Monday, April 14, 2014

A Translation of Two Letters from Thomas Bernhard to Gerhard Ruiss


Dear Mr. Ruiss, [1]

My existence as a writer in Austria, which is my native country, was from the very outset attended by malicious calumny and disregard, and the periods of virulent calumny have always been followed by periods of total disregard, and because I know my fellow-countrymen [very well, I know] that none of this will change in the future; the calumny will become even more egregious, the disregard even more total; I have never experienced any other sort of situation for more than three decades now, which is how long I have been writing and publishing.  When my [novel] Frost appeared, Mr Hartl, who is still writing today with the same brain [he had back then], wrote that I was a nullity, and poked fun at Frost, and to every one of my books that has appeared since Frost the Austrian newspapers have at best offered more of the same treatment.  And when my [play] The Hunting Party was performed at the Burgtheater, a delegation of writers headed up by the president of the Art Senate, Mr. Henz, remonstrated with our minister of art and culture to the effect that the Burgtheater should be staging Mr. Henz’s works instead of mine; if the story weren’t true, nobody would be allowed to circulate it even as a joke.  When, at the age of forty [2], in other words an age when one should on no account allow oneself such things, I received the so-called Small State Prize for Literature, the then minister for art and culture, Mr. Piffl-Perčivič, followed up a couple of sentences that I had uttered and [whose wording] is well-known by calling me a “dog” under his breath [3] and exiting the auditorium; this after referring to me in his “speech” as a Dutchman and the author of a novel about the South Seas.  The minister had lunged at me with his hand held high, [and] had exited the auditorium—not, I must mention, without slamming the door [behind him].  He was [immediately] followed by the [crowd of] more than a hundred sinecure-holders that had previously swelled the hall.  On this occasion Mr. Henz had brandished his fists at me and apostrophized me as a “swine.”  The Wildgans Prize, which I had in the meantime been “awarded,” had been mailed to me in a shoddy cardboard tube, because somebody had canceled the “award ceremony” after the minister had declined to be present at that assembly of the industrialists’ association (“I can’t go out of my way to meet the likes of Mr. Bernhard!”).  The Academy of Sciences managed to “award” me the Grillparzer Prize only after a long false start because not one of the people who wished to confer upon me this distinction knew me from Adam, and I had to be picked out of the tenth row of the audience before [I could receive it].

I could rattle off to you an endless catalogue of additional snubbings; I myself [would] derive absolutely no pleasure from doing so.  It is an endless chain of completely deliberate misrepresentations of the facts, completely deliberate degradations of my person.  I should write a book composed entirely of facts, a book that demonstrates how people deal with somebody like me who does nothing but write; how they basically use every possible means in an attempt to silence him.  If I had had to depend on this Austrian society of ours [for my livelihood], I would, to put it bluntly, have long since starved to death.  In Austria I would not have earned a tenth as much as my “charwoman.” [4] But thanks to a tough natural constitution I have from an early age been both attuned and immune to the loutishness of my fellow-countrymen, who value nothing so little as literature and those who have devoted themselves to literature.  I have resigned myself to the total mindlessness of this society and will never again nurture the slightest grudge [against it]; never again will I permit myself this indulgence, because it is my wish to proceed with my work and not allow myself to become enfeebled by the overwhelming demographic might of the intellectual torpor that reigns supreme here.

A [comprehensive] list of snubbings would be so long that it would expend far too great a share of my stock of paper.  And my typewriter is churning out the familiar names of so many people who have behaved loutishly and vilely and mendaciously and in every other way but collegially, that I myself cannot help recoiling in horror from such machination.  But nonetheless: so long as people who call themselves president of the Art Senate of this country lay into their colleagues with their fists and do not blush from giving the minister with the relevant portfolio to understand that the work of his colleagues ought not to be performed, nothing will change on this playhouse stage [that is] my native land.  And I naturally have no desire to tread the boards of this stage on which every person who clings to truth is made into a laughingstock.

I live here in Austria because I have no choice but to do so, because I am bound to its landscape.  But for my work’s sake I refuse to have anything to do with my enemies.  And my enemies are ubiquitous.

Nearly twenty years ago the Wiener Montag called me a bedbug; in 1967 the minister for art and culture, Mr. Piffl-Perčivič, called me a dog and Mr. Henz, the president of the Art Senate, called me a swine, and not too long ago the Oberösterreichischen Nachtrichten called me “a piece of riffraff who deserves to be shoved across the border.”

I can scarcely imagine that at your congress you will hear anything from a bedbug or from a dog or from a swine, let alone from a piece of riffraff.  Not even you can expect that!

I would like to extend my very best wishes to your congress; and above all the wish that it will not be attended exclusively by such unregenerate bedbugs and swine and dogs—let alone such pieces of riffraff—as myself.

Thomas Bernhard



Dear Mr. Ruiss, [5]

I have absolutely nothing to hide, and you can do whatever you like with my detailed letter from December.

Nevertheless, I [cannot help] asking myself what business writers have being in a country like ours, in which nothing is valued so little as literary authorship, to say nothing of thinking and serious writing, and in which for a lethally long time our reigning government has been composed exclusively of morons, banausic [buffoons], and brutal bosses.  Do you really think there can be any point in wheeling and dealing with such bloated political bruisers and sitting down at the table with these people who have nothing in their heads but [thoughts of] the brutal [exercise of] power?  To wheel and deal with feeble-mindedness and banausic [buffoonery] is ridiculous and an a priori pointless endeavor, and to protest against the primitive thugs that such politicians inevitably are is every bit as ridiculous and pointless.

You simply cannot converse about artistic sensitivity with such people, all of whom without exception have the mental compass of a small-town high-street shop manager.

I believe that at your congress you are really just casting your pearls—which writers, unlike politicians, invariably wear like a noose around their necks—before swine.

Here in Austria a couple of power-hungry and megalomaniacal old men stonewall everybody they come into contact with, and it is astonishing how long young people in particular have been putting up with this in this noisome administrative sinkhole.  [It’s] as if there were no younger generation!

I repeat: to sit down at the table with brutality [personified] and with political hammer-throwers is dangerous.

You can do whatever you like with these lines as well.

Thomas Bernhard


[1] Editors’ note: First published in Catalogue of Problems.  Conditions of Literary Production in Austria.  Working Paper for the First Austrian Congress of Writers: March 6-8, 1981 in Vienna, edited by Gerhard Ruiss and Johannes A. Vyoral.  Vienna 1981, p. 245 f.

[2] This is at odds with the chronology of My Prizes, in which Bernhard reports that he was awarded the Small State Prize “in 1967”—in other words, at the age of thirty-five or thirty-six.

[3] If the minister uttered the word “under his breath” (still vor sich hin), how did Bernhard overhear it at all, let alone identify it?  (In My Prizes there is no mention of the “dog”-calling, although Piffl-Perčivič is said to have “hurled some incomprehensible curse word” at Bernhard.)

[4] =Bedienerin, an Austrianism.  Given that the letter’s addressee was a fellow-Austrian, the inverted commas are slightly mystifying.  Perhaps Bernhard thought Bedienerin sounded a bit old-fashioned, as indeed “charwoman” does in English.

[5] Editors’ note: First published in Solidarity among Authors.  First Austrian Congress of Writers: March 6-8 in Vienna.  Resolutions (=Circular No. 5), edited by Heinz Lunzer, Alfred Pfoser, and Gerhard Renner.  Vienna, 1981, p. 46.

Translation unauthorized but Copyright ©2014 by Douglas Robertson

Source: Der Wahrheit auf der Spur.  Reden, Leserbriefe, Interviews, Feuilletons.  Herausgegeben von  Wolfram Bayer, Raimund Fellingerund und Martin Huber [Stalking the Truth.  Speeches, Open Letters, Interviews, Newspaper Articles.  Edited by Wolfram Bayer et al.](Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2011). 

A Translation of Die Serapionsbrüder by E. T. A. Hoffmann. Part Two.

The man of whom I about to speak, began Theodor, is none other than Councilor Krespel in H------.

