WAVES OF SHOCK
"Television kills telephony
Did you know that Joyce evokes television a number of times in his "Wake in progress?"
The flapping of wings of the Direct began to touch the world long before Television emerged in its present form. The effects of television, at least in the world of the arts, reveal what the theorists of chaos nicely call the "butterfly effect." A simple discrepancy, a "small difference" at first is amplified over the course of time. A cataclysm emerges during a sequence, the initial point of which is a lowly event. From this point of view, television is a catastrophe, as well are the effects it produces. It is not located at the final point in the chain, but in the middle: it participates in and from the amplification onwards.
In the beginning, there was the Direct: the instantaneous. A representation of the real creates itself at the same time as this real takes place, and it is immediately transmitted into the distance. Plato already dreamed of this, as is proven by his Myth of the Cave. For quite some time, people have been searching for the means of creating something that we today call television. This "desire for television" made them invent along the way such things as a number of machines, like the motion picture projector in 1895, as well as the pantelegraph thirty years earlier. Ancestor of the fax machine, the pantelegraph of the abbot Caselli, functioning between 1865 and 1885, transmitted fixed images through synchronized sweeping-signatures authenticating bank or stock market operations, portraits of individuals wanted by the police, etc. Soon the telephone and later, the radio, transmitted sounds. And finally the cinema and the television achieved the continuous reflection of the real and its perpetual duplication (differing or not).
Could it be possible that this revolution left no effect on the great artistic creations of the 20th century? Could it be possible that Joyce, Duchamp, Cage, Cunningham, Pollock, Dubuffet, Proust, Céline and Godard, to mention just a few names, could have created their oeuvres, ignorant of the energy of the Direct? Certainly not -- on the contrary. It was the breath of instantaneousness which inspired a major part of their research, breaking through unedited forms that made them innovators.
Joyce? It is no accident that he comes from the country where Marconi installed his first TSF (wireless) station. This radio, which signaled to the ports of London and Liverpool the passage of ships off the coast of Ireland so that, warned one day in advance, these ports could plan the arrival of passengers and the unloading of these ships better… this radio that, despite being brand new, must have played a role in the birth of this modern Ulysses, who relives on land the Odyssey in one sole day. One day! Twenty-four hours in the life of a town… One precise day, June 16th … Five hundred pages to transcribe the facts and gestures, sensations, utterances and thoughts of three characters (and a few extras) in the course of one day, hour by hour… And to end it all, this interior monologue, this continuous flowering of ruminations, this minute by minute description of a life as it goes by, chaotic, with its past incessantly screening through its present, with its flux of omnivorous present. No radio could achieve so well its synchronism. It would surely lag behind slightly, incapable of rendering at the same time the real and its subjective interpretation; failing at screening by the same prism, action simultaneously with thought. Marconi gives points to Joyce. Ulysses and its eighteen chapters edited in eighteen different styles: eighteen radio shows in eighteen different genres.
Having arrived at this point of concentration, superposition, bursting, diffusion, is it possible for the novel to go even further? Yes, what we need is for the hero, reduced to an inextricable knot of dilated instants and contracted centuries, to broadcast in permanence a narration of its image. And this is why, after the journey of Ulysses, Joyce modulates the polyphonic nocturne of Finnegans Wake, with its hero in plural - the Finnegans. The fact that such a character kindles a polyglot incantation is in function of its protean capacities. In order to become protean itself, the Novel has but to produce an echo of innumerable identities of the hero materialised by the declination of the three initials of his name: H.C.E. Debuting as Howth Castle and Environs, it transforms through the pages and sometimes, within one single page, among others, into Here Comes Everybody, He Can Explain, Howke Cotchme Eye, Homo Capite Erectus, Hagious Curious Encestor, Humphrey Childeric Eudebert, Howforhim Chirrupeth Evereachbird, Heavengendered Chaosfoedted Earthborn, Hugues Caput Earlyfouler, all the way to the indicated "1001st name: Hocus Crocus Esquilocus, which is far, as we know, from being the last… He will also become Here Calls Earwicker, which could be translated as Here's Radio Earwicker. Even though no more importance will be attributed to this patronymic than to any of the others, couldn't we just see - or perhaps rather hear - the secret code of all the others, the key of all these identities, the formula of all this generating machine (of language, text, history)? "The proteiform graph itself is a polyhedron of scripture." (F.W.,p.107.)
Like the ultimate key of HCE, the alert Joyceans always put into first place the Latin initials of Christ: IHS (Jesus Savior of the People), itself being the echo of the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, Christian recycling of the Hebrew cipher designating God with the three consonants of Yahweh - Y H W. The theological developments that Joyce's book weaves staunchly support this interpretation.
