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8 - Midwestern Modernism and the Radio

Eliot, Hughes, Niedecker

from Part II - Forms, Genre, and Media

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 July 2023

Mark Whalan
Affiliation:
University of Oregon
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Summary

Radio historians observe that Midwestern accents defined the sonic norms of broadcast speech in the United States, and that “BBC English” became a “supra-local accent” that transformed the speech patterns of a small group into an imperial standard. Does literary modernism follow the same model? This chapter takes up the theoretical writings around “broadcast modernism” to write a regionalist theory of poetic modernism in the US. I read backwards from Lorine Niedecker’s desire for “speech without practical locale,” to bring together Niedecker, Ezra Pound, Langston Hughes, and T. S. Eliot as Midwestern modernists whose compositions on, about, and for the radio produced work on speech that tune us into regional differences against the modernist ideology of radio’s “voice from nowhere”: the ambition of acoustic engineering, corporate infrastructure, and presidential speech. Anticipating the myth of the “neutral” Midwestern media voice, these poets’ work reveals the provincialism in modernism’s cosmopolitan desires.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2023

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