When you can’t watch or click


Television cover from Dalkey Archive Press

Well I’ve missed two events in SecondLife, that I really wanted to attend, because I’m rimming my broadband usage allocation for the month. Next month the locks are off, so I can cyplore as much as I like. In the meantime I’m feeling a bit melancholic. I had a few days recently with no email or websites and now no downloads or virtual worlds. This situation is serendipitous, as I am retreating into my cave to write more. I’m working on, among other things, my PhD. I’ve found refuge, though, in a novel I’m reading at the moment: Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s Television. 

The amusingly odd protagonist and narrator of Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s novel is an academic on sabbatical in Berlin to work on his book about Titian. With his research completed, all he has left to do is sit down and write. Unfortunately, he can’t decide how to refer to his subject—Titian, le Titien, Vecellio, Titian Vecellio—so instead he starts watching TV continuously, until one day he decides to renounce the most addictive of twentieth-century inventions. As he spends his summer still not writing his book, he is haunted by television, from the video surveillance screens in a museum to a moment when it seems everyone in Berlin is tuned in to Baywatch. One of Toussaint’s funniest antiheroes, the protagonist of Television turns daily occurrences into an entertaining reflection on society and the influence of television on our lives. (From the Dalkey Archive Press)

Here is a wonderful quote from the book, where television is described in all its glory:

Everywhere it was the same undifferentiated images, without margins or titles, without explanation, raw, incomprehensible, noisy and bright, ugly, sad, aggressive and jovial, syncopated, all equivalent, it was stereotypical American series, it was music videos, it was a film scenes removed from their context, excerpted, it was excerpts, it was a snatch of song, it was lively, the audience clapping along in time, it was politicians sitting around a table, it was a roundtable, it was the circus, it was acrobatics, it was a game show, it was joy, unbelieving stunned laughter, hugs and tears, it was a new car being won live and in color, lips trembling with emotion, it was documentaries, it was World War II, it was a funeral march, it was columns of German prisoners trudging along a roadside, it was the liberation of the death camps, it was piles of bones ont he ground, it was in all languages and on more than thirty-two channels, it was in German, it was mostly in German, everywhere it was violence and gunshots, it was bodies lying in the street, it was news, it was floods, it was footaball, it was game shows, it was a host with his papers befor ehim, it was a spinning wheel that everyone in the studio was watching with heads raised, nine, it was nine, it was applause, it was commercials, it was variety shows, it was debates, it was animals, it was a man rowing in the studio, an athelete rowing and the hosts looking on the anxious expressions, sitting at a round table, a chronometer superimposed over the picture, it was images of war, the sound of framing oddly uneven, as if filmed on the fly, the picture shaking, the cameraman must have been running too, it was people running down a street and someone shooting at them, it was a woman falling, it was a woman who’d been hit, a woman of about fifty lying on the sidewalk, her slightly shabby gray coat gaping half open, her stocking torn, she’d been wounded in the thigh and she was crying out, simply crying out, screaming simple cries of horror because her thigh had been ripped open, it was the cries of that woman in pain, she was calling for help, it wasn’t fiction, two or three men came back and lifted her onto the curb, the shots were still coming, it was archival footage, it was news, it was commercials, it was new cars gently snaking along idyllic roads in the light of the setting sun, it was a rock concert, it was a series, it was classical music, it was a special news bulletin, it was ski-jumping, the crouching skier pushing off down the ramp, serenely letting himself glide onto the jump and leaving the world behind, motionless in midair, he was flying, he was flying, it was magnificent, that frozen body bending forward, motionless and immutable in midair. It was over. It was over: I turned off the television and lay still on the couch. (Toussaint, 2004, 10-11)


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