Graduate Program

350:658 - Theorizing Sound in the 20th Century Novel

Course No: 350:658
Index # - 18243
Distribution Requirement: A5, B
Monday – 9:50 a.m.
MU 207

Theorizing Sound in the 20th Century Novel

Carter Mathes

This course considers how writers have imagined and used sound to expand the narrative structure of the novel. In our readings we will examine how authors writing during different historical moments and cultural contexts of the 20th century have incorporated representations and ideas of music, noise, utterance, listening, and audition within their fictional narratives. One of our main goals will be to analyze how novelist’s use of sound as a significant narrative element may create different possibilities for interpreting modernist and postmodern literary experimentation.

We will address a series of questions as we move through the course, such as, what is the relationship between phonography, recording technologies, sampling, and writing? In what ways are sounds used as windows into the memories and thought processes of characters? How might the presence of sound within a text signal particular narrative directions or thematic ideas--that is, how might it be both represented and used as a compositional element within a text? To what degree is the novel a useful form for exploring the various relationships between sound and modernity (its cultures and counter-cultures) in the 20th century?

Treating texts as soundscapes (a key concept in sound studies that we will examine closely through the work of R. Murray Schafer as well as several noted contemporary sound theorists) we will analyze how authors draw our attention to the acoustics of the text, and we will consider how these auditory realms create different frameworks for reading on and off of the page in relationship to a variety of sonic states including (but certainly not limited to) vibration, echo, reverberation, and resonance. To this end, we will read fairly widely in the interdisciplinary field of sound studies (Luigi Russolo, Antonin Artaud, Jacques Attali, Jonathan Sterne, David Toop, Naomi Cummings, Michael Chion, Douglas Kahn, Viet Erlemann, Don Ihde) as well as within narrative theory (Georg Lukacs, Erich Auerbach, Roland Barthes, Gerard Genette, Roman Jakobson, Edward Said, Paul Ricoeur) and aesthetic theory (Terry Eagleton, Theodor Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Ranciere, Frederic Jameson, Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari).

Possible primary readings may include novels from Erna Brodber, Don DeLillo, James Joyce, Nathaniel Mackey, Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje, Marcel Proust, and Virginia Woolf.

Requirements: 2 short response essays (in the form of blog postings), annotated bibliography, 20-page research essay, and a presentation of final essay in-progress.