Disastrous Unanimity

“If we encourage the daughters to enter the professions without making any conditions as to the way in which the professions are to be practiced shall we not be doing our best to stereotype the old tune which human nature, like a gramophone whose needle has stuck, is now grinding out with such disastrous unanimity? ‘Here we go round the mulberry tree, the mulberry tree, the mulberry tree. Give it all to me, give it all to me, all to me’” (71-2).

I am drawn to the quote mostly for its use of the gramophone as instrument of destruction—a flattening tool. But then again, I’m not sure if Woolf is suggesting that the gramophone simile is about destruction but historical loops and revolutions. Is she referring to the grooves in records becoming worn over repeated listens, or is she referring to a broken record, forever looping? For me her simile imagines the destructive needle, reckless as a wrecking ball, defacing the grooves that give the record meaning into “disastrous unanimity.”

Of course, the needle is “stuck,” which, along with the repeated “round the mulberry tree, give it all to me” suggest that the record is looping. The grooves in a record aren’t destroyed in a loop, though (at least most of them, I think). So instead of the physical space of the grooves being affected, the record’s playback—its time—is affected. This is likely an arbitrary distinction, and I’ve pushed Woolf’s simile too far. My point is, while using a musical simile as she criticizes chauvinistic professionalism, Woolf also makes a deft point about recorded music. She suggests a recorded song is a mere stereotype that at once can suggest a flattening of time and space.

I’m interested in how this take, coupled with others’ takes, like Eliot or even Adorno, think about the novelty of recorded music (distinct from radio) before almost all music was electrified, amplified, or otherwise technologized as it is today.