Ghost in the Machine:

Sound and Technology in Twentieth Century Literature


Michael Douglas Heumann

Doctor of Philosophy, Graduate Program in English

University of California, Riverside, June, 1998

Professor Kimberly Devlin, Chairperson

This dissertation examines the cultural and literary role of sound technology in the twentieth century. By examining the context of sound technology's historical development and the role these machines play in the literature of the twentieth century, I argue that the phonograph, the telephone, and the radio have shaped cultural constructions of origin, gender, and power.

My first chapter examines the initial cultural reception of Thomas Edison's phonograph. From the moment the phonograph was unveiled to the public, it was hailed as a breakthrough in the history of technology. However, the device did not achieve mass-cultural success for another twenty years. As I argue, the phonograph's delayed acceptance can be attributed to its disruption of western attitudes towards language, gender, and power. An example of the phonograph's reception is found in Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, whose narrative centers around a struggle between the supernatural forces of vampirism and telepathy on the one hand and modern technology and science on the other. As I argue in my second chapter, the novel's protagonists use the phonograph to record, compile, and transmit information, follow Dracula's movements, and disable the monster's verbal and telepathic powers.

In Dracula, the protagonist's believe that technology is the ultimate salvation against the irrationalities of nature and humanity. The Futurist poet, FT Marinetti, shares this position. In chapters three and four, I argue that Marinetti's writings redefine language as a mechanical and dynamic process rather than an organic and linear one. By this, Marinetti redefines humanity as a higher, more complex organism, which uses the powers of "wireless imagination" to overcome the limitations of time, space, and reality.

This recreation of bodies and language is both celebrated and critiqued in James Joyce's novel, Finnegans Wake. In the final two chapters, I suggest that the novel's recurring references to cable and wireless transmissions give material and logical shape to desires and identities that consistently elide representation. At the obsessive center of this novel is a metaphysical compulsion to transcend the limitations of time and place. While the cable and the wireless allow the novel's figures to act out these obsessions, they also reinforce the separation between material language and transcendental truth.

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