I. 1876-1998

Thomas Watson was Alexander Graham Bell's assistant when the inventor developed the first working model of the telephone. A native of Salem, Massachusetts, Watson was, in fact, the first person ever to receive a telephone call. This occurred when Bell, not realizing the telephone was working, called out to his assistant, "Watson, come here, I want you."[1] Because they had not hooked a telephone receiver up to Bell's end of the wire, Watson "rushed down the hall into [Bell's] room and found he had upset the acid of a battery over his clothes."[2] Unlike his mentor, Watson's role in this historic moment was no accident: he had been listening carefully and recognized the significance of the communication immediately.

Alexander Graham Bell speaking into a prototyp...

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From an early age, sound both fascinated and frightened Watson. According to his autobiography, his ears were so sensitive that "the explosion even of a small firecracker was painful."[3] At the same time, he notes, "there were sounds I liked, for as far back as my memory goes I recall listening with pleasure when certain persons were speaking, even if I did not know what they were talking about, and getting away out of hearing of other voices I did not like."[4] His interest with sound continued throughout his life, even after he began "working with that occult force, electricity."[5] While in his early twenties, he participated in a series of seances, or "spirit circles," where he witnessed numerous "table tippings and rappings." These experiences, which lasted four months, convinced him to become a firm believer in spiritualism and "a member of the Society of Psychical Research."[6] Like many prominent men and women of his time, Watson saw a direct connection between the study of electricity and the ethereal sounds and messages summoned during a spiritualist session.

Watson's uncanny encounters with spirits and noises intermix to a curious degree with his scientific pursuits, reaching their apex while working with inventor, elocutionist, and teacher, Alexander Graham Bell. On numerous occasions in his autobiography, Watson expresses his fascination with Bell's seeming mastery over acoustics and harmonics. For example, when they were testing prototypes for the telephone, Bell listened into the receiver while Watson talked into the telephone. "But, alas," Watson notes, "shout my loudest, Bell could not hear the faintest sound. We changed places, I listened in the attic while Bell talked into the telephone downstairs. Then, I could unmistakably hear the tones of his voice and almost catch a word now and then."[7] Watson attributes his failure to create audible sounds as a product of his inadequate vocal chords. Watson, however, did have "sensitive ears," and these ears enabled him not only to hear Bell's voice but, later, to recognize a series of "stray electric currents" that reverberated across the earliest telephone circuits:

I used to spend hours at night in the laboratory listening to the many strange noises in the telephone and speculating as to their cause. One of the most common sounds was a snap, followed by a grating sound that lasted two or three seconds before it faded into silence, and another was like the chirping of a bird. My theory at this time was that the currents causing these sounds came from explosions on the sun or that they were signals from another planet. They were mystic enough to suggest the latter explanation but I never detected any regularity in them that might indicate they were intelligent signals.[8]

Watson notes later that the currents were probably not of alien origin, but were rather "from the same source as the static that afflicts the modern radio."[9] He adds, however, that, in listening to these noises, he was perhaps "the first person who ever listened to static currents."[10] There is, no doubt, a link between the telephone's otherworldly sounds and the voices and noises he heard during Spiritualist seances. That he approaches both the spiritualist and the scientific mediums with the same careful scrutiny suggests not merely the seriousness with which he held both subjects but also a willingness to see in the telephone the same supernatural forces that are conceivably at work during a seance. Sound, in Watson's case, is the medium through which science and superstition are able to converge.

121 years later, in Robert Zemeckis' film, Contact,[11] a young Ellie Arroway is consoled by relatives following the death of her father. Bored and angered by their condescending remarks, she goes upstairs to her radio transmitter, where she and her father spent many hours sending messages and waiting for others to respond. "CQ. This is W9GFO, do you copy?" Ellie asks. There is no reply. "Dad, its Ellie, come back." Again, there is no reply. "This is Eleanor Arroway, transmitting on 14.2 MHz. Dad, are you there? Come back. Dad, are you there? Dad, its Ellie."

Film poster for Contact (film) - Copyright 199...