There is another interpretation, much rarer, (which we can find in the work of McLuhan). Without excluding the first one, it tends to consider the triad HCE as the literary extension of a radio signal -- of all these (radio/TV) stations that are named in the United States ABC, NBC, CBS, whilst in the United Kingdom, BBC. "Bibby buckshee," jokes Joyce. The Work in Progress of Joyce is all the better identified by a radio station which is itself abbreviated by three letters: WIP. Joyce or the supreme broadcaster. The one that manages to transmit YWH through the BBC reconverted to WIP to engender HCE. The Catholic Trinity and the radiophonic (or even televisual) posture are the two poles of the Joycean wave. Joyce dips his pen into the ink of the Direct in order to make himself equal with the Creator of the World. Repetition of the evangelical gesture: JHS is born in the womb of a virgin; the BBC of Joyce (bibby buckshee) is born in the chest of another Mary - Mary Nothing. "(…) Mary Nothing may burst her bibby buckshee." This being uttered two lines after the invocation of television that we hereby quote: "Television kills radiophony."
All the same… The radiophonic flows do not cease to expand through the fabric of Wake. Here is an example that brings us primarily the pleasant surprise of a butterfly: "When (pip!) a message interfering intermitting interskips from them (pet!) on herzian waves, (call her venicey names! call her a stell!) a butterfly from her zipclasped handbag, a wounded dove astarted from, escaping out her forecotes." (F.W., p.232; p.250 for the French translation). We could quote a long and winding sentence which flows from page 309 to page 310 of the Faber edition (pp.341-342 in the French edition), where curious antennae are displayed:
"(…) umbrella antennas for distance, getting and connected by the magnetic links of a Bellini-Tosti coupling system with a vitaltone speaker, capable of capturing skybuddies, harbour craft emittences, key clickings, vaticum cleaners, due to woman formed mobile or man made static and bawling the whowle hamshack (…)"A piece of equipment put together or a "radio amateur" very special Joyce style, perpetually in a state of listening to the world. Joyce is a ham: home amateur radio. HCE=HAM. WIP=HAM. Listening to the World and secular.
We know through the accounts of Mercanton, the young Swiss writer who tried to settle Joyce in Switzerland at the end of the 1930's, how much the author of Finnegans Wake liked to play with his own radio, jumping from one station to the other, zapping (he surely would have liked the word) even before the existence of the word. Couldn't this sensible experience have contributed (a little? or very much?) to the formation of the notion of Space-Time in the work of Finnegans Wake? How can we doubt it? "It is told in sounds in utter that, in signs so adds to, in universal, in polygluttural, in each auxiliary neutral idiom, sordomutics, florilingua, sheltafocal, flayflutter, a con's cubane, a pro's tutute, strassarab, ereperse and anythongue athall." (F.W.,p.117.)
Sunken into the same waves, other writers will repeat this gesture of Joyce without necessarily amplifying it.
Louis-Ferdinand Céline tailored himself a style by finding a way to pluck out the crumbs of life neither hour by the hour, nor minute by minute, but as he will pretend, "second by second."
Jack Kerouac was soon able to tell about "his life and nothing but his life" by telling it on long rows of telex paper accordion found in the garbage, shortening from one novel to the other the time that separates what he experiences from what he writes, approaching more and more this time zero which seals on television the connection of images to the real.
Philippe Sollers will reach the Paradise of the sentence without end before the inauguration with Femmes of a genre of chit-chat-novel in the corner of PAF (French Audiovisual Scenery) which only has one equivalent, but this is in the field of cinema, the works of Fellini since Fellini Roma. Every film of Fellini becomes since then a broadcast of Fellini Uno, as Serge Daney called the maestro one day. Every novel by Sollers is the equivalent of a programme of the RTS (Radio Television Sollersienne). Here's Paris Sollers, the Frenchman speaks (once again) to the French…
And then - let's change the landscape, let's jump continents - there will be, there has been, there is Pollock… Radio, the jazz open at full volume during the sessions of dripping. "In the dripping there is no more intermediary between the gesture and its inscription in the support. The gesture and the painting are united in the same determination; they constitute one single subject. In the dripping, drawing is painting, form is colour. All relay between line and color, all contrast between background and form are abolished: the painting of Pollock is a spontaneously unitary object," writes Pierre Restany quite correctly. Spontaneously and instantaneously… like the Direct. The immediate description of the world practiced by the radio and television has been achieved by Pollock in another manner. And when he wants to describe his practice, it is the word direct that is imposed.
"I begin to paint the way one begins to draw; that is, directly. I think that today… the more that painting is immediate and direct, the more numerous the possibilities are to arrive at… to affirm one's practice. All of my paintings are painted directly. Each of them is unique."
But let us come back to the beginning of the century, to the first wingbeats of the Direct. At the beginning of the century, there is Joyce and there is Duchamp. Joyce and Duchamp? Same waves, same shock.
