In last weeks Guardian, Tom MacCarthy promotes his upcoming novel “C” with a fascinating reflection on writing, technology and melancholia. By quoting literary critic Laurence Rickels, he elucidates the idea that each technological device thought of as a prosthesis in Freudian terms embodies an absence or loss: “every point of contact between a body and its media extension marks the site of some secret burial”. McCarthy traces this notion back to Alexander Bell who lost a brother in his adolescence: “As a result of this, he made a pact with his remaining brother: if a second one of them should die, the survivor would try to invent a device capable of receiving transmissions from beyond the grave – if such transmissions turned out to exist. Then the second brother did die; and Alexander, of course, invented the telephone.” That the dead can be detectable in airwaves via wireless devices is still widespread today, as can be observed in the 3 CD-set “Okkulte Stimmen – Mediale Musik” with recordings of “unseen intelligences” 1905-2007. McCarthy takes James Joyce’s novel “Finnegans Wake” as a literary example of “a long radio-séance, with the hero tuning into voices of the dead via a radio set at his bedside, or, perhaps, inside his head.” As Joyce scholar Jane Lewty suggests, the “hero” might even be the radio set itself. McCarthy concludes, that the literary work can be comprehended “as a set of transmissions, filtered through subjects whom technology and the live word have ruptured, broken open, made receptive. I know which side I’m on: the more books I write, the more convinced I become that what we encounter in a novel is not selves, but networks; that what we hear in poems is (to use the language of communications technology) not signal but noise. The German poet Rilke had a word for it: Geräusch, the crackle of the universe, angels dancing in the static.”
Tom McCarthy is not only a writer but also an artist who occasionally sets up art projects connected to his ‘semi-fictitious organisation’ called the International Necronautical Society. In this video he talks about a broadcasting project for a Swedish art gallery:
More information about him can be achieved over his webpage “surplus matter“. Also worth reading is Zadie Smith’s comparison of the two novels “Netherland” by Joseph O’Neill and Tom McCarthy’s “Remainder” which is a stunning meditation on reality in a postmodern life that is a good read along with the much-hyped “inception” movie about dreamstates becoming reality.