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Sound functions in Contact as a link between life and death, and between the known and the unknown. Ellie's desire to communicate with her father provides the film with a narratological arc, taking her from ham radios to radio astronomy, where she becomes the director of the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute. SETI is a real project; it was "developed in the late 1980s in conjunction NASA, NSF, JPL, DOE, the USGS, the IAU, Argonne National Lab, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, private industry, and private donations."[12] The institute's mission statement notes that SETI's primary goal is "to detect evidence of technological civilizations that may exist on planets orbiting other stars."[13] Because space travel is so expensive and so time-consuming, scientists determined that one of the best and cheapest ways to detect evidence of life on other planets was through scanning and recording high resolution microwave signals, such as those used to transmit television, radio, and cellular telephone signals across the Earth. In the movie, Ellie (played by Jodie Foster) detects the first signal from an alien culture. When she and her colleagues translate the message, they discover blueprints for a vehicle capable of traveling through space at impossible speeds. Of course, Ellie makes the first voyage. She speeds across the galaxy until she meets the message's sender: an alien masquerading as her father.Like Thomas Watson before her, Ellie is fond of listening to noise-or, as she puts it, "looking for patterns in the chaos." Unlike Watson, Ellie wants both to listen and to speak to the very alien forces that are responsible for the noises received by the radio telescope. The desire to uncover the mysteries of the universe is central to Zemeckis' film, which describes this pursuit as a combination of religious faith and scientific inquiry. For Ellie Arroway, the mathematical pursuit of knowledge is the means by which she organizes her life and her career. Her passion for SETI, she argues, is a valid scientific endeavor; however, it is fueled not by a scientific quest for knowledge but for the very "human" desire to once again talk to her father. The use of sound technology in this film, in turn, is fueled by a desire to scientifically prove that machines can transcend reason and imagination: that they can fulfill our deepest wishes and solve our most difficult problems. This uncanny relationship between sound and technology fuels the protagonist's drive to locate and uncover a message sent across millions of miles; the result of her pursuit literally shatters the boundaries of time and space, reality and the imagination, and life and death.

II. Strange Attractors

As I write these words, it is 1998. I am sitting in a chair made of metal, plastic, and polyurethane foam, typing onto my computer, and listening to a compact disk of electronic music. I am surrounded by a television tuned to CNN, a VCR, a stereo, a synthesizer, a sampler, dozens of videos, hundreds of paperback books, thousands of CDs, a poster for the movie Independence Day, and a plastic telephone. To the men and women living in 1876, even the telephone would be an alien, unknown object that could easily be a tool used to summon the darkest forces of hell. To me, the marvels in my room remind me of my bank balance and the debt I owe on my Visa card. The extraordinary events which occurred between Bell's unveiling of the telephone and the present not only reinvented life on earth but transformed the miraculous sounds Thomas Watson discovered on that first telephone line to so much unnecessary noise.

How did these magical sounds become background noise? What is the process through which technology has transformed "the dimensions of life and thought" in the twentieth century?[14] And why are so many of these dimensions founded upon the same uncanny sense of uncertainty and familiarity that Watson discovered back in 1876? These are the questions from which I began this project, and they are still the questions that fascinate me today. As I will argue, the desire to see in sound technology more than the sum of its component parts has been a recurrent theme in twentieth century literature. The following pages examine part of this fascination by focusing upon literary works from the first half of the twentieth century. As in the case of Contact, these works use technologies capable of recording and reproducing sound (particularly telephones, radios, and phonographs) to critique, reinvent, or reinforce the symbols, ideologies, and mythologies of modern culture.

My first chapter examines the cultural reception of Thomas Edison's phonograph in the final decades of the nineteenth century. From the moment the phonograph was unveiled to the public, it was hailed as a breakthrough in the history of technology; however, the phonograph did not achieve mass-cultural success for another twenty years. To a large extent, the delayed acceptance of this device can be attributed to its disruption of Western attitudes towards language, gender, subjectivity, and power. An example of the phonograph's ambivalent role in late nineteenth century culture can be 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.

The overriding faith which Dracula's protagonists place in technology's ability to defeat the monster and save English culture from annihilation parallels many of the arguments put forward in F.T. Marinetti's Futurist manifestoes. In chapters three and four, I argue that Marinetti's manifestoes, poetry, and novels redefine and reimagine language as a mechanistic and dynamic process rather than an organic and linear one. By this, Marinetti redefines humanity as a prototype for a higher, more complex organism, which uses the powers of "wireless imagination" to overcome the limitations of time, space, and reality. The desire to transcend the restrictions of nature is fueled by an equally intense desire to destroy the very elements of modern life, which reinforce the primitive past. In particular, Marinetti identifies the image of "woman" and "l'amore" as a force which must be overcome in order to replace "nature" with machines. In doing this, Marinetti points out that he refers not to actual women but to "amore," as it has been constructed in literature. In detailing the recreation of life through the image of machines, however, Marinetti is unable to escape the metaphors of birth and maternity. His reinvention of life, in short, is torn between a push toward "wireless imagination" and a violent desire to annihilate flesh in war and in art.