This Councilor Krespel was truly one of the most extraordinarily peculiar individuals I ever encountered in all my life.  Upon moving to H------, in which I was planning to reside for a brief spell, I found the whole town abuzz with gossip about him, because one of his zaniest pranks had just reached its acme of zaniness.  Krespel was famous as an erudite and adroit jurist and as a capable diplomat. One of the less significant German princelings had commissioned him to compose a petition whose aim was to secure his legally well-founded possession of a certain territory, a petition that was to be addressed to the Holy Roman Emperor at his court.  The petition was resoundingly successful, and because Krespel had once complained that he had never been able to find a truly comfortable dwelling-place, the prince undertook to reward him for his work on the document by covering the cost of a house that Krespel was to have designed and built entirely to his own specifications. The prince was also prepared to pay for  the site of the house, which he likewise left to Krespel’s choice, but Krespel had no interest in building on fresh ground; instead he was adamant that the house should be erected in the middle of his own garden, which was situated just outside the city gates, in an absolutely beautiful tract of land.  In one lump purchase he bought all the materials that might conceivably be needed to build a house from scratch and had them transported from inside the city to his garden, whereupon day after day he was seen pottering about the site dressed in his outlandish suit of clothes (which, incidentally, he had tailored and sewn himself according to his own fixed sartorial principles)—slaking the lime, sifting the sand, and arranging the bricks into regular, orderly stacks, etc.  He had neither consulted a single architect nor drafted any sort of plan of the house on his own.  One fine day, though, he went to a capable master bricklayer in H----- and asked him to present himself—along with all his workmen and apprentices, and plenty of day-laborers, etc.—in the garden at the crack of dawn next morning for the purpose of building the house.  The builder naturally asked to see the plan, and boggled not a little when Krespel replied that no plan was even marginally necessary, and that everything would simply fall into its proper place. Next morning on arriving at the site with his people, the builder beheld a perfectly square-shaped indentation in the earth, and Krespel said, “Here is where the foundation of my house is to be laid, and when that is finished, I would like you to begin erecting four walls at the same time, and to keep working on them until I tell you they are tall enough.”  “What about the windows and the doors; what about the transverse walls?!” exclaimed the builder in apparent shock at Krespel’s apparent insanity. “Just do as I tell you, my good man,” Krespel equably replied: “everything else will take care of itself.”  Only by promises of the most lavish remuneration was the builder prevailed upon to undertake this insane construction project; but never was such a project more swimmingly executed, for amid the incessant laughter of the workers, who never left the site, because they were provided with food and drink in abundance, the four walls rose higher and higher with incredible rapidity, until one fine day, Krespel cried out “Stop!” The trowels and hammers instantly fell silent; the workers climbed down from the scaffolding, and as they gathered round Krespel in a circle, each of their mirth-smitten countenances seemed to be asking, “So what’s next?” “Gangway!” cried Krespel; then he ran to one end of the garden, and slowly strode back to his square, shaking his head in dissatisfaction as he drew within a few inches of the wall; then he ran to the other end of the garden and again strode slowly back to the square and again shook his head just before he reached the wall.  He repeated this business a few more times, until he finally stopped with the tip of his pointy nose literally touching the wall and shouted, “Right here, people, right here: knock out a door for me right here, knock out a door for me right here!”  He supplied precise measurements of length and breadth in feet and inches, and space was made for the door as he had ordered.  Now he entered the house, and smiled contentedly when the builder remarked that the walls were exactly the right height for a proper and serviceable two-story dwelling.  Krespel paced sedately up and down the interior of the structure, with the bricklayers, hammers and pickaxes in hand, closely dogging his heels; and no sooner had he cried: “Here—a window six feet high and four feet wide!; there-a smaller window three feet high and two feet wide!,” than the desired openings were expeditiously made.  In the very midst of this operation, I arrived in H------, and it was most delightful to behold all those hundreds of people standing around the garden and erupting into a chorus of jubilation each time the bricks were withdrawn and a new window sprang into being out of what had seemed to be a blank wall only seconds earlier.  Krespel dealt with the remainder of the construction of the house and all its attendant tasks in exactly the same fashion, such that everything had to be done on the spot and in instantaneous response to the proprietor’s instructions.  The comicality of the entire undertaking, the newly won conviction that the whole business was being dispatched more creditably than anybody had expected, above all Krespel’s generosity, which admittedly cost him nothing, were acknowledged all around with boundless good humor.  Thus were the difficulties inevitably attending an improvisational method of construction most expeditiously overcome, and in no time at all there stood in the middle of the garden a completely finished house, a house that from the outside would have struck even the most raving lunatic as somewhat odd-looking, for no two of its windows etc. were of the same size; yet whose interior layout inspired a peculiar but quite unqualified feeling of contentment.  All who entered the house attested as much, and I myself felt the feeling when Krespel ushered me into a closer acquaintance with him.  You see, I had so far never spoken to this strange man; the construction of the house had taken up so much of his time that during it he had not once observed his custom of lunching on Tuesdays at the table of Professor M***, to whom, when the professor expressly invited him over, he sent word that he would not set foot outside the structure before the housewarming dinner in honor of it had taken place.   All his friends and acquaintances were eagerly looking forward to a huge feast; but Krespel had actually invited to the dinner only the complete roster of foremen, journeymen, apprentices, and dogsbodies involved in the construction of his house.  He treated them to the most exquisite dishes: bricklayers’ apprentices recklessly gourmandized partridge patties, carpenters’ boys joyously planed away at roasted pheasants, and hungry dogsbodies for once helped themselves to the choicest pieces of the truffle fricassee.  In the evening the men were joined by their wives and daughters, and a grand ball commenced.  Krespel danced a few perfunctory waltzes with the wives of the various master artisans, but then he grabbed a violin, took a seat alongside the ensemble of local instrumentalists who were serving as the house band, and proceeded to do the duties of concertmaster and conductor for the remainder of the ball, which lasted all through the night and into the broad daylight hours of the following morning.  Finally, on the Tuesday after this celebration, which had signalized Councilor Krespel as a true friend of the common people, I enjoyed the by no means negligible pleasure of being introduced to him at Professor M***’s residence.  Invention cannot devise anything more astonishing than Krespel’s demeanor.  As he was stiff and awkward in all his movements, you constantly expected him to bump into or break something, but neither of these things ever happened, and you knew they didn’t because the lady of the house never even came close to turning pale whenever he swung himself round the dining table, on which the most exquisitely beautiful teacups were poised, or when he maneuvered past the looking-glass, when extended all the way to the floor, or even when he picked up a splendidly embellished porcelain flowerpot and pivoted it about in the air as if trying to give kaleidoscopic play to the colors of its exterior.   Generally Krespel would fill the time before lunch was served by meticulously inspecting every object in the Professor’s dining room; he would even go so far as to climb up on to an upholstered chair, reach up to one of the paintings hanging on the wall, take it down, and then hang it back up.  Moreover, he was both a voluble and a vehement talker; sometimes (during the meal itself this was particularly conspicuous) he would quickly jump from topic to topic; at other times he simply could not manage to let go of an idea, and would lay into it over and over again; he would get lost in all sorts of labyrinths that he could not find his way out of but by laying into a completely fresh subject.  The tone of his voice was sometimes throaty and vehemently vociferous, at other times softly drawling and lyrical, but it was always an inappropriate one for whatever he happened to be talking about.  When the topic of conversation was music, and somebody was praising a new composer, Krespel would smile, and in his soft lyrical voice say, “For my part, I would like to see the black-plumed Prince of Darkness cast that perverter of notes ten thousand fathoms down into the pit of hell!” Then he would vehemently and savagely blurt out, “She is an angel of heaven; from her one hears nothing but pure, divinely consecrated sounds and pitches.” And tears were standing in his eyes as he said this.  To make sense of the remark and the tears you would have to be lucky enough to remember that somebody had mentioned a famous female vocalist an hour earlier.  One day when the main course had been roast hare, I observed him painstakingly picking clean the bones of the animal over his plate and asking very pointedly for its feet, which the professor’s five-year-old daughter brought to him with a most ingratiating smile.  All through the meal the children had done little but gaze ingratiatingly at the councilor; now they rose and approached him—not eagerly and impetuously, but timidly and reverentially, and at three paces’ distance from him they drew no nearer. “What ever is going to happen next?” I silently asked myself.  Dessert was served; then the councilor pulled out of his satchel a box containing a small steel lathe, which he fastened tightly to the table; and now by whittling at the rabbit bones as he turned them on the lathe he produced with incredible dexterity and celerity all manner of tiny little tins and boxes and beads, and the children received these presents from him with much jubilation.  Later, just as everybody was adjourning from the table, the professor’s niece asked, “What ever is our Antonia up to, dear Mr. Councilor?”  Krespel made the kind of face a person makes on biting into a bitter Seville orange, a face intended to give the impression that he has in fact just tasted something delightfully sweet, but soon this expression contracted into a horrifying mask in whose features nothing could be seen but a bitter, grim—nay, to my eyes a downright diabolical species of scorn.“OurOur dear Antonia?” he asked in an unpleasant, drawling, lyrical voice.  The professor quickly intervened: from the look he cast at his niece, I gathered that she had touched a string that could not but sound a sharply dissonant note in Krespel’s psyche.  Then, seizing the councilor by both hands, the professor asked him with hearty jollity, “How is your violin collection coming along?” Krespel’s face immediately brightened, and he replied, “Excellently, professor: you know that splendid Amati fiddle I recently told you about—the one that a windfall volleyed into my hands? Well this morning I took a saw to it. I hope Antonia has painstakingly reduced what was left of it to sawdust by now.”  “Antonia is a good child,” said the professor. “Yes, indeed she is!” cried the councilor, now briskly turning round, seizing his hat and walking-stick, and dashing straight towards and out the front door.  As he passed behind me, I caught his reflection in the mirror and saw that his eyes were welling up with tears.

