The Bloomsbury Group 'landed' on the BBC in the mid-20s of the twentieth century, when Desmond MacCarthy, journalist and critical essayist, the media life and soul of the group, becomes resident BBC literary critic. Since then, with ups and downs but with an undoubtedly 'well thought-out' presence, many prominent members of the Group (including Morgan Forster, J.Maynard Keynes, the Woolfs, Clive Bell and Roger Fry) established a meaningful collaboration, which in the decade to come would arguably reach the climax of its ascendancy.. What was taking form had already been hailed as the beginning of a new era in a 1929 editorial in The Listener: it was "the process of converting intellectuals to wireless." It was a contribution of critical innovation and political communication, which brilliantly illustrates Benjamin's famous maxim, whereby masses are "a matrix from which every habitual behaviour toward works of art is currently born”. To Virginia Woolf, landing at the BBC was controversial and at times contentious, but it was obviously a conscious way to keep up the challenge of language and the whole discourse on the art of writing by other means, on new grounds and with a broader and 'unknown' audience in mind. It was a challenge aimed at mass readers, at the modern interpreter caught up in the hastiness of the language of media; an interpreter who, just as the 'radio talker', came to term with the elusive nature of words and the precarious, relational and contextual senses of each speech act. The "Art of Reading," a series in 18 episodes devised by MacCarthy particularly in view of his Bloomsbury friends, to Virginia Woolf became a container for giving new voice and force to the search of that "Common Ground" made of language, ideas, imaginaries which famously embodied her poetic/political programme. "Craftsmanship", a text with an intricate editorial history, conceived as an essay (which had to be strictly between 2,000 and 2,500 words, according to the instructions of George Barnes, a friend of Woolf's and a member of the BBC Talk Department), talked about all that and more. It was meant for a 17-and-a-half-minute radio “talk” adaptation. Aired on the BBC on April 29, 1937, and published shortly afterwards in The Listener, the text remains the only sound reproduction of the speaking voice of Virginia Woolf, since other BBC talks were lost. Dizzyingly metatextual, built as a tribute to 'nomadic' words and the many challenges that language poses to writing and reading, "Craftsmanship" shows language in a double action, between performance and essay construction, and examines the new landscapes mass culture against the light. Inside the Tube station, a collective space where the 'talker' takes us with his rigorous and passionate “digression”, an electronic panel is short-circuited with Holy Scriptures, a warning falls back into the oldest words of the world, common words “are married” to schools of thought steeped in philosophy. It all takes place in an instant, in a semi-conscious short circuit that 'happens' in the interlinguistic human mind, naturally connected with the past and nourished by words that are ‘full of echoes’: “Language too is drawn into this drift, as part of the heterogeneous world encapsulated by ‘its dresses, and its dances and its catchwords’”(Rachel Bowlby, p.XXVIII).

(2017). In Wireless Conversation. Bloomsbury and the Radio Days . Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10446/118304

In Wireless Conversation. Bloomsbury and the Radio Days

Bonadei, Rossana
2017

Abstract

The Bloomsbury Group 'landed' on the BBC in the mid-20s of the twentieth century, when Desmond MacCarthy, journalist and critical essayist, the media life and soul of the group, becomes resident BBC literary critic. Since then, with ups and downs but with an undoubtedly 'well thought-out' presence, many prominent members of the Group (including Morgan Forster, J.Maynard Keynes, the Woolfs, Clive Bell and Roger Fry) established a meaningful collaboration, which in the decade to come would arguably reach the climax of its ascendancy.. What was taking form had already been hailed as the beginning of a new era in a 1929 editorial in The Listener: it was "the process of converting intellectuals to wireless." It was a contribution of critical innovation and political communication, which brilliantly illustrates Benjamin's famous maxim, whereby masses are "a matrix from which every habitual behaviour toward works of art is currently born”. To Virginia Woolf, landing at the BBC was controversial and at times contentious, but it was obviously a conscious way to keep up the challenge of language and the whole discourse on the art of writing by other means, on new grounds and with a broader and 'unknown' audience in mind. It was a challenge aimed at mass readers, at the modern interpreter caught up in the hastiness of the language of media; an interpreter who, just as the 'radio talker', came to term with the elusive nature of words and the precarious, relational and contextual senses of each speech act. The "Art of Reading," a series in 18 episodes devised by MacCarthy particularly in view of his Bloomsbury friends, to Virginia Woolf became a container for giving new voice and force to the search of that "Common Ground" made of language, ideas, imaginaries which famously embodied her poetic/political programme. "Craftsmanship", a text with an intricate editorial history, conceived as an essay (which had to be strictly between 2,000 and 2,500 words, according to the instructions of George Barnes, a friend of Woolf's and a member of the BBC Talk Department), talked about all that and more. It was meant for a 17-and-a-half-minute radio “talk” adaptation. Aired on the BBC on April 29, 1937, and published shortly afterwards in The Listener, the text remains the only sound reproduction of the speaking voice of Virginia Woolf, since other BBC talks were lost. Dizzyingly metatextual, built as a tribute to 'nomadic' words and the many challenges that language poses to writing and reading, "Craftsmanship" shows language in a double action, between performance and essay construction, and examines the new landscapes mass culture against the light. Inside the Tube station, a collective space where the 'talker' takes us with his rigorous and passionate “digression”, an electronic panel is short-circuited with Holy Scriptures, a warning falls back into the oldest words of the world, common words “are married” to schools of thought steeped in philosophy. It all takes place in an instant, in a semi-conscious short circuit that 'happens' in the interlinguistic human mind, naturally connected with the past and nourished by words that are ‘full of echoes’: “Language too is drawn into this drift, as part of the heterogeneous world encapsulated by ‘its dresses, and its dances and its catchwords’”(Rachel Bowlby, p.XXVIII).
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