Archive for July, 2010

From author Tom McCarthy on technology and the novel, from Blake to Ballard:

“Technology and melancholia: an odd coupling, you might think. Yet it’s one that has deep conceptual roots. For Freud, all technology is a prosthesis: the telephone (originally conceived as a hearing aid) an artificial ear, the camera an artificial eye, and so on. Strapping his prosthetic organs on, as Freud writes in Civilisation and its Discontents, man becomes magnificent, “a kind of god with artificial limbs” – “but” (he continues) “those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times”. To put it another way: each technological appendage, to a large degree, embodies an absence, a loss. As the literary critic Laurence Rickels paraphrases it, laying particular emphasis (as Kafka does) on communication technology: “every point of contact between a body and its media extension marks the site of some secret burial”.

For Rickels, the link between technology and mourning isn’t merely Freudian and speculative, but also solidly historically grounded. In his excellent book Aberrations of Mourning: Writing on German Crypts, he points to the advent in the west of recording devices such as phonographs and gramophones before infant mortality rates had been reduced by mass inoculation, even among the better off. Many middle-class parents, following the fad for recording their children’s voices, found themselves bereaved, and the plate or roll on which little Augustus’s or Matilda’s voice outlived him or her thus became a kind of tomb. “Dead children,” Rickels writes, “inhabit vaults of the technical media which create them.” Bereavement becomes the core of technologics; what communication technology inaugurates is, in effect, a cult of mourning – indeed, Rickels even suggests replacing the word “mourning” with the phrase “the audio and video broadcasts of improper burial”. And the literature that emerges in the age of communications technologies – modernist literature – is this cult’s expression, its record, its holy script.”


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“We talked about how the pleasure and beauty of that complex liquid made us think about beauty in general (we do that from time to time, in the presence of good food and wine). Julie said that like with art, good wine can give the sense that you are ‘lifting the veil’ to show how we are all part of a deeper reality. She said she feels that way in her garden, when she contemplates how so much beauty and wonder can emerge from tiny, humble seeds. All that creative power is bound up in the seed, but needs time and care, including the care of the gardener, to be brought forth into the fullness of its potential. So too, I think, with that Burgundy, which isn’t even close to being one of the great wines of Burgundy. Like all red Burgundy, it’s made with the Pinot Noir grape, perhaps the most temperamental of all grapes. Yet through some combination of grape, soil, rain, sun and the gifts of the winemaker, that liquid became a pathway to the sublime.”

From the article found here. HT: The Frailest Thing.

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