In 1897, the year H.G. Wells’s The Invisible Man was published, Marconi filed his patent and established the first station for wireless telegraphy, what would become radio. Wells’s novel reads as if it were an instruction manual for the uses and abuses of the nascent radio voice. In this podcast, Picker argues that, in conjunction with the racist basis of much fin-de-siecle anxiety, the acousmatic status of Wells’s protagonist allows for a conspicuous if incoherent racial performance. This performance tests the limits of Wells’s sympathetic imagination even as it further amplifies the voice of Griffin, the Invisible Man. Picker begins with Wells’s story and goes on to show how, when one attends to questions of voice and sound technologies in several different media, the racial and ethnic dimensions that become audible forge invisible connections among modes of art that we have been taught to keep distinct. Tracing a transatlantic route from fiction to radio and sound film back to fiction, this approach offers a new way to characterize a crucial period of change from the late Victorian to the modern world.
John Picker is Visiting Associate Professor of Literature at MIT, where he arrived this fall after several years as Associate Professor of English at Harvard. He is the author of Victorian Soundscapes and has ongoing interests in sound studies, media history, and the literature and culture of the Victorian era. His many articles and book chapters include, most recently, an essay on “Yankee Doodle” and “The Star-Spangled Banner” in A New Literary History of America, edited by Greil Marcus and Werner Sollors and out this September from Harvard University Press.