The ready-made is an answer to the shock of the instantaneousness of radio and television. The unbeatable record of these media transforms the world instantaneously into representations (sonic and visual), and here it is, equaled in another manner. Without camera, the ready-made is a factory that lays immediate images. And painting becomes "late." Fatally late, compared to the immediateness of the mechanical redoubling. But an artist, and Art, should never feel beaten by Technique. Duchamp lifted his head and beat Technique. After the ready-made, which settles the account with the Object, he invented painting on glass, which put the pendulums of the clock back into place, concerning the image. The strike of Genius of the Grand Verre resides in the annulled deployment of the image with two faces where, until we lose sight, the simultaneousness of a sight and its broadcast image takes place. On the one side, the image at the moment when it is produced; on the other, the image at the instant when it is received. It is the same image, and it is the same instant. TV as it is! The bride is stark naked because she is consummated immediately.
"In order to achieve instant rest - enter the expression extra-fast." This is how Duchamp, under the shock of the waves of instantaneity, formulates his programme. And everything he does derives from this. Beyond his ready-mades, beyond his Bride, his puns as well proceed in the same direction and at the same speed. Anaemic cinema, ecchymoses of exquisite words, the essence of the sword in the hair of the beloved, a word of a queen / aching kidneys, and the other Belle Haleine (beautiful breath)… Anagrams, counterpoints… The game of these suave distortions -- what could it be but the triumph of the ultra-fast speed in the quasi-instantaneous deployment of a verbal object and of its almost-double. An anagram is like a flash. A counterpoint is not bad as a veil.
Meditating upon the examples of Joyce and Duchamp, John Cage did not have such a hard time importing chaos into music. Under the impulse of Cage, Merce Cunningham has done the same in Dance. As well as Nam June Paik in the Animated Image.
The appearance of Video Art - which Paik launches first under the name "abstract television," then later "experimental television," before calling it, in an even simpler and more precise way, "my television" - is a sign of conscience. Video is the conscience of the self of the television. Neither Pollock nor Joyce, or even Duchamp, could have named with exactitude the force that propelled them ahead. After Paik, it is a sign of one's ignorance or stupidity not to call TV (teevee or not teevee? If not teevee, so what?) the strange attractor that models the sphere of motion, a sphere that is apparently chaotic, and vulgarly referred to as modern art, contemporary art, avant-garde. And this is so in every field, including cinema.
No doubt, one day the history of cinema will appear like a part of the history of television. Like a very small part of it. In the History of Cinema, for example, how can we explain this fascination for the immediate image which lives in the best filmmakers from Gance to Godard, from L'Herbier to Renoir, from Cukor to Truffaut, from Wells to Pasolini, from Guitry to Fellini and lots of others…? Cinema has forever dreamed of the magic of the Direct. One single example: 1915, La Folie du Docteur Tube, Abel Gance. This is the story of a scientist who accidentally discovers a way of instantaneously transforming the real into images. His perlimpinpin powder, fruit of a procedural mistake, changes objects and people into undulating icons resembling distorted mirror reflections. But Tube is frightened by his own invention, and he tries to undo the whole thing. Unlike Gance, who himself will not cease to show a triple screen - the triplex possessing the capacity of showing at the same time three aspects of the same scene. And unlike L'Herbier, who forecasts satellite television in L'Inhumaine. And unlike Renoir, unlike Godard… etc….
The key of all avant-gardes: the sublimated wish for the Direct. Sublimated, displaced, detoured, perverted, disguised. The Direct simulated by all non-direct means that can be found. What is the reason for this general fascination for the Direct? This fascination that we detect, taken to an unknown power, until the attraction that Virtual Reality brings to us today… Dear James has the answer. The Wake is the answer. "A space. Who are you? The cat's mother. A time. What do you lack? The look of a queen. " (p.223) A simple woman or a beautiful queen, it does not matter, the unattainable complement, we know, of the HCE is ALP: Anna Livia Plurabella. The HAM has but one goal: to connect, in the end, with the FAM. Man and woman. Nothing better than their union of a moment to experiment the Direct. The immediate decoupling of a thing into an image figures in the sexual fusion. The Direct is the wound closest to Sex.
What is the difference between Virtual Reality and the Direct? One thing only: the Virtual, by bringing reality to the square, to the cubic, suppresses the wound… that is, the nostalgia of Sex. The Virtutu, the Virtual, it is Sex itself, but it is also its Negation. The prisoners have come out of the Cave. They erred in their quest in vain for an elsewhere. Ulysses will not return to Ithaca. He has never left it. The Trojan War has never taken place. To seduce Paris, Beautiful Helena has never batted her long eyelashes, which remind us of the wings of a butterfly. The Garden of Eden is a garden of Idem.
(Translated from the original French by András Csejdy)
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