Stimuli, signals and wireless telegraphy in Beckett’s novel Watt
In a scathing critique, Beckett diagnosed Marcel Proust’s fabled term of memoire involontaire as a conditioned reflex in the strict Pavlovian sense, pure habit. His response: absolute, and potentially self-destructive freedom. In his novel Watt, he explores this possibility in a long series of experiments involving a man’s leftover food and a dog that is supposed to consume it if and whenever it becomes available. The question is: how to bring the food and the dog together. Answering this question Beckett shows that, under the condition of freedom, there is no such thing as a conditioned reflex. Dog and food can only be brought together via signals, and signals only operate within systems of coercion potentially bordering on torture. Constructing such a signifying system from its most basic level, Beckett replicates, as it were, the history of signals from optical telegraphy to railway and traffic signals up to wireless telegraphy.
Between theatre as cultural form and true media theatre
If we combine sound philology and the archival contextualisation of Beckett’s oeuvre within his contemporary media culture with a radically media-archaeological reading of the one-act drama Krapp’s Last Tape, we discover a different poetics emerging from within the media-technological sphere of magnetophony. My non-historicist reading of Krapp’s Last Tape understands the Beckett drama as an operational function of the epistemic challenge posed by the manipulations of tempor(e)alities by electro-acoustics around the 1950s/1960s. Not only is the configuration of a human protagonist (Krapp) and a high-technological device (the tape recorder) a microsocial configuration in the sense of Actor–Network Theory or an ensemble in Simondon’s sense, but the close coupling of the human and the machine on the stage requires a more rigorous analysis of the cognitive, affective, even traumatic irritations induced in humans by the signal transducing machine. This chapter zooms in on the media message of Krapp’s Last Tape, and its approach is inductive in two ways: on the one hand, electro-magnetic induction is the technological condition (the arché) of possibility of the phonographic drama at stake in Krapp’s Last Tape, and on the other hand, in the sense of idiographic identifications of the real media theatre.
The electronic interlaced raster scan that composes a televisual ‘image’ was relayed to the cathode ray beam via an analogue signal from the broadcast video source. That signal amounted to a set of instructions, telling the beam how to behave as it was pulled in a line, magnetically, across the back of the phosphor-treated CRT screen. These instructions worked, irrespective of the imaginary ‘content’ of the image temporarily formed thanks to phosphor persistence, moiré induction and retinal retention. They worked through an electronic arrangement of post-human speed and the inbuilt conservatism of the psychological apparatus; as McLuhan puts it, ‘The TV image offers some three million dots per second to the receiver. From these he accepts only a few dozen each instant, from which to make an image.’ Beckett’s Quad is still the most extraordinary work of art composed for the televisual medium, and the only major work for the ‘small screen’ written in an act of imaginative sympathy with the raster scan itself. This chapter looks deeper into the implications of Beckett’s intuitions with regard to the analogue electronic arts as arts of time set to the measure of inhuman speeds and rhythms.
This book charts and analyses the work of Oliver Stone – arguably one of the foremost political filmmakers in Hollywood during the last thirty years. Drawing on previously unseen production files from Oliver Stone’s personal archives and hours of interviews both with Stone and a range of present and former associates within the industry, the book employs a thematic structure to explore Stone’s life and work in terms of war, politics, money, love and corporations. This allows the authors both to provide a synthesis of earlier and later film work as well as locate that work within Stone’s developing critique of government. The book explores the development of aesthetic changes in Stone’s filmmaking and locates those changes within ongoing academic debates about the relationship between film and history as well as wider debates about Hollywood and the film industry. All of this is explored with detailed reference to the films themselves and related to a set of wider concerns that Stone has sought to grapple with -the American Century, exceptionalism and the American Dream, global empire, government surveillance and corporate accountability. The book concludes with a perspective on Stone’s ‘brand’ as not just an auteur and commercially viable independent filmmaker but as an activist arguing for a very distinct kind of American exceptionalism that seeks a positive role for the US globally whilst eschewing military adventurism.
The chapter notes that Stone’s interests in social critique and politics have carried him some way ahead of art and commerce into the territory that can best be summed up as activism. Each of his films has been a piece of crafted drama with a range of distinctive attributes related to narrative and photography acting as a baseline for Stone’s auteur brand. What is striking, however, in the second period of his career, is the way those core elements of the auteur brand did not merely become retroactive career artefacts for a media narrative seeing his auteur heyday as belonging to the past. Stone’s auteurism acted instead as a platform for a political discourse that retained as much urgency and purpose as films like Salvador and JFK had in his early career.
This chapter traces two key threads in Stone’s exploration of corporations and their impact on wider society; one to do with the media, and the other concerning government. The first part of this chapter examines Talk Radio and Any Given Sunday exploring how and why the critique of corporations manifest itself in a particular way during this era. The chapter then considers the critique of mainstream media organisations offered in documentaries like Comandante and the Untold History series towards anything that might constitute a provocation to the dominant national narratives, before returning to consider what W., Wall Street: MNS and Savages had to say about corporate and government accountability.
Stone’s early film career, exemplified by productions like Platoon (1986) and Wall Street (1987) has often been contrasted by critics with a seemingly less vital period after the commercial failure of Nixon (1995). This chapter explains how a thematic analysis focusing on war, politics, money, love and corporations will be deployed to demonstrate a much more significant set of changes across Stone’s filmography and career. The chapter considers how Stone’s dramatic filmmaking shifted from specific critiques of the establishment in films like JFK (1991) towards more muted polemics in films like W. (2008) and a focus on morality. Accompanying this transition was the emergence of a distinct documentary style in films like Comandante (2003).
This chapter explores the representation of love in Stone’s filmmaking highlighting the importance of a transition that began in the mid-to-late 1990s with U Turn. The argument here posits that U Turn represents a marker in Stone’s career, not because of the loss of aesthetic vitality as some critics observed, that had been integral to earlier films, but precisely because the film marks the emergence of a distinctive melodramatic shift in Stone’s work, and a shift towards the darker aspects of parental love in particular. The significance of a melodramatic filter for viewing Stone’s later films is then used to assess Alexander and W. before investigating the way in which relationships and emotional love is worked into both these films and in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Savages.