Sites of Sound

Abstract

The unprecedented expansion of cities in nineteenth-century England was not merely a quantitative transformation, but also generated profound changes in the national imaginary and modes of representing the urban order. These changes were evident in a range of discourses, including those of class, ethnicity, gender, place and space, and national identity. A deeper shift underpinning all of these involved the “urban epistemology,” the balance between the city known and represented as something seen and something heard. Increasingly, the city became meaningful as a “sound effect” rather than as a spectacle. The increasing size of cities made it difficult to engage with them literally and conceptually as panoramas, and their sprawling, segmented precincts and infrastructures produced a visual dis-integration. At the same time, the level and character of the acoustic environment emphasized the sonic distinctiveness of the city through the proliferation of technologized sonorities and sonic technologies. This paper exemplifies the literary manifestations of a nineteenth-century shift in the urban information economy from the visual to the auditory.

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