Friedel, Can You Hear Me?
April 20, 2019
By Blakey Bessire, Barnard College.
This is an image from page seven in David Wojnarowicz’s diary. It is page seven from his diary, labeled Human Head II, 1977, currently housed in the Fales Library collection at New York University.1 It is a blank page and on its reverse are the words: “…WHILE I SEARCHED CONTINUALLY TO FIND THE PLACE AND THE FORMULA.”2
Echoing the effects of Deleuzean deterritorialization, a blank page is a zigzag that slips between pages of text. It iterates a new form of time based on where it is placed. You are able to map it out and view it separated from context, from space, from its paginal accessories. The digitized collection of Wojnarowicz’s diaries allows you to flip through their pages, yet the ability to view each diary as a book is negated. Each page is self-contained, marked by the loss of the tactile experience of turning a page. The vaguely defined outline of preceding pages imprint the blank page with proximity to its context. It is a photographic specter, a discontinuous survey of lines, marking the partial nakedness with what precedes it.
Friedrich Jürgenson believed that he captured the voices of the dead on his BASF reel-to-reel magnetic tapes.3 Static and distortion. In 1959, Jürgenson brought a tape recorder to his family’s summer cottage in Sweden to record birds. The tape captured a trumpet signal in the garden then, suddenly, emerging from the recording device was a voice: “Friedel, can you hear me? It’s Mummy.”4 Communication of an alluring kind. The tapes went from reproducing bird sounds to capturing telepathic messages then back to their normal recording mechanisms. They were momentarily relieved of their original function, stripped away, and re-filled with continuous patterns of static and distortion. They remained vessels for communication. Blankness as utterance.
The Smithsonian Museum’s Archives of American Art section relays a comprehensive survey of the institutions procedures for preparing digitized collections. Their website suggests: “DO NOT SCAN BLANK PAGES, DOCUMENTS OR INTERLEAVING PAPERS.”5
Contemporary perception is machinic. It devolves into patterns of universal variation in which images are subsumed by other images, gaps are filled and fastenings created. Blankness disturbs these connections and reverses the ease of consumption through the insertion of space.. If the archive is fossil evidence of its own experience, its antipode is omission. Inside the blank pages of a diary are moments of breath. Touching this point of extension—this point where light/sound/image is stopped or reflected behind itself—contains the embodied meaning of an object like a diary. It is noise in the form of 9/32 inch spacing between horizontal lines 1 ¼ inches from the left edge of the page. Noise in the form of emptiness.
Jacques Rancière writes about the divide between signal and noise prescribed in Ancient Greece.6 Voices that are specified as male emit legible speech. He suggests that women, children, and slaves produce noise–designated fuzz. A separation of the relevant and the irrelevant. The recognition of legitimacy and garble was both etymologically and literally political. “It consists in making what was unseen visible; in making what was audible as mere noise heard as speech and in demonstrating that what appeared as a mere expression of pleasure and pain is a shared feeling of a good or an evil.”7 This Grecian value is undermined when blankness finds itself lodged in beauty. Categories of negation that are themselves full of value. Disposable noise is reconciled by its beauty.
The generation of data in the space of value inscribes meaning with privilege. It is blank things that are deemed noisy. Consecrated virulent pauses, tidy and untouched, unsmudged, a perfect blankness. Maybe the idea of diary is a good way to look at this. Page seven in Wojnarowicz’s Human Head II, for example, as something empty, as a form of archival documentation, as well as physical product of memory. None of these blank diary pages are truly empty. The space they occupy, that would assume blankness, is filled by spectral shapes of noise. It is a memory of lines. It is a breath of story and of words. Its digital collapse an awakening of its contents and an unsettling of the vessel that contains it.
- David Wojnarowicz Papers. Series I: Journals. Folder 3. 1977: Sept 5, “Human Head II.” The Fales Library and Special Collections, New York University. New York, NY. http://dlib.nyu.edu/findingaids/html/fales/woj/dscaspace_ref11.html
- (You can listen to the recordings on From The Studio For Audioscopic Research, a CD Assembled from the original Uher tapes of Jürgenson’s EVP recordings from the 1960s and 70s, released by the Parapsychic Acoustic Research Cooperative. The CD also contains an image of Jürgenson appearing on TV the day of his funeral in 1987 and cards of his paintings.)
- Michael von Hausswolff, Carl, asstd. by, Harding, M.S.C., 1485.0 KHZ. Cabinet, Winter 2000-2001. http://www.cabinetmagazine.org/issues/1/vonhausswolff.php
- “Digitizing Entire Collections: Chapter 4, For Scanning Technicians.” Archives of American Art. https://www.aaa.si.edu/documentation/digitizing-entire-collections-chapter-4-for-scanning-technicians
- Jacques Rancière, “Ten Theses on Politics.” Theory & Event, Vol. 5, No. 3, 2001.