after life

…the invention of the Morse alphabet in 1837 was promptly followed by the tapping specters of spiritistic seances sending their messages from the realm of the dead. Promptly as well, photographic plates-even and especially those taken with the camera shutter closed-furnished reproductions of ghosts or specters, whose black-andwhite fuzziness only served to underscore the promise of resemblance. Finally, one of the ten applications Edison envisioned for his newly invented phonograph in the North American Review ( 1878) was to record “the last words of dying persons.”

It was only a small step from such a “family record, “with its special consideration of revenants, to fantasies that had telephone cables linking the living and the dead. What Leopold Bloom in Ulysses could only wish for in his Dublin graveyard meditations had already been turned into science fiction by Walter Rathenau, the AEG chairman of the board and futurist writer. In Rathenau’s story “Resurrection Co.,” the cemetery administration of Necropolis, Dacota/USA, following a series of scandalous premature burials in 1898, founds a daughter company entitled “Dacota and Central Resurrection Telephone Bell Co.” with a cap­ital stock of $750,000. Its sole purpose is to make certain that the inhabitants of graves, too, are connected to the public telephone network. Whereupon the dead avail themselves of the opportunity to prove, long before McLuhan, that the content of one medium is always another medium-in this concrete case, a deformation professionelle.

These days, paranormal voices on tape or radio, the likes of which have been spiritistically researched since 1959 and preserved in rock music since Laurie Anderson’s 1982 release Big Science, inform their researchers of their preferred radio wavelength. This already occurred in 1898, in the case of Senate President Schreber: when a paranormal, beautifully autonomous “base or nerve language” revealed its code as well as its channels, message and channel became one. “You just have to Introduction 13 choose a middle-, short-, or long-wave talk-show station, or the ‘white noise’ between two stations, or the ‘Jurgenson wave,’ which, depending on where you are, is located around 1450 to 1600 kHz between Vienna and Moscow. ” If you replay a tape that has been recorded off the radio, you will hear all kinds of ghost voices that do not originate from any known radio station, but that, like all official newscasters, indulge in radio self-advertisement. Indeed, the location and existence of that “Jürgenson wave” was pinpointed by none other than “Friedrich Jürgenson, the Nestor of vocal research.”

The realm of the dead is as extensive as the storage and transmission capabilities of a given culture. As Klaus Theweleit noted, media are always flight apparatuses into the great beyond. If gravestones stood as symbols at the beginning of culture itself, our media technology can retrieve all gods. The old written laments about ephemerality, which measured no more than distance between writing and sensuality, suddenly fall silent. In our mediascape, immortals have come to exist again.

—Friedrich Kittler, Gramophone, Film, Typewriter

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