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THE VISUAL TELEPHONE
By Charlton King
I’M rather glad to see that, Edison’s going to have another show,” said the Commonplace Man, looking up from his paper.
“He’s been rather out of it lately, hasn’t he?” queried the Cynic. “Which is strange, seeing that people used to imagine that the faculty for invention was a close monopoly of the great Anglo-Saxon family. The discovery by mere aliens of the X-rays, wireless telegraphy, and radium, has rather exploded a theory which, whatever else might have been said for it, had the merit of being comfortably insular. What?”
“The foreigner is sometimes capable of putting out a solitary invention, I grant you,” said the Enthusiast. “But what of that? Edison has a whole string of them to his credit.”
His eyes kindling, he began to enumerate the list on his fingers. “ There was the electric light,” he said, “the kinetoscope, the telephone, the —”
“The phonograph!” broke in the Cynic, with a bitter sneer. “ That marvellous instrument which has brought a surfeit of music into the homes of the humble!”
“Say rather,” the Enthusiast returned impressively, “the instrument which has enabled the clarion voice of a Gladstone to reverberate down the ages! “
The Cynic laughed. “My dear fellow,” he said, “when you talk like that, it makes me feel there ought to be a phonograph handy to receive your own utterances. Still, I prefer to regard it as a musical entertainer on Suburbia’s lower slopes.”
“I’ve been seriously thinking about getting one,” said the Commonplace Man.
“Mind you choose one of the smaller, quieter kinds,” counselled the Enthusiast.
“Not so,” said the Cynic. “That would be arrant selfishness. He who lays in a low-pressure phonograph benefits only his own household; but he who buys its enlarged, trumpet – tongued edition, the gramophone, is a benefactor to the whole street and a part of the next. Let others participate in your pleasures, and your own enjoyment of them becomes all the keener. I am a convert, you see, to the communal idea with regard to phonographs. They should be as ‘free’ asour baths are free, our libraries, and our schools.”
“Haven’t we had enough of them? “ inquired the Commonplace Man, plaintively.
“Enough of the phonograph P” replied the Cynic, promptly. “I quite agree. Ve’ve had more than enough of it, although it’s only been before the world for a matter of ten years or so. But what about this latest scheme of Edison’s?”
The Enthusiast, grasping the Commonplace Man’s paper, read as follows :—
“Mr. Edison hopes soon to invent a telephone which will carry not only sound, but sight—that is, it will bring, not only the human voice along the wire, but the image of the speaker as well. It may yet be that we shall sit by our own firesides and see our kin across the sea, that we shall be ‘switched on’ from our drawing-rooms to be present at some great battlefield, and that the streets of all the world’s capitals will be familiar to those who never leave their London.”
“Well, that beats all,” was the Commonplace Man’s commentary, but the Cynic only muttered, “Worse and worse.”
“Why worse?” asked the Enthusiast, impatiently.
“Give me time, and I might love the phonograph with all its faults, but this never!” the Cynic replied.
“But consider its possibilities, man,” the Enthusiast protested.
“That’s just what I am doing,” was the Cynic’s sorrowful response. “ Here is one of them. Suppose one has to transact business with some prolix, boresome, unspeakable fellow, one is always careful, under the present régime, to impress him with the fact that the telephone is a highly convenient and absurdly accessible mode of communication. This avoids a personal contact which could not be otherwise than distasteful. But now Edison’s perverted ingenuity would rob us of this blessed security, and we shall not only have the piping, ungrammatical voice of the fellow transmitted along the wires, but his dull, vacuous face will be projected at us as well.”
“Pure misanthropy,” said the Enthusiast.
“Nay, only partial,” the Cynic replied, “which, paradoxical though it sounds, always constitutes the truest practical philanthropy, for that involves, above all things, a method of selection. Surely you don’t believe that the love of the philanthropist, however abounding it may be, embraces every prig and bore who seeks his friendship or taps his bounty?”
“This is all very relevant to visual telephony!” sneered the Enthusiast.
“It’s not so remote from the subject as you fancy,” the Cynic replied, with great seriousness. “I observe the newspaper man there speaks of ‘our kin across the sea.’ While I admire his novelty of phrasing, I can’t agree that the flashing of instantaneous photographs across the wires would be a beneficial thing either for Englishmen or Colonists. It might, indeed, tend to snap rather than to strengthen the links of Empire.”
