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No Telephone To Heaven (the last pre-iPhone Phone-Photo-Essay forever)

June 13, 2007

Here I am, making plans to change London again. It wants shaking up every so often… indeed, I will be there, somehow, in just over a week.

Speaking of 1920s London, I’ve been thinking recently about Evelyn Waugh’s Vile Bodies, which is one of those novels that is, I think, still growing into its importance. In short, it deals with almost-young, appalling, moneyed trendies who pose behind affected interests in evermore avant-garde art, and new media and communications technologies. “I think I can claim “, wrote Waugh in reassessing his novel a few decades later, “that this was the first English novel in which dialogue on the telephone plays a significant part”.

A couple of years ago, Charlie Brooker and Chris Morris gave us the telly series Nathan Barley, which deals with almost-young, appalling, moneyed trendies who… well, you get the idea. The series was publicised using this image of Nathan’s “Speechtool”:

I don’t use a mobile phone in Canada. When I rearrive in England, though, I suffer from mobile-madness. I make up for lost time, and pretend that my text messages are telegrams.

My other justification for writing about phones now (as if they somehow mattered more than they did at any point in the last hundred years) is not that Apple recently announced the launch date for their iPhone. I’ll have nothing to do with the iPhone, actually. Rather, my prompt is that Kieran recently reckoned this:

Humiliation has really come on leaps and bounds thanks to mobile phones.”

And when he talks, I listen. I wonder what he means?


Evelyn Waugh might well have written the first extended piece of phone-prose, but the telephone-novel has enjoyed a little life of its own beyond that. Muriel Spark’s Memento Mori, for example, has an anonymous caller phoning elderly residents of London to gently remind them that they will die. Which suggests to me: Muriel Spark versus Sparks: “At first she said, “Your call is very important to us”, / And then she said “Please hold!”. In the Sparks song, from Li’l Beethoven, it is the caller himself, the would-be customer before the telephony industry, who is made mortal in an existential inbetween. Obscene calling in all directions.

At this point, honourable mention must go to Nicholson Baker’s Vox, a novel consisting entirely of dialogue between two callers on a phone sex line. I don’t know much about the current state of the phone sex industry, and whether ground has been lost to cyber-sexers–but of course, if Apple can’t keep phones sexy, then no-one can.

And I wonder what this means?

Whilst making this post, I was receiving calls in the form of these pieces of music:

Lou Reed: “New York Telephone Conversation”
Scanner: Mass Observation
Saint Etienne: “He’s On The Phone”
Momus: “What Are You Wearing?”
Pulp: “Ansaphone”
Brian Eno: “No-One Receiving”

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