As soon as the councilor was gone, I entreated the professor to explain to me straightaway the nature of Krespel’s involvement with violins and more particularly with this person named Antonia. “Well, you see,” said the professor, “the councilor is such a singular individual in everything he does that he even practices the noble art of violin-making in his own inimitably insane fashion.” “Violin-making?” I repeated in utter astonishment.  “Indeed,” replied the professor: “connoisseurs of the instrument regard Krespel as the producer of the most splendid violins obtainable in our age; moreover, he occasionally used to let other people play on his especially successful productions, but that was quite some time ago now.  Once Krespel has finished a violin, he plays it once or twice himself—and plays it, to be sure, with the most masterly technique and the most ravishing expressiveness; but then he hangs it up alongside his former productions and never again touches it or allows anybody else to touch it. Whenever some violin made by one of the old master violin makers happens to be up for sale, the councilor will buy it for whatever price the seller demands.  And just as with his own violins, he plays these others exactly once; then he takes them apart in order to examine their inner structure, and if he does not find there exactly what he fancied he was looking for, he grumpily tosses the pieces into a large chest tbat is already close to overflowing with the wreckage of dismantled violins.  “But what about the business with Antonia?” I briskly and vehemently asked. “Ah, now that is a matter that might lead me to denounce the councilor in the severest imaginable terms, were I not convinced that in some mysterious and peculiar fashion it must be reconcilable with the councilor’s absolutely fundamental and well-nigh abjectly compliant good-naturedness.  When the councilor arrived here in H--- several years ago, he lived an austere anchorite’s existence in a gloomy little house on ----- Street, with only an elderly housekeeper for company.  By and by his eccentricities aroused the curiosity of his neighbors, and no sooner did he perceive this than he sought and obtained the acquaintance of people in other parts of the city.  Not only in my house but also in countless others people got so used to him that he became indispensable.  Despite his rough exterior, even the children loved him beyond all measure, and they showed their love for him without annoying him in the slightest, in that their manner towards him, although ingratiating in the extreme, was marked by a certain awestricken reserve that spared him the usual infantile importunities.  You have seen today how effortlessly he wins children over with his mastery of all manner of artful tricks.  We all assumed he was an old bachelor, and he never contradicted our assumption.  Not many years into his residence here, he suddenly left town; nobody knew where he had gone, and he came back a few months later.  The evening after his return, Krespel’s windows were all illuminated; this unusual circumstance on its own attracted the neighbors’ attention, but it was soon joined by something even more arresting, namely, the sound of a quite wonderfully majestic female voice singing to the accompaniment of a pianoforte.  Then the tones of a violin began bestirring themselves, and they presently entered into a full-blown pitched battle with the voice.  It was immediately obvious to everyone that the violinist was the councilor.  I myself joined the considerable crowd of people that had gathered in front of the councilor’s house, and I must confess to you that compared with the voice of this unknown woman, compared with her inimitable, profoundly soul-penetrating delivery throughout this recital, the performances of the most illustrious female vocalists I had ever heard seemed flat and expressionless.  I had never had an inkling that a human voice was capable of notes of such sustained length, of such nightingalesque trills, of such ebbing and flowing, of such crescendoing to the loudness of the mightiest organ, of such diminuendoing to the quietness of the faintest whisper.   There was not a single person present who did not find himself enveloped in an enchantment of unparalleled sweetness, and when the woman stopped singing, the profound silence that ensued was broken only by the softest of sighs.  It may have been midnight by the time we heard another sound, namely that of the councilor speaking with great vehemence in alternation with another man, who, to judge by his tone, seemed to be reproaching Krespel for something; and every now and then a young woman would chime in in short, plaintive snatches of speech.  The councilor’s exclamations became more and more vehement, until at length he fell into that drawling, lyrical tone with which you are familiar.  A loud cry from the girl interrupted his lyrical tirade, and then for a while there was dead silence, until suddenly someone could be heard clumping down the staircase, and a young man rushed sobbing out of the house, flung himself into a post-chaise that was waiting nearby, and drove off with great speed.  The next day the councilor was in an uncommonly good mood, and nobody had the courage to ask him to explain what had happened the previous night.  But upon questioning, the housekeeper said that the councilor had returned home in the company of a very young girl who was as pretty as a picture, that he called her Antonia, and that it was she who had sung so beautifullyShe added that they had been accompanied by a young man who had evinced great tenderness of feeling towards Antonia and could not but have been her fiancé.  But, she said, he had been obliged to leave almost immediately because the councilor had categorically insisted on it.  The precise nature of Antonia’s relationship with the councilor remains a mystery to this day, but this much is certain—that he lords it over the poor girl in the most egregious manner.   He watches over her like Doctor Bartolo guarding his ward in The Barber of Seville; she hardly ever affords so much as a glimpse of herself at the window. Whenever, in response to only the most ardently supplicating entreaties, has he been prevailed upon to introduce her into a social setting,he follows her every movement with the eyes of Argus, and refuses to let her hear a single note of music, let alone sing; indeed, he no longer allows her even to sing at home.  Among the general public of the town, Antonia’s singing that night has become the soul-stirring and imagination-enkindling stuff of a true legend, the legend of a prodigy, a prodigy of genuinely miraculous abilities, and even people who have never heard her sing a note are wont to say, upon hearing some other female vocalist have a go at it in our concert hall, “Who does this common warbler think she is anyway?  The only woman who has any business singing is Antonia.’”   
You know how easily I become completely obsessed with such fantastic phenomena, and you can well imagine how needful I found it to make Antonia’s acquaintance.  I was actually already glancingly familiar with the public’s ecstasies over  Antonia’s vocal prowess, but I had never had any inkling that that glorious woman lived in H****, let alone that that madman Krespel held her captive like some sort of tyrannical enchanter.   Naturally I heard Antonia’s wondrous vocalizing the very night after my conversation with the professor, and because in a magisterial Adagio (ludicrously enough, it reminded me of one of my own compositions) she most movingly vowed to rescue me, I soon resolved to break into Krespel’s house like a second Astolfo into Alzine’s magic fortress, and to release the queen of song from her ignominious fetters.  
But everything turned out very differently from the way I had imagined; for no sooner had I seen the councilor two or at most three times, and engaged with him in as many animated discussions about the ideal structure of violins, than he of his own accord invited me to call on him at his house.  I did so, and he displayed to me his rich treasure trove of violins.  It consisted of no fewer than thirty instruments hanging in a single cabinet, and among these one stood out in bearing all the hallmarks of the classic style of the early violin makers (the carved lion’s head, etc.), and being mounted higher than all the others on a specially installed corolla, it seemed to rule over them as their queen.  “This violin,” said Krespel in reply to my query about it, “this violin is a most remarkable, marvelous piece by an unknown master who was probably a contemporary of Tartini.   I am totally convinced that there is something special about its inner structure, and that if I were to take it apart I would discover the key to a mystery that I have been trying to solve for the longest time, but—laugh at me if you like, sir—but this lifeless object, to which I merely impart the initial stimulus to life and sound, often speaks to me of its own accord in a most extraordinary fashion, and the first time I played it, I felt as if I were merely the magnetizer enabling the sleepwalker to stir from her bed, as if the notes I was playing were somehow the verbatim expression of the violin’s own innermost thoughts.  I certainly wouldn’t have you suppose that I am enough of a simpleton to be swayed even for an instant by such childish imaginings; nevertheless it is true that for some strange reason, I was never able to bring myself to make the tiniest incision in this stupid, lifeless object.  Now I’m glad I left it intact, for since Antonia’s arrival here, it has been my pleasure from time to time to play her a little something on this instrument.  Antonia enjoys it; she really enjoys it.”  The emotion visible on the councilor’s face as he spoke these words emboldened me to cry out to him, “O Councilor Krespel, my dear friend, may I not prevail upon you to play this instrument for her in my presence?”  “Whereupon Krespel cut me one of his sweet-and-sour looks and replied in his drawling lyrical voice, “No, you mayn’t, Mr Studiosus, my dear friend!”  Thus brusquely was my request rebuffed.  Next he obliged me to accompany him on a wearisome tour of his omnium gatherum of mostly childish curiosities; finally, he reached into a coffer and produced from it a folded-up piece of paper that he pressed into my hand while intoning with great solemnity, “You are a lover of art; accept this gift as a precious keepsake that you are bound for ever to treasure above all your other possessions.”  Whereupon he took me by the shoulders and shoved me very gently to the very threshold of the front door, embraced me, and withdrew.  The man had literally shown me to the door in the most painfully symbolic fashion.  Upon unfolding the paper I discovered that it had been serving as the wrapper of an eighth of an inch-long piece of a violin’s E string, and on the inside of the wrapper were written these words: “From the E string with which the blessed Stamitz strung his violin during the last concert he ever gave.” Because my unceremonious ejection from the house had immediately followed my first allusion to Antonia, I concluded that I would never be allowed to see her; but this was not the case, for the second time I called on the councilor I found her with him in his bedchamber, where she was helping him to assemble a violin.  At first glance Antonia’s looks made no very strong impression, but by and by one found it impossible to tear one’s gaze away from the azure eyes and winsome roseate lips that were the glory of her uncommonly lovely and tenderly shaped personHer complexion was very pale, but whenever she fetchingly smiled in response to a witty or droll remark her cheeks would instantly flush with a fiery red that soon subsided into a gentle twilit pink.  I conversed with Antonia uninhibitedly, and at no point did I notice Krespel evincing a hint of the Argus-eyed vigilance attributed to him by the Professor; rather, he behaved pretty much exactly as he did at other times, and, indeed, he seemed to regard my interviews with the girl in a very favorable light.  And so my visits to the councilor became more frequent, and as we grew more and more accustomed to one another’s company, our little tripartite circle was pervaded by an extraordinary feeling of contented well-being that delighted us to the very cores of our respective souls.  The councilor continued to delight me with his incredibly absurd antics, but in truth it was Antonia and her irresistibly bewitching charms who kept me coming back, and made me bear with patience many things that I would otherwise have fled like the plague, being the hot-headed and highly strung creature I was in those days.  You see, the councilor’s quirky eccentricity was all too often alloyed with a strong streak of tactlessness and tediousness; but what I found most off-putting of all was that whenever I broached the topic of music, especially vocal music, he would immediately don his diabolically smiling face and revoltingly lyrical voice and interpose some generally banal remark on a completely unrelated subject.  From the profound sadness bespoken by Antonia’s gaze on these occasions, I conclusively gathered that the point of the non sequiturs was to forestall my tendering any sort of invitation to her to sing.  But I refused to relent.  The more obstacles the councilor placed in my path, the more my determination mounted; I simply had to hear Antonia sing, lest my very being should dissolve in a sea of dreams and premonitions of what would her singing would sound like.  One evening Krespel was in an especially good mood; he had taken apart an old Cremona violin and discovered that its sound-post had been mounted at an angle that was about a half a degree more oblique than in other violins.  How important it is for practice to be enriched by experience!  I managed to get him thoroughly worked up on the subject of the proper method of playing the violin.  Krespel’s paean to the old master violinists’ emulation of the great naturalistic vocalists of their time made for an effortless transition to my remark that nowadays the opposite was true; namely that the technique of singers was much debased by their affected imitations of the decidedly unnatural leaps and runs of the instrumentalists. “What could be more absurd,” I cried, leaping from my chair and rushing to the piano, “what could be more absurd than those confounded grace-notes, which sound more like peas being sprinkled onto the ground than actual music?”  I sang several of those modern fermata passages that run all up and down the scale and purr along the way a toy top does right after you have set it spinning; to these I brusquely appended a trite succession of staccato chords by way of a cadence.  Krespel burst into an immoderately enthusiastic laugh and cried, “Ha! Ha! I might almost mistake you for one of our Germanified Italians or Italicized Germans stretching their wretched voice-boxes to the limit in an aria by Pucitta or Portogallo, or rather in some vocal farce along the lines of Maestro di Capella, or better still, Schiavo d'unprimo uomo. “Now,” I thought, “is the moment for me to make my move.”  “How about this?” I asked, turning to Antonia: “How about this?  Is Antonia not familiar with this style of singing?” and immediately launched into one of the noble, soulful songs of old Leonardo Leo.  Whereupon Antonia’s cheeks flushed; her freshly ensouled eyes sparkled with the luster of heaven; she dashed to the piano; her lips parted—but at that very instant Krespel rushed up behind me, grabbed me by the shoulders, and exclaimed in a strident tenor, “Dear boy!  Dear boy!  Dear boy!” Then, seizing my hand and bowing to me with downright courtly courtesy, he continued his address in a gentle singsong, thus: “In point of fact, my superlatively inestimable Mr. Studiosus, in point of fact, I should be flouting every principle of good breeding, every article of etiquette, if I were to express with the requisite volume and vigor my present desire for infernal Satan himself forthwith to give you a few gentle punches in the scruff of the neck with his taloned fists and thereby to, as it were, make short work of you; but even leaving this wish out of consideration, you must acknowledge, my dearest sir, that it is getting rather significantly dark, and that, even should I not elect to throw you forthwith down the front steps of this house, as the street lamps have not been lighted tonight, you are not unlikely to suffer some damage to your limbs on the pavements.  Go home straight-away, and I beg you not to bate a jot of affection for your loyal friend if perchance you should never again—and I do mean never again—find him at home when you call on him.  Whereupon he threw his arms around me and pivoted us both around so that we were facing the door, to and out which, gripping me tightly all the while, he slowly showed me, thereby depriving me of even one last parting glance at Antonia.  You will readily admit that in my situation it was hardly possible to give the councilor a sound thrashing, as I by all rights really ought to have done. The professor laughed me to scorn and assured me that I had made a proper and permanent hash of my friendship with the councilor.  To play the devoted knight errant or the love-struck suitor gazing with woebegone eyes up at his mistress’s window was out of the question: Antonia was too estimable, I would almost say too sacrosanct, to be subjected to such antics.  Lacerated to the very core of my being as I was, I quitted H******; but by and by, and in conformity with their wont, the garish colors of the figments of my fancy faded, and Antonia—yes, including her singing voice, which I had never heard—subsided into something like a gentle, soothing roseate shimmer whose glow pervaded even the innermost recesses of my heart from time to time.

