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In Session: Emergent Means: Media, Performance, and Actuality in Interwar Japan
2: Voices Newly Heard: Poetry, Sound Recording, and the Acoustic Imagination in Interwar Japan
Monday, March 22, 2021
12:30pm – 2:00pm EDT
University of Chicago, United States
In the inaugural 1930 issue of the journal Shi: Genjitsu (Poetry: Reality), the critic Kanetsune Kiyosuke delivered a simple thesis: "An emergent class demands emergent art." To this task, he continued, "If we are to bring an emergent poetry to the masses, what prevents us from turning to the art of the sung form?"
Following Kanbara Tai's fierce critique of surrealism in the same issue, Kanetsune's proposal to sing, chant, or recite poetry seemed to offer a concrete model for actualizing Kanbara's call to cast off abstractions and "confront reality directly." By shifting focus away from the print medium and toward the sonorous, rhythmic, and embodied realm of vocal performance, it followed that poetry could at once appeal to and better reflect the shifting social conditions of the present.
While scholars of interwar poetry have focused on the phonocentric reasoning of this argument and the increasingly nationalistic tenor of its advocacy across the 1930s, this paper seeks to recapture its materialist logic by attending to its concern with the emergent affordances of sound media. In particular, it examines how a diverse network of poets, critics, and linguists used sound recording to open new avenues of inquiry into the materiality of the human voice, and how such efforts brought acoustics and poetics together in the pursuit of a socially-engaged "literature for the ear." In so doing, it seeks to foreground the overlooked yet integral role of sound and voice within an evolving discourse of media and actuality in mid-century Japan.