Air-borne bards : Anglo-Irish writers and the BBC, 1931-1968
Bloom, Emily Catherine
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This dissertation defines and explores “radiogenic aesthetics” in late modernism that emerged alongside radio broadcasting, World War II era propaganda, censorship, and paper shortages, and the transnational networks forming in the shadow of British imperial collapse. The Anglo-Irish writers in this study—W.B. Yeats, Louis MacNeice, Elizabeth Bowen, and Samuel Beckett—addressed a changing media environment that mapped on to the socio-cultural flux of the period following Irish Independence. Transcending the newly minted national boundaries between Ireland and England, the British Broadcasting Corporation became a locus for shaping transnational literary networks, this in spite of the nationalist rhetoric surrounding broadcasting. By analyzing broadcasts alongside print literature, I identify a circuit of influence coursing between modernism and broadcasting, rather than a unidirectional flow. This body of work, which includes drama (radio and stage), feature broadcasts, poetry, and fiction, offers a counter-narrative to literary historical theories that position modernist aesthetics as a reaction against popular mass media. Motifs of uncanny repetition—returns, echoes, and hauntings—are typical of these radiogenic aesthetics and reveal tensions between orality and literacy, embodiment and disembodiment, communalism and individualism, ephemerality and permanence, and tradition and “the now.” These tensions become definitive features of late modernism as the self-assurance of modernism’s first practitioners gives way to troubling questions about the future of literature in the unstable media environments surrounding World War II. Adapting traditional literary forms from the novel, poem, and play for the broadcast medium and incorporating radio’s epistemologies into their literary theories, Yeats, MacNeice, Bowen, and Beckett draw attention to fundamental questions about mediation itself. In so doing, they anticipate the hypermediacy of postmodernism without, however, relinquishing the modernist pursuit of authenticity or the quest for forms capable of transcending the widening distance between author and audience.