Tuesday 1 November 2011

Technology and "La Voix Humaine"

I caught Poulenc's La Voix Humaine on the radio yesterday evening. I've always admired it as an intense piece of drama (and wonderful music) and a powerful attempt to portray the human condition in a world of technology. But it impressed me even more this time because I saw it through the eyes of 'attachments' mediated through the technology. The woman sees her identity constituted by her former lover; the loss of the lover is the death of her identity: she tells him (and us) that has already tried to commit suicide once, and we are left in little doubt of her state of mind at the end.

But the identity is constituted through the medium of the telephone. She says at one point that she takes the telephone to bed with her because she wants to feel him near her and the telephone is the closest she can get. Much of the drama relies on the torture of the unreliability of the telephone: at each moment she gets cut-off, her anguish sears through the music.

Of course, if he were alive today, wouldn't Poulenc and Cocteau have thought about the plot line involving Facebook or Skype? They had the sensitivity to understand that behind the facade of these pieces of apparatus, the human condition is unchanged, whilst at the same time the breakdown of the technology tortures human experience. But then again, is part of the torture in La Voix Humaine because the technology is relatively new and immature? Or maybe it is the reaction to it breaking down which is rather new and immature?

Technology has clearly changed. Phone conversations don't get cut-off in the same way (although they do on Skype!). But have we changed? Have we become insensitised to the assault on our identities and the ways that we manage attachments? Do we simply accept that this will happen?

Is there a point at which accepting the vulnerability of the human condition in the face of the edifice of technology is simply too terrifying? But somehow, it needs to be faced. I wonder if that's where our economy is at the moment. The moment of authenticity and the leap of faith required is quite terrifying...

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