The recreation of bodies and language suggested in Futurism is both celebrated and critiqued in James Joyce's novel, Finnegans Wake. In the fifth and sixth chapters, I suggest that the novel's recurring references to telegraph cables and wireless transmissions function within the narrative to 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 space and merge with the totality of history, language, and knowledge. While sound technologies allow the novel's figures to act out these obsessions, they also reinforce the separation between material language and transcendental truth.

Before I proceed to examine these literary works, I need to establish a few theoretical parameters: namely, to define "sound" and "technology" within the contexts of twentieth century philosophy, anthropology, and literary theory.

III. What is Sound?

In his study of the differences between oral and literate societies, Walter Ong notes that sound is an interior phenomenon: "Whereas sight situates the observer outside what he views, at a distance, sound pours into the hearer."[15] While vision directs one outside the body, hearing enables one to "gather sound simultaneously from every direction at once: I am at the center of my auditory world, which envelops me, establishing me at a kind of core of sensation and existence."[16] Sound is inhaled, made part of one's body in a way vision (and its outward-bound trajectory) cannot be. In fact, Ong notes that sound's ability to completely immerse the listener is "what high-fidelity sound reproduction exploits with intense sophistication."[17] Sound, in short, is both a means of communication and a means of establishing one's sense of identity: one's "self."

Tim Wilson, in his essay, "Acoustic Architecture," notes that "it is via the ear, the first of our sense organs to develop in utero, that we form our primary connection: first with the inner, and then the outer world."[18] Our body, he says, "is a kind of cathedral (meaning that it sounds, from inside, like a cathedral)."[19] According to Wilson, sound's power over self-identity stems from the fact that, although most sounds begin outside the body, they are given meaning only when they are received into the body. Significantly, sound's "meaning" is not directly associated with language but rather with the physical sensation of hearing. Because sound is often separated from language, it is considered less concrete and less important than vision. "The ineffable, intangible quality of sound," Mary Ann Doane notes, "requires that it be placed on the side of the emotional or the intuitive."[20] Positioning sound as an emotional quality rather than an intellectual quality reinforces sound's dissociation from language and meaning; moreover, it reinforces the prioritization of vision over sound in philosophical, psychological, and scientific scholarship.

Despite vision's dominant position in academic studies and in culture, there is a growing body of scholarship devoted to examining sound as an object distinct from visual signifiers. Christian Metz, for instance, notes that a distinction must be made "between the visual and the aural in their cultural definition."[21] As Metz argues, "When I have recognized a 'floor lamp' and can name it, the identification is completed and all that I could add would be adjectival in nature. But, on the contrary, if I have distinctly and consciously heard a 'lapping' or a 'whistling,' I only have the feeling of a first identification, of a still incomplete recognition."[22] "Lapping" is incomplete because its source is uncertain. However, even when a sound is associated with its source ("the lapping of a river," for example), there is still a distinction made between a sound's source and the "characteristic" sounds which that source produces. While "lapping" is an aural objects, its identity as an object is suspect due to the simple fact that we can neither seen nor accurately define "lapping" without associating it with another, more tactile object. To accurately describe "lapping," one would refer to the rocks and pebbles that litter the river's edge, the water as it crashes against the rocks, and the wind as it brushes against the river and snakes through the trees.

Of course, it is entirely possible to describe sound using the same criteria employed by musicians and sound engineers: namely, examining a sound's pitch, tone, timbre, rhythm, and so on. It is also possible to use metaphor and adjectives to effectively convey the shape and dimension of the sound in question: for instance, referring to the sound of "lapping" as "a soothing bath in a pool of flowers cooled by the morning dew." Each of these methods examines the sound object directly; however, in the process of analyzing the object, these methods require that it be translated into a non-aural context. The musician, for example, must translate a non-musical sound into one that corresponds to the limited and restrictive methodology of music; likewise, the writer must translate a sound into a visual image that offers a corresponding picture of what the sound sounds like.

