112th Annual Conference - Riverside Convention Center, California
Friday, October 31 - Sunday, November 2, 2014

This page is about the 2014 conference. For 2015 conference info, go to PAMLA 2015.

Mid-Century Literary Sound Recordings and the Rhetoric of the Cold War

Eric Rawson, University of Southern California

This paper situates mid-century poetry-recording projects in the context of Cold War attempts to create and project a robust American literary culture. As anxiety about producing documentary evidence of a national culture spurred the identification of an artist’s aural performance with official sanction, institutional discourse—academic, governmental, and pedagogical—collided with aesthetic discourse and technological ideology.

Proposal: 

This paper situates mid-century poetry-recording projects in the context of Cold War attempts to create and project a robust American literary culture. I examine the historical relationship between the audiotext archive and the literary canon, the role of authorial performance in audiotext production, and the significance of the archival and testimonial process of recording poets reading their own work. In tracing the evolution of these project, I show how auditory archive-building, despite its ad hoc practices, endorsed the authority of the short lyric and posited the voice as the ultimate hermeneutic key, while simultaneously reinforcing the canonization of High Modernist authors and the New Critics who in print expressed disdain for this emphasis on the personality of the author.

As anxiety about producing documentary evidence of a national culture spurred the identification of an artist’s aural performance with official sanction, institutional discourse—academic, governmental, and pedagogical—collided with aesthetic discourse and technological ideology. I argue that, despite contemporary claims to the contrary, the recording of author performances was dependent upon not so much literary merit as the contigencies of highly militarized sound-recording technology and the desire for cultural stability in the paranoid post-war era.

I conclude that despite attempts to recuperate a lost oral tradition, magnetic sound recording of poets reading aloud served mainly to reconfigure and affirm the graphical authority of literary work.