The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia and Electric Speech

The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia and Electric Speech

When I first saw the cover, I found it very interesting because the words “The Telephone Book” didn’t follow the standard pattern of writing. They are separated from each other in different sizes and shapes. When skimming through the pages, I noticed this pattern is all over the book. In some of the pages, the letters are big, in others are small, and they have different typefaces along the book. Bold, italic and underlined typefaces are also present in the book.  In addition, there is a section called “Classified”, which is in orange colored paper, probably as an allusion of the classified documents from FBI, which includes the most important part of the book, cites authors, stories, discussions, issues, and her explanations about telephone and technology.

The book is 26cm long, weight approximately 0.5 pound and it’s a perfect bind book. It looks new to me and the pages are made of a paper very smooth and comfort to skim. The outer cover is thick and dark green, to protect the content of the book, since many people come to the library every day. Like I mentioned before, the book smells and feels like brand new. I can see in its history that not many people rented this book before (around 10 in a 20-year gap), so that’s probably why it looks like this. It can be described as a very hard reading, not for beginners, so not many people are attracted by this kind of work.

What is most impressive about this book is that each page has its own design. When reading the book, you feel anxious about the design of the following page. I skimmed it for about 30 minutes just to see how exotic and interesting the designs were. This different style of design also makes the reading much easier. Big blocks of texts are very annoying, and I always feel tired when reading them, especially when letters are small. This book would be much easier to read since the pages don’t follow a certain pattern and the different sizes of the typefaces make you wonder what the author is trying to say about that word in the context presented in the book: does it mean it is important? Is he trying to call the reader’s attention? Or is it just to make it different and more pleasant?

The images presented in the book try to follow the style of the typefaces. They are inclined, inverted, in black and white, sometimes even hard to see what’s happening in it. Also, they look like they were printed by a cheap printer when making this book (what was certainly the intention of the author, since she tries to stay away from the standard pattern of the modern books. Another reason could be that they are old pictures and it’s probably hard to print them in high quality).

One part that interested me the most is when the author prints two blocks of text on top of each other, what makes it unreadable. I don’t know what her intention was, but I’ve never seen that before and I found very successful in attracting my attention to the book. The reader would think: Why did she do that? And this curiosity makes the readers more into the content of the book. Another part that is outstanding in when the author creates a pattern of small blocks of texts on each side of the pages with blank spaces in between. In my opinion, this makes it very enjoyable to read, especially with big catchy bold words.

After reading articles and reviews from different experts, I concluded that The Telephone Book: Technology, Schizophrenia and Electric Speech’s main objective is to make the readers rethink about the utility of the objects of everyday life, specially the telephone.

She starts by warning the readers about the book: “Warning: The Telephone Book is going to resist you” and continues advising the readers about how telephone can be dangerous to people`s perception of the world. Throughout her book, she uses the telephone as a metaphor for the social relations people have every day: “Phones ring unpredictably and demand that we answer. When disconnected they are merely in remission; the electron flow still silently courses, waiting until we are up to our elbows in bread dough or motor oil” (Morgan and Morse 458). Also, the book tries to teach the reader how to “read with the years”, that is, “succeed in recognizing yourself”, no matter how bad life hits you.

Avital Ronell talks about different times where the telephone was important. As the name of the book suggests, the author uses all these analogies to inspect the role of the telephone in psychoanalysis, what brings back to Freud, who said: “the unconscious is structured like a telephone”.

This book is very important to be collected and read because it brings new ideas of deconstruction of technology, state terrorism and schizophrenia, what was very rare in the years it was written.  In addition, it criticizes the addiction of the American and European modern human being for technology, what started with the creation of the telephone. Besides criticizing technology, Ronell tries to change the readers’ thoughts about the “standard book”. Her design is very singular, “fractured and inside out in isomorphism to the schizy jangling of the telephone”. By doing that, she attracts the attention of the readers to her main concern: technology. This could be considered one of the exponents of the “non-standard” books, which includes lots of different typefaces, letter sizes, “weird” text blocks, inclined pictures, what is part of the development of Graphic Design History. Ronell intentionally made it that way so she could “start a revolution on the telephones”.

The author cites different literature writes like Kafta or Strindberg to point out the appearance of telephone in their work. More important than that, she shows the relevance of the telephone in Nazi organizations and propaganda, mentioning the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. This strategy shows clearly her intention to minimize the relevance of the telephone in the development of the modern society and transform it in a villain. If you think more deeply, this all is about technology and how it affects the life nowadays.

This book represents the beginning of discussions about the row of technology in people’s lives. After it was published, many other authors were encouraged to do the same and attack something that it was being considered magical and beneficial.




Discussion — One Response

  • Russell Flinchum 02/03/2018 on 8:06 AM

    I remember well when this book came out, because I was bewildered. It doesn’t have much to do with telephone technology, which is what I was looking for. It’s more about “reflections on the telephone as a determinant in social conventions” or some such. I wonder if there is a footnote in the entire book. In fact, as you point out, it’s more of a prolonged meditation on technology as a means of control…with a dose of paranoia (Nazis used phones? OMG!). It was definitely targeted towards a GD audience.

    This is an important example of graphic design from its rebellious years during Deconstruction, etc., and is an excellent choice for something we should add to our list for examination a la the Special Collections visit.

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