“What unredeemed nonsense!” the
Enthusiast retorted. “Little Englandism in its most naked and shameless condition.”
“Now, don’t try to crush me with a party Shibboleth,” the Cynic cried, with reproach in his voice. “Take the trouble to understand my point of view, and you will discover that I am the soundest of patriots, the very biggest of Big Englanders. For what, after all, is the main object of the cult of Imperialism? What, but to keep the straggling masses of the Empire together. And, how can this be effected if, every time the Englishman is rung up to receive a message over the Antipodean cable, he actually sees the Australian who happens to be speaking to him?”
The Commonplace Man sniffed contemptuously. “Even if it were possible to telephone to Australia,” he said, “which, of course, it isn’t, I don’t understand how the visualisation of the speaker could have the effect you pretend to foresee.”
“Don’t you,” said the Cynic, patiently. “Then let me explain. All Englishmen have an impression of what the Australian is like, or what he ought to be like. Clad in picturesque red shirt and slouched wide-brimmed hat, he is usually discovered sitting listlessly over a bush fire. That yearning, pensive look in his eyes tells you clearly enough that his thoughts are stealing back to the dear homeland—the little English village, the weathered farmstead, the ivy-covered church tower. It is a highly-sentimentalised picture, and not entirely devoid of the romantic element, but an Australian friend of mine assures me that it hasn’t the advantage of being true in the slightest particular. The red-shirted Australian has no more tangible existence than the comic rustic of melodrama.”
“Let’s have the truth, then,” growled the Enthusiast. .
“I assure you, my friend,” the Cynic replied, “the truth isn’t always so desirable. Illusions have a greater value than you perceive. It is only the rash man who attempts to dispel them.”
“But it may be that the real Australian,” said the Commonplace Man, “is a much finer product than our sentimental conception of him.”
“Undoubtedly he is,” said the Cynic, “but that is hardly the point. It is not the quality of the Australian that we are discussing, but the dangers that might attend the too sudden dissipation of an insular illusion. That kind of thing wants doing very gradually.”
“Setting the Colonies aside, I suppose you’ll admit that the visual telephone has what I may call its domestic advantages?” timidly ventured the Commonplace Man.
The Cynic laughed outright “Domestic!” he cried. “With that awful word you expose the very worst side of Mr. Edison’s latest wonder. Can’t you see? At present, when a friend calls at one’s office and suggests a night of—well, relaxation, it is so easy telephone to an expectant spouse that so often successful excuse for one’s absence which is based upon the high pressure of our modern commercial system. The tedium in the voice convinces by adding the needed touch of verisimilitude. But when not only one’s words, but one’s lineaments, are shot over the wires into the domestic fastness, who but a consummate actor could conceal the look of elation, the sense of pleasure anticipated, the —”
The Commonplace Man shuddered. “I see what you mean,” he said.
“In spite of your trivial arguments,” the Enthusiast remarked decisively, “the sight telephone has some excellent features about it.”
“I fear you’ll discover some ‘features’ in it which are not exactly excellent when it’s in actual operation,” was the Cynic’s final rejoinder.
Charlton King, “The Visual Telephone,” Horlick’s Magazine and Home Journal for Australia, India and the Colonies 1 (1904): 215-217.
ON THE TREATISE ON FREE WILL.
The Treatise on Free Will does not appear in the first edition of the Treatise on Universal Unity. It is the first of Fourier’s manuscripts delivered for publication since the death of the author.
The notebooks left by Fourier are in general only preliminary sketches that he condensed and published when he published then. Quite a number of these manuscripts date from the period prior to the appearance of the first edition of the Treatise on Universal Unity (1822).
The Treatise on Free Will is of this number.
Despite the imperfect state in which Fourier left the work, faithful to a law which we have imposed on ourselves, we have not wished to make any corrections: we reproduce the text literally, warning only that the manuscript is only a sketch, a draft, in which the words were often written in abbreviations. Gaps in words, when we have encountered them, have been filled, but in this case the intercalation is indicated by brackets.
The Treatise on Free Will is by no means the least interesting of Fourier’s works. The reader will find in it the fundamental character of the genius of the great man, a character which is nothing but good sense in the fullness of its strength and power, good sense raised so high, endowed with such a broad view, and armed with such authority, that it becomes clarity, light even, and becomes identified with universal reason, the genius of Humanity.
