Sound and Aural Media in Postmodern Literature

Novel Listening

By Justin St. Clair

© 2013 – Routledge

186 pages | 3 B/W Illus.

Purchasing Options:
Hardback: 9780415661393
pub: 2013-03-27
US Dollars$145.00

About the Book

This study examines postmodern literature— including works by Kurt Vonnegut, William Gaddis, Don DeLillo, Philip K. Dick, Ishmael Reed, and Thomas Pynchon —arguing that one of the formal logics of postmodern fiction is heterophonia: a pluralism of sound. The postmodern novel not only bears earwitness to a crucial period in American aural history, but it also offers a critique of the American soundscape by rebroadcasting extant technological discourses. Working chronologically through four audio transmission technologies of the twentieth century (the player piano, radio, television audio, and Muzak installations), St. Clair charts the tendency of ever-proliferating audio streams to become increasingly subsumed as background sound. The postmodern novel attends specifically to this background sound, warning that inattention to the increasingly complex sonic backdrop allows for ever more sophisticated techniques of aural manipulation—from advertising jingles to mood-altering ambient sound. Building upon interdisciplinary work from the emerging field of sound culture studies, this book ultimately contends that a complementary, yet seemingly contradictory double logic characterizes the postmodern novel’s engagement with narratives of aural influence. On the one hand, such narratives echo and amplify postwar fiction’s media anxiety; on the other hand, they allow print fiction to appropriate the techniques of aural media. This dialectical engagement with media aurality—this simultaneous impulse to repudiate and to utilize—is the central mechanism of the heterophonic novel.


"Packed with information and insight into a fascinating and emerging field, Sound and Aural Media in Postmodern Literature is a vital and accessible inquiry into often overlooked aspects of the postmodern novel." –Los Angeles Review of Books

Table of Contents

Introduction: Toward Postmodern Soundscapes 1. The Player Piano: Musical Programming in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction 2. Radio for Dummies: Alien Invasions, Déjà Voodoo, and the Ventriloquy of America 3. Sounding Off: The Postmodern Novel Considers Television Audio 4. Listen to the Muzak: The Social Implications of Background Sound Coda: Background Sound: The Remix

About the Author

Justin St. Clair is Assistant Professor of English at the University of South Alabama, US.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature

From Joyce to Rushdie, Modernism to Food Writing, Routledge Studies in Twentieth Century Literature looks at both the literature and culture of the 20th century. This series is our home for cutting-edge, upper-level scholarly studies and edited collections. Considering literature alongside religion, popular culture, race, gender, ecology, travel, class, space, and other subjects, titles are characterized by dynamic interventions into established subjects and innovative studies on emerging topics.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
LITERARY CRITICISM / American / General
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Media Studies