was indeed “in the air.” Its rapid growth from a point-to-point medium to a worldwide communication network in the course of a mere decade ensured that radio quickly became a mighty element of what educator J. E. Barton called in a broadcast the “bottleneck age [where] a hundred...

Part I: Medium & Metaphor

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1. Inventing the Radio Cosmopolitan: Vernacular Modernism at a Standstill

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pp. 11-30

Two vital geniuses. One emergent avant-garde. The first genius, a foreign patrician well-connected to the British ruling class, wages a massive PR campaign in early twentieth-century London. Appropriating, coordinating, and synthesizing the work of others, he finds rapid, transnational, and culturally transformative...

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2. Wireless Ego: The Pulp Physics of Psychoanalysis

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pp. 31-50

A brilliant professor addresses his class on the mechanics of the soul. Establishing narrative and scientific premise as quickly as possible, he states, “All the known powers of the universe . . . are forms of vibration.” A student writes in his notebook, for redundant expository emphasis, “Powers = vibrations. Soul...

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3. Marinetti, Marconista: The Futurist Manifestos and the Emergence of Wireless Writing

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pp. 51-67

In a history of twentieth-century encounters between literary Modernism and turn-of-the century communication technologies, Marinetti’s Futurist manifestos occupy a singular role. For Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead, much of the manifestos’ significance resides in Marinetti’s conception of a wireless...

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4. “Masters of Sacred Ceremonies”: Welles, Corwin, and a Radiogenic Modernist Literature

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pp. 68-88

8 May 2005 marked the sixtieth anniversary of what is probably the second most famous broadcast in the history of American radio, Norman Corwin’s On a Note of Triumph, commissioned for and broadcast on VE (Victory in Europe) Day. Various commemorative events were planned, including an inevitable...

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5. Flying Solo: The Charms of the Radio Body

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pp. 89-103

Writing sometime between 1938 and 1941, while serving as musical director for the Princeton Radio Research Project (PRRP), Adorno attributes to the radio broadcast the power not only to take over the body of the listener but also to give life to the material objects of the bourgeois home. The resulting phantasmagoria...

Part II: Pressures & Intrusions

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6. Gertrude Stein and the Radio

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pp. 107-123

Gertrude Stein returned to the United States in 1934, a year of fierce debate over the Federal Communications Act and the regulation of American radio. As she traveled the country, she could not have missed the fact that radio broadcasting had captured the imaginations of Americans. Stein had long been...

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7. The Voice of America in Richard Wright’s Lawd Today!

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pp. 124-141

Radio, it has been said, conquered America. The metaphor seems apt, even if radio’s reign was relatively short. Everything that makes up the experience of American radio—its technology, institutions, genres, and markets—formed in less than twenty years. No medium had saturated a culture faster. In 1920, there was...

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8. Annexing the Oracular Voice: Form, Ideology and the BBC

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pp. 142-157

In 1934, as part of a report on the potentialities of broadcasting in South Africa, John Reith, the director-general of the BBC, summoned up the following vision: “As the assegai to the naked hand, as the rifle to the assegai, so and much more is broadcasting, rightly institutionalised, rightly inspired, rightly controlled...

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9. Desmond MacCarthy, Bloomsbury, and the Aestheticist Ethics of Broadcasting

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pp. 158-175

Since the beginning of the Bloomsbury boom in the late 1960s and early 1970s—when biographies of Lytton Strachey and Virginia Woolf and the explosive interest in the latter sparked by second-wave feminist critics heralded the reemergence of Bloomsbury into both literary-critical and broader cultural consciousness...

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10. “We Speak to India”: T. S. Eliot’s Wartime Broadcasts and the Frontiers of Culture

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pp. 176-195

On May 26, 1941, T. S. Eliot gave a reading of “East Coker” for the We Speak to India program of the BBC’s Eastern Service; the reading was in fact the sixteenth installment in a series optimistically (in that desperate period for the Allied war effort) called Turning Over a New Leaf. This broadcast marked Eliot’s first...

Part III: Negotiations, Transactions, Translations

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11. “What They Had Heard Said Written”: Joyce, Pound and the Cross-Correspondence of Radio

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pp. 199-220

A critic is easily susceptible, as Michael Whitworth notes, to the idea that “everyone” writing during the early twentieth century was utilizing a new science in some way, whether through metaphor, key image, subject matter, or adaptation (211). However, the topic of Broadcasting Modernism is more than a simple...

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12. “Speech Without Practical Locale”: Radio and Lorine Niedecker’s Aurality

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pp. 221-237

When Niedecker invokes radio as “a good medium for poetry,” she indexes the aural components of poetic writing and reception. Niedecker’s reasons for considering radio a suitable medium for poetry are telling. The electronic medium engages aural rather than visual perception; unlike stage performances whose...

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13. Materializing Millay: The 1930s Radio Broadcasts

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pp. 238-256

The startling newness of early radio, the speed at which it transformed American life, resonates with modern literature’s parallel investment in change, originality, even revolution. Edna St. Vincent Millay, however, while involved in both enterprises, was hardly an avatar of the new. Although she promoted...

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14. Updating Baudelaire for the Radio Age: The Refractive Poetics of “The Pleasures of Merely Circulating”

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pp. 257-273

Anxiety about audience preoccupied Wallace Stevens during the composition of Ideas of Order and affected his use of abstraction in his poetry throughout the 1930s. The flood of cultural production for which the 1930s is well known made Stevens defensive about poetry’s place amid America’s vast array of cultural offerings...

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15. I Switch Off: Beckett and the Ordeals of Radio

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pp. 274-293

There are two standard answers to this question, both in their way amounting to the answer “noplace” and thus utopian. The first is given by Marinetti and Masnata in the futurist manifesto “La Radia” of 1933. According to this manifesto, the proper habitation of radio is everywhere. Its power is that of delocalization...


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pp. 295-316


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pp. 317-318


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pp. 319-330

E-ISBN-13: 9780813045245
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813033495
Print-ISBN-10: 0813033497

Page Count: 352
Publication Year: 2009

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Radio and literature.
  • Modernism (Literature).
  • Radio authorship.
  • Radio plays -- History and criticism.
  • Radio broadcasting -- History -- 20th century.
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