The Fact of Resonance: Faulkner and Benjamin

Symploke Vol. 24 no. 2

Download “The Fact of Resonance: An Acoustics of Determination in Faulkner and Benjamin” here.

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.

Understood in its technical expression, Faulkner’s literary acoustics helps us to interpret 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, racial identity becomes, above all, a sound-effect,  or what I call a “fact of resonance” rather than of substance.

Benjamin did not live long enough to write about Faulkner, though he read him in the last year of his life. If we consider Benjamin’s experiments with radio, what would he have heard in Faulkner’s voices? Could this material have been fodder for the development of Benjamin’s latent theory of an acoustical unconscious? To engage such questions, literary history itself must proceed through resonance.

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