Two years later, when I was already settled in B*****, I embarked on a journey to southern Germany.  One evening, I suddenly beheld the spires of H****** towering amid the roseate haze of sunset; as I drew nearer to them, I was seized by an indescribable apprehensiveness, as though a heavy weight had just been placed on my breast; I could hardly breathe; I had to get out of the coach and get some fresh air.  But even once I was outside and walking abreast of the carriage as it trundled along, my discomfiture continued to mount, to such an extent that I was soon in physical pain.  By and by I fancied I could hear the solemn chords of a church chorale wafting through the air; then the sounds became more distinct, such that I could tell that they were being produced by a chorus of male voices singing some sort of hymn.  “What is that?  What is that?” I cried, as the strains of the hymn pierced my heart like a golden dagger.  “Can’t you see it? Can’t you see it?” replied the postilion from his driver’s perch beside me: “In that there churchyard they’re laying somebody in the earth.”  And in point of fact we were fast approaching a churchyard, where I could see a circle of people in mourning clothes standing around a grave that was about to be filled in.  My eyes welled up with tears; I felt as though all the joys and pleasures life had to offer were being buried in that grave.  In my speedy progress down the hill atop which the churchyard was sited, I soon lost sight of the grave, and the hymn fell silent; but moments later I found myself level with the black-clad mourners filing out of the church gate.  Among these people I observed the professor walking arm-in-arm with his niece; the two of them were so deeply immersed in their grief that they passed within inches of me without noticing me.  The niece was holding a handkerchief to her eyes and sobbing violently.  I thought it was out of the question for me to continue any farther into the town; I ordered the postilion to drive my servants to my usual inn and hurried on foot to that old familiar spot beyond the city gates in the hope of shaking myself free of an emotional state that I tentatively attributed to some purely physical cause—for example, the overexcitement sometimes induced by travel.  Upon turning on to the avenue that led to the pleasure garden, I witnessed a spectacle whose oddity beggared belief.  Councilor Krespel was being escorted along the street by two undertaker’s assistants from whose clutches he seemed to be struggling to escape by means of his entire repertoire of weird leaps and lunges.  He was as usual dressed in his outlandish gray self-tailored frock coat; but from his small three-cornered hat, which he wore cocked over one ear in military fashion, there hung a long, narrow strip of mourning crape that fluttered this way and that in the wind.  His waist was encircled by a sword-belt into which had been thrust not a sword but a long violin bow.  My blood turned to ice in all my limbs; “He’s gone mad,” I thought, as I slowly began trailing the three of them.  The men led him all the way to the doorstep of his house, where he embraced them while laughing a loud, raucous laugh.  They left him on his own, and now his gaze alighted on me; I was standing close enough to him to touch him.  He stared mutely at me for a while, then listlessly exclaimed, “Welcome, Mr. Studiosus!  You know the whole story too, of course”; whereupon he seized me by the arm and rushed me into the house, up the stairs, and into the room filled with hanging violins.  All the instruments were swathed in black crape; the unknown old master’s violin was now gone; in its place hung a wreath of cypress branches.  I now realized what had happened.  “Antonia! ah Antonia!” I cried in a tone of inconsolable lamentation.  The councilor was standing beside me as still as stone, with his arms folded across his chest.  I pointed at the cypress wreath.  “When she died,” the councilor quite solemnly and listlessly began, “when she died, that violin’s sound-post shattered with a menacing thunderclap, and its sounding-board splintered into a thousand pieces.”  Deeply shaken, I sank into an armchair, but the councilor for his part began singing a merry ditty in a harsh, throaty voice; and it was truly appalling to behold him leaping from one foot to the other in a kind of jig as he sang, and as the strip of crepe attached to his hat (which he was still wearing) flitted all around the room and brushed against the violins along the wall; indeed, I could not suppress a cry of inordinate volume when a sudden counterturn in the dance sent the crape streamer sweeping across the breadth of my body; I felt as though the councilor were trying to drag me mummified down into the horrifying black pit of madness.  But then the councilor suddenly fell silent, stopped dancing, and in his lyrical voice said, “My dear boy, my dear boy, why did you cry out like that; did you just see the angel of death?  That is what always happens before the ceremony!”  Now he stepped into the center of the room, tore the violin bow out of the sword-belt, held it above his head with both hands, and bent it in two, causing it to splinter into several pieces.  With a loud laugh Krespel cried, “Now the staff has been broken over my head; do you get it, my dear boy; do you get it?  Come what may, come what might, now I am free, free, free—hooray, I’m free!  From now I shan’t build any more violins: no more violin-building for me; hooray, I’m free!”  Now the councilor began singing these last words (“No more violin making for me; hooray I’m free!”) to a tune that was gruesome in its untimely jollity, and resumed his one-legged jig about the room.  Overwhelmingly appalled as I was, I set out on what I wished to be a speedy exit from the house, but the councilor grabbed hold of me and very calmly said, “Don’t leave, Mr. Studiosus.  And don’t think of these outbursts of the anguish that is wracking me bodily with death-agonies as manifestations of insanity; think of them, rather, as the after-effects of my having long ago fabricated a dressing-gown that I dared presume would impart to me the outward aspect of inexorable fate, or of almighty God himself!”  The councilor continued ranting in this horrifyingly nonsensical vein until finally, after several minutes, he collapsed, exhausted, on to the floor; at my summons the old housekeeper entered the room and began attending to him, and I was immensely relieved when shortly thereafter I found myself back outdoors. Not for an instant after I first caught sight of him that day did I waver in my conviction that Krespel had gone completely insane; the professor, on the other hand, maintained that the councilor was anything but mad. “There are certain people,” he said, who by nature or a queer stroke of fortune are deprived of that opaque surface under cover of which the rest of us can indulge our most insane imaginings without attracting the slightest notice.  They may be likened to certain thin-carapaced insects that are especially rebarbative in appearance whenever they are in motion, because the busy play of their muscles is visible to the naked eye; although they have only to stop moving to become as unobtrusive-looking as any other member of their order.

On the Golden Age of Videotape and 16mm Film (a Nostalgiograph in the Manner of Thomas De Quincey)

If there is one thing the finger or two who know me well out of the handful of people who know me at all know about me, it is that I take a rather dim view of the most ballyhooed technological innovations of our time.  This is not to say (and indeed the just-mentioned finger or two would not say) that I am by any stretch of the imagination a Luddite even in the bastardized, hyper-stultified sense in which that word is now understood—viz., a person who categorically refuses intercourse with all electronically dependent phenomena of less than, say, ten years’ antiquity.  No: I simply maintain that scarcely any electronically dependent phenomenon of less than, say, sixty years’ antiquity has changed our lives to an extent that merits a fraction of the paper, printer-toner, electricity, breath, or (let us not mince words) semen and vaginal ejaculate expended in celebration or lamentation of it.  There have been, I would argue, several great falls (although there is only one Great Falls) since the dawn of the so-called industrial age: the first was probably precipitated by the development of the railroad networks and steamships, when it first became impossible for a would-be civilized person to get away with living out the full duration of his natural without undertaking some pointless trip to some faraway place; and the most recent by the proliferation of television, when it first became impossible for the would-be civilized person to get away with segregating himself from the importunities of visible and corporeally non-present humans, when ghosts became a species of vermin as quotidian and ineradicable as rats and cockroaches.  (The movies were bad enough, but one could escape from them at home; and the radio, while domestically inescapable, was mercifully apictorial [one has only to do the arithmetic: if a picture says a thousand words and a motion-picture moves at 24 frames per second, then a moving image of a person imploring you to buy Colgate toothpaste is about 16,000 times as eloquent as the naked voice of a person delivering the same message]).  Compared with the televisual plunge, the descent collectively catalyzed by the WISYWIG operating-systemed personal computer, the internet, and the mobile telephone has, according to my lights, been a mere physiologically untraumatic down-jump, like the one one has to perform in alighting from a bus or train.  My gorge rises with especial rapidity in response to any sort of tirade decrying the impersonality and brusqueness of email, texting, and tweeting, as against the hyperpersonal warmth and languorous, mint julep-sippin’ attitude to time of the old-fashioned handwritten letter.  I am heartily offended by such polemics because I remember quite vividly what a sorrily moribund horse the practice of letter-writing was in the later pre-email days.  To be sure, I myself then corresponded regularly and not-unlengthily with several friends (indeed, almost a full handful of them!), but the habit had a rather pungent whiff of campy anachronism about it, as if my correspondents and I were collaboratively penning an epistolary novel: we wrote letters to each other for the pleasure of writing letters, and of following in the footsteps of the great letter-writing friends of old.  The idea of exchanging letters with people to whom I was bound by ties that I did not aestheticize–for example, my parents or my younger brother—never crossed my mind.  If I needed or wanted to say anything to them, I gave them a phone call.  And as near as I could tell, it was solely by telephone that the vast majority of my peers and elders transacted the entirety of their non face-to-face business with all other people, from total strangers to those supposedly nearest and dearest to them.  “But surely it was highly impractical to be on the telephone 24/7, 7/52 in those station-to-station, pre flat rate long-distance, landline-only days.”  Indeed it was, and people dealt with that impracticality by generally not being on the phone, which was easy to do, given that they generally had little interest in and often a positive aversion to the people whom they knew to be immediately accessible via that engine.  Perhaps even in the most intellectually fertile and socially integrated ages, the default attitude of one human being to another—whether friend, stranger, or foe—is mild to severe hostility.  When other people are present, the most efficient medium of expression of this hostility is verbal abuse; when they are absent it is silence.  When paper letters were the only affordable means of communication, most people did not write or send them, because not writing to your awful cousin in Poughkeepsie was a much easier and more eloquent way of saying “Fuck you!” to her than actually sending her a letter reading “Fuck you!” would have been.  The new or pseudo-new media of communication, by effectively bringing us into one another’s presence, encourage us to adopt the present-specific mode of expressing our hostility.  Thus the so-called social media would be more properly termed the anti-social media, and the rudeness the historically purblind decry in these fora is merely humanity’s native tone.  Thankfully, Moore’s so-called Law assures us that the days of such ubiquitously smellable shit-talking and typing are numbered; for on the day when the latest mobilephonetablet is no faster or smarter (except perhaps in a stylistic sense) than the latest but one, the thrill of using such an engine will summarily and permanently evaporate, the mobilephonetablet will take its place alongside the post-it note and disposable razor in the class of commodities we take utterly unsentimentally for granted, and humanity without the walls of the domestic dwelling unit will mercifully revert to being a race of close-mouthed hermits.  In the meantime, the mobilephonetablet and the various proprietarily named fripperies it has engendered and facilitated will join company with Justin Bieber and global warming as mild but constant vexations visited upon the would-be civilized person via the mouths (a.k.a. north anuses) of other people decrying his freakishness in not taking them seriously enough in some fashion.  But the would-be civilized person cannot take these ephemera seriously in any fashion, and least of all a polemical one.  That the world has for quite a long time been getting ever shittier he vehemently asserts, that it is measurably shittier now than ten or twenty or thirty years ago he willingly acknowledges, but that it is significantly shittier now than then is a notion that he will never deign to grace with the soupcon of a smile, for in doing so he would effectively be hanging out his card and setting up shop as a mere laudator of the already long-since barbarous auld lang syne of living memory, as a mountebank trading on the fraudulent notion of the 1970s as a prelapsarian epoch, when he regards his true vocation as that of an Entferntervergangenheitsreinheitsseher, a communicant with the purity of the distant past of pre-living memory.   