Surveying the annals of intellectual struggles, we encounter no question on which the philosophers of all schools, the theologians of all the sects and religions, have heaped us so many controversies, accumulated so many subtleties, as on the question of Free Will. Fourier approaches this problem in his customary manner; he goes right to the exit of the labyrinth, without even lowering his gaze to the tortuous routes which have been painfully traced there. It is good sense striding across the domain that the metaphysical subtleties of the philosophers and theologians had covered with tangles of barren, thorny branches.
Minds convoluted with metaphysical and psychological niceties, which are in philosophy what the seekers of the squaring of the circle are in mathematics, will doubtless find that Fourier has not even understood the premises of the problem to be solved. The solution appears to natural to them, too simple: the profound people who “seek noon at fourteen hours” always find quite simple those who simply accept noon at noon. As for those good sorts who believe that clarity and good sense are not incompatible with truth and profundity, they will easily recognize that the concrete solution of the problem of Liberty by Attraction, in the social world, is identical to the abstract solution of the problem in its metaphysical form. All the thorns of the problem of Free Willfall before the theory of Attraction and Universal Unity.
OF FREE WILL.
Of all the blunders of our century, there is no more grievous than the spirit of liberty, good and praiseworthy in the abstract, but so badly directed in its application, that it has rallied to the banners of despotism even those who had inclined to liberty—an unfortunate proof that there is only illusion and pejoratism in these lovely theories.
Why then aren’t the civilized nations able to enjoy a good which is the object of collective and individual desires? That is a question quite worthy of our attention! It is the first question which should concern us in an analysis of Civilization: it is first necessary to demonstrate in the civilized mechanism a speculative aberration, ignorance of the conditions of collective and individual liberty. That will be the object of the 1st section, from which we will pass to the analysis of practical errors and some springs whose ill-directed play condemns Civilized society to the role of permanent servitude, no matter what form it gives its codes and institutions, in populous countries, the exception bearing only on new countries.
The enslavement of the Civilized, even in the republics, where they are often much more enslaved than under a king, witness the oligarchies of Venice, Bern and Fribourg; that enslavement, I say, is so well established that every proof in that regard would be superfluous; but there remains to pride some entrenchment from which it engages in resistance, and lacking political and material liberties, it boasts of spiritual liberties, and particularly of Free Will, which everyone agrees to accept, to guard against the belief in predestination andfatalism, making man a automaton, raises crime to the level of virtue. I do not pretend to treat these abstruse questions, but only the part which relates to Attraction.
When the King Louis XVI, blocked at the Tuileries by the Convention, was obliged to sign all the decrees proposed to him, an engraving shows him locked in a prison, passing his hand through the bars to write: I am free.
Such is the independence which we enjoy in Civilization in the exercise of our passions: we are free to suffer, but not free to complain. An animal not only has a right to pleasure, without anyone bringing a suit against it for larceny or adultery, but it also has the right to complain if its pleasure is prevented. A dog retains the right to howl in its cage, but a conscript does not have that same privilege, and, snatched by henchmen from his family and his customary haunts, he must still cry, like Louis XVI: I am free. I swoon with love for the sacred person of Bonaparte. I enjoy my freedom of will, etc., etc.
Such are the judgments of philosophy and theology. We will not lead them to confess that the Civilized human being is a vile slave, scoffed at for its unfortunate virtues, and exalted in its fortunate crimes. It is, they say, a being which has to the free will to choose between good and evil. In the meantime, prudent steps are taken to see that they do not hesitate over the choice.
If there is a question to which we must apply the precept of Bacon, “to remake the human understanding and forget all that we have learned,” it is certainly that of the Free Will. It takes all the effrontery of our sophists to pretend that the human beings are free to choose between good and evil, when they have been convinced that if they opt for what is called evil, they will be tortured in this world by the executioners and assassins of philosophy; in the other world by the demons and assassins of theology. The animal even, though deprived of reason, would not dare, given such a chance, to choose the alleged evil.
Place a starving dog near a meat pie, and its first concern will be to commit the evil, to steal and eat the desired object; but make it see the whip suspended over its head, and the poor animal will move away and will seem to say to you: If I was free, I would eat the pie, but you will beat me, so I would rather go hungry.
