This spring will see the release of Assistant Professor Tyler Whitney’s first book, Eardrums: Literary Modernism as Sonic Warfare, with Northwestern University Press. The book explores the various ways in which the sonic dimension of the German-speaking world changed from unification in 1870 to the rise of National Socialism in the late 1920s. This period of rapid modernization was characterized by the audible convergence of military and civilian soundscapes. 

As the din of the Franco-Prussian War subsided in 1871, the physical effects and affective states engendered by that war’s unprecedented sonic intensity migrated to the urban spaces of Prague, Berlin, and Vienna. Infantry calls and marching drums echoed in the military parades and war commemorations, which pervaded contemporary civilian life.  The noise of industrial machinery, streetcars, and urban construction sites was increasingly experienced as a sonic assault on the body, one with real physical and psychological consequences, engendering many of the same symptoms of hearing loss, ruptured eardrums, and auditory hallucinations which had been well documented among soldiers during the war. Modern life became a war of sound, both on and off the battlefield.

Eadrums is the first book-length study to explore this complex interaction of acoustical modernity and German modernism, charting a literary and cultural history written in and around the ear. The result is not only a new way of understanding the underlying sonic impulses behind key literary texts from the period; it also outlines an entirely new approach to the study of literature as both text and sonic practice, visual inscription and actualized sonority, sound archive and sonic weapon.