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1877 __ The telephone such as a new conception of the body
Comment : Soon afterwards Bell’s demonstrations in 1877, The London Times surrendered. It whirled right-about-face and praised the telephone to the skies. "Suddenly and quietly the whole human race is brought within speaking and hearing distance," it exclaimed;"scarcely anything was more desired and moreimpossible." The next paper to quit the mob of scoffers was the Tatler, which said in an editorial peroration, "We cannot but feel impressed by the picture of a human child commanding the subtlest and strongest force in Nature to carry, like a slave, some whisper around the world." And one wintry morning in 1878 Queen Victoria drove to the house of Sir Thomas Biddulph, in London, and for an hour talked and listened by telephone to Kate Field, who sat in a Downing Street office.Kate Field (October 1, 1838 – May 19, 1896), born Mary Katherine Keemle Field, was an American journalist, lecturer, and actress, of eccentric talent. Miss Field sang "Kathleen Mavourneen," and the Queen thanked her by telephone, saying she was "immensely pleased." She congratulated Bell himself, who was present, and asked if she might be permitted to buy the two telephones; whereupon Bell presented her with a pair done in ivory. (Herbert N. Casson)The invention of the telephone signalled not just a new resource in the production of automatic speech, but a new conception of the body. The pneumatic body had been soft, warm, moist, melancholic, tremulous, fragile. The electrical body would be a much more abstract thing; a matter of circuits and networks which were capable of being wired and configured in ways that would require and procure a fundamental reshaping of the body. By contrast with the telegraph, which presented only `the dry bones of correspondence', the telephone seemed a miraculously moist medium: “The known tones and inflections of the speaker, a whisper, a cough, a sigh, a breath, can be heard. The little incidents of human utterance which it takes a wakeful ear to detect, aided by the eye and by familiar acquaintance, are found to pass along miles of wires, many of them under the earth or sea. Silent as the medium may be, and dead as it seems, the sound comes out true. (The Times, 29103, 19 November 1877, 9) ” [...] It was indeed these `little incidents' testifying above all to the breath, which fascinated early users of the telephone. The first discussions of the telephone in The Lancet were in fact concerned with its capacity for electronic diagnosis or diagnosis at a distance, especially of respiratory complaints. The East Anglian Daily Times was immensely impressed with the powers of the telephone to convey coughing, sneezing and whispering: ”about half-a-dozen of the party called out "Hear, hear," upon which Mr. Sach asked them not to do that again, or they would split his ear-drum. This caused a laugh, which, as well as a slight cough - a mere phthisic, in fact - was heard at Liverpool Street, and when Mr. Sach sneezed, the listeners at Ipswich heard him...The marvel of the experiments, however, was yet to come. Capt. Turner gradually lowered the tone of his voice till he spoke much below ordinary conversation pitch, and very little higher than a whisper, and even then Mr. Sach heard what was said, and repeated the words... This startled the whole party, as such a thing was never anticipated.” (East Anglian Daily Times, January 2 1878, quoted Field 1878, 62-3). In fact, as telephones quickly improved in quality, especially after Hughes's discovery of the carbon microphone, they may actually have tended to amplify such features of speech. What early telephone users were hearing was in fact an amalgam of the sounds of the breath as heard naturally and the previously unheard sounds of the interaction between the voice and the mechanical ear upon which it was sounding: the pants, gasps and hisses, the clicks, pops and percussions, of the breath sounding amid its originating body and amid the sensitive body of the telephone apparatus. The voices that emanated from the telephone were both more mechanical and more human than ordinary voices. Talking on the telephone was more than having a conversation face to face: it was like being coiled alongside your speaking twin, their lips pressed to your ear, and your lips murmuring into theirs. The erotic possibilities of the telephone are demonstrated by Kate Field, an American journalist and early convert to the telephone, who, as well as organizing a "telephonic soirée" for Queen Victoria, put together a celebratory history of the invention from Alexander Graham Bell's collection of cuttings in 1878 (and never returned them, much to Bell's chagrin). Under the persona of `Puss', writing to her friend about the pleasures of the telephone, she describes her flirtation with an invisible interlocutor: “Didn't I laugh when my unknown acquaintance sang, "Thou art so near and yet so far!" "Why did you laugh?" asked the Invisible, at the conclusion of his song. Did you hear me? My mouth was some distance from the Telephone." "I heard you perfectly. Now hear me breathe." When that breath came to my ear I was startled, Ella. Then we whispered to each other, and finally the Invisible exclaimed, "Just one more experiment," and he kissed me! I heard him. I can't honestly say that this final experiment was as satisfactory in its results as the ordinary way of performing the operation. It is not likely to