MAY 22, 2009 7:05AM

Danny’s Ominous Voicemail

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Michael: There’s a difference between words that are written to be read, and words that are said to be heard. In speaking, we’re usually looking for simplicity of expression with all pertaining facts secondary—

Melissa: If you’re looking for simplicity of expression, you should chop off “with all pertaining facts secondary.”

Michael: But I was going to use “with all pertaining facts secondary” as a springboard into an alternate way of communicating: writing. There, we can’t assume the reader knows anything about what we’re talking about, and inside jokes and knowledge are pretty much off-limits. Something hilarious to your family may be a completely impenetrable mystery to an outside observer.

Melissa: I think, in the spirit of what you just said, you could drop “completely” from that last sentence and have it be more potent.

Michael: (reads)

     No, because “an impenetrable” is hard to say. What comes out of your mouth will never be discovered through trying to write it out. I think it’s possible that different parts of your mind are being engaged when you’re writing than when you’re talking.

     Talking can be a pleasurable experience. Some people will just walk up to complete strangers and begin talking, they like it so much. But writing—that’s a completely different affair altogether.

     Now right now, notice how I said things I wouldn’t normally say if I was just briefly communicating with you?

Melissa: Yeah.

     But you’re engaging the part of your mind that requires speech.

Michael: I know, I didn’t say there’s not related aspects. I’m just assuming that what we’re talking about is a multifaceted thing that we can’t totally comprehend. It would take us a long time of study to fully understand it—

Melissa: Wait, I can’t keep up!

Michael: That shouldn’t be at the end of that. It should just occur when you said it, and you should just continue typing that.

Melissa: That would interrupt the flow of what you said, though.

Michael: I know, but it did.

Melissa: Actually, it didn’t, because you had finished speaking up the point that I just recorded, and I only interrupted you before—

Michael: During the last sentence—that got chopped off, that last paragraph? You took two words from the last sentence and replaced a word in the previous sentence.

     So see, it is being completely modified.

Melissa: No it isn’t, because I was actually making it more faithful to the original. Specifically, my auditory memory told me you had said “fully understand,” and so I typed that in the previous sentence where I now have “comprehend.” But when I got around to recording the last—

Michael: Here’s the little doorstep of madness about this—we will be in a constant state of confusion as to whether what we’re saying is the text itself or about the text. The actual life or the artificial one.

Melissa: You can’t say this is artificial, because this is exactly the sort of thing we would sit around talking about, anyway.

Michael: Fine. But it’s not one of those actually recorded—

Melissa: Whaddyou mean? I’m recording it right now!

Michael: Exactly! Right now. But not then. And right now is more a product of imagination than mere documentation. We don’t have a record of those earlier “banterings.”

Melissa: What do you mean by “record”?

Michael: I’m saying we don’t have a recording, a note, a photo, nothing!

Melissa: But how can you say that—

Michael: I wasn’t done!

Michael: I’m saying that we don’t have a recording, a note, a photo—nothing to prove what we actually said back then.

Melissa: Not true! We do have—

Michael: No, not complete transcripts of what we said.

Melissa: Even these aren’t exactly complete.

Michael: Of course not! The very act of documenting what you’re saying interferes with your writing. And for us, it must happen simultaneously.

Melissa: Yes. And by “you,” you mean “one,” not me, specifically, right?

Michael: Right.

Melissa: You know what this is making me think of? It’s that phenomenon used to describe the presence of the camera influencing the documentary filmmaking process—what is that called?

Michael: Where did you hear about this?

Melissa: I’m not sure. Some textbook—maybe on documentaries, or psychology, or something . . .

     Maybe I can find it on Wikipedia. . . . Nope.

     This is gonna drive me crazy.

Michael: Have we even come up with a subject for this post yet?

Melissa: I think the subject evolved on its own.

Michael: No, please. Even if it’s the last line we write, I’d like to come up with a subject!

     How about the reason our mood changed while writing this post?

     Danny’s ominous voicemail.

Author tags:

speech, imagination, writing, madness

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Comments

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In the spirit of "My cousin once visited your galaxy. Or was it Turkey? One or the other..." what comes to my mind is a 9-year-old galaxykid who remarked a decade ago: "E-mail is not writing. It is just written speech."
Melissa: A prodigy, no less!

Michael: I suppose our blog is an email to the world, then.
Reminds me of hearing Stephen Hawking "lecture" at Cal Tech. For the Q&A that followed, a colleague operating the recording from Hawking's voice machine had coordinated Hawking's answers with questions submitted ahead of time. But when played for the audience, the Q&A order was scrambled, and one question had the wrong answer. As we waited for the colleague to find the right answer, we watched Hawking sitting on stage knowing the answer but unable to move anything but his eyes. The silence was deafening and the moment seemed to last for several eternities. Finally the correct answer was found and played and we took a collective deep breath.
Melissa: What a great, fascinating comment!

Michael: Yes, thank you, Hawley. You are a gifted storyteller.

Melissa: Now every time I hear about Stephen Hawking, I will think of this anecdote! And of you, for first sharing it with us.