Language and Literature
This paper explores how telecommunication and mechanical reproduction mediated Shanghai’s modernist literary experiments, creating new narrative formats and imaginative realms. It examines the new symbiosis of literature and audio culture as the key to the formation of Shanghai’s intercultural modernity in the 1930s. During the early twentieth century, the technologies of mechanical reproduction significantly changed people’s experience of sound. As a new audio device, telephone allows sound to be reproduced and transmitted over long distance. Sound has become independent from its original creator and can be heard in other places at the same time. Telephone was first introduced to China in 1878 and was in full operation three years later. Telephone became a part of bourgeois daily life—there were over 26,000 registered telephone customers in Shanghai in 1930. The new technology of telecommunication radically changed the soundscape of Shanghai in everyday life as well as in literary sensitivity. Shanghai’s avant-garde writers of new-sensation school actively reflected the new aural experiences. Their work demonstrated the circulation and the reception of telephone. This paper examines how telephone as a media of mechanical reproduction illustrated the writing of the new-sensation school. It looks into the image of telephone presented in Shanghai newspapers, and analyses how telephone constructed the imagination of “modern life.” By closely reading related short stories, this paper explicates how telephone as a necessary story device facilitated a brand new setting of time and space of story, new form of narrative, and even a new imagination of romance and desire.