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Sublime Noise

Musical Culture and the Modernist Writer

Josh Epstein

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What is the significance of noise in modernist music and literature?

When Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered in Paris in 1913, the crowd rioted in response to the harsh dissonance and jarring rhythms of its score. This was noise, not music. In Sublime Noise, Josh Epstein examines the significance of noise in modernist music and literature. How—and why—did composers and writers incorporate the noises of modern industry, warfare, and big-city life into their work?

Epstein argues that, as the creative class engaged with the racket of cityscapes and new media, they reconsidered not just the...

What is the significance of noise in modernist music and literature?

When Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring premiered in Paris in 1913, the crowd rioted in response to the harsh dissonance and jarring rhythms of its score. This was noise, not music. In Sublime Noise, Josh Epstein examines the significance of noise in modernist music and literature. How—and why—did composers and writers incorporate the noises of modern industry, warfare, and big-city life into their work?

Epstein argues that, as the creative class engaged with the racket of cityscapes and new media, they reconsidered not just the aesthetic of music but also its cultural effects. Noise, after all, is more than a sonic category: it is a cultural value judgment—a way of abating and categorizing the sounds of a social space or of new music. Pulled into dialogue with modern music’s innovative rhythms, noise signaled the breakdown of art’s autonomy from social life—even the "old favorites" of Beethoven and Wagner took on new cultural meanings when circulated in noisy modern contexts. The use of noise also opened up the closed space of art to the pressures of publicity and technological mediation.

Building both on literary cultural studies and work in the "new musicology," Sublime Noise examines the rich material relationship that exists between music and literature. Through close readings of modernist authors, including James Joyce, T. S. Eliot, Edith Sitwell, E. M. Forster, and Ezra Pound, and composers, including George Antheil, William Walton, Erik Satie, and Benjamin Britten, Epstein offers a radically contemporary account of musical-literary interactions that goes well beyond pure formalism. This book will be of interest to scholars of Anglophone literary modernism and to musicologists interested in how music was given new literary and cultural meaning during that complex interdisciplinary period.

Reviews

Reviews

Epstein commands an impressively wide field of reference and his writing is always lively, richly textured and colourful – sometimes brilliantly so... Sublime Noise is a thought-provoking study, densely packed with intelligent connections and highly resonant.

... he writes beautifully, has researched widely and deeply, and is clearly in command of his material. The most admirable thing about this exquisitely dilatory book is that each sentence has its own rhythm.

... compelling contribution to an increasingly interdisciplinary field of modernist studies, while broadening our understanding of the aesthetic and socio-political importance of the aural to the development of modernist literary culture.

Josh Epstein’s Sublime Noise is an original, intellectually capacious, and frequently brilliant analysis of the theoretical and material relationships between writers of the modernist period in America, Ireland, and England, and the music of their cultures—both received 'classics' of the nineteenth century and the experimental 'new music' of their times. Each superb chapter articulates a complex argument that reinvigorates many of the most canonical texts of modernism.

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Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
384
ISBN
9781421415239
Illustration Description
3 b&w illus., 9 line drawings
Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Orchestrating Modernity: Musical Culture and the Arts of Noise
2. Beating Obedient, Thinking of the Key: Adorno, The Waste Land, and the Total Work of Art
3. The Antheil

Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Orchestrating Modernity: Musical Culture and the Arts of Noise
2. Beating Obedient, Thinking of the Key: Adorno, The Waste Land, and the Total Work of Art
3. The Antheil Era: Ezra Pound's MusicalSensations
4. Joyce's Phoneygraphs
5. Performing Publicity: Authenticity, Influence, andthe Sitwellian Commedia
6. Aristocracy of the Dissonant: The Sublime Noise of Forster and Britten
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Author Bio
Featured Contributor

Josh Epstein

Josh Epstein is an assistant professor of English at Portland State University.