That said-stroke-having said that (the that in both cases effectively being the very first sentence of the preceding paragraph, to which the remaining sentences merely add much needful if tedious illustrative evidence), there is at least one technologically dependent transformation of recent years that has caught me completely off-guard and left me utterly gobsmacked  (I am no fan of this g word, but it seems by now to stand in much the same relation to surprised or overwhelmed  as “bullshit” has long stood in relation to humbug or balderdash, namely as the only word forceful enough to convey the meaning nominally contained in the more genteel terms).  The change I am referring to is the by now more or less fully accomplished digitization of all new or newly reproduced mechanically reproducible images, and in particular moving images, the transformation of movies and TV shows from phenomena originating directly from the chemical, electrical, or magnetic excitation of corporeal matter into phenomena originating only mediatedly from such excitation, and directly from the immaterial empatternment of entities purported to be ones and zeros.  It was a change that took me completely aback (or, rather, genuinely aback, the distinction between afrontness and abackness being a binary or digital-esque one that does not admit of gradations) and has left me finding the world not merely a more depressing place (that progression is par for the temporal course) but also a stranger one.  And as vis-à-vis probably all such changes, in hindsight one feels remarkably obtuse in not having seen it coming.  One had after all known for decades that the mimetic sector of the phenomenal world was becoming ever- more digitized.  When was it that one heard one’s first demonstration of the hyperphonographic properties of the compact disc, via that J. C. Penny’s (or Sears) floor model player, and its ostentatiously ffr-spanning rendition of some unnamable orchestral warhorse?  (While I do not remember the identity of the piece, I somehow recall that the disc—which could be viewed spinning all those seemingly impossibly numerous hundreds of revolutions per minute through the player’s transparent lid—was at least partially robin’s-egg blue in color [but surely the record labels weren’t yet bothering with painted upper surfaces, trusting the public to be seduced and dazzled by the naked prismatizing silver].)  1983?  At the very latest, 1984, when one was twelve, presumably still young enough to take such a transformation in one’s stride.  And even one’s first acquaintance with digital moving pictures scarcely postdates one’s attainment of one’s majority: how vividly (albeit dimly) one remembers that postage stamp-sized Q*******e realization of the video for Radiohead’s “Creep” that came bundled with the system software for certain M*******h computers in the autumn of 1993.  Whence I can only conclude that quasi-paradoxically it was the early saturation of so many subsectors of the mimetic sector of the phenomenal world with digitized things that left me unprepared for the digitization of that final (or is it perchance only the penultimate or even the antepenultimate?) one.  Because the digital LP replacement and the digital nickelodeon flick or flipbook were not immediately followed by the digital full-fledged studio-produced motion picture or television program, it was easy enough to assume that there would never be digital FFSPMPs or TV programs, that producing audiovisual records of such gloss and sheen and depth and range and sheer, ineluctable bewitchingness was one of those “things that computers can’t do,” that it involved some arcane artisanal mystery akin to that entailed by the manufacture of authentic Delft china or Stradivarius violins, as if every frame of the master of a Hollywood blockbuster had to be individually prepared by people in surgical caps and masks laying on layer upon parti-colored layer of powdered chlorides and nitrates with apparatuses resembling pepper-grinders, or every micrometer of videotape for the latest episode of Home Improvement had to be inscribed with its corresponding micrometer of pseudo-sine-wavage by people in radiation hoods and gowns waving their arms about in front of the to-all-appearances completely motionless capstans like virtuosos of that early electronic musical instrument known as the Theremin.  Obviously, (in hindsight) though, movies and TV programs have always been manufactured by means of industrial processes relying on lightning-fast image-registrations with which the producer (by which I term I mean not only or mainly the person bearing that job title, but also the director, cinematographer, script-writer, et al.) needed to have no conscious involvement, and therefore the delay in the emergence of the digifilm motion picture or TV program could only have been owing to the temporary inferiority of the digital moving image, which could only have been owing to the (temporarily) inadequate processing speeds of existing computers and storage capacities of existing storage systems (CD ROMs, Bernoulli drives, or whatever else happened to be state of the art at any given year).  Once the digitally produced moving image was technically not only equivalent but superior to the best-generatable analogue one, the supersedence became a foregone conclusion.  And on the score of this superiority I am under no illusions.  The reader may rest assured that the balance of the present essay is not going to be one of those willfully ill-informed or disingenuous tributes to the rich, lanolin slathered Corinthian leather-like, life-bearing organicity of the older medium, of the sort that one associates with, say, the lovers of gramophone records.  In the case of a televisual image, the digitization-worthiness has always been intuitively obvious even to the naked eye.  One had only to come within a foot of the television screen to see that its picture was composed of a finite and in principle countable number of indivisible squares of light (specifically red, green, or blue light), such that any computer-generated televisual image, however egregious its limitations, would never be falling short of a standard that one believed to be perfect.  Of the wartsandall-ishness of movies, on the other and more prominent hand, one was blissfully ignorant: one fancied that every filmed image was made up of wholly analog-ic lines and splashes of color (or grayscale), and that no matter how closely one drew to that image, or many times one enlarged it, one would always end up seeing some thing or collection of things that lacked a border along at least one geometrical axis; that at no point would a film image resolve itself into a mosaic of mutually tangent but isolated squares (or hexagons, or octagons, or what have you).  Of course, one was familiar with the notion of a “grainy” film image, of a film image that was at least partially made up of visibly discrete units, and one was familiar with specific movies—mostly older ones—that were prevailingly composed of such images.  But one assumed that these were aberrations, no different in kind from out-of-focus shots or wear-and-tear induced scratches on the celluloid, neither of which impugned the mimetic prowess of the medium itself.  Little did one know that the intrinsically, infinitely analogic properties of film were likewise an illusion.  I have not investigated the chemistry or physics behind this phenomenon at any length or in any detail—or at all as a matter of fact—but I have been told or led to believe by people in the habit of crediting only creditable sources that these analogic properties break down at a dispiritingly coarse resolution, that conventional celluloid film stock, be it of even the most recent laboratory standard (i.e., the latest-day equivalents of Technicolor and Eastmancolor), can register only a dozen or so hues of color or grayscale that will cease to appear to blend into each other when viewed if not by the naked eye at front-row viewing distance, then at any rate by the eye aided by a magnifying glass placed a few inches from the projection screen.  Needless to say, by the early years of the previous decade digital moving images that did not break down into their constituent pixels when subjected to such scrutiny were rolling off the assembly lines of Palo Alto, and that by then the celluloid film’s days were numbered in a more than technically fanciful sense. 

This is of course not to say that even now a majority of the digital moving images one comes across in the daily round of commerce with electronic media are of Alpine–standard (that’s the antithesis of b*g-standard) 1990s’ Hollywood cinefilmic quality.  The minuscule frame size of the standard Y** T**e video, for example, is imposed not by the visual scope of its typical displaying medium—say, the fourteen-inch screen of a largish laptop—but by the incredibly low resolution of the video itself, which is such that it is only when its images are viewed as if from across the width of a football stadium that they can trick us into mistaking them for faithful copies of real-world entities–an illusion that even an old nineteen-inch low-definition TV set displaying over-the-air analogue reruns of Gilligan’s Island managed to pull off by seeming to keep its images only as far away as the length of a ping-pong table of perfectly ordinary, garage-friendly dimensions.  There is no inherent or invariable superiority of fidelity in a digital image, any more than there has ever been any inherent or invariable superiority of fidelity in a digital audio recording, although the history of the reception of both digital sense-registrations leads one to believe that this superiority has been and continues to be generally taken for granted.  One recalls that way back in that millennium-closing year 2000, when the first, pre-castrated version of Napster went viral as one would say nowadays, that much of the hysteria about the platform on the part of the so-called music industry and its millions of disinterested partisans (one must never underestimate the culturally industrialized other-directed human being’s proclivity for identifying with the oppressor [although I think some nicer word than “oppressor” should be come up with to designate people who merely want you to give them your money and are using much less coercive means of trying to get you to part with it than a whip or gun]) emanated from the notion that the recordings disseminated gratis by it (Napster), were perfect copies of the CD, LP, or audio cassette tracks from which they had been derived.  These recordings were so conceived because in those days, when cassettes remained the only medium of home recording that was both reliable and affordable, the only sort of imperfection of audio fidelity that anybody had any notion of was analogue and contingent in character---surface noise, tape hiss, wow and flutter—all of them were successful realizations of the contingent corporeal world’s effort to contribute its own unruly two cents’ worth to the would-be necessity-driven message of spirit.  Little did anybody then seem to realize that digital recordings were subject to their own sui generis form of imperfection, an imperfection imposed not by chance and the medium itself but deliberately by the curators of digital archives both amateur and professional; that the degree of this imperfection, visited on the recording by a process known as compression, depended on how much –or, rather how little—storage space the curator was willing to allocate to a given chunk of music; that even the audio standard of the original compact disc, with its pathetic 16-bit sampling rate, had been a data-capacity-per-square-unit of space-imposed compromise that fell well below the threshold of apparent perfection of fidelity (presumably the fact that CDs were so much smaller than LPs was owing entirely to problems of torque and whatnot imposed by their rotation speed, as caeteris paribus a 12-inch laser disc would have yielded appreciably higher fidelity than a four-inch one); that what with the average Napster user’s hard drive’s possessing the storage capacity of roughly two CDs, and the library stored thereon of several thousands of minutes of music, in point of median sound quality the average Napster download was barely a match for the likewise telephonic “Operaphone” broadcasts that Marcel Proust had reveled in during the previous fin de siecle. On the evidence of our collective experience of similar switchovers in more remote times, one would have every reason to suppose that by now, fourteen years into the millennium, we would have all grown savvy to the limitations on aural experience imposed by compression, and moved on to a standard of audio reproduction undreamt of in the original Napster days, such that CD-quality sound would have long since been demoted to  the status of a pathetic pis-aller suitable for only the most prosaically quotidian communications—occupying a niche of the prestige level of AM radio (which, by the way, despite having been deprived of its crown as the predominant purveyor of live audio content nearly forty years ago, has not yet disappeared and is unlikely to do so until analog radio en bloc is phased out [but who knows how far off that day is, given that by all rational rights analog radio, being the bearer of a less complex signal, should have been forced to give up the ghost long before analog TV, and yet analog TV has been dead a full five years now]).  Instead, the MP3, an avowedly sub-CD quality medium, is both the industry standard and consumers’ format of choice for downloaded music.  What gives?  Whence comes this voluntary regression?  Or is it even voluntary?  Is it possible that the very idea of a distinction between superior and inferior sound-images is indissolubly tied to the old analogue recording media—or, to be more precise, a phenomenology of listening attuned to the potential shortcomings of such media—such that only those old enough to remember when LPs and cassettes were the state-of-the-available sound-reproducing art are still capable (supposing it to be a capability and not a disability) of caring about or noticing deficiencies in sound reproduction, and that when shove is reached by push, anybody under the age of say, 35, will reflexively, unthinkingly go for the maximum time-span and number of tracks even if  the sound quality delivered therein is of sub Edison wax-cylindrical poverty?