supersede old-fashioned osculation, but faute de mieux , it will serve.” (Field 1878, 15) [...] The advent of the telephone seemed to promise a regime of the auditory, in which distances and separations were collapsed in an uncannily intimate proximity. Early commentators on the telephone were fascinated, not so much by its capacity to convey messages and information as by its faithful preservation of the individuating tones and accidents of speech and even the non-verbal sounds of the body. [...] The capacity of the telephone to convey bodily sounds as well as verbal messages recommended the device to the medical profession [...] If such diagnosis is in one sense a recruitment of the auditory to the service of a scopic epistemology.the telephone as telestethoscope.the stratling experiences imagined and reported by The Times and Kate Field suggest a different, more fluid interchange of separated spaces, in which the interior of one body is transmitted, almost without mediation, to the inner ear of the listener. The telephone offers a quasi-controlled collapse of boundaries, in which the listening self can be pervaded by the vocal body of another while yet remaining at a distance from it. [...] These small examples point to what is perhaps the most important distinguishing feature of auditory experience, namely its capacity to disintegrate and reconfigure space. With the development of radio in the early twentieth century, this effect was intensified. The rationalized "Cartesian grid" of the visualist imagination, which positioned the perceiving self as a single point of view, from which the exterior world radiated in regular lines, gave way to a more fluid, mobile and voluminous conception of space, in which the observer.observed duality and distinctions between separated points and places dissolve. Most importantly, the singular space of the visaul is transformed by the experience of sound to a plural space; one can hear many sounds simultaneously, where it is impossible to see different visual objects at the same time without disposing them in a unified field of vision. Wher auditory experience is dominant, we may say, singular, perspectival gives way to plural, permeated space. The self defined in terms of hearing rather than sight is a self imaged not as a point, but as a membrane; not as a picture, but as a channel through which voices, noises and musics travel. (Steven Connor)
Original excerpt : « Maudlin Journalism.The Saturday Review in one of its late numbers has an article on the above subject, in reference to two leading articles in the London TImes, which in the works of the Saturday Review "exhibit in a striking manner the idiosyncrasies by which the literature of that journal is now-a-days distinguished". Of the latter of the two articles on the subject of the telephone the Saturday writes :."Some simple-minded readers may have their breath taken away by the expectation of some terrible cataclysm of the world when it is declared, in the very first sentence of this efffusion, that 'a great change has come over the conditions of humanity'. It is true that we are immediately informed that all that has happened is that 'suddenly and quietly the whole human race is brought within speaking and hearing distance'. As a matter of fact, the discovery of the operation of what is now called the telephone is by nom eans new; the principles of its action have been known for a number of years, and the instrument itself has certainly not broken 'suddenly and quietly' on the world, nor it yet revolutionized society in any way, but is at present only an invention in an imperfect condition, and of a little practical utility. It can, for any public purpose be employed only within a comparatively limited range; and in domestic service it is altogether inferior to the well-established and trustworthy system of air-tubes or electric wires. It is, in fact, in its present form, little better than a toy, which amazes ignorant people for a moment, and is soon found to be almost useless. There is no instrument which is so liable to get out of repair, and requires such delicate management; and, except with great care and trouble, it is certain to get out of order. The whole tone of the article in question is hysterical in the most grotesque degree, and gives one the idea of having been written under galvanic influence. It describes how formely 'the eye enjoyed an invidious superiority over the sister organ', for 'not to speak of its celestial achievements over other worlds, or of the kingdoms of the earth it could see in a moment of time, ot encroached successfully on the domain of the ear by beacons, and telegraphs, and all kinds of signals'. The eloquent writer then mentions the introduction of telegrams, which he describes as 'the dry bones of correspondence', and inferior to letters 'in the charms that sweeten and assit communication'. It may be allowed that 'gushes, sighs, tears, sallies of wit, and traits of fondness, do not stand the ordeal of twenty words for a shilling, and the frigid medium of unsympathetic clerks'; but they may still be transmitted by the ordinary post, while the telegraph wires supply the means of rapid communication, which may often be of vital importance, though this wise gentleman seems to think that 'the telegram is found to be a barbarous makeshift, fit for business purposes or mere messages in which names, figures, places , and dates are all that is to be transmitted', but not' for any higher or tenderer purpose.by which, it may be supposed, is meant spiritual counsel, confidential discussion, or the interchange of lovers' vows. It may perhaps be prudent to accept with caution the assertion that the Americans are rapidly bringing this system to use. 