Archive by Author

Blindness, dreams and death

1 Jun

I found Captain Cat from Dylan Thomas’s Under Milk Wood particularly interesting because he is the audience’s relatable character due to the fact that like the listener he is blind. He like the listener constructs the world of Milk Wood through sound and descriptions acting as a guide (blind guiding the blind). By listening to both the action of the village around us as well as his descriptions we are able to move through space in an interesting way. For example page 42-48 when Willy Nilly is delivering the mail, Captain Cat guides us through the mailman’s route creating a kind of map in the listener’s mind’s eye.

“First Voice: Captain Cat hears Willy Nilly’s feet on the distant cobbles.

Captain Cat: One, two, three, four, five… That’s Mrs Rose Cottage. What’s to-day? To-day she gets the letter from her sister in Gorslas…” (45)

            This is but one example of the many in this scene where footstep are then followed by Captain Cat’s descriptions (or perhaps a better word is narration) of who, what and where which helps the listener not only understand what is happening but also where it is happening. Captain Cat acts a lot like the disembodied First Voice and Second Voice. Like these narrative voices that are located outside of the village realm Captain Cat is also a kind of outsider.  He has no family, he is blind, he appears to live alone, he is an integrated but still separate component of the community. And for the listeners he is narrator and also one that helps map out and orient oneself to this unseen world.

            Also linked with darkness, night, dreaming and blindness is the otherworld of the dead which this radio play braids in with the reality of the living and the world of dreams to create a whole. Captain Cat seemed to have the strongest link to the dead or at least has greatest number of  visiting ghosts which come to him through his dreams and memories. In the very beginning he is visited by all his drowned crewmates from the past. They recount to the captain their demise and also ask about the present, about their loved ones.

“Fifth Drown: And who brings coconuts and shawls and parrots to my Gwen now?

First Drowned: How’s it above?

Second Drowned: Is there rum and lavabread?

Third Drown: Bosoms and robins?” (5)

They are painful reminders of the past and how time moves ever onward but at the same time they are present in the dreams, alive in a way and interacting with their lost future. In this way Under Milk Wood plays with time, blending the past and present. It plays with the idea of death and dreams as a kind of death, a way to transport to that quiet dead world and interact with lost companions. I thought the interaction between Captain Cat and Rosie Probert was particularly interesting because it highlights this plays interest in death, ghosts and memory. The interaction is bittersweet, recalling the lovers past but also reminding the Captain that he is all alone and Rosie, who is long dead, is forgetting that she ever existed.

The play is obsessed with memory, we get most our information about our characters lives and histories through memories and dreams of others. Dreams are like memories that allow people from the past, alive and dead, to interact with the dreamer.  The listener is granted access through these dream states to the histories of these individuals. All of these memories must be spoken and described to us by someone because, of course, this is a radio play which is supposed to be heard and not seen. As a result these surreal dream and memory accounts create a story that you must follow with your mind’s eye.


Vampires and economics

27 Apr

Moretti makes some interesting claims, linking Dracula and vampirism with capitalism and monopoly and juxtaposing these with Briton, free trade and morals. He uses a quote from Marx to explain that capitol is “dead labour, which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more it sucks.” In other words capital is the Undead, a vampire. Dracula himself is depicted as the Other to the British in all ways possible. He is an “aristocrat,” feudal, a foreigner from the strange and backward Orient; he is also linked to monopoly the antithesis of British free trade.  Moretti links vampires to monopoly because once you are bitten you belong to Dracula “for life” with no possible way of gaining your independence (433). Moretti explains that in the book, Dracula is enacting the idea that monopoly is a foreign threat to Briton at the time, that is, 1897.

            Money with morals (or religion) is what defeats Dracula in the end. The money used for the sake of good and justice breaks the vampiric cycle (434). Here Moretti starts to differentiate the difference between eastern and western, the Victorian’s and the Other’s, sense of capital. One the one hand there is Dracula who is “not ashamed of itself” and then the Victorian capitalism that “hides its factories and stations,” in other words; Victorian’s hide their dirty laundry and pretends to be moral and different from Dracula (435).

