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Beautiful Circuits

Beautiful Circuits: Modernism and the Mediated Life

Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Beautiful Circuits
    Book Description:

    Considering texts by Henry James, Gertrude Stein, James Weldon Johnson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, James Agee, and William Carlos Williams, alongside film, painting, music, and popular culture, Mark Goble explores the development of American modernism as it was shaped by its response to technology and an attempt to change how literature itself could communicate.

    Goble's original readings reinterpret the aesthetics of modernism in the early twentieth century, when new modes of communication made the experience of technology an occasion for profound experimentation and reflection. He follows the assimilation of such "old" media technologies as the telegraph, telephone, and phonograph and their role in inspiring fantasies of connection, which informed a commitment to the materiality of artistic mediums. Describing how relationships made possible by technology became more powerfully experienced with technology, Goble explores a modernist fetish for media that shows no signs of abating. The "mediated life" puts technology into communication with a series of shifts in how Americans conceive the mechanics and meanings of their connections to one another, and therefore to the world and to their own modernity.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-51840-6
    Subjects: Film Studies, Sociology, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. INTRODUCTION: “Communications now are Love”
    (pp. 1-26)

    Apparently literature had seen its better days by 1964, so Karl Shapiro asks that we observe “the Funeral of Poetry.” We are welcome to send condolences at our convenience; attendance at the memorial is optional:

    A man appears at the corner of the street; I prepare myself for hospitality. Man or angel, welcome! But I am afraid and double-lock the door. On the occasion of the death of a political party, I send an epitaph by Western Union. I didn’t go to the funeral of poetry. I stayed home and watched it on television. Moon in the bottom of the...

  6. Part One: Communications

      (pp. 29-84)

      What Henry James remembers of his arrival in England in the spring of 1869 would hardly seem appropriate for the first moments marking his celebrated “conquest of London.”¹ James offers us, in the opening pages of The Middle Years, an image of the young American—“It was,” he writes, “impossible to have been younger”—all but overwhelmed and victimized by every detail, every circumstance, and all the “immediate intensities of appreciation.”² The “reacting small organism” that James figures himself at twenty-six shares much in common with so many of his most famous characters, from Christopher Newman to Isabel Archer to...

      (pp. 85-148)

      The travesty of literary celebrity that Melville undertakes when the action of Pierre moves from the country to the city is as savage as it is, from young Mr. Glendinning’s perspective, uncalled for. Disinherited, estranged from family and fiancée, impoverished, incestuously in love with either his mother or his sister, or both—becoming famous would seem to be the least of Pierre’s problems. Then again, as he is molested from the start by the uncanny likeness of his father’s image and the “ineffable correlativeness” it suggests, it is perhaps not out of character for Pierre to be worried, above all,...

  7. Part Two: Records

      (pp. 151-224)

      The title of Irving Berlin’s 1921 hit, written for the first of his Music Box Revues, invokes a modernist aesthetic we all know well, though perhaps set to other music. The echoes of Provençal troubadours accompany Ezra Pound’s pronouncements on behalf of the sensibility he wants twentieth-century poets to recover by attending to rhythm and “melopoeia,” or by following his Imagist imperative “to compose in the sequence of the musical phrase.”¹ No map of Eliot’s The Waste Land is complete until allusions to both Wagner and “that Shakespeherian Rag” have been duly scrutinized for how they synthesize the demotic and...

      (pp. 225-304)

      History often stinks—which is perhaps why, just a year after opening, the National Archives installed a special “vault for the fumigation of records,” pictured here in a 1935 photograph from the Second Annual Report of the Archivist of the United States (fig. 4.1).¹ We see two men loading a cart of old documents, some bound in leather, others loose or tied with ribbon, into the smooth metal maw of the treatment chamber, which stretches who knows how far past the left edge of the photograph; maybe we are supposed to estimate the vault’s size from the fact that there...

  8. EPILOGUE: Looking Back at Mediums
    (pp. 305-318)

    Before Walker Evans went to work for the U.S. government in the 1930s, he negotiated a higher salary and was given a new title to go with it, Information Specialist.¹ At the time, this job designation was no doubt the easiest way to explain to New Deal bureaucrats why the Department of Agriculture needed so many photographers on its payroll. It is also possible to imagine that the term appealed to Evans—the $400 raise notwithstanding—because it marked another way in which his straight photography and its modernist aesthetic could be distinguished from the late Victorian artistry of a...

  9. notes
    (pp. 319-358)
  10. Index
    (pp. 359-374)