'Already', we are told, '500 houses in New York converse with one another; 3,000 telephones are in use in the United States; they are used by Companies and other large concerns wherever the works are some way from the office.a facility equally, if not better, supplied, it may be remarked, by the telegraph; and 'friends on the opposite sides of a broad street converse as if in one room'. And, as he goes on, the oracle becomes quite poetical and pathetic as he describes now 'the known tone and inflections of the speaker, a whisper, a cough, a sigh, a breath, can be heard'; and how 'the little incidents of human utterance which it takes a wakeful ear to detect, aided by the eye and by familiar acquaintance, are found to pass along miles of wire, many of them under the earth or sea', so that 'a hundred miles of galvanic agency becomes only one imperceptible link between two humans mechanisms'. In point of fact, it is doubtful, as far as actual experience has yet beeen obtained, whether such communications can actually be carried on in a regular and intelligible way, as so much depends on the atmosphere and the weather; and in any case, as wa have said, the telegraph is not superseded. Assuming, however that the telephone is to come into universal use, it may be feared that it will add a new terror of life. 'The household wire', we are told', 'need to be monopolised, or be at the mercy of one inefficient listener; half-a-dozen telephones, with their respectives wires, can be attached to the same main wire, and as many ears applied'. This certainly suggests a very uncomfortable time for the people who are liable to have all sorts of private and confidential communications, including it may be delicate appeals or indelicate remonstrances and criticism, brought ot their ears by intrusive correspondents whose voices and messages may not be so sweet and pleasant as is supposed. Post-cards are bad enough, but telephone messages will be infinitely worse. Fancy Mr Gladstone made the centre of a vast circle of telephones, with their respective wires ! And here is another appalling vision :.A time is coming when everybody, we presume, will carry his own telephone about with him. Wherever he goes he will be ablle to steps into a telegraph office, apply his own wire to the public wire, and hold a private conversation with a wife, of a son, or a customer, or a political friend at the end, without the intervention of a public servant'. Nor is even this all. Another terrible suggestion follows :.There is no reason why a man should not hold conversation with a son at the Antipodes, distinguish his voice, hear his breathing, and, if the instrument be applied as a stethoscope, hear the heart's throb. Next to seeing.nay, rather than seeing.that would parent give to hear the very voice, the familiar laugh, the favourite song, of the child long separated by a solid mass 8,000 miles in diameter ?'. And then how grand and thrilling the idea that perhaps this blessed instrument will 'bring to our Metropolis the dreadful sounds of the bombardment or the field of battle', and so obviate the necessity fro sensational war correspondence ! Well may the writer ask, 'But what next ?'. He congratulates himself on this glorious discovery, not only on its own account, but because 'it has come happily just at the time when there had arisen a dreary feeling that we had arrived at the end of original discoveries'; and he is delighted to find 'that the world has not exhausted itself.mind has not done all its work'. It is quite clear, at least, that one particular manifestation of what may be called mind has pretty well exhausted itself when we read two such incredibly foolish articles in the largest type of the leading journal. » (Bay Of Plenty Times, Rōrahi VI, Putanga 573, 16 Poutūterangi 1878, Page 3)
Source : Connor, Steven (2004), “Incidents of the Breath: In Pneumatic and Electric Ventriloquisms”, A lecture given in the series 'Artificial Others: Lectures on Ventriloquism and Automata' at the Ruskin School of Art and Drawing, Oxford, February 17 2004.
Source : Connor, Steven (2000),“Dumbstruck: a cultural history of ventriloquism”, Oxford University Press, pp. 380-389.
Source : Plumptre, Charles John (1877), “King's College lectures on elocution; or The physiology and culture of voice and speech, and the expression of the emotions by language countenance, and gesture. Being the substance of the introductory course of lectures annually delivered ...”, Trübner, 1881, Third Edition, p. 467.
Source : Field, Kate (1878), “Bell’s Telephone — The Telephone of the Future : An Intercepted Letter”, Edited by Kate Field.
Source : Field, Kate (1878),“Kate Field: Selected Letters”, Southern Illinois University Press, 1996.
Source : Casson, Herbert N. (1910), “The History of the Telephone”, 1st World Publishing, 2004.
Urls : http://www.bbk.ac.uk/english/skc/incidents/ (last visited ) http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&d=BOPT18780316.2.15&l=mi&e=-------10--1----0-all (last visited ) http://www.fullbooks.com/The-History-of-the-Telephone4.html (last visited ) http://casson.thefreelibrary.com/ (last visited ) http://cnum.cnam.fr/CGI/fpage.cgi?P84.1/63/100/248/0/0 (last visited )

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