This is the Free Will enjoyed in Civilization and Barbarism. Human beings are free to choose greater or lesser privations and tortures, and not the well-being of which they see the elements around them. If they are averse to being hanged, they can choose the little inconvenience of being left to die of hunger, according to the principles of social perfectibility which condemn the poor to the gallows, when the dare to ask for work, bread, and a social minimum.
The two sciences, philosophy and theology, which assure so much happiness to the poor, disguise themselves with masks of balance, counterweights, equilibrium, guarantee, and perfectibility. We can compare this verbiage to that of the Jacobins of 1793, who, with each word, made principles, acts, justice, the good of the homeland, and the like resound. It is an admirable thing, this abuse of words in Civilization! When Condillac said to us: “Words of the true signs of our ideas,” would have done better saying: Words are the true masksof our ideas.
Let’s come to the subject. It is a question of establishing that if human beings do not enjoy Free Will, neither does God enjoy it on our Globe. In fact, Attraction comes from God, and if it is stifled by a privileged eighth of the population, suppressing the other seven eighths, the wage-workers, slaves and other classes, the impulsion of God is really and completely hobbled, since the seven eighths, in the calculation of movement, signifies the whole, and the exception of the one eighth confirms the rule. Thus it is not humans alone, but God and humans, who are deprived of Free Will on the whole globe where Attraction is impeded. That deprivation is composite, and not simple, since it applies to the two fundamental agents of the social movement, to God and human beings.
Thus, with Free Will we have a double problem to resolve. It must guarantee the liberties of God and those of man, and assure the cooperation of the two liberties, their unitary action, through the development of Attraction. Such is the true sense of the question of which our philosophers and theologians have only envisioned half: for they have only dreamed of the Free Will of man, without accepting that of God, who is oppressed in a world where Attraction does not enjoy its full exercise.
To oppress God! Don’t be surprised by this expression. Theologians arguethat man can tempt God, that is to say, make him commit evil: for temptation supposes the chance of the tempted individual succumbing. My assertion is not as unseemly as that of the theologians; I only claim that human beings can hinder God in his beneficial measures, hindering his works and falling into misfortune by wanting to be guided without his intervention. Such is the result in our world of the lack of Free Will. It does not exist in any sense: two circumstances combine to deprive us of it. They are the ignorance of the laws of nature and the perversity of the sciences which claim to interpret them. They attribute the lack of Free Will to the despotism of governments. Nothing is more untrue, and the proof is that the philosophers are still more despotic than the princes when they are entrusted with the administration. Thus it is very false that philosophy has had the sincere intention of bringing liberties to the nations.
From the moment when humans recover the use of Free Will or just of rough good sense, they will not fail to recognize that they are dupes of the two sciences that they have chosen for guides, and if they still do not perceive it, it must be that some incidents hinder the full exercise of their judgment. We will begin by examining these obstructions.
[to be continued…]
[Working translation by Shawn P. Wilbur]
 Sentence written in margin: The legislature will respond that we see hardly any people die of hunger. To only see one per century, like those in Seignelay and Brussels, would be enough to condemn the legislation which does not assure a minimum to the poor, and claims that they enjoy Free Will. In fact, isn’t the sufferer of hunger and privations a victim like the one who dies of hunger? The only difference is between a long torment and a sudden death.
AN UNPUBLISHED FRAGMENT OF FOURIER.
Translated [by Charles A. Dana] from La Democratie Pacifique.
Each repast of the day has a special character, a tone which prevails generally at the three classes of tables. I will confine myself to the description of the Antienne, or first repast, which takes place in the morning before leaving the palace.
The Antienne cannot be made perfectly regular; — a beautiful disorder will distinguish it. As the hour of rising will differ with different persons, the Antienne will be divided into three acts; — there will be the first Antienne for those groups which commence their labors very early in the morning ; the grand Antienne for the mass of the groups, who will appear an hour later, and the post-Antienne for those who rise last. The tables will be renewed at each of the three acts; in general, every repast will have more or less this division into three acts.
The grand, central Antienne which takes place at about five in the morning, is very gay and very attractive in every respect. The travellers of distinction who have passed the night at the out-post will usually be presented at the central Antienne. The bulletins of news which have arrived during the night will be published; there will be announced also the spectacles prepared by neighboring Phalanxes, the movements of caravans approaching the region and the movements of industrial armies. Finally there will be there the reports which have arrived during the night, whether of the Congress of Unity sitting on the Bosphorus, or the inferior Congresses of the Amazon, the Chesapeake, &c.
