JF Ptak Science Books Post 2024
‘I don’t see how you can work on physics and write poetry at the same time. In science, you want to say something nobody knew before, in words everyone can understand. In poetry, you are bound to say something that everybody knows already, in words that nobody can understand.’--Paul Dirac (1902-1984, Nobel Prize in Physics for 1933 with Erwin Schrödinger, "for the discovery of new productive forms of atomic theory"), quoted in The Book of Universes by John Barrow.
The opening sentence of this pamphlet breathes a lead: "The story of Television, as well as the smashing of the atom, must be explained in a non-technical manner, now that World War II has ended, so that the public may know the facts..."
I think that I would have preferred this quote to end a little sooner than it does--that way it might have been a little more poetical, a little on the absurd side:
the story of Television as well
asd smashing the atom
must be explained
in a non-technical manner,
now that World War II has ended.
This short pamphlet was produced in 1946, and at the time it was still possible to believe in the great possible poetry that the new medium could produce. And it certainly did produce something, even in these early days, though I do not think it was poetry. It did deliver some measure of truth and accountability, though. It is difficult to imagine seeing the image of one of the earliest post-war atomic tests delivered to the DuMont Teleset in your living room. I imagine that the societal reaction to seeing these events broadcast may have been like when photography was brought to bear in the news reporting business. Harper's Weekly started to run woodcuts of Civil War battles with the imprimatur "from a photograph" rather than something like "drawn at the scene by our correspondent", readers were immeasurably more responsive to the drawing after a photography because of the undeniable archivitization that goes on when a photograph is made, as the memory of a photograph is for the most part unimpeachable. This delivered an instantaneous increase in the belief in the reporting.
It seems as though seeing events such as an atomic explosion from a cozy home encapsulation may have had the same effect. It was a democratization of truth in a way (the title being People's Television) similar to that which you could experience seeing newsreels in the movie houses--there, everyone paid the same fee, sat where they wanted (for white people, anyway), and were exposed to the same images at the same time.
Its character leaned and leaped further away from reality and truth with each passing moment, finally reaching a point in the early part of national broadcasting where reality and entertainment and commercials all blended into one socio-molding opinion-grinding unit.
The dreammaking units responsible for creating the bigness of artificial life were quite modest in 1946, as we can see in the pamphlet's wonderful plan of a television studio:
The next seven years would toss this pamphlet into the Obsoleteinator; 13 years more would make it seem as though this pamphlet never needed to exist. The poetry part certainly seems to have disappeared somewhere in these years--not completely and entirely to make poetry in television extinct, but certainly enough to make it an endangered sub-species.
'Imaginary universes are so much more beautiful than the stupidly constructed 'real' one'--G.H. Hardy