“Who knows?  But in any case, this is supposed to be an essay on visual media, from which everything you have been saying about all these entities and phenomena pertaining to sonic media, cannot but constitute a pure digression.”  Actually, I’m not sure that it is a pure digression.  For whether we are talking about the reproduction of sight or the reproduction of sound, it would seem that the past quarter-century has witnessed some sort of radical reorientation of the viewer’s or listener’s horizon of expectations.  Formerly, from that hot or cold, rainy or bone-dry, blustery or sultry day in 1830-something when Louis Daguerre legged it down to the patent office with his big glass plate tucked under one arm, right up until that hot or cold &c. 2000-something day when the last pop album was released not only in CD but also in cassette format, everyone seemed to be under and revel in the impression that mankind’s means of representing to itself the world around it(self) were constantly improving and asymptotically approaching the moment of indistinguishability from the real McCoy.  From black-and-white still photography we moved on to color still photography; from black-and-white 16 mm motion picture film we moved on to color 35 mm motion picture film and thence to color 70 mm motion picture film and thence (in selected cinemas) to that three digit-millimeter’d monstrosity known as Imax; from acoustically recorded records we moved on to electrically recorded records and thence to CDs; from mono sound we moved on to stereo sound and thence (eventually, a decade or two after the false start known as quadraphonia) to surround sound.  Every day and in every way we expected ourselves to be more fully, richly, and accurately in touch with the world accessible by the senses than we had been the day before.  Now—and I say this while candidly acknowledging the legitimacy of the interjection of a Mixalotian-dimensioned but occasioned by the recent and for the moment still-current recrudescence of pandemic hope in the possibility of universal 3-D cinema and television–all that seems to have changed.  Now[adays], we (or should I say “they” or “you all” [or “you guys” or “yins”]) seem to care only about the accessibility and fluency of the mimeme, and no longer to give a fig about its fidelity to the mimed phenomenon.   If, when streaming (how I pine for an equivalent of so-called for grammatical entities other than count nouns!) a movie, we (or “they” et al.) are forced to wait so long as two seconds for the picture to refresh—in other words, to endure the briefest spell of still imagery or blank screenage–we stamp our feet and shake our fists with all the apoplectic fury of a mid-twentieth century paterfamilias protesting a meteorologically induced interruption of The Wide World of Sports by a simultaneous catch-as-catch-can assault on the horizontal and vertical holds of his rooftop aerial-attuned living room hog of a 24-inch console set.  But provided the transmission elapses without a single hitch of this kind, we spectate upon its fruits as fully satisfied customers, devoting not a micrometer of our so-called attention span to the matter of whether they are every bit as verisimilitudinous, as still life in motion-like, as their counterparts on DVD or Blu-Ray.

The whole of the preceding two paragraphs, I blush to admit, is intended to function as one big, walloping, waddling disclaimer of sorts, one that in hindsight I now see would perhaps have been more seasonably sited before the essay proper rather than within it—but fudge it, what’s done is dun, &c.  You see, when I alluded or referred some pages ago to cinema projection-screen images “that do not break down into their constituent pixels” when viewed with a magnifying glass, I was alluding or referring to a phenomenon that I had not as yet experienced at first eye, and that indeed I have not as yet experienced as of this writing.  When I hear from those who have been to screenings of digital films in chain multiplex cinemas that during such screenings “you can see the pores on the actors’ faces,” I must assume that the state-of-the-art technical standard of cinematographic mimesis has surpassed anything obtainable in the most upmarket and recent-vintaged pre-digital cinematic setting.  But I myself have not been to a screening of any movie at a multiplex cinema since, at the latest, 2003, when, if I am not mistaken (though I may very well be) old-fashioned analog cimefilm was still the universal standard at the consumer end.  The virtual entirety of my acquaintance with the post-analogue cinemascape has in fact been mediated by, at the quasi-immediate or gateway level, my 14-inch 2010 laptop screen with allegedly high-definition capabilities and my 2008 19-inch low-definition non-flat ordinary television screen; and at the unabashedly mediate level by the reproductive limitations of the original DVD format and the nearly equally ancient DSL interweb connection system-cum-protocol, together with whatever such limitations are imposed by N*****x et al./&c. on the so-called server end of the inline delivery service(s).  Accordingly any animadversions I may subsequently formulate (and I plan to formulate scads of them) on the unsatisfactory character of the new digifilm standard by comparison with certain standards of yore may for all I know be vitiated by the impurities imposed by the intervening media just mentioned.  The reader may very well believe that it is incumbent upon me, before I go off half-c***edly shooting my mouth (or, rather, fingers) off about digital movies, to take the trouble to see one in all its blackhead-infested pore-exposing glory; if so, I no less abjectly than warmly entreat him or her to remit to me the ninety dollars I conservatively estimate would be required to convey me by taxi to and from the nearest digitally equipped multiplex, which local lore informs me is sited somewhere in the remote hinterland of central Anne Arundel County, well past the airport.  Failing such an offer, this essay will at least have as its standard of reference for digital motion photography a composite version thereof that I fancy is not radically dissimilar to that carried in the heads of the majority of present-day Americans, who, even if they do make it to the proper digicinema  a couple of times a month, still do the bulk of their moving image watching at home, on their televisions, or at work, on their computer-screens; a standard, that, moreover, will perhaps be ideally apposite in that its historical foil (i.e., the standard with which it will be unfavorably compared in the aforementioned animadversions) was one with which I was likewise most familiar through the domestic media. 


