Listening to Literature, 1900-1950 (12-14 March 2014 – Leuven, Belgium)


Listening to Literature, 1900-1950

12-14 March 2014 – University of Leuven, Belgium

Julian Murphet (University of New South Wales, Sydney)

This three-day conference seeks to survey the impact of aural media (phonograph, gramophone, telephone, radio) and other major sound events of the first half of the twentieth century on the literature of the period. Through in-depth analysis of the different ways in which modernist and avant-garde authors reflected on and incorporated sound and aural technologies in their writings, we aim to explore the literary soundscape between 1900 and 1950.
The first half of the twentieth century – “the age of noise” in the words of its contemporaries – is littered with events crucial to the history of modern aurality. The phonograph and its successor, the gramophone, enabled man to record and replay sound. Telephone and radio enabled long distance verbal communication. The combustion engine filled the big city with its incessant mechanical drone. And of course there were the two World Wars, whose aural impact – deafening bombings, nerve-shattering sirens, the rhythmic stamping of marching feet and the continuous drone of planes overhead – can hardly be overestimated.
This conference aims to explore the impact of these and other related events on the literary landscape of the period, looking for the answers to such questions as:

* How is sound represented? What techniques are used to represent sound?
* What kinds of sounds are represented and how do they compare? What function do the represented sounds fulfill within the literary work?
* Was the representation of sound altered by the introduction of new aural media such as the phonograph or telephone?
* How were the various aural media themselves represented? What is their function within the literary work? How are they used as a literary motif or device in the work of particular authors?
* How can we study sound within the literary work? How does fictional sound relate to actual sound?
* Are there substantial differences in the treatment of sound within the period, for instance between modernism and the avant-garde, but also between authors, genres, generations? And if so, how can they be explained?
* How does the literary representation of sound relate to that of the other senses? Do they fulfill different functions within the literary work?

We welcome both theoretical and case-based studies on these and other questions central to the mapping of the literary soundscape between 1900 and 1950. Proposals (in English) should be sent to by 1 July 2013. These should contain a 300-word abstract as well as a short bio listing contact and affiliation details.

The first day of the conference will cater specifically to postgraduate students, enabling young and promising scholars to present their research and collaborate with their peers.

This conference is organized by the Leuven-based research team MDRN. For more information, visit If you have any further questions, please contact or