            So far, so good. The links here do not seem preposterous, though Moretti’s argument for Dracula not being an aristocrat seems a bit odd. He remarks that Dracula lacks “conspicuous consumption” such as eating, drinking, love making, fashion and holding lavish festivities (531). I’d argue that while Dracula does not eat he does drink (blood) and he does “make love” to his victim in a coded way which is suggested by the erotic scenes of fluid transfer and penetration. His wish to colonize and take London as his own sounds much like the goals of a nobles or king, or empire for that matter. However, Moretti has to emphasize Dracula’s need for blood and thus his un-nobility in order to support his later claims.

            Moretti’s explanation of Quincy Morris, despite being rather unconvincing to me, is incredible important in understanding his claims concerning economics, foreign and British. He claims that Morris is a vampire, which we already understand to be linked with monopoly, Otherness, feudal tyranny. But to openly accuse the American as this would be to also accuse the British as the source of all these things (436). It breaks down the carefully constructed barriers between the righteous Victorians and the demonic vampires. Therefore Quincy had to be silently killed off in the end. This claim fits in very nicely with the information Moretti has previously introduced but his evidence for calling Quincy a vampire is based mostly on strategic absences, his mysterious background and a quote that mention vampire bats. I think it is a stretch but this interpretation is important for Moretti in order to show the way Victorian Britain constructs its own image and the image of others in Stoker’s Dracula.

            In this section we also an interesting view of the way media and the digestion of data are shown in this book. Moretti points out that we do not get any info from the point of view of the three outsiders, Quincy, Dracula and Van Helsing (not really true what about chapter XXIV?). English, especially typed is the most important medium for the character’s in Dracula, it allows everyone access and ultimately gives the characters the information/data (ability) to defeat Dracula. There is a really great quote on page 437 concerning the way Van Helsing’s speech is interpreted, recoded and recorded to become processed again.


As demonstrated…

5 Apr

As demonstrated by the McGurk Effect, the way humans perceive sound is linked with vision. Mark Katz’s article discusses the ways in which people have had to adjust to the strangeness of isolated sound. These disembodied voices were understandable a source of great anxiety for the people introduced to new technologies such as the gramophone and phonograph. Previously invisible voices belonged to God and other divine beings or, as Katz points out, it was a sign that the person was mentally unwell (24). I imagine the fact that one could also hear voices from dead relatives coming out of a box would also be a stressful and disconcerting for these early listeners (despite Edison’s encouragement that this technology provides you with this fantastic opportunity to capture forever you loved ones last words). According to Katz this new technology was also a source of anxiety for the listener because of a desire for the physical presence of the person speaking (23), a desire to see the person talking.  

            There is a huge difference between the experience and energy of being at a live performance and listening to a recording. The ability to see the performers, their gestures and energy adds to the experience of listening to music. In pop music, for example, visuals are nearly as important as the music itself. These aspects are loss when you listen to a recording. Katz explains that “when that connection is severed… we almost inevitably react, often with surprise, sometimes with outrage” (26).

            Edison’s Realism Test is a great example of the attempt to train audiences how to listen to this technology. Basically it tries to teach you how to overcome the gap between vision and sounds.  Since the physical musicians and performers are absent, you are given pictures and are told to imagine the musical experience as it was the last time you heard the music. The end result is that the listener will be overcome with emotion as if he or she was actually in the moment when the performance was live. If this was not the result you got then you are not doing it right, repeat until you succeed in losing yourself to the music. Edison calls on you to not only use your ears and eyes but your mind’s eye to achieve the full experience of what it would be like listening to live music.

            While Edison certainly tried to train the audience, the artists and record producers nonetheless had to make an effort to compensate for the lack of visuals. Katz explains that they could either “add something” or take something away (27). He gives the example of violinists who added an intense vibrato to help convey to the listener the “physical and expressive immediacy”. In other cases, artists “tighten” their music, that is, they shorten pauses that in live performance adds drama but in recorded form appear to be just dead pauses.

             Today as a society we are all pretty much used to listening to these disembodied voices, we have the benefit of decades of refinement, recording specialists and advanced editing technology yet their still remains a ghost of the old anxiety towards this technology. Katz talks about pop stars, lip synching and voice editing to illustrate this modern day anxiety towards disembodies voices. Audiences react quite harshly towards singers after they discover that they have been lip synching to another person’s voice or that they sound nothing like their edited recorded voice, it’s almost like a personal affront or betrayal. I would say that this reveals our underlying need for authenticity, our distrust of the technologically modified voices.