Roland Barthes, in his essay, "The Grain of the Voice," offers a methodology that purports to circumvent this dilemma. He suggests a system whereby "the very precise space (genre) of the encounter between a language and a voice" is examined.[23] Barthes describes this space as "the grain of the voice," with voice referring specifically to vocal music.[24] Although the "grain" is primarily arbitrary and subjective in nature, Barthes suggests a "twofold opposition" in order to separate the "grain" from "the acknowledged values of vocal music": theoretical and paradigmatic. The theoretical approach is to analyze the "pheno-song," or "all the phenomena, all the features which belong to the structure of the language being sung," and the "geno-song," which "is the volume of the singing and the speaking voice."[25] The paradigmatic approach, by contrast, measures individual singers and Barthes' reception and appreciation of their singing. The goal of this system is to reveal the "significance" of each vocal work by revealing the space between the musical composition and one's individual reaction to the music. Although Barthes emphasis upon the materiality of sound and the subjective and impermanent nature of listening is interesting, his analysis of "grain" is still limited to an analysis of voice and music. While it seems possible to analyze the "grain" of "lapping" sounds, his focus upon voices suggests that an analysis of a sound excised from its source would not be possible. Moreover, it seems as though Barthes associates "grain" specifically with human voices and human bodies: he defines "grain" on two separate occasions as "the materiality of the body speaking its mother tongue"[26] and as "the voice as it sings, the hand as it writes, the limb as it performs."[27] In short, while Barthes examines music as an object of pleasure, the "grain" in which this pleasure resides is specifically associated with a body producing sound rather than a body receiving sound.

It is difficult to situate sound within a theoretical context because sound is routinely reduced to three categories: music, noise, and voice. These terms are more commonly analyzed and discussed than sound itself because, as Metz notes, aural objects derive much of their meaning from their corresponding visual source. By defining sounds according to the bodies that produce them, sound objects are routinely assigned meanings that transcend their material product. In his examination of Husserl's Theory of Signs, Jacques Derrida notes that "the unity of sound and voice, which allows a voice to be produced in the world as pure auto-affection, is the sole case to escape the distinction between what is worldly and what is transcendental; by the same token, it makes that distinction possible."[28] Derrida here is analyzing Hurssel's phenomenological approach to sensation and perception, which establishes the notion that transcendent life and mental life (that is, being and voice, respectively) are intertwined in the act of speech. What Derrida points out, however, is that this notion of "voice" is interiorized within the speaker (that is, made silent) and emerges within that subjective space in the experience of "presence," or the act of thinking or reading. Such a presence, however, is determined by linguistic parameters; consequently, it is always mediated by the restrictions imposed upon thought by language. As Derrida explains, such a configuration of presence and voice effectively underscores the desire for language to speak outside itself, to reach beyond the parameters that contain it.

The voice, here, becomes the metaphor most commonly linked to the metaphysical act of communicating beyond the corporeal body. It is the voice, in its hidden, self-enclosed role as interiorized sound, which moves beyond the physical and into the transcendent. However, in this desire to speak beyond the body, what is being left behind is the speech-act itself. In his famous essay, "Differance," Derrida notes that "differance will be not only the play of differences within the language but the relation of speech to language, the detour by which I must also pass in order to speak, the silent token I must give."[29] Differance, as Derrida determines it, means both differing from (spacing) and deferring or delaying (temporalizing).[30] Within the metaphor of the voice, differance acts as the determining mode that undermines presence in favor of a realignment of the speech act within a material, corporeal context. Metaphysical logic operates under the assumption that, "My words are 'alive' because they seem not to leave me: not to fall outside me, outside my breath, at a visible distance."[31] By this, Derrida underscores the trace that such a presence leaves behind: "When I speak, it belongs to the phenomenological essence of this operation that I hear myself at the same time that I speak."[32] The act of speech, the very presence which metaphysicians like Husserl sought to limit to the mental faculties, is instead both spoken and heard, inside and outside, temporal and spatial.

