Note: This book was written in 1948. Needless to say, today it is seamless to substitute mass media for radio. 1 The noise of words today is not merely a small part of the world, for a whole world, the world of radio, is based upon it. Radio is a machine producing absolute verbal noise. The content hardly matters any longer; the production of noise is the main concern. It is as though words were being ground down by radio, transformed into an amorphous mass. There is no silence in radio or true words either, for a situation has been created in which silence is no longer missed and words are no longer missed either, in which words are ground down to a mere radio-noise, in which everything is present and at the same time nothing is present. Radio has occupied the whole space of silence. There is no silence any longer. Even when the radio is turned off the radio-noise still seems to go on inaudibly. Radio- noise is so amorphous that it seems to have no beginning and no end; it is limitless. And the type of man formed by the constant influence of this noise is the same: formless, undecided inwardly and externally, with no definite limits and standards. There is no longer any space in which it is possible to be silent, for space has all been occupied now in advance. It is as if men were afraid that silence might break out somewhere and destroy the noise of radio. And so all space is filled with noise, it dares not be silent, it is con- stantly on guard against silence. There is no more silence, only intervals between radio- noises. Not only what exists already but also what will exist in the future is occupied by radio in advance. Man is accom- panied by the noise of the present into a future which is also noise and which is therefore already familiar to him before it actually takes place. Both the present and the future bore him because he already knows what is coming. In this world of radio-noise there is no present. What the radio transmits is never directly present to man; the object is never directly present. Everything on the radio is constantly on the move, in a state of perpetual flux; nothing is concretely fixed and stable. Past, present and future are all mixed up together in one long drawn-out noise. Therefore the noise of radio destroys man. Man who should confront objects concretely is deprived of the power of present concrete experience. This is what makes the man who lives in this world of radio so bad-tempered, so ill at ease: everything is thrown at him by the radio but nothing is really there at all. Everything slips away from him. Past, present and future are all mixed up together in this world. Everything that might happen in the future is already contained in the mixture, and that is what makes the man who lives in this world of radio so hopeless. This never-ending noise of radio that is always the same and taken for granted everywhere, comes to impress man by its very continuity and matter-of-course-ness as something natural, like the never-ending murmuring of water and the wind—just as natural and inevitable as that. The opposite of the natural—this radio-noise—is able to appear as natural as the sounds of nature herself! And this "natural" noise that has arisen because of man's spiritual defection constantly appeals to the merely physical, to the merely instinctive and vitalistic in man. Radio is not like something made by man, it makes man. It is not something that proceeds from man, it is something that comes to man, surrounds him and covers him. Man has become merely an appendage of the noise of radio. Radio produces the noise and man imitates the motion of the noise. It is his only life. Radio fills everything and produces everything—all human feeling and wishing and knowing, and even man himself as a person. Man is produced by the radio, experiences himself through the radio for the first time. Just as some people need another person or an occupation to make sure that they still exist themselves, so many people first become aware of themselves today through the radio. But whereas it needs a personal action in order to establish a relationship to another person or to an occupation, radio is available all the time, even before a man has decided that that is what he wants to make sure he is alive. And it establishes the relationship, not the person. It seems as if man can establish a connection between himself and the world only through the mediacy of radio. Everything comes to him through the radio. Anything or any opinion you want to force on man you need only get included in the general mixture of radio-noise and it will be accepted, for everything can be insinuated into man through the radio. 2 Radio-noise is therefore the new reality, and only what is contained in the noise, only what takes place through the mediacy of radio, is of any worth. An event seems real only when it is a part of the noise produced by radio, when it comes out of it. A bomb explodes before you, a factory collapses, and the event enters the retina of the eye but it is hardly noticed in actual fact until it is taken up into the universal noise of radio. Anything you see yourself by yourself with your own eyes is suspect and does not become a real event until you hear it as a part of the noise coming from the radio set. This noise therefore falsifies the direct relationship between the person and the object. Radio entirely destroys the proper mode of knowledge and experience. What is this "proper mode of knowledge"? When we are listening to someone or when we are reading, the act of listening and reading seems to be an unrepeatable, unique and living action. In such listening and reading, truth presents itself as something unique and therefore personal. But the knowledge thrown at us by the radio is mechanically repeatable, the personal element is lacking both in the act of communication