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In Session: Transnationalism and Transmediality in Wartime China
1: In Search of Alternative Soundscapes: International Modernism and Sonic Warfare in Late 1930s' China
Wednesday, March 24, 2021
12:00pm – 1:30pm EDT
University of Michigan, United States
This paper traces the crossed paths of two types of wartime modernisms and their respective engagements with China's wartime soundscape in the late 1930s: the first is represented by the modernist poetry of W. H. Auden, and the second is the political modernist documentary of Joris Ivens. Contextualizing the artists within the network of international modernism in the 1930s, I examine how Auden’s and Ivens’s journeys to wartime China informed divergent modernist experiments with the expressive and affective capacity of sound and voice, with which they developed their own auditory aesthetics and articulated alternative soundscapes beyond wartime acoustic violence.
Auden and Ivens followed a similar path from Madrid to Wuhan, hailing from the debris of the Spanish Civil War and arriving at the battlefield of wartime China. Their encounters with wartime China were crystallized, respectively, into the sonnet series of “In Time of War” (1939) and the solidarity documentary film, The 400 Million (1938). Both artists register the complex soundscape of wartime China: while they were overwhelmed by the deadly blasts of aerial bombardment, siren sounds, and cries of war victims, they sought to redress this wartime crisis of perception by discovering or imagining "minor" sounds of redemption and resistance. Conceptualizing wartime China as an interactive space that allowed the encounter between the two artists and their Chinese counterparts, for instance, the modernist poet and Auden translator Mu Dan and the Communist filmmaker Wu Yinxian, I illustrate the entwined development between European modernism and Chinese modernism.