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Title: Din, dazzle and blur : noise, information and the senses in early twentieth-century society and modernist culture
Author: Wraith, Matthew
ISNI:       0000 0004 2736 5990
Awarding Body: Birkbeck (University of London)
Current Institution: Birkbeck (University of London)
Date of Award: 2011
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Modernity brings with it new imperatives for organising sensation into the fundamental binary poles of foreground and background, signal and noise. If there is perhaps nothing particularly new in such a division, the foreground-background division is as it were, brought to the foreground in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries by the daily incursions that the latter makes upon the former. The senses themselves become less a means of access to the outside world than the noise in the transmission and reception of the outside world. Recognising our senses means no longer recognising the forms and figures that our senses are supposed to mediate. Modernism, in a variety of different ways, plays upon this unsettled relation between our senses and the things they sense. If technology was in many ways responsible for this change – making our relation to our senses problematic by assaulting our sensory apparatus with a host of prosthetic extensions and intensifications – the technology of sensation also provided a new way of understanding both sensation and its interference. The theory of noise and information articulated by Claude Shannon at the tail end of the modernist time-grid provides the main theoretical support for my discussion. The metaphysic that the contemporary philosopher Michel Serres’ constructs around the concept of communicational noise and its application to the senses may provide a new way of understanding and interrelating some of the main theoretical staples of modernist criticism: chaos and order; time and timelessness; the individual and the universal. My thesis is organised around Sight and Sound. In Chapter One I look at noise in its ‘native’ element: that of audition. Taking as its starting point Boccioni’s 1910 painting ‘The Noise on the Street Invades the House’, I will put the painting in within its social context and look at how invasive background noise became a topic of heightened social concern. I then go on, in Chapters Two and Three to give close readings of individual authors: T.S. Eliot and James Joyce respectively, showing how urban noise is portrayed in their writings and how it affected their modes of representation. Chapters Four and Five are concerned with light and vision. Chapter four examines the idea of Dazzle: how the apparition of intense light was re-evaluated in the nineteenth and twentieth century, changing from its ancient role as the central, binding, unitary source of the visible realm, to noisy agent of disruption and corruption of vision. In Chapter Five I look at the effect of modern, industrialised speed on the eye that beholds it and the similar corrupting effects.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available