Session Description

Session 85, Thursday, January 7, 3:30-4:45 p.m., 5C, ACC

Presenters: Sos Eltis, Jonathan Goldman, John Wyver

Presiding: Jennifer Buckley

In summer 2015, George Bernard’s Shaw’s work became new media in the most obvious of ways, when the Royal National Theatre digitally broadcasted its high-profile production of Man and Superman to cinemas and art centers around the world. Given Shaw’s own intense interest in emergent and established media in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it is exceptionally appropriate that the NT Live initiative staged a Shaw play as part of their effort to create a twenty-first century global theater audience via satellite.

This panel, however, challenges the popular equation of “new media” with the digital by adopting the historically contingent definition of the term proposed by media scholars, notably Lisa Gitelman (1999, 2006) and Gitelman and Geoffrey B. Pingree (2003). Our turn to media history is prompted not only by Shaw’s various engagements with a wide range of nineteenth- and twentieth-century media — including the telegraph, photograph, phonograph, typewriter, film, radio, television, and mass print — but also by media historians’ and theorists’ sometimes brief but always provocative engagements with Shaw.

An especially prominent instance occurs in Friedrich A. Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (1986); for Kittler, Pygmalion dramatizes the transition from humanism to posthumanism in Liza Doolittle’s phonographically enabled transformation from “soul” to “sound”-producer. The burgeoning field of sound studies has also taken up Shaw, as in Jonathan Sterne’s (2003) and Benjamin Steege’s (2012) respective histories of hearing and listening, in which Pygmalion’s Professor Henry Higgins serves as a paradigmatic technologically empowered expert.

It is not only Shaw’s treatment of phonography that has drawn the attention of media-minded critics. His ambivalent but extensive involvement with print media has attracted scholars of material texts and print cultures, including W.B. Worthen (2004) and Elizabeth Carolyn Miller (2013). Others have recently begun to contest the widespread perception of Shaw as a (perhaps excessively) literary dramatist by documenting the prominence of Shaw and his plays in the early years of the public-service and commercial radio, television, and film industries.

The papers presented by Sos Eltis, John Wyver, and Jonathan Goldman will extend, and in some cases contest, this growing body of scholarship by assessing the uses Shaw made of several nineteenth- and twentieth-century media, and the uses new or newly consolidated media industries made of GBS and his works.

This session on Shaw’s engagements with nineteenth- and twentieth-century media will interest scholars in a wide range of fields and subfields, including media history, print culture studies, Victorian studies, modernist studies, and drama and theatre studies. We look forward to our conversation with you in Austin, and on Twitter (hashtags #MLA2016 #ShawNewMedia).