Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
The gramophone's function in literature has generally been examined in relation to media studies and Walter Benjamin's discussion of the reproduction of art through mechanical means, emphasizing the gramophone’s playback of recorded materials. This particular methodology, however, only deals with half of the machine's potential. My project mediates the links between media studies and “thing theory.” By making a distinction between the gramophone as an instrument (through which we access or hear a recording) and the gramophone as a "thing" (an object which draws attention to itself by not behaving as expected, thereby forcing us to confront the object's irreducibility), I trace connections between the physical “thing” as well as its embedded or recorded cultural archives of history, trauma, and identity for Modernist authors and their contemporary audiences. As both a voiced and mute object, the gramophone amplifies embedded accounts of a culture frequently traumatized through violence and disruption; it also bears physical testimony to the scars left behind by those traumatic encounters. My project takes Irish Modernism as its primary focus, and it identifies ways in which the traumas represented by phonograph and gramophone are tied to cultural traumas specific to Ireland. Again to briefly quantify, in my work I discuss (to varying degrees) over 20 Irish texts that evoke the gramophone as an object of some significance and in relation to some aspect of cultural trauma. For instance, in Dracula, the oral traditional of Ireland is under attack by the undead oralities of the phonograph: a machine that presumably preserves living oral culture, is essentially killing what it attempts to preserve. In George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, the gramophone is feminized in the context of gendered colonial politics. In Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September and Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock the machine is imbued with the physical and psychological violence of Ireland at war. And in works like Flann O’Brien’s At Swim-Two-Birds and Brian Friel’s The Gentle Island the gramophone is a manifestation of post-war tensions—both psychological and political—that can erupt in violence when left unresolved.
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