To conceive of voice as a transcending force is to elide the materiality of sound and the physical space of language. In his essay, "Freud and the Scene of Writing," Derrida goes further, linking this metaphysical conception of presence to a scientific examination of the brain's physiological activities. Memory, according to an early (pre-Interpretation of Dreams) Freud article, exists in material form within the brain itself, acting as "a conducting path" between "permeable neurones," which "offer[s] no resistance and thus retain no trace of impression," and "other neurons, which would oppose contact-barriers to the quantity of excitation, [and] would thus retain the printed trace."[33] From this, Derrida explains, "We thus already know that psychic life is neither the transparency of meaning nor the opacity of force but the difference within the exertion of forces."[34] Memory is neither "transparent" nor "opaque"; it is a force, violence, or trace (to borrow common Derridean metaphors) which creates a physical and spatial record of specific events. It leaves a mark (that is, it functions as a mechanism of writing) both in the conscious register of memory and in the brain itself.

IV. What is Technology?

Sound objects, when imprinted into the brain, essentially function as written marks that can be retrieved for identification when necessary; in this sense, sound itself functions as a technology. By technology, I am referring to what Verena Andermatt Conley calls "a mode of thinking, a special kind of technis that literally applies its own rules to itself and then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."[35] Technology is less the construction of an object or an argument than a "means of execution," the use of tools toward the framing of a "truth" within a particular body of knowledge (be it linguistic, physical, or conceptual). Technologies are, in fact, more ideological than physical: they merge disparate conceptions, identities, and formations of power. The technology of language, for instance, helps individuals, cultures, and nations communicate, create institutions, or even convince individuals to kill. The power within language emerges through its ability to transcend its material form and stand in for something else-an ideological force, a "Truth." The performance of technology allows social bodies to imagine a transcendental system that lacks nothing, that enables communication to proceed without any holes.

In many ways, this notion of transcendental communication is similar to Heidegger's notion of technology, which he defines as "a mode of revealing ... [which] comes to presence in the realm where revealing and unconcealment takes place, where alêtheia, truth, happens."[36] Heidegger's definition is grounded in an analysis of the Greek root for the word, technê, which, he says, "belongs to bringing-forth, to poiêsis; it is something poetic."[37] In short, what technology is is linked to a traditional notion of artistic creation-the "bringing-forth" of truth within a contained and ordered space. Heidegger contrasts this classical notion of technology with a modern conception that he aligns with the scientific process of "enframing" subjects into particular modes of representation. This shift in technological processes does not elide the undercurrents related to technê, which foreground the "bringing-forth" of "truth" as its objective, but organizes and structures it so that this "truth" is always configured outside and beyond the scope of the individual. Because Heidegger's overall project is a critique of Western metaphysics and the question of Being, his strategy becomes one which emphasizes the effects of domination which modern subjectivity assumes by trying to control "nature." The dependence of human subjects upon objects, formations, and systems that are external to their own bodies means that agency is located outside the subject. As a result, subjects must act as "a sort of 'standing reserve' or stockpile in service to, and on call for, technological purposes."[38] While Heidegger emphasizes a return to the Greek conception of technology and the self-agency inherent in that ideal, he does not take into consideration the dependence which bodies encounter when forced to employ technology toward the attainment of this goal. That written language, a technology Heidegger seems to prioritize, depends upon a particular scriptural representation, suggests the very "standing reserve" which forces the subject to be in the service of technology. Although writing empowers the subject, this agency works only so far as the technology of language will enable representation. The very notion of technology implies an inherent relinquishing of power to those things which subjects must rely upon in order to achieve technological Being.

Technology, in short, is simply a mode of making meaning. The uses to which this mode is put depend upon the mechanisms that it employs. For example, according to Fredrich Kittler, the technologies of voice and language that dominated German culture in the nineteenth century[39] emerged through a series of sweeping changes in the fields of education, grammar, and spelling which standardized how words were written, how they were spoken, and the values to which they were ascribed. The end result of these changes was the establishment of standardized language systems-"official" German (or English, French, Italian), as opposed to non-standard dialects, "minor languages,"[40] spelling errors, accents, animal sounds, and any other sounds, marks, or gestures that do not conform to the proscribed rules. Unlike Ferdinand deSaussere's model of semiotics, in which he defines "speech" as "many-sided and heterogeneous,"[41] Kittler's "discourse network of 1800" is rigidly homogenous and decidedly verbal. Written text, in this period, served only "as aspects of spoken language," and the "the forms of letters" on a page were considered "primitive images of corresponding positions of the mouth."[42] Poetry was more than the content of its written words-it was the written expression of an individual's "soul." Just as words themselves were merely tools that pointed toward a transcendent "truth," so then the act of reading poetry was not enough-poetry only came to "life" when it was recited aloud.

