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ISBN 978-0-8101-4023-3

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4022-6

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ISBN 978-0-8101-4021-9
Publication Date
June 2019
Page Count
232 pages
Trim Size
6 x 9


Literary Modernism as Sonic Warfare
Tyler Whitney

In this innovative study, Tyler Whitney demonstrates how a transformation and militarization of the civilian soundscape in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries left indelible traces on the literature that defined the period. Both formally and thematically, the modernist aesthetics of Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Detlev von Liliencron, and Peter Altenberg drew on this blurring of martial and civilian soundscapes in traumatic and performative repetitions of war. At the same time, Richard Huelsenbeck assaulted audiences in Zurich with his “sound poems,” which combined references to World War I, colonialism, and violent encounters in urban spaces with nonsensical utterances and linguistic detritus—all accompanied by the relentless beating of a drum on the stage of the Cabaret Voltaire.

Eardrums is the first book-length study to explore the relationship between acoustical modernity and German modernism, charting a literary and cultural history written in and around the eardrum. The result is not only a new way of understanding the sonic impulses behind key literary texts from the period. It also outlines an entirely new approach to the study of literature as as the interaction of text and sonic practice, voice and noise, which will be of interest to scholars across literary studies, media theory, sound studies, and the history of science.
About the Author

TYLER WHITNEY is an assistant professor of German at the University of Michigan.

Eardrums is an excellent example of how media studies and literary studies can be fruitfully and insightfully combined. Whitney brings scientific studies and literary representations of scenes of listening from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries into resonance with each other in original and creative ways.” —Sean Franzel, author of Connected by the Ear: The Media, Pedagogy, and Politics of the Romantic Lecture

"Eardrums is an important, highly original book... Whitney’s study makes a compelling case for reading German literary history in conjunction with the history of modern sound technology as it permeates the urban environment and industrial warfare. This approach produces fresh, absolutely exciting readings of both well-known and less familiar works and authors, which allows for tracing an alternate, most persuasive history of the transition from Naturalism to high modernism within the German tradition." —Patrizia McBride, author of The Chatter of the Visible: Montage and Narrative in Weimar Germany

"From the poetic rhythms of the late 19th century to the sounds of the present day, this unique book encourages readers to view modern German culture from a cacophonous point of view. Valuable notes and apparatus." —E. G. Wickersham, emerita, Rosemont College, CHOICE (Reprinted with permission from CHOICE http://www.choicereviews.org, copyright by the American Library Association.)