and in the act of listen- ing. Radio destroys the basic character of knowledge, which should come from man and be for man. Statements can be transmitted by radio, but a statement is not a truth, for it is essential to truth not only that an object is revealed but that the truth revealed in the object shall be related to man. The truth that is brought to us by reading or by direct personal encounter has an immediate personal reference: the reader or the listener is called upon to reconstruct, as her reads or listens, the intellectual process that the speaker or the writer has already completed. By listening or reading the direct relationship to the object is preserved intact. It is this natural relationship that is lacking in the radio. The truth that is brought to us by reading or by direct personal encounter has an immediate personal reference: the reader or the listener is called upon to reconstruct, as he reads or listens, the intellectual process that the speaker or the writer has already completed. By listening or reading the direct relationship to the object is preserved intact. It is this natural relationship that is lacking in the radio. The knowledge that the radio transmits seems to have been completed once and for all; the listener is not summoned to repeat the process; the facts are simply squeezed into the person listening like so much material into empty boxes. It is as though neither came from nor were intended for human beings at all. The meaning of knowledge is falsified by the radio. 3 We have said that only what appears as part of the noise of the radio is considered of having any value. But not only are events seen in the guise in which they come through the radio, but they are experienced like that from the start, as if they were already the property of the radio, even before they come through the radio. The inhuman thing about all this is that events are often prepared for radio presentation from the very start. Sometimes, for example, events in war are not allowed to run as they would, left to themselves, but are modified with a view to their presentation through the radio. What takes place is not what really is happening, but what is intended shall happen, what can become noise on the radio. This is what we may call the suspension of all reality. This is the reason modern war is so monstrous: its terrible reality is not seen in itself, but only as a part of the noise of radio. It does not stand concretely before the human mind in itself and therefore it is not properly controlled. Perhaps war is becoming more and more violent and terrible today because it wants to be seen as what it really is, to be seen quite clearly as the terrible thing it really is and not as a mere part of the noise of the radio. In times in which the power of silence was still effective, war was heard from the background of silence, and against this background it became absolutely clear. There was still an elemental simplicity in its terrors, and its noise subsided again in the death that it brought in its train. In these earlier forms of war man simply suffered it in silence. It was not an object for discussion, but an elemental experience. Today war is not even a rebellion against silence; it is merely the biggest whirl of noise in the general noisy bustle of life. If war reports were not blaring out from the radio every minute of the day the cannon fire and the wails of the dying would be heard everywhere. In the silence the wails of the dying would be heard and they would weigh down even the sound of the guns. In the silence the war would be heard so loud that it would be- come intolerable. But the constant noise of the war reports levels down the sound of guns and the cries of the dying to the general and universal noise. War becomes a part of the general noise of radio, adapted to it; and as a result it is taken for granted like everything that appears in the noise of the radio. It is as though the many and great deaths that take place today were an attempt to restore a zone of silence. When the noise-machine reaches a maximum as it does today, then silence shows itself as a maximum of death. 4 Radio is autonomous noise itself. It has occupied all space: man has been pushed to the edge of space and he can only worm his way through a few remaining gaps and crevices in space. At six in the morning he is called to early morning physical jerks, at 6:20 to a piece of music, at 7 to news from all over the world, then again to music. At 8 he is called to prayer. At half past eight he is surrounded by recipes for housewives, at 9 by Bach and so on. The radio machine does not seem to be in the least dependent on man at all. It is as though it were just listening to itself all the time. A pianforte piece by Chopin is answered by some jazz and this in its turn by a talk about vitamins. Radio seems to be engaged in a conversation with itself. Man has been pushed on one side; he is simply a machine- hand attending to the radio noise-machine. The whole world has become radio-noise. Anything that is not usable on the radio is cast out, rejected. The radio is so powerful that you can pass outside a house and hear a Tchaikovsky symphony coming out of the window, then go on a few steps and out of the window of the next house the same music can still be heard. This same music is present everywhere, wherever you go. It is omni- present. It is as though you had not moved on at all, but had been standing on the same spot, although in fact you were moving all the time. The reality of movement is made unreal. The noise of radio seems to be independent of space and time, and as much taken for granted as the air we breathe. Radio noise is penetrating everywhere, and all the time it has the appearance of continuity. It gives its appearance of continuity to man, and as a result man, who is in fact