Ironically, although poetry was considered a synchronic experience, poets did not use (in Kittler's words) the phrase "I am writing," but instead they "wrote around it, attributing a spoken quality to it, one taken from the earliest memories of learning to write."[43] In other words, poets consciously suppressed the act of poetic creation from the narrative schema; instead, they attempted to give voice to the memory of sounds they heard early in life. These sounds, according to Kittler, belonged to the mother, who functioned in this culture as the child's first teacher, enunciating letters until her child could both comprehend the sounds and equate those sounds with the written letter found in the primers. In this role, women came to embody the "spirit" of the written letters, the "soul" through which poetry itself is given life. Of course, to be the "spirit" of language is not necessarily to have a voice of one's own; in fact, women's roles as teachers effectively silenced them from actively participating in either poetic or social discourse; women, as bearers of meaning, "have no meaning" in and of themselves but instead are "related by the voice to the body and to Nature."[44] As school minister Heinrich Stephani notes, the mother's mouth must become "an instrument upon which we are able to play certain meaningful tones that together we call language."[45] As such, the "origin" story of romantic poetry and of language in Kittler's "discourse network of 1800" is specifically aligned with the creative powers of the mother's voice; however, as a consequence, women's own voices are subsumed within their child's. As Kittler notes, "Mother ... separated the child from everything animal because she did not speak or did not speak to anyone at all; rather, she practiced vowels and consonants."[46] A woman can create language, but she cannot speak and she cannot write.

According to Kittler's "discourse network," sound is controlled and contained within the voice of mothers. These mothers, in turn, are controlled and contained by separating their voices from writing. The notion of "Nature," then, is both embodied by the female body and used as a means of disempowering those bodies from actively participating in the social, political, and intellectual spheres of German culture. What changed this system-that is, what altered the fundamental notions of Nature, truth, and reality-was a shifting understanding of language, memory, speech, and relativity. In fact, as Kittler notes, the disillusion of "humanity" was already evident in the early part of the twentieth century. Along with advancements in transportation and communication, psychophysics and psychoanalysis broke language and human perception "into individual elements: into optical, acoustical, sensory, and motoric nervous impulses and only then into signifier/signified/referent."[47] Kittler sees Dr. jur. Daniel Paul Schreber[48] as the principal model of literary production in this period, for his account of schizophrenia perfectly exemplifies the effect of a mechanical society upon the psychic processes. Freud's case study of Schreber details his transformation from "a man of superior mental gifts and endowed with an unusual keenness alike of intellect and of observation"[49] to a patient in a mental hospital suffering from acute paranoia, where "he believed that he had a mission to redeem the world and to restore it to its lost state of bliss. This, however, he could only bring about if he were first transformed from a man into a woman."[50]

Freud's analysis asserts that the connection between Schreber's desire to communicate with God and his desire to become a woman constitutes "a feminine (that is, a passive homosexual) wish-phantasy, which took as its object the figure of the physician."[51] Freud's reading is consistent with his overall paternal and authorial narratives; what is missing, however, is the very text of this analysis-namely, the body itself. As Kittler argues, "Freud was much too concerned with the testimonial value of the received messages to investigate the logic of the channels. What Schreber writes, what writers write-everything became for Freud an anticipation of psychoanalysis."[52] The "logic of the channels" is precisely the matrix of desires and fears played out upon Schreber's body. According to Dr. Weber, the director of the sanitarium where Schreber spent several years,

It is not to be supposed that he wishes to be transformed into a woman; it is rather a question of a "must" based upon the order of things, which there is no possibility of his evading, much as he would personally prefer to remain in his own honourable and masculine station in life. But neither he nor the rest of mankind can win back their immortality except by his being transformed into a woman (a process which may occupy many years or even decades) by means of divine miracles.[53]

Schreber's logic is based not upon the phantasy of Oedipal desire but the reality of his mission: that he alone must become a woman if humanity is to survive. Weber goes on to note that the process of "becoming woman" would "probably require decades, if not centuries, for its completion, and it is unlikely that any one now living will survive to see the end of it."[54] This transformation seems to exceed the boundaries of Schreber's own phantasy; there is, in other words, more to it than simply replacing a penis with a vagina; that, in fact, what he is referring to is a movement from one conception of humanity to another, incorporating human, machine, and supernatural elements.

