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Radio: Essays in Bad Reception

John Mowitt
Copyright Date: 2011
Edition: 1
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    In a wide-ranging, cross-cultural, and transhistorical assessment, John Mowitt examines radio’s central place in the history of twentieth-century critical theory. A communication apparatus that was a founding technology of twentieth-century mass culture, radio drew the attention of theoretical and philosophical writers such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Walter Benjamin, Jacques Lacan, and Frantz Fanon, who used it as a means to disseminate their ideas. For others, such as Martin Heidegger, Theodor Adorno, and Raymond Williams, radio served as an object of urgent reflection. Mowitt considers how the radio came to matter, especially politically, to phenomenology, existentialism, Hegelian Marxism, anticolonialism, psychoanalysis, and cultural studies. The first systematic examination of the relationship between philosophy and radio, this provocative work also offers a fresh perspective on the role this technology plays today.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95007-8
    Subjects: Performing Arts

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Object of Radio Studies
    (pp. 1-21)

    The object in question has two aspects, and it will help if I begin by distinguishing them. At one level, “the object” designates the cultural technology of radio itself. At issue is not exactly the thing called a radio, for a radio can be reduced to the status of a thing only if regarded as an appliance, a component of a home entertainment system, however modest. As has been argued by others, radio is composed of certain techniques of listening, a diffused network of social interaction, an industrialized medium of entertainment, a corporate or state system of public communication, in...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Facing the Radio
    (pp. 22-47)

    A distinction useful for my purposes is drawn in scene II of Wilder and Brackett’sSunset Blvd.In it Norma Desmond, played by Gloria Swanson, and Joe Gillis, played by William Holden, are discussing her script,Salomé.The dialogue is as follows:

    Norma:I’ve written it myself. It’s taken me years. It’s going to be a very important picture.

    Joe:It looks like enough for six important pictures.

    Norma:It’s the story of Salomé. I think I’ll have de Mille direct it.

    Joe:De Mille!? Uh-huh.

    Norma:We made a lot of pictures together.

    Joe:And you’ll play Salomé?


  6. CHAPTER 2 On the Air
    (pp. 48-76)

    Simon Winchester, in his witty, informative, and hopelessly balanced history of theOxford English Dictionary,archly draws attention to a detail so obvious that it might otherwise escape notice. It appears in a footnote to chapter 4, where, in commenting on the Herculean labors of Frederick Furnivall (an early editor), he points out that at a certain moment one can detect, and detect with certainty, a change in the daily paper read by Furnivall. How? All of a sudden his quotations establishing current usage of word entries shift from theDaily Newsto theDaily Chronicle.This anecdote, coupled with...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Stations of Exception
    (pp. 77-103)

    Sabotageversusself-negation.These terms—the first Benjamin’s, the second Sartre’s—are two names for the condition that results when one turns off one’s radio, when one goes off the air. Although the objects of these gestures are different, both are expressly, but also perhaps therefore traditionally, political. Indeed, they politicize the click (as Ponge called it), the flick, that effects the transition between on and off. Moreover, these gestures lean heavily on any more traditionally political consideration of radio broadcasting, especially broadcasting practices that struggle to keep what partisans refer to as “the voice” on the air. In this...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Phoning In Analysis
    (pp. 104-143)

    The interchanges between and among radio, instruction, and politics invite, perhaps even demand, attention to psychoanalysis and the articulation between radio and psychoanalytic theory quite specifically. As in the analysis of Sartre and Benjamin, this discussion will play up the relation between the two “ons”: psychoanalysis conductedoverthe wireless airwaves (the organizing conceit of the long-running television programFrazier), and the thinkingaboutradio to be found within psychoanalysis, the conceptual benchmark for which is to be found in the formulation fromDialectic of Enlightenment,“Radio is a sublimated printing press,” discussed in the Introduction. Once again the enabling...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Birmingham Calling
    (pp. 144-177)

    In preceding chapters much has been made of the way reflection on radio has confounded not only distinctions among philosophical tendencies—say between Adorno and Heidegger—but distinctions between philosophy and other theoretically charged practices, for example psychoanalysis or sociology. The repeated argument has been: radio is not simply the occasion for such effects, it also stands in a relation of contingent necessity to them. Here, this argument will be repeated but by passing more directly over the recurrent motif of education from the angle that opens up when one recognizes the insistently pedagogical spread between Brecht, who thought of...

  10. CHAPTER 6 “We Are the Word”?
    (pp. 178-202)

    On August 17, 1992, paleoconservative Patrick Buchanan said the following at the Republican National Convention:

    My friends, this election is about much more than who gets what. It is about who we are. It is about what we believe. It is about what we stand for as Americans. There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself. And in that struggle for the soul of America, Clinton & Clinton are on...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 203-216)
  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 217-226)
  13. Index
    (pp. 227-230)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-232)