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Telegraphy: A Poetics of Immediacy and Compression

Date and Time: 
Thursday, April 7, 2016. 06:30 PM - 08:30 PM
Meeting Location: 
Stanford Humanities Center Board Room
Meeting Description: 
Speaker:
Justin Tackett specializes in British and American literature of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with a focus on sound studies, poetics, Victorianism, transatlantic modernism, periodicals, technology, and urbanization. His work has included studies of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, John Clare, and Stephen Crane, and his current writing also includes Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Walt Whitman. This year, he is a Smithsonian Predoctoral Fellow and an Emily Dickinson International Society Graduate Fellow.
 
 
Please join us April 7 (Thursday), 6:30-8:30pm in the Humanities Center Boardroom for our first event of the quarter. Justin Tackett (PhD candidate, English) will be worshiping a chapter from his dissertation, on Emily Dickinson and telegraphy. Professor Denise Gigante (English) will be responding. 
 
Of the piece, Justin writes:
 
My dissertation aims to theorize the relationship between poetry and sound technology from 1850 to 1930 in Britain and America. Sound technologies, such as the telephone, phonograph, microphone, and radio, were developed simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic, often for the purpose of rendering transatlantic cultural exchanges more efficient. From the beginning, poetry was part of these exchanges. The fundamental question of my work is: How did sound technology and poetry affect each other in a formative period that witnessed unprecedented changes in both mediums? My dissertation currently comprises chapters on stethoscopy, telegraphy, phonography, microphony, and radiophony. In each chapter, the titular sound technology represents a cultural desire that existed before it was invented that is not unique to that technology, but is shared by all sound technologies to varying degrees. Poetry was not merely reacting to these inventions, but helped bring them into being by articulating each desire, springing from the same source.
 
I’ve written my first chapter, “Phonography: A Poetics of Reproduction and Fidelity,” which analyzes the work of Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, and Gerard Manley Hopkins. The chapter I send you, “Telegraphy: A Poetics of Immediacy and Compression,” principally examines the work of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. I argue that the main motivation behind telegraphy was speed of communication across great distances. This speed of communication involved two related components seldom discussed in histories of telecommunications: immediacy and compression. These two desires form the framework within which I analyze technology and poetry in this chapter. In particular, I devote considerable space to Dickinson’s treatment of telegraphy’s “suddenness,” which involves the navigation of immediacy and compression through poetic mediation and decompression.

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