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Studies in American Fiction255 Schweighauser, Philipp. TheNoises ofAmerican Literature 1890-1985: Towarda History ofLiteraryAcoustics. Gainesville, FL: Univ. Press of Florida, 2006. 272 pp. Cloth: $59.95. Beginning in the middle of the nineteenth century with the development and expansion of railroads, new technologies of transportation irrevocably altered the sonic environment of American cities and towns. Automobiles in particular transformed the acoustics of urban settings throughout the world, generating a droning dissonance Virginia Woolf once described as a "throb...like a pulse irregularly drumming through an entire body." By the early twentieth century, the sounds of cars, trains, planes and construction were producing a din that, to those who had just arrived to the American city from rural town or distant shore, must have seemed like an incomprehensible cacophonous symphony. Philipp Schweighauser analyzes literary depictions of this new world of sound in 77^e Noises ofAmerican Literature. Schweighauser is interested in two senses of the word "noise": noise as the aural byproduct of twentieth-century urban landscapes and noise as the random electrical signals that interfere with sonic communication. For Schweighauser, the latter sense is not an undesirable quantity. Drawing on systems theory and communications engineering, Schweighauser likens works of literature to the "noise" ofculture, "capable ofproducing new meanings, new concepts, and new information against the backdrop ofredundancy continually produced and reproduced by the dominant culture" (12). In effect, literature is the culturally "unwanted" signal that productively interferes with the ideologically laden messages our hyper-capitalist society is sending us. Schweighauser seeks to unite these two definitions of noise by "establishing passages between . . . conceptualizations of literature as 'the noise ofculture' and analyses ofliterary representations ofnoise" (19). To achieve this union, he devotes the majority of the book to close readings of these representations of noise in American novels, and in particular depictions of the "social, cultural, racial, and political conflicts of modernity" (85). Schweighauser begins with the naturalist fiction of Dreiser, Norris and Crane, and analyzes the various techniques that these writers employed to depict the new soundscapes of the late nineteenth century. He describes how the modernist literary experimentation ofDos Passos, Toomer, Barnes and Hurston sought to incorporate the noises of their surroundings without blunting the anti-authoritarian forces of which these noises were a product. This incorporation took place on both substantive and structural levels. Modernist novels disrupted the continuity of their narratives with outbreaks of sound: for instance, the insertion of African-American songs in Toomer's Cane and the sonic collages in Manhattan Transfer. For Schweighauser, such strategies "are part of an aesthetics that valorizes the disruption of established patterns of cultural communication" (86). 256Reviews These readings are strongest when they delineate class dynamics. One person's noise is another person's cultural heritage articulated through voice and music, and Schweighauser does some excellent work exploring moments in which the sounds ofimmigrants and other marginalized communities are dismissed as "noise" by the hegemonic forces represented in the texts. Some of Schweighauser's readings are sharper than others—for instance , his emphasis on the orality of TheirEyes Were Watching Godcovers well-trodden ground—but he does well in identifying commonalities between some very disparate texts. In his chapter on postmodernism, Schweighauser shifts his focus primarily towards the second sense of the word noise. His reading of The Crying ofLot 49 in particular conceives the book as a form of cultural jamming. Expanding on existing readings that examine thermodynamic paradigms, Schweighauser explores how Pynchon's text exemplifies the interaction between thermodynamic and informational entropy. But it is, not surprisingly, in his reading of DeLillo's White Noise where the connection Schweighauser makes between the noise of communication systems and the cultural work oftexts is at its strongest. Unlike in some ofthe more overtly political modernist works that Schweighauser discusses, DeLillo's "depiction of the postmodern soundscape" does not illuminate cultural fissures between social groups; rather it "becomes a vehicle for his complicitously critical perspective on ecological issues of the late twentieth century" (176). The central weakness of The Noises ofAmerican Literature is that the connection between Schweighauser's two senses of noise remains underdeveloped . Certainly the depictions of noise in twentieth-century texts is a ripe topic for exploration...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2158-5806
Print ISSN
0091-8083
Pages
pp. 255-256
Launched on MUSE
2014-10-01
Open Access
N
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