Imagining Sonic Flaneurs from the Past

Recently, our book Sound, Space and Sociality in Modern Japan was reprinted in paperback. In the introduction (co-authored with Sonic Japan team member Joe Hankins), we wrote about how sensory experiences had been described in the past:

"the notion of the public gaze has been much discussed in social theory...Social theory as generated by Western scholars has prioritised the visual; influenced by the primacy of literacy as an indicator of 'civilised' understanding...' (p. 6)

The city was thus seen in the early 20th century as a social and environmental construct, described by the flaneur, an educated person who “observes everyday life on the street, digests it and spits it back out in the form of essays, poetry and other writing." (ibid).

It's interesting to think about how sensory life was described in the past compared to the kind of work we are doing on this website. Japanese cities at this time were wonderfully described in the literature at that time by flaneurs such as Nagai Kafu (1879-1959) who saw himself as Baudelaire’s Japanese counterpart, and Tanizaki Jun’ichiro (1886-1965), who was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature multiple times. Their writings about sound in the early modern Japanese city give us some idea about what places like early modern leisure spots such as Ginza (featured here) would have sounded like then. Who knows… if Nagai and Tanizaki had had access to digital recorders, and the ability to embed sound files in their writing as we do in this blog…what would their essays, short stories and novels have “sounded” like?

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