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Late Modernist Chronophobia and the Aural Biopolitics of the Air-Raid Siren
An online public lecture, organised by Durham's Centre for Modern Conflicts and Cultures and the Department of English Studies 20th/21st Century Research Seminar. Please register in advance.
From the late interwar period onwards, British society was caught within an experience of chronophobia: a form of dread in which memory and futurity, anxieties about past and future war, dissolved into one another. In this way, the years around the Second World War present an important chapter in understanding the development of modern wartime itself—as a temporality increasingly unbounded by calendrical dates, to one defined by affective, existential fear and long-term civilian mobilization. Turning to first-person diaries and medical journal articles from the late 1930s and early 1940s, this talk focuses on the way urban soundscapes and listening practices captured both the chronophobia of the time and the imperative to mobilize against it. Through Virginia Woolf’s historical novel The Years (1937), it asks what role sound plays in late modernist narratives which seek to respond to the biopolitical implications of the state of emergency.
Beryl Pong is a Vice-Chancellor’s Fellow in English at the University of Sheffield. Her book, British Literature and Culture in Second World Wartime: For the Duration, was published by Oxford University Press’s Mid-Century Studies Series earlier this year. Her articles can be read in Modernism/modernity, Journal of Modern Literature, and Literature & History, among other venues. She holds a British Academy Rising Star Engagement Award for the project ‘The Aesthetics of Drone Warfare’ (2019-2021).
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