Time-Space Compression

“I’m dreaming, I’m dreaming away,” sings Poly Styrene. “Didn’t you see the thin ice sign?” she asks. What I hear instead, though, is “the thing I signed.” How is one to beware if the message is always misheard?

A Raincoat follow with their spooky funky glam jam, “It Came in the Night.” What is one to do with this energy? Should I unplug myself from Spotify, as Neil Young has done? That would deprive me of much of my library. The problem is, my apartment lacks space for objects that store sound. Hence my dilemma this morning: I woke up wanting to listen to Sonic Youth’s Sister, an album I own on CD. It and the CD player on which I would play it, however, are elsewhere. Should that prevent me from being able to listen to it here and now?

Spotify replies to this dilemma by compressing space-time.

“Time-space compression”: that’s what communications technologies do. Marxist geographer David Harvey writes about it in his book The Condition of Postmodernity. Paul Virilio calls it an essential facet of capitalist life.

Spotify achieves this effect of time-space compression through an act of remediation. The consequences of this act are only just now entering consciousness. Initially, it seems rather simple: an algorithm selecting and streaming recorded bits of sound based on past listens. But not just your listens, by which I mean your listens to it. That’s where it goes strange. For Spotify forms a cybernetic system with its users, each element revising itself into subsequent iterations or becomings based on the other’s feedback — meaning listens occur both ways. Users of course listen, both actively and passively, to Spotify. But Spotify also listens to its users.

A friend plays me a tune — Fassbinder collaborator Monique Zetterlund’s “Ellinor Rydholm” — and the next day it shows up in my “Discover Weekly” playlist. Spooky, eh? What can I say? I love it. Without it, I might not have heard Yoko Ono and John Lennon. Yoko’s voice might not have whispered in my ear, “Remember love.” Buddy Holly might not have entranced me with his version of “Love is Strange.” Thurston Moore wouldn’t have told me, “Angels are dreaming of you,” as he does on “Cotton Crown.”

Bricoleurs can’t be choosers: but here I am imagining in the faces of those angels glimpses of you. I picture us eyeing each other on a dancefloor, approaching as in a circling manner ‘round an invisible pole. Pouts give way to smiles; fingers trace forearms; lips graze lips. By these means, distance is eradicated and contact reestablished, hope reborn.

John Dee, as Imagined by Margaret Cavendish

What are we to make, though, of the attention Cavendish grants to John Dee and Edward Kelly? She knew of the pair’s angelic conversations through Ben Jonson’s play The Alchemist. Dee and Kelly were the inspiration for the play’s characters Dr. Subtle and Capt. Face. Margaret’s husband William was one of Jonson’s patrons.

If I were to enter the John Dee rabbit hole opened by my wanting to follow up on his appearance in The Blazing World, I could practice for students the keeping of a captain’s log. Into this log I would register three semi-recent biographies of Dee: Benjamin Woolley’s from 2001, Glyn Parry’s from 2012, and Jason Louv’s from 2018. Dee will make an appearance again later in the course when we discuss the Golden Dawn.

John Dee, as Imagined by Derek Jarman

Among the more fearsome of the precursors to what follows is John Dee, the great Renaissance spymaster, court magician and inventor of the British Empire. Filmmaker Derek Jarman is just one of several artists to have made much of Dee in recent decades. In fact, Dee appears repeatedly throughout Jarman’s oeuvre. We first meet Dee, for instance, in Jarman’s 1978 film Jubilee, where he operates as a kind of early-modern Doc Brown. At Her Majesty’s behest, the Dee of that film works up a spell that sends Queen Elizabeth I 400 years into the future–i.e., to London in the age of punk. And what begins in Jubilee continues in the films that follow, with Dee cropping up again the very next year by way of Shakespeare’s famous magician character Prospero. The latter wields a wand modeled upon Dee’s Monas Hieroglyphica in Jarman’s adaptation of The Tempest (1979). Nor is this the last of Dee’s appearances in Jarman’s catalog. He also turns up as muse, for example, in a film named after Dee and Kelley’s famous scrying experiments, The Angelic Conversation (1987). Nor was Jarman alone in thinking highly of Dee. The latter captured the imaginations of several of Jarman’s contemporaries. To mention just two examples: Dee appears as a character in Michael Moorcock’s Gloriana, or The Unfulfill’d Queen; and comics artist Alan Moore wrote a libretto about him. For Jarman’s own reflections on his interest in Dee and in related topics like alchemy, see his memoir Dancing Ledge.