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Title: Wires Overhead: Virginia Woolf’s “The Narrow Bridge of Art,” The Waves and an Aesthetics of Telecomunicability
Authors: Shawn Lim You Hao
Issue Date: 13-Nov-2017
Citation: Shawn Lim You Hao (2017-11-13). Wires Overhead: Virginia Woolf’s “The Narrow Bridge of Art,” The Waves and an Aesthetics of Telecomunicability. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: Following the work of media theorist Friedrich Kittler, this thesis attempts to situate Virginia Woolf and her modernism within a contemporary historical moment characterised by a medial rupture; that is, one which saw print media’s loss of representational authority within a nascent media ecology marked by the advent of new visual and aural technologies. Accordingly, this thesis suggests that Woolf’s modernist aesthetic project can be read as a negotiation of mediality in modern literature, provocatively registering the influences of modern media technologies within an experimental oeuvre abjuring the literary conventionalities of an exhausted Edwardian realism. Specifically, it contends that modern auditory telecommunications, especially the radiophone, played a formative role in Woolf’s critical conception of the “playpoem” as articulated in her 1927 essay, “The Narrow Bridge of Art,” and its eventual literary manifestation as The Waves. Through a close reading of both “Narrow Bridge” and The Waves, this thesis uncovers the formal and analogical correspondences the modernist work as “playpoem” shares with auditory telecommunications. In so doing, The Waves importantly indexes Woolf’s response to her immediate media-technological milieu, and registers her cognisance of the modern subject’s expanded perceptual capacities as augmented by auditory telecommunications. By providing an account of Woolf’s complex engagement with a technologised modernity, this thesis thus also calls for a critical revision of a Woolfian modernism understood as a sterile, ahistorical aestheticism, for The Waves as exemplary of Woolf’s literary innovations marks not only an aesthetic breakthrough in modern literature, but crucially inscribes also a critical modernist attempt at eliciting the irreducible medial qualities of literature among the competing sights and sounds of the Edisonian era.
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