Community by EM Wave…. The Solitude of Solidarity

Montage: (clockwise, from lower left): Listening to the Pathetique Symphony (1946, Chang Xiangsi); Hearing broadcast of children singing “National Salvation” hymn: Down-and-out songstress unhearing the same music….

TWO RADIOPHONIC VERSIONS OF NATION: NEW YEAR’S COIN (1937) and EVERLASTING LOVE (chang xiangsi), 1946.

If the imagined community builds nation from immobile print and career co-pilgrimage, one must consider that other media and other venues (of their consumption) might unbuild it, or, worse, shatter the dreamers into despair and infinite solitude. Radio and (radio-broadcast) 78 RPM records by their very nature (screening and isolating the act of listening) cannot but promote a sense of loneliness, for the very act of “consuming” them makes the listener think of what it would be like if he/she were listening – better, co-performing – in the first person. Of why he/she cannot. Of what others may enjoy but the listener in absentia can never. (No such distraction accompanies reading….). The words and song-lyrics that they pour into the lonely ear may very well preach community (of nation, less so family: indeed that seems to be the impetus for “going” radio-disc with such a vengeance in China in the 30s. (Ditto of course for film). The radio, the receiver set, the (now portable) phonograph – all inflict a grievous toll on those who stake their fantasies of a new unity to the sounds these machines transmit from nowhere to nowhere.

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