As Stephen Kern notes, "the impact of the automobile and of all the accelerating technology was at least twofold-it speeded up the tempo of current existence and transformed the memory of years past, the stuff of everybody's identity, into something slow."[55] In other words, the early twentieth century witnessed a transformation of the concept of time from the fixed and permanent object of Kittler's discourse network of 1800 to a fluctuating and expanding force that altered shape according to each situation. This dynamic reading of time was based, in large part, upon an epistemological shift which, as Jacques Derrida notes, was centered on a revision of Plato's separation of mental and physical activities.[56] As psychologists like Freud, William James, and Henri Bergson assert, both mental and physical functions are products of the brain's neurological matrix. In other words, the human body's functions (both lower and higher) are not the result of a spiritual or ethereal transformation but an array of chemical responses to one's immediate environment. In this way, the brain's functions closely resemble the inner workings of machines. In fact, as Bergson points out, the brain

is no more than a kind of central telephonic exchange: its office is to allow communication or to delay it. It adds nothing to what it receives; but, as all the organs of perception send it to their ultimate prolongations, and, as all the motor mechanisms of the spinal cord and of the medulla oblongata have in it their accredited representatives, it really constitutes a center, where the peripheral excitation gets into relation with this or that motor mechanism, chosen and no longer prescribed.[57]

Bergson's metaphoric alignment of brain and telephone exchange limits the significance of thought to the level of a complex machine, compiling and transmitting rather than creating information. While it functions as the "center" of neural-processing, it cannot add to what the body's nerves and sensory organs already give it. Hence Bergson's notion of "real duration," which is the recognition that perception is continually changing and transforming, so that even when we stare at a stationary object, our experience of that object is never fixed but is rather "constantly changing," so that "the same state will never repeat itself exactly."[58] Hence, "While the external object does not bear the mark of the time that has elapsed and thus, in spite of the differences of time, the physicist can again encounter identical elementary conditions, duration is something real for the consciousness which preserves the trace of it, and we cannot here speak of identical conditions, because the same moment does not occur twice."[59] To Bergson, "real duration" is a heightened awareness of the constant flux of memories and perception, offering a transformation of life not through ethereal forces but through a heightened understanding of everyday life.

Sound technology is an understandably ambiguous concept; however, it is this ambiguity which I find interesting. Sound is evasive; its effect cannot be fully explained in linguistic terms. Because of this, there is at once a fear of sound (of sonic booms, of whispers we cannot quite fully understand) and a profound desire to capture, contain, and control sound. It is this mastery over nature that has historically and culturally positioned sound technology within economic, political, and ideological struggles over power, capital, and representation. From Hitler's regulation of radios in Nazi Germany to debates over music censorship in the United States, sound, the information it conveys, and the technologies available to transmit messages pose a distinct threat to anyone in a position of controlling the ideological and political makeup of a given society. By examining both the contexts of sound technology's historical development and the role played by these machines in the literature of the twentieth century, I hope to demonstrate how sound and technology redefine myths of origin, gender, sexuality, and power for a modern world.


