Phonopoetics tells the neglected story of early "talking records" and their significance for literature, from the 1877 invention of the phonograph to some of the first recorded performances of modernist works. The book challenges assumptions of much contemporary criticism by taking the recorded, oral performance as its primary object of analysis and by exploring the historically specific convergences between audio recording technologies, media formats, generic forms, and the institutions and practices surrounding the literary. Opening with an argument that the earliest spoken recordings were a mediated extension of Victorian reading and elocutionary culture, Jason Camlot explains the literary significance of these pre-tape era voice artifacts by analyzing early promotional fantasies about the phonograph as a new kind of speaker and detailing initiatives to deploy it as a pedagogical tool to heighten literary experience. Through historically-grounded interpretations of Dickens impersonators to recitations of Tennyson to T.S. Eliot's experimental readings of "The Waste Land" and of a great variety of voices and media in between, this first critical history of the earliest literary sound recordings offers an unusual perspective on the transition from the Victorian to modern periods and sheds new light on our own digitally mediated relationship to the past.
About the author
Poet, songwriter, and scholar Jason Camlot is Professor of English and Associate Dean in the Faculty of Arts and Science at Concordia University.
"Camlot's riveting account of the oldest surviving poetry recordings delivers one dazzling close listening after another. Not a crackle, hum, trill, or vibrato goes unnoticed by the author's exquisitely tuned ear. Drawing on a lifetime spent in the company of vintage phonographs, Phonopoetics will be an essential guide to historic spoken word recordings of literature."
—Matthew Rubery, Queen Mary University of London
"Phonopoetics is a book best appreciated 'in stereo' as a fresh and compelling perspective on the early phonograph industry and a generative new framework for understanding the culture and practice of poetry recitation."
—Jacob Smith, Northwestern University
"Camlot challenges assumptions of contemporary literary criticism by taking the heard audio-text as a primary object of analysis....Recommended."
—S. Schmidt Horning, CHOICE
"Camlot breaks entirely new ground. His study provides, without exaggeration, something truly original for the field of sound studies, opening up entirely new archives and objects of analysis, new questions and answers."
—Tyler Whitney, Modernism/modernity
"Camlot's groundbreaking work teaches us myriad techniques for newly engaging with the audible content of media artifacts. His Phonopoetics models for us a novel audiotextual criticism and form of close listening through which we may freshly access the signals of some of history's earliest recorded sounds."
—Andrew Burkett, Victorian Studies