Julie Beth Napolin

9:30AM Julie Beth Napolin, The New School

“‘A Sinister Resonance’”: Vibration, Sound, and the Birth of Conrad’s Marlow

Auditors are requested to read the attached article, “‘A Sinister Resonance’”: Vibration, Sound, and the Birth of Conrad’s Marlow,” Qui Parle 21, no. 2 (Spring/Summer 2013): 69-100 (click to download) in preparation for my talk. This essay argues that the development of Joseph Conrad’s famous storyteller, Marlow, was premised upon the discovery of vibration and the physics of frequency in the nineteenth century. Turning to Conrad’s ubiquitous, yet subtle motifs of resonance and vibration, the essay posits the Marlow-narrated novel as a sub-aural, invisible activity, one that indexes Conrad’s dilemma as a transnational writer. In developing Marlow, Conrad negotiated the material problems of a language barrier and imagined sound and vibration as permeating the apparent stability of entities, including the bodies of his audience. Conrad’s technique unwittingly positions Marlow in the history of modern physics and allows for a new theory of sound in modernist narrative as it exceeds the traditional binary between the storytelling voice and visual impressionism.

My talk will describe how this essay has developed in my ongoing book project, The Fact of Resonance. It is a case study of racialized consciousness and memory in modernism as told through the acoustical relation between Conrad and Faulkner, and their reverse impact on the aesthetics of decolonization. The project destabilizes the neutralities of narratology to argue for a racialized aesthetic of literary acoustics, as well as the transnational formation of modernism through resonance.