The Antienne is also a second Exchange: it affords the opportunity of rectifying previous negotiations, as for instance, when any of the arrangements of the previous evening are affected by the news of the night or by other incidents subsequent to the holding of the Exchange. At the Antienne in such cases, sudden measures are agreed upon.
The combination of these agreeable incidents renders the Antienne a very irregular repast, a merry confusion, which alone would serve to call up at five in the morning those most inclined to late rising, even if they were not moved by the desire of assisting at the sessions of the groups which commence at the close of the Antienne and even before. Thus after the central Antienne hardly an eighth of the Phalanx are remaining in bed.
In fine weather, the central Antienne closes with the minor parade of the morning. Here is a description of it. I suppose it takes place at five o’clock.
At a quarter before five a chime of bells sounds the call for the parade and the hymn of the dawn. In the course of five minutes every preparation for going down is made in the halls of the Antienne; on descending, the instruments of the musicians, the decorations of the priests and the officers of the parade are found under the porches. When five is struck, the Athlete, Conrad, aged fourteen, the major on duty, gives the command to form the groups. I have before said that the officers of the minor parade are chosen from the choir of Athletes; thus the aids of Conrad are like him thirteen or fourteen years old ; the Athletes, Antenor and Amphion for the groups of men, and Clorinda and Galatea for the groups of women.
Amphion and Galatea go on one side to form the bands of music; Antenor and Clorinda to arrange the procession. This is formed in the following manner.
I suppose there are in all four hundred persons, men, women, and children, who make up twenty groups ready to go to different parts of the domain. The twenty standard bearers take their places in line at regular distances facing the peristyle with their banners before them. The musicians are formed in vocal and instrumental divisions, with a priest j or priestess at the head of each group. Before the priest or priestess there is a burning censer, with a child of the same sex, carrying perfumes, and there is a hierophant or high-priest between the columns of the two sexes. The drums and trumpets are stationed on the two sides of the peristyle; the animals and carriages are drawn up on the sides of the court.
In the centre is the major Conrad, having beside him his aide, and before him four children of the choir of Neophytes, who carry signal flags to transmit the orders to the telegraph, which repeats them to the domes of the chateaux, to the groups already abroad on the domain, and to the palaces of the neighboring Phalanxes.
When all is ready, a roll of the drum orders silence and the major announces the salute to God. Then the drums, trumpets, and all the instruments are heard ; the chimes from every dome sound also, perfumes fill the air, the waving of the banners is repeated from the spires of the palace and of the chateaux; the groups which have already gone forth unite in the ceremony, travellers alight, and caravans before quitting their stations join in the salute.
The salute lasts but a few moments, and then the high-priest gives the signal for the hymn. The priests and priestesses at the head of the vocal and instrumental parties chant the prelude and then the hymn is sung in chorus by all the groups.
After the hymn is finished the little Khan orders the roll to be beaten to the banners, the musicians break their ranks, lay aside their instruments, and go each to take his place under the ensign of his industrial group. The procession defiles in free order and not in regular masses, for being formed of persons of different ages from young to old age, it would not be easy for them to march in line with a regular step as is done at the grand parade. They arrange themselves in an artificial disorder, each group takes its carriages and leading them forward, they defile before the grand peristyle where are placed certain dignitaries, a paladin of the sovereign bearing his escutcheon if it is the minor parade, and if it is the grand parade a paladin of the emperor of unity bearing the cycloidal crescent.
Each group on its passage receives a salute proportioned to its rank. The groups of agriculture and masonry which are first, are saluted with the grand flourish, equivalent to the drum-beat in the fields. Thence each goes to its place of labor.
The hymn to God traverses the globe in different ways; on the day of the equinox there is a grand parade at day-dawn, and the spherical hierarchy presents to the rising sun a chain of phalanxes of two or three thousand leagues, whose hymns, for twenty-four hours follow each other around the globe in every longitude that receives the light. At the two solstices, the hymns are chanted at the same time over the whole globe by the entire human race, at the instant corresponding to noon at Constantinople.
- Charles Fourier and Charles A. Dana (translator), “An Unpublished Fragment of Fourier,” The Harbinger 3, no. 10 (August 15, 1846): 150-151.