Now begins the essay proper, and with it our embarkation on the journey back to its eponymous golden age, the (I repeat the title to spare you the admittedly more than negligible effort of scrolling back up to it) “golden age of videotape and 16mm film.”  In introducing a reader to an age it is customary—and indeed held to be but the barest degree of civility—to supply him or her at the very start with a pair of book-ending years, the year marking the beginning of the age in question, and the year marking the end thereof, respectively.  And that I might not be thought to be breaking with this custom out of sheer frowardness or wantonness I shall supply such a pair—viz., 1970 and 1986—right here and now (or by now there and then), well before the full stop terminating the present sentence.  But before I employ either of these years in its civilly mandated bookenderly function, I must in all candor and frankness confess that there is more than a whiff of if not arbitrariness then certainly factitiousness about putting them to such a use.  You see, DGR, as this is a subjectively-grounded chronology-cum-analysis (I point this out explicitly just in case you’ve only barely figuratively been sleeping so far), in tentatively situating the left or earlier bookend at 1970, I am bound by default to mislead you into supposing that I was watching videotaped or 16 mm-filmed moving images in that year, which is not true, as I was not even born until 1972.  “So then this year marks an uncharacteristically objective watershed.”  That’s not quite true either, for by 1970 both videotape and 16mm film had been widely used in television for many years.  Vis-à-vis videotape, at least, one has only to think of the funeral of President Kennedy in 1963.  But I did not see a second of the footage (if footage is a word that may be as aptly applied to videotape as to film) of that funeral until its twenty-fifth anniversary, in 1988—in other words, a full two years after the right bookended year of 1986.  Which brings me to the significance of that year—a mite prematurely, though, as I have not yet fully elucidated the significance of the left bookend year, 1970.  And so in full the significance of this year is that no television program originally filmed or recorded before that year has ever been surrounded by the aura or imbued by the perfume of romance that surrounds and imbues virtually every 16mm or videotaped (or 16mm-cum-videotaped) program made from that year onwards.  But this significance has in turn some apparent objective basis, in that it very probably was in 1970 that videotaped television really took off as the industry standard—or, at any rate, took its place as a co-standard alongside 16mm film—owing very probably to its new encoloration.  To be sure, color videotape was not actually invented in 1970, but to my young (ca. 8 to 14-year-old) eyes it might as well have been, in that as soon as I acquired the habit of looking out for copyright dates on television programs, that was the earliest year I ever espied, and indeed, I can remember the very program in whose credits I espied it, namely Let’s All Sing a Song, a musical-educational series that was hosted by the redoubtable banjoist-cum-folksinger Tony Saletan, and that I along with thirty or so other eight-or-nine year olds was regularly (or at any rate not infrequently) compelled to watch by my second grade teacher, Mrs. Foster.  Let’s All Sing a Song was for me a watershed or milestone or whichever other clichéd metaphoric vehicle is most appropriate for designating something separating two (of only two) historical eras (yes, yes, yes: cf. the B.C. / A.D. divide if you must): in being in color and on videotape it was a segment of the modern world, yes, but it was also the oldest segment thereof; any more ancient soundtracked moving image segment, in being on film (as I then assumed all pre-1970 moving image segments were), might as well have been generated in the same month as the first Laurel and Hardy talkie or The Wizard of Oz (which one of course depended on whether it was in black and white or color), even if its last frames had still been being exposed at 11:59 p.m. PST on December 31st, 1969.  By the time I became acquainted with a single item from the slender corpus of pre-1970 color videotaped television—I suppose it must have been a Laugh In rerun—I was well to the right of the right bookend year (1986, in case you’ve already forgotten) and so the watershed or milestone could no longer be budged back a single inch.  So anyway, what happened in 1986 that made it epoch-breaking?  (I write epoch-breaking and not era-breaking because just as in a sense or arguably we are still living in the iron age [or era], in that all subsequent eras [space, nuclear, information, &c.] are in a sense or arguably but pseudo-ages, so I [if only I] am in a sense or arguably still living in the modern, color-videotape post-Saletanian era, to which, as I have already hinted, all other eras [chief among them the digifilm one] are in a sense &c.)  Certainly it was not the supersedence of videotape by some other medium, for television shows continued to be recorded on videotape in the thousands for at least another decade and a half, and indeed for certain genres of television program—talk shows, news magazines, and every sort of show centering on a public performance, were it of the Rolling Stones at NFL Football Stadium X or the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center—there was no practical alternative to it. (To be sure, during this period such spectacles were occasionally filmed, but most often for release in cinemas [consider, e.g., The Last Waltz and Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl]—doubtlessly because the typical television production budget was not large enough to recoup the costs of all the hundreds of hours of chronographically redundant film [to say nothing of the parts and labor involved in running all those multiply-stationed cameras simultaneously], most of it ultimately unused, that were requisite to adequate realizations of the busy-ness and spontaneity of these events.) Nor did 16mm film disappear from the televisual scene before the advent of the millennium; for although by the mid-1970s videotape had usurped many of its old offices, it remained the most-favored medium for the more expensive situation comedies and the less expensive drama series and made-for-TV movies; not to mention its impressive career in the service of that most quintessentially fin du vigntieme siecle televisual genres, the pop music video.  (Indeed, throughout the 80s and 90s, there was no surer sign of a band’s accession to the big time than its switching from video-making on videotape to videomaking on 16mm film.)  What happened in the mid-eighties, rather, was that the symbiotic marriage of video and 16mm film appeared to end, that television programs that made mutually complementary use of both media ceased to appear to be made; such that when I try to recall dual Vid-16mm shows that I have become smitten with since then, I inevitably alight on some pre-1986 production I first saw as a rerun—The Sandbaggers, for example, or Van der Valk, both of which were aired on my home media market’s second public television station in the early nineties.  From 1970 to 1986 it seemed that on switching on the telly one had a good chance of spectating on a recently produced dual Vid-16mm mixed media program; from 1986 onwards it seemed that one could not reasonably expect to come upon anything new or newish that was not either all video or all 16mm in medial provenance.  “But why, given that the title of this essay alone proves that you held both media in high regard, should you have been disappointed in a transition that seems to have left you liberally supplied with fresh instantiations of both of them?”  Ah, to answer that question, “I must,” in the words of a writer whom I dare not name, lest I mislead you into thinking I know much more of his oeuvre than the sentence I am now in the middle of quoting, “trouble you with a bit of history,” the history of my early (some of it very early—i.e., pre second grade) reception of television, which will in turn require me to trouble you with a bit of history of television itself (or, rather, television as it was for the world at large, for I would not hypostatize that television as a Ding an sich at the expense of my television.) (I hope you realize that throughout the preceding sentence, including its concluding parenthesis, I was talking about a viewing-phenomenology-cum-productive apparatus and not about a cluster of individual television sets, although what with television being an OED-accredited count noun, you are certainly well within your rights to misconstrue me along those second lines).  This history-fragment must begin (or, at any rate, is most conveniently begun) with the introduction or undraping of a certain elephant, the elephant in the room (i.e., the room that is this essay) that is 35 mm-and-upwards film.  Of course, in a certain sense, the reader has already met this elephant, which in a certain sense has never been concealed, for I have indeed already both explicitly mentioned and implicitly alluded to several 16mm+ gauges of film. (The mentions may be tracked down by a verbatim search query; the allusions are to be found in the droppings [ugh!] of names fairly tightly associated with 35mm and up [e.g. Eastmancolor].)  But heretofore I have either explicitly or implicitly ascribed to them an exclusively non-televisual and narrowly cinematic bailiwick; in other words, I have treated them as though they were media one only ever encountered (or, perhaps more appositely, had ever encountered) at official Milk-Dud and popcorn-purveying movie theaters.  The truth about 35mm+ media’s presence on television is in fact rather more complex—or, to put it less gently, completely different.  In the first place, in deference to the antiquity of these interlopers’ residence in the headquarters or palace (albeit also in defiance of the modernity of one’s discovery thereof)—one must acknowledge that beginning at least as far back the early 1960s, 16+ mm films were especially commissioned for broadcast on television.  Ten or perhaps even five years ago, I would have been not merely loath but positively defiantly unwilling to make such an acknowledgment.  Until ten or perhaps even five years ago, I assumed that all film destined for televisual broadcast had been of 16mm gauge.  But then, one sultry or bone-dry night between 2004 and 2009, I was watching my Russico DVD of Grigory Kozinstev’s masterly (and some would say definitive) cinematic realization of Hamlet, or perhaps his equally masterly (and equally said to be definitive by some) cinematic realization of King Lear—in either case, a black-and-white movie presented under the aesthetically equivocal offices of the letterbox (remember that my TV set is an old-school square model, via which all gains in authenticity of aspect ratio come at the cost of a reduction in size of the image)—and I was struck by the indoor (or studio-set) scenes’ cinematographic dead-ringerly resemblance to the black-and-white episodes of the early 1960s’ American television series The Wild, Wild West, which in turn had mutato mutando always struck me as cinematographic dead ringers for the full color run of the original Shatner-centered Star Trek series.  But how could this be, given that the Kozintstev Shakespeare movies, being letterboxed, had certainly been shot on 16mm+ film?  The seeming contradiction could only be resolved by the supposition that The Wild, Wild West and Star Trek had been shot on 16mm+ film—presumably on 35mm film.  Of course, that supposition immediately elicited (N.B., DGR: elicited, not begged) the question “What did the producers of The Wild, Wild, West and Star Trek do with those extra 19 mm of film?”—i.e., with the 9.5 inches on each side of the frame that, falling beyond the blinders of those old-school square TV sets, would have been exposed in vain?  To this day, that question remains as unanswered as the one musically posed by Chuck Ives probably roughly and possibly exactly a century ago.  But this unansweredness need not concern you or me right now (or, indeed, perhaps even ever); for our present purposes it suffices to hone the above presumption into an assertion, and from that assertion move back into anecdotal mode as a propaedeutic to a mildly modified reiteration of a slightly f(a/u)rther-above generalization, as follows: Star Trek and the Wild, Wild, West had been filmed on 35mm stock, and the moment I realized this I began performing a kind of comparative mental split-screen screening of ST and TWWW alongside as many other filmed TV shows as I could remember, towards the end of ascertaining which of them had likewise been given the full (or any rate a fullish) Hollywood treatment between the sprockets (“The Columbo so-called mystery movies?  Almost certainly.  The Partridge Family?  Possibly.  But Mary Tyler Moore, The Bob Newhart Show, and Eight Is Enough?  Almost certainly not.  Indeed, that troika of programs practically defined the look of stateside commercial 16mm television, aFaIWC.  But what about those big-budget weekend second-tier-celebrity-cowcatchers and weekday evening soap operas, the likes of The Love Boat and Fantasy Island, and Knot’s Landing and Dynasty, respectively?  Possibly but by no means almost certainly.”  And so [albeit not much f(a/u)rther] on.).  So, as I said, a great deal of expressly televisual television in our period (remember: 1970-1986)—and more specifically, as we have just seen in the preceding parenthesis, prime-time television—was evidently 35-mm in provenance.  But in addition to this swath of properly televisual 35-mm offerings, during our period prime time, together with its late-night schedule follower, was perennial host to movies originally and relatively recently produced for and released via the cinema—in other words, very nearly axiomatically, movies shot on film gauges of 35 mm and upwards.  Now, because, as mentioned before, in those days television sets were not shaped in such a way as to accommodate the geometrical proportions of a widescreen film image, and because, as not mentioned before, letterboxing had either not yet been thought up or (as is more likely) thought up and immediately dismissed as a piece of poncey arthouse cinema-fannish wankery, the preparers of cinemagenetic movies for television broadcast (or perhaps even the broadcasters themselves, at the moment of transmission; I suppose either would have been capable of it) would simply zoom in on the film-frame in order to make its complete vertical aspect commensurate with that of the television screen, thus cropping the aforementioned 9.5 inches of horizontal aspect on each side; then, through a repertoire of camera maneuvers known as pan-and-scan, they would every now and then shunt bits of the frame aside, to the left or to the right, in order to make room for other bits that they supposed the viewer would take more interest in.  Thus, the televisual preparer effectively served as a second director, subdividing each shot (actually, perhaps only most shots, as presumably there were plenty of shots in which from beginning to end nothing interesting was deemed to be happening in the margins) into a series of sub-shots.  Most of the time one didn’t notice these interventions, but occasionally one did and was unsettled by them (without at all knowing why, as the incommensurability of aspect-ratios was a discovery one made only long after 1986): for instance, in a scene of a profile tête-à-tête across, say, a broad table, each of the interlocutors would be seen only while he was speaking, such that one was repeatedly and bemusingly denied the pleasure and intelligence afforded by a so-called reaction shot.  Surely, one reasoned, it would have made much more sense to film the chinwag as a static shot, with both waggers in view from beginning to end.  Little did one know that it had in fact been filmed in just such a manner.  But probably more disruptive of one’s so-called viewing experience in the case of these retrofitted movies was the palpable impoverishment of resolution effected by the aforementioned in-zooming.  Even mutato mutando—that is to say, with all due regard for the inferiority of resolution of pre high-definition television screens—as seen on television, and even when hosted by the primest bits of real estate in the reigning network’s prime time schedule, cinemagenetic movies looked much less sharp, much less crisp, much less properly cinematic, than in the cinema.  And the f(a/u)rther the hosting was sited from these A-listed sites, the more egregious the pan and scan-induced shortcomings, limitations, and distortions tended to be, and the more often were they augmented and compounded by other, non pan and scan-induced shortcomings &c. that were equally or even more egregious.  Take, as something approaching a limit case of viewerly awfulness, the example of a movie shown on a local, independent, non network-affiliated station at 2:00 on a weekday morning [not that it was at all common in the most usual present-day sense for a station to be on the air at such an hour during our period; and for this very reason any station that was so was to be regarded as common in the most usual pre-ca. 1920 sense].  In the first place, the movie was likely not to be anywhere near new.  This is not to say that it was anywhere near likely to being a classic from the so-called golden age of Hollywood—an early Marx Brothers vehicle, say, or a Bogart-centered noir picture, or a Powell and Loy-powered screwball comedy—no: in those pre-TCM days such films—which, being black-and-white and 16 mm-gauged, were largely immune to the depravations now in point (albeit also subject to their own, more aristocratic, strains of corruption)—tended to be aired on Sunday afternoons, either on one of these independent stations or on one of the two quasi network (i.e., PBS)-affiliated public stations.  (The independent channels’ Sunday morning schedules, on the other hand, were the preserve of golden-age shorts—The Little Rascals (a.k.a. Our Gang), newsreels, the original Lone Ranger series, Laurel and Hardy and Three Stooges one-reelers, and the like. [Among the many praiseworthy reasons that I have never been able to bring myself to jump on to the seemingly backless bandwagon of microgenerational solidarity—the peremptory fiat that as a nominal adult one should tog oneself out cap-a-pie in the cultural bric-a-bric that were explicitly fabricated by the culture industry of old for the consumption of children within two or at most three years of one’s own age (such that I, being born in 1972, am required to collect memorabilia of the live-action Incredible Hulk show but prohibited from dropping references to H. R. Puffenstuff [target birth year-swathe: 1965-1969 or He-Man: TBY-S: 1974-1978]), not the least compelling (or praiseworthy) has been my awareness that courtesy of the sheer dumb luck of the draw a significant proportion of my childhood and teenage television viewing was devoted to movies and programs that had been produced years or even decades before I was born—that, indeed, I actually found it harder to avoid The Little Rascals &c./et al. than most of the official kiddie-targeted programming of that time; an awareness that is naturally consubstantial with the surmise that most of my exact and near-exact contemporaries were likewise all too familiar with many of the cinematic and televisual mainstays of (in the words of the voiceover lead-in to one of the newsreel-rebroadcast series) “those thrilling days of yesteryear,” and that their garish display of enthusiasm for their own microgenerational niche is made not entirely in good faith.]  The late-night offerings of the independent stations tended to be drawn indiscriminately from the vast but finite pool of non Oscar-awarded R-rated movies released between five and fifteen years earlier.  By this I mean not they were necessarily bad movies or even good movies that required any Golden Gate Bridge-dimensioned suspension of disbelief to appreciate—I am not talking here of, for example, the stereotypical late-night B-grade horror movie (e.g., Night of the Living Dead), the likes of which in our market tended to be shown only on or around Halloween [in contrast to the stereotypical daytime B-grade horror movie (your Peter Cushing ‘60s Hammer anvils, Stateside ’50s Werewolf operas, &c.) which were regularly seen on the Saturday afternoon Creature Feature slot presided over by the imitable yet irreplaceable Dr. Paul Bearer])—but merely that, having generally not been graced with the most lavish budgets, they tended not to sport the flashiest cinematography, being prevailingly composed of mid-focus interiors rather than deep-focus outdoor panoramas.  Moreover, they tended to be presented with a minimum of broadcasterly second-directorly intervention: only the predictable recurrence of the usual commercial breaks dissuaded one from believing that  the entire screening was being superintended by a single feckless dogsbody of a station graveyard-shifter who had simply pointed a camera at a projection screen and stepped out for a two-hour cigarette break.  But beyond and probably above this, the relative age of the films imparted a peculiar aura of insalubriousness to them.  I am not talking here in the main about the films qua medium-alienable documents of a particular historical microepoch—although that quaness certainly did come into play—but about the age of the physical print, the three or four canisters of celluloid that served as the material basis of the broadcast.  You see, over time—and even a fairly brief time at that—old-school color film has a tendency if not exactly to fade then at least to apply to itself a treatment of spectroscopic selection, as a consequence of which greens and blues soon find themselves being crowded out by reds, yellows, browns, and oranges.  Even in the all analogue days this process could be sharply retarded if not quite arrested by scrupulous storage within certain humidity and temperature thresholds, but only a small fraction of the total volume of cinema-ready film-stock was ever vouchsafed such storage, and the fraction of that fraction that ever made it on to the late-night non network-bolstered airwaves must have been infinitesimal.  One assumes that in 1977 George Lucas took whatever pains preservationists assured him would be necessary to keep the master prints of Star Wars in pristine condition for the six(!) years that remained until its first television broadcast, such that throughout that broadcast I felt more or less as though I were reprising my only previous viewing of the film, in some north Tampa cinema, half a lifetime (as far as an eleven-year-old was concerned [the phenomenon is beautifully encapsulated by Dean Stockwell in Paris, Texas]) earlier.  One likewise assumes that in 1980, Michael Ritchie, the director of The Island, a minor thriller starring Michael Caine, took no such pains over that film’s televisual destiny, such that throughout my first and only viewing of that film, at 11 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. or thenabouts on Channel 28 or 44 on a ca. 1985 Friday or Saturday night-cum-Saturday or Sunday morning, the tropical mugginess that was its genius loci seemed to emanate principally not from its eponymous setting, but rather from the material tissue of its celluloid base, which looked as if it had been liberally smeared with a preparation of Red Dye No. 5-infused Vaseline.  And generally speaking, if one were pressed to choose one adjective to describe the look of televised 35-mm cinema during our period, one would unhesitatingly opt for hot—provided, of course, that that word were purged beforehand of every last dram of extra-thermometric connotation (i.e., of all its associations with sex, pre-bop jazz, &c.).  Supersaturated as these moving images were with the aforementioned reds, browns, and oranges, they could not fail to give the impression that the world they depicted was one of oppressive, and indeed life-extinguishing, warmth.  “But are not red, brown, and orange the signature hues of autumn—of the season of ever-crescent coolness?”  Indeed they are, but in order to impart to the viewer a sense of this E-CC these hues must participate in an image of superlative crispness, an image in which each and every fallen leaf and newly bared tree branch (or pumpkin or turkey wattle) is sharply and cleanly set apart from its neighbor, as if these items have just been freeze-dried out of all tendency to fraternize with one another.  When the constituents of an autumnal-paletted image are allowed to bleed into each other, the effect is one of ever-crescent hotness abetted by an equally ever-crescent humidity; as if the entire composition is about to implode into a single undifferentiated glutinous mass of infernally superheated goo.  And owing to the axiomatically blurrier resolution of panned-and-scanned 35-mm film (and possibly also to the remoteness of the print used from the master print [I remember reading somewhere long ago that the films shown by local TV stations were copies of copies of copies of &c.]), it was this second genre of autumnal-paletted image that the typical late-night independent station-screened movie habitually presented.  Watching one of these movies from beginning to end was like sitting for two hours in a sort of sauna with a Victorian dress code, but frequented exclusively by people hailing from the 1970s and early 1980s.  I suppose the spiritual nadir of my late-night indie-station movie-watching career came at the very end of our period, or perhaps even slightly after that end, during my spectation of Hardcore, a relentlessly grim 1979 release in which George C. Scott plays some sort of ultra-conservative Bible-thumper (a member of the Dutch Utterly Unregenerately Unreformed Protestant Church of Christ the Unregenerate Underwear-Nonchanger, as I recall) trying to retrieve his runaway teenage daughter from the sub-demimonde of illegal pornographic movie production.  Perhaps not quite needless to say [for I understand that nowadays on most channels almost anything goes after a certain hour of the night], the film had been edited to such an extent as was intended to forestall its bringing the blush to the cheek or shudder to the spine of a person even younger than myself, such that what survived of the sex and violence could not on its own have been enough to traumatize me.  But combined with the saunified and infernalized autumnal palette, it proved quite unbearable.  In scene after scene, the heroine was forced to submit to some unspeakably terrifying or degrading act while cooped up under lock and key in a “King-of-the-Road”-ishly small closet of a room carpeted in a fiery ochre shag fabric whose every shageme seemed to be straining to lick one’s eyeballs; a room whose hazily white windowless walls deprived one of even the hope of escaping to cooler, freer, safer, kinder, or otherwise more wholesome environs.

