Professor Anna Snaith's Inaugural Lecture - The art of noise: interwar mode...
THE ART OF NOISE: INTERWAR MODERNISM & THE POLITICS OF SOUND
Noise is often defined as ‘unwanted’ or ‘unmusical’ sound. It can signify disruption, terror or meaninglessness, but is also an indicator of play and sociability. This inaugural lecture will turn up the volume on a period in which concerns about noise became particularly clamorous. Aldous Huxley described interwar Britain as the ‘Age of Noise’. With the cacophony of war, the popularization of the gramophone, the advent of radio broadcasting and the rising hum of industry and traffic noise, the shifting soundscape altered not just the sounds people heard, but how, where and when they listened to them. The vociferous campaigns of the Anti-Noise League (1933) for ‘acoustic civilisation’ encapsulated a time where noise came to be seen as a physical danger and a public health issue. Modernist writers did not just represent their noisy environment on the silent, printed page, they tuned in to noise and its aesthetic and political possibilities. From Luigi Russolo’s The Art of Noises (1916) to TS Eliot’s ‘auditory imagination’, they employed a sonic vocabulary to rethink their craft.
With particular attention to the writing of Virginia Woolf and Jean Rhys, Anna Snaith will explore the ‘sonic-mindedness’ of interwar modernism and its relationship to questions of excess and interruption. ‘Noise’ also provides a way of thinking about the place of literary culture more broadly, both in the modernist period and the present.
Anna Snaith is Professor of Twentieth-Century Literature. Her research centres on the cultures of literary modernism particularly in relation to anti-colonialism and gender. She has published a number of books including Virginia Woolf: Public and Private Negotiations (2000), Locating Woolf: the Politics of Space and Place (co-edited with Michael Whitworth, 2007), and Modernist Voyages (2014). She has edited The Years for the Cambridge University Press Edition of Virginia Woolf (2012) and A Room of One’s Own and Three Guineas for Oxford World’s Classics (2015). This lecture is part of a wider research project on modernism and noise in interwar Britain. She is also editing a new volume, Literature and Sound, for Cambridge University Press.