With the invention of the phonograph in 1877, listening became detached from its visual referent; no longer was the listening subject required to look at the source or transmitter of sound. Amidst this reconfiguration of the senses, certain artists began to represent the act of listening and its relationship to vision in profound ways. This essay examines one such work, Thomas Dewing’s A Reading (1897), in light of these historical events, particularly in terms of gender and cultural implications. Dewing’s image of patrician women absorbed in an oral reading can be read as a complex visualization of a rigid sensorial hierarchy that was gaining momentum during the Gilded Age with the domestic and secretarial uses of the phonograph. With its passive feminine protagonists, tropes of reproduction, and sensory fragmentation, A Reading echoes the visual culture of the phonograph and its reorganization of the dialectic between looking and listening.


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pp. 461-485
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