The Radio Question

McAuliffe, Sam. 2018. 'The Radio Question'. In: London Conference in Critical Thought. Westminster 30 June - 1 July, 2017. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

In his ‘Reverie and Radio’ (1951), Gaston Bachelard suggests that the technological medium in question has not only given rise to a new institution of speech but a “new reality” for the subject of this speech: on account of the potentially universal extension of its network and the synchronic nature of its dispatch, the discursive dimension radio cultivates has established a new polis, the space of which he will call the “logosphere.” At the same time, radio is for Bachelard capable of offering a new schematization of individuated experience - “Radio really does represent the total, daily realization of the human psyche” – above all, because it is a device that can facilitate “reverie,” freeing the unconscious of the strictures in which it is customarily bound.
In ‘The Radio Voice,’ on the contrary, Adorno understands this same cluster of functions and attributes belonging to radio as a more refined means of subjugation: for him radio distributes speech hierarchically, it cultivates a voice that cannot be conversed with, that must ultimately be submitted to, compromising the listener’s autonomy: “The supremacy of authoritarian central institutions over the privacy of the citizens is not only promoted by radio: it is in part the historical presupposition of the existence of radio as well. The radio voice is the executor, the agency of those authorities.”
This paper will stage a confrontation between these divergent interpretations of radio and the politics of speech implied in each case. It will do so with a third text in mind, Brecht’s ‘Radio as a Means of Communication,’ which suggests that the functions ascribable to this particular technology are not once and for all set, but can themselves be re-determined, with a view to intervening in reality itself.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)


Radio, Technology, Adorno, Bachelard, Brecht, Administered Society, Utopia, Speech

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


30 June 2018Accepted

Event Location:


Date range:

30 June - 1 July, 2017

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

04 Jul 2018 08:15

Last Modified:

04 Jul 2018 08:15


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