Paleophonic Futures: Charles Cros's Audiovisual Worlds

Charles Cros (1842–1888) is known primarily for his poems, "Le Hareng saur" most especially, and is often cited for his scientific work on mechanical sound recording and color photography, among manifold other ventures. He also wrote short fiction, some of which, as this article proposes, contains nuanced critiques of the trajectory new media technologies might follow in the nineteenth century and beyond. Taken together, "Un drame interastral" (1872) and "Le Journal de l'avenir" (1880) evoke attitudes of both wonder and deep skepticism, in both utopian and dystopian settings, about the future uses of audiovisual technologies, namely the phonograph, the telephone, and the photophone. This article demonstrates how the two texts envision potentially dangerous entanglements between political centralization and these new media technologies.