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The 'disembodied voice' in fin-de-siècle British literature : its genealogy and significances

By Hiroshi Muto


A particular kind of voice recurs in fin-de-siècle British literature.\ud It is a voice without a human body, a voice whose source is either\ud invisible or non-human. This study explores the historical factors\ud underlying the literary representation of such a voice.\ud Chapter 1 examines Arthur Symons' phrase, 'the disembodied voice\ud of a human soul,' and sets up the context for the subsequent discussion\ud by teasing out the four major implications of the fin-de-siècle\ud disembodied voice: the socio-political, the aesthetico-linguistic, the\ud techno-scientific, and the sexual-somatic. Chapter 2 first outlines the\ud modern origin of the disembodied voice in the Gothic-Romantic culture\ud of the late eighteenth century, where the frequent description of the\ud disembodied voice is linked to the rise of the nostalgia for premodernity;\ud the chapter then analyzes the disembodied voice in Joseph\ud Conrad's Heart of Darkness both in terms of Gothic culture and of the\ud fin-de-siècle situation. The Romantic aesthetico-linguistic\ud prioritization of the aural-oral, which we call 'melocentricism,' the\ud fin-de-siècle consumerism and colonialism, and the then influential\ud scientific concept of ether receive scrutiny. Chapter 3 addresses Oscar\ud Wilde's Salome. Apart from the factors that this play shares with\ud Conrad's novella, the disembodied voice in Salome secretly expresses a\ud longing for the homosexual-cum-communal.\ud Chapter 4 explores the fin-de-siècle imperial and homosexual\ud implications, and the 'melocentric' pre-history, of the phonographic\ud voice in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Chapter 5 teases out the hidden\ud political dimension of the technological voice, phonographic and\ud wireless, in Kipling's Kim and '"Wireless".' Chapter 6 compares the\ud fin-de-siècle voice with an instance of the early twentieth-century, the\ud wireless voice in D. H. Lawrence's Ladv Chatterley's Lover, a voice now\ud involved in the global network of broadcasting. It is concluded that\ud the disembodied voice is inseparable from important aspects of fin-de-siècle\ud British culture as well as the question of modernity

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