Tuesday, February 23, 2010

ephemera 3, wall, sleep

A self-imposed rule is not to move any of the objects photographed in this series of ephemerae. I compose a picture based on what catches my eye. The plastic fork is there before I arrive and will remain, as long as the picture endures, straddling the grill, an oak leaf for companion.

In the process of building the dialogue of poems, which Lucy and I are maintaining on our Compasses blog, we share access to a document where we can consider at length each other's work before it is published. While commenting on Lucy's latest answer (still in draft), this morning, I am surprised and pleased to note that my words are being acknowledged as I type them. We are on the document site at the same time, a virtual tête à tête. It is a strange feeling, and I confess to becoming a little bashful at such an unexpected need for spontaneity.  Above all it is the absence of a real presence that is a little disturbring.
What strikes me about the experience, a few minutes later, is how it chimes with the book I am reading at the moment - the first of the 20-book sequence of novels by Zola under the general label of Rougon-Maquart. In The Fortunes of Rougon, there is a charming variation on the Pyramus and Thisbe story. Here, a boy and girl meet regularly by the side of a well, which is the common property of neighbouring houses. The garden, where the well is sited, is divided by a high wall , which bestrides the well and, at the same time, allows access from either side. The young people, though hidden from each other by the wall, see their reflections in the water and when they speak to each other their voices are distorted by an echo and seem to be dissociated from their reflected images, as though their words are not entirely their own. I don't know about Lucy but, glad as I always am to hear from her, and glad as I am on this occasion, it is a relief to return to the email that I am about to send her. Holes in walls, real or ethereal, are no substitute for a proper talk, face to face.

The BBC South East headquarters is on the corner of a small enclosed precinct of shops called Great Hall opposite Tunbridge Wells Station. I am walking though the hall when, as I pass them, I see two men talking and hear one say in an unnaturally emphatic voice: " I don't sleep comfortably". I pass by quickly but just have time to note that the other man is holding a microphone in front of the first. What is the interview about? I am curious but not curious enough to return through the doors of Great Hall to eavesdrop, and worse to be seen to be eavesdropping. Upbringing can be the curse of the ambitious chronicler.
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CC said...

It isn't often one comes to an actual fork in the road. ;-)

Roderick Robinson said...

I return to Aldous Huxley's view that the only new vice the twentieth century has provided is that of indulging in speed. Had he lived longer I'm sure he would attached some vice or other to the Internet. What you have described is not a vice, though perhaps it could become one, but it is new and required the technology to bring it to your attention. I agree that its uniqueness seems to rest in the fact that it is incomplete; a friend reduced to movements on a screen. I say movements rather than words because I've felt this way when using a help facility that comes as a chatline. One is never entirely convinced that the words are being formed by a person (and sometimes, if the answer can be extracted from a FAQ list, they aren't) and this can be worrying. Turing foresaw all this when he prescribed his test for AI.

Lucy said...

'Oh sweet and lovely wall!'

I had an odd kind of looking-over-my-shoulder feeling, that you might still be there, and in some way observing what I was doing, for a few moments after!

I've never used chat-type things, or indeed Skype with a web-cam, the idea of which rather horrifies me, as I don't care too much for the phone anyway, and being seen at the same time would worry me even more. I know the feeling BB describes from occasionally using those help things, of being wary and disbelieving that what appears to be happening really is.

I feel rather a primitive reacting this way to the experience. Perhaps we could get used to it, but I rather fear becoming inane under pressure!

The ephemera series is shaping up to be very interesting.