But all the afore-described visual deformations, for all their oppressiveness, by no means exhausted the reservoir or mine of misery supplied to me by the televisual screening of 35-and-up-mm cinemagenetic movies, for there was also an auditory (or audiogenetic) component to this misery. (Incidentally, the present paragraph even less arguably constitutes a digression than the earlier audiocentric passage does or did, although—and here the reader will simply have to take my word for it—the arguing to that effect is best postponed to a later, if it-is-to-be-hoped not too distant, paragraph.)  Even in the pre-Dolby all mono days of ca. 1950-1980, movies produced for the widescreen cinema were soundtracked with a three or four digit-watted sound reproduction system in mind, a sound reproduction system capable of re-delivering the timbres of steam whistle and howitzer blasts, quadruple-fortissimo orchestral tutti, and Niagara Falls at their original volumes and then some, and (what was even more important) with a faithfully uneven distribution of those volumes among the panoply of frequencies each of these timbres idiosyncratically participated in (such that, for example, the steam whistle would be expected to have a very loud high or treble end, and the howitzer blast a very loud low or bass one); such movies were also, it should also be mentioned, soundtracked with a large and happily wide-awake audience in mind, an audience that was positively aching to have its eardrums pummeled with such larger-than-life mimeses of such louder-than (everyday)-life phenomena.  The audio-reproductive powers of the average and indeed even the highest above-average television set, on the other hand, were confined to a single two to four inch-diameter’d loud (or rather soft) speaker cone powered by a one or at most two-digit watted amplifier.  It was a setup roughly consubstantial in strength with a largish but still eminently portable transistor radio, and ideally suited to conveying ordinary conversational speech at the volume it would be heard in an ordinary actual chinwag, and hopelessly un-cut out for conveying any sound even slightly louder or bassier or treblier than that.  One assumes that shortly before or after the introduction of stereo TV at the very end of our period television sets with more forceful and capacious pipes began to be manufactured, but none of these made it into our house until long after I had moved away—indeed, possibly not even until the present millennium.  For the entire duration of our period, the vanguard or upper threshold of my domestic television-programming consumption was marked by a nineteen-inch set with a sound-reproducing apparatus that one could efficiently muffle with the palm of one’s hand (yes, even one’s not-yet-full-sized child’s hand).  Only once, twice, or at most thrice a year was this pauperly audio regimen enlivened by louder and higher fidelity fare: these were the occasions of the so-called stereo simulcasts, when, in the laudable aim of giving the best possible presentation to some (usually live) broadcast event of nationwide significance or historical importance—e.g., the National Symphony Orchestra’s annual Independence Day concerts, or an operatic or orchestral performance commemorating some milestone in the career of some eminent singer, composer, or conductor—one of the public television stations would team up, as they say, with their shared so-called sister station on radio; such that the radio station would double the soundtrack of the broadcast in its usual high-quality FM stereo sound.  On these occasions, and these occasions only, one got a televisual earful that one was more inclined to invite in than to block out, and that was indeed not markedly inferior to the best sort of televisual earful I am now capable of wresting from the 1990s-spanning sound-reproduction system to which my television and laptop are both connected; or, indeed, I suspect, to the best sort of televisual earful the average present-day American household is capable of wresting from whatever combination of gadgets it employs for the conveyance of the sonic part of its motion-picturely genres of choice.  You see, my family’s living room high fidelity system, although hardly exorbitantly high-budget, was of borderline audiophile quality, in carrying and emitting, as I recall, a full hundred watts per channel, and as near as I can tell the amplifying and emitting side of audio reproduction has not improved much or perhaps even a jot in the intervening three decades, except perhaps at the bottom end, such that while in 1987 I would have preferred silence to an audition of, for example, a Mahler symphony over a portable monophonic cassette recorder, I will now grudgingly if not quite cheerfully in a pinch (i.e., essentially, the pinch imposed by travel) stoop to listening to a conductor’s complete discography of Mahler over my laptop’s invisible built-in speakers—this because amazingly enough the engineers have somehow contrived to impart to the laptop the sound-reproductive capabilities of a mid-1980s ten-watt stereo so-called boom-box.  And as for analogue FM sound—why, to this day, when weather cooperates, I will always record the Saturday matinee Metropolitan Opera broadcasts from the FM analogue over-the-air signal provided by my local so-called classical music station (WBJC) in preference to BBC Radio 3’s simultaneous digital online feed.  But here I really am on the verge of beginning to digress, because any further speculation on the merits of an analog versus a digital audio signal will inevitably bring us back to the vexed (if not necessarily  Ivesianly unanswerable) question of the weightiness of the detractions introduced by digital compression.  Let it suffice for us to take away from this mini-excursus on the stereo-simulcasts the inference that if such simulcasts had been the norm rather than the very rare exception, and more specifically, if they had by some economically incomprehensible logic been extended to broadcasts of 35mm+ movies, my infantile and early-youthful disposition to such movies might very well have been very different, which is to say much more favorable.  As it was and so happened, the audio segment of each and every inch of 35mm+ film footage I became acquainted with outside the cinema before the age of 14 at the very earliest was conveyed to me via the impossibly small medium of the aforementioned child’s hand-sized single television speaker.  If I had only ever taken in such audio segments in a state of bright eyed-cum-bushy tailed wide-awakeness, while seated bolt upright on the living room sofa and bathed in the Kellogg’s raisin bran-worthy light of the matutinal sun streaming through the living room curtains (for our living room faced and indeed still faces east), I might (again) have been much more favorably disposed to them.  But owing to the typically nocturnal scheduling of 35mm+ offerings, I was perforce obliged most of the time to hear these segments at night, and owing to the double-digit hour sleeping schedule imposed on me by nature and nurture working in tandem, I was perforce obliged to hear them in a state of sub-alertness usually verging on or decaying into somnolence.  Naturally, my mandatory retirement hour was not static throughout our period: at this period’s beginning (or rather the portion of its beginning that begins with my earliest memories—i.e., ca. 1976) I suppose I was made on so-called school nights (i.e., Sundays through Thursdays) to go to bed by seven, while by its end I am pretty sure I was allowed to stay up until ten.  And on each of these school nights, I was required to sleep in my bedroom, which did not have a television.  On Friday and Saturday nights, a more relaxed dormitory dispensation tended to prevail: while I was invariably still required to turn in at an hour that was early by adult standards (albeit perhaps a good two hours later than the school-night hour), I was often allowed to take my rest in a sleeping bag laid out on the floor of the living room.