[Humanist] 28.182 the physical difference

Humanist Discussion Group willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk
Sat Jul 5 23:48:50 CEST 2014

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 28, No. 182.
            Department of Digital Humanities, King's College London
                Submit to: humanist at lists.digitalhumanities.org

        Date: Sun, 06 Jul 2014 07:37:57 +1000
        From: Willard McCarty <willard.mccarty at mccarty.org.uk>
        Subject: the physical difference

The following is from the Australian novelist David Malouf's 
recollections of his childhood in the late 1930s to early 1940s in 
Brisbane, 12 Edmonstone Street. (This was a time, during World War 
II, when Australia was bombed and under threat of invasion.) Malouf 
describes his favourite room in the house, the piano room, with the 
instrument he calls "a magic box" ("But then we too are magic boxes. 
That is the revelation."). Then he turns to the wireless, the radio, 
unlike the piano "limited to what is actual and mundane: the 
unpredictable happenings of the nightly news" (p. 36).

> Still, as a piece of furniture it is impressive, you can't deny it:
> three feet high with three kinds of veneer and a speaker whose shape
> you can feel behind knobbly cloth. The voices that come from it owe
> as much of their significance, surely, to the rich solidity of the
> thing, its oneness with tables and beds and chairs, as to their own
> rounded vowels or the importance  (for the course of World History
> depends on it) of what they have to report. Much about what we come
> to feel about the war, and our own precarious fate, might be
> different if the instrument itself were different. If it were made of
> some metal alloy, for example, rather than living wood. Or if it were
> small enough, as now, to be one of the body's light appendages. A
> degree of gravity, at this moment, is essential. The Wireless has it.
> We are in the age of certainties. Its three veneers, the baroque
> curves it shares with wardrobes and sideboards, its bourgeois
> dignity, are terms we appreciate. It gives a visible presence, a
> tangible form, to words that might otherwise, in this quiet
> backwater, have nothing to attach themselves to....
> The Wireless commands attention because it is 'furniture'. We draw
> our chairs up and attend. And this sitting together in a family
> group, drawn here by the furniture itself, is part of the message we
> are to receive.
> We do not know it yet but the war is already won.
> The other thing we do not know is that all the values it was meant to
> embody, even in us, are already lost.

Look to your devices!

Willard McCarty (www.mccarty.org.uk/), Professor, Department of Digital
Humanities, King's College London, and Research Group in Digital
Humanities, University of Western Sydney

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