The Fact of Resonance: Faulkner and Benjamin : 2016

Symploke Vol. 24 no. 2

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This essay proposes a historically material theory of resonance in experience and literature. Working against contemporary techno-deterministic assessments of sound, I argue for a historical, rather than individual, modality of listening – a collective acoustical unconscious.

I begin with the premise that Benjamin did not live long enough to write about Faulkner, though he read him in the last year of his life. Considering Benjamin’s voice on the radio, I ask, what would he have heard in Faulkner? Would this material have been fodder for the development of Benjamin’s latent theory of an acoustical unconscious? How does literary history itself proceed via resonance?

Understood in its technical expression, Faulkner’s literary acoustics helps us to draw out some of Benjamin’s more elliptical points regarding the acoustical unconscious. Both Faulkner and Benjamin teach us that the acoustical unconscious far exceeds the boundaries of the individual life. Faulkner crafted a narrative space that is a sensitive recording apparatus, more sensitive than any mechanical device. As history moves through narrative space and its radiophonic air, there are consequences for racial consciousness. In Faulkner’s narrative space, blackness becomes, above all, a sound-effect,  or what I call a “fact of resonance” rather than of substance.

Thanks to the editors of the special issue in Materialisms and “Object Emotions”