  1. Thomas A. Watson, Exploring Life: The Autobiography of Thomas A. Watson (New York and London: D. Appleton & Co., 1926), 78. [back]
  2. Ibid., 78. [back]
  3. Ibid., 6. [back]
  4. Ibid., 6. [back]
  5. Ibid., 37. [back]
  6. Ibid., 37-42. [back]
  7. Ibid., 71. [back]
  8. Ibid., 81. [back]
  9. Ibid., 82. [back]
  10. Ibid., 82. [back]
  11. Contact , dir. Robert Zemeckis, starring Jodie Foster, Matthew McConaughey, James Woods, John Hurt, and Tom Skerritt (Warner Bros., 1997). Based on Carl Sagan's Contact (New York: Pocket Books, 1985). [back]
  12. "SETI Institute--Frequently Asked Questions" [], accessed September 27, 1997. The abbreviations refer, respectively, to the North American Space Administration, the National Science Foundation, Jet Propulsion Laboratory (in Pasadena, California), the Department of Energy, the United States Geological Survey, and the International Astronomical Union. [back]
  13. Ibid. [back]
  14. Stephen Kern, Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard U. Press, 1983), 1-2. [back]
  15. Walter Ong, Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word (London and New York: Routledge, 1982), 72. [back]
  16. Ibid., 72. [back]
  17. Ibid., 72. [back]
  18. Tim Wilson, "Acoustic Architecture," in Radiotext(e), ed. Neil Strauss. (New York: Semiotext(e), 1993), 284. [back]
  19. Ibid., 284. [back]
  20. Mary Ann Doane, "Ideology and the Practice of Sound Editing and Mixing," in Film Sound: Theory and Practice, eds. Elisabeth Weis and John Belton (New York: Columbia U. Press, 1985), 55. [back]
  21. Christian Metz, "Aural Objects," in Film Sound: Theory and Practice, 155. [back]
  22. Ibid., 155. [back]
  23. Roland Barthes, "The Grain of the Voice," in Image--Music--Text, trans. Stephen Heath (New York: Hill and Wang, 1977), p.181. [back]
  24. Ibid., 181. [back]
  25. Ibid., 181. [back]
  26. Ibid., 182. [back]
  27. Ibid., 188. [back]
  28. Jacques Derrida, Speech and Phenomena and Other Essays on Husserl's Theory of Signs, trans. David B. Allison (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern U. Press, 1973),79. [back]
  29. Ibid., 146. [back]
  30. Ibid., 149. [back]
  31. Ibid., 76. [back]
  32. Ibid., 77. [back]
  33. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U. of Chicago Press, 1978), 200-01. [back]
  34. Ibid., 201. [back]
  35. Verena Andermatt Conley, ReThinking Technologies (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota Press, 1993), xi. [back]
  36. Martin Heidegger, "The Question Concerning Technology," in Basic Writings, ed. David Farrell Krell (San Francisco: HarperCollins Pub., 1993), p. 319. [back]
  37. Ibid., 318. [back]
  38. Ibid., 309. [back]
  39. Fredrich Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800/1900, trans. Michael Metteer, with Chris Cullens (Stanford: U. of Stanford Press, 1990). Kittler contends that there are two distinct "discourse networks"--1800 and 1900--and that we, in the twentieth century, operate under the latter. While I agree with this, I would further argue that the network of 1800 is more commonly understood today, and that the literature which I discuss in this book (up to and including Joyce's Finnegans Wake) is influenced by the network of the 1800, even though these works embody many of the issues that Kittler aligns with the 1900 discourse network. [back]
  40. "Minor languages" refers to languages spoken by a small minority of people, as opposed to major languages like German or English which are spoken (to some degree) worldwide. The idea of "minor languages" and "minor literature" are the subjects of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's Kafka: Pour Une Litterature Mineure (Paris: Les Éditions de Minuit, 1975), also published as Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dana Polan (Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota, 1986). [back]
  41. Ferdinand deSaussere, Course in General Linguistics, trans. Wade Baskin (New York, Toronto, London: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1959), 9. [back]
  42. Kittler, 97. [back]
  43. Ibid., 100. [back]
  44. Ibid., 29. [back]
  45. Heinrich Stephani, Beschribung Meiner Einfachen Lesemethode für Mütter (Erlangen, 1807), quoted in Kittler, 33. [back]
  46. Ibid., 38. [back]
  47. Ibid., 216. [back]
  48. Schreber's autobiography was published in 1903; Freud's case study, "Psychoanalytic Notes Upon an Autobiographical Account of a Case of Paranoia (Dementia Paranoides)," was written in 1911. [back]
  49. Daniel Paul Schreber, Denkwürdigkeiten eines Nervenkranken [Memoirs of My Nervous Illness] (Leipzig: 1903), quoted in Sigmund Freud, Three Case Histories, ed. Philip Rieff (New York: Collier Books, 1963), 104. [back]
  50. Ibid., 112. [back]
  51. Ibid., 147. [back]
  52. Kittler, 293. [back]
  53. Freud, Three Case Histories, 112. [back]
  54. Ibid., 113. [back]
  55. Kern, 129. [back]
  56. Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference, 278. [back]
  57. Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. N.M. Paul and W.S. Palmer (New York: Zone Books, 1988, originally published 1908), 30. [back]
  58. Roger Absalon, Italy Since 1800: A Nation in the Balance? (London and New York: Longman, 1995), 23. [back]
  59. Henri Bergson, Time and Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness, trans. F.L. Pogson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960, originally published 1910), 199-200. [back]

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