lacking in continuity, does not realize that he is lacking in continuity. His own inward discontinuity disappears behind the constant flow of the radio—which is nothing but the continuity of discontinuity. The difference be- tween continuity and discontinuity has been removed, just as all the differences and distinctions vanish in the noise of radio. Through the continuity of radio-noise, therefore, man is inspired with a false sense of security. He is led to imagine that radio represents something continuous and that he is himself continuous. A man goes to his work: radio accompanies him, it surrounds him at his work. He goes to sleep, and radio-noise is the last thing in his consciousness before he sleeps. He wakes up, and radio-noise is there again, as if it were something quite independent of man altogether, something more real than man himself, and the guarantee of his own contin- uity. It is always around him, always available, the one thing that seems always ready to care for him, to provide for him. God, the eternally Continuous, has been deposed, and continuous radio-noise has been installed in His place. And the fact that although it is a discovery of man it nevertheless seems to be independent of him, gives it an appearance of twilight mysticism. It has been said that man need not necessarily become discontinuous through the influence of radio, that he is free after all to select the programs that suit him. I remember a speaker in a debate on the death penalty in the 1930's in Baden-Baden stating that he could not understand why there was so much talk about the death penalty, since it is not the moment in which death comes which is painful but rather the fear of death, and the delinquent was still free to be afraid or not to be afraid as he wished. In just the same way we are free to select from the radio program what would assure the contin- uity of our inner life. In this pseudo-continuity man forgets that everything of essential value is brought into being by a particular, limited, creative act, and he completely loses touch with the spontaneous element in life. This is the wicked thing about radio. None of the elemental phenomena of life, such as truth, loyalty, love, faith, can exist in this world of radio-noise, for these elemental phenomena are direct, clearly defined and clearly limited, original, firsthand phenomena, while the world of radio is the world of the circuitous, the involved, the indirect. In such a world the elemental phenomena are ruined. 5 Many people think that radio can educate man to appreciate the true, the good, and the beautiful, but it must be remembered that it is not the true word that man meets here but the noise of words in which the good, the true, and the beautiful only come to the surface to dis- appear again. The content of the program is merely something with which to fill in the noise. The good, the true, and the beautiful are leveled down in the general noise in which all real differences and distinctions are blurred. It is said that the peasant on a lonely, isolated farm is enabled to take part in the wider life of the nation through the radio. But this more general life into which the peasant is taken up is not the organic life of the community to which the individual can join his own concrete life and enlarge it by so doing, but rather an abstraction from real life in which the individual is diminished and dissolved. The solitude of the mountains is a concrete reality within the peasant in a lonely mountain village. He is identified with and he is the incarnation of the solitude of nature. This concreteness, this image of the mountains in the peasant, is destroyed by the radio, which makes the peasant a leveled-down part of an abstraction that has the appearance of representing something universal be- cause it is vague. But it is only vaguely, not really, universal. Man is no longer aware of the radio-noise all around him. He does not hear the constant hum of the radio: it has become a kind of noisy silence of which he hardly takes any notice at all, however loud it may be all around him. This is a sign of the deepest possible contempt for language, that this constant stream of words is allowed to be turned on and no attention paid to it. Radio educates man not to listen to words, which means not to listen to man speaking. And therefore it takes man away from the Thou, and from Love. Man ought to be sad to think that he has lost contact with the true word. But radio-noise fills up the space within him where the word used to be, and man does not notice that the word has been taken away from him. He does not notice it but it is noticed in him without his knowledge, and that makes him restless and nervous. It seems to me that this is the cause of many modern psychoses: an unlimited mass of words is thrown into us through the radio, words that really demand an answer. But there are too many words for an answer to be possible, and no answer is even expected, for at every moment a new mass of words is thrown out. The people who still know somehow or other that an answer must be given to everything that is brought before the human mind become confused. They feel that an answer ought to be given, but there is no time and no room in which it can be given, and out of this confusion of mind a psychosis can very easily develop which may show itself in all kinds of inhibitions. Such a psychosis may serve as an escape from a world that has taken the most essential thing in life from man: his power to answer and to be responsible. 6 Wireless sets are like constantly firing automatic pistols shooting at silence. Behind all this noise the enemy lurks in hiding: silence. The noise of radio is becoming more and more violent, because the fear is becoming more and more acute that it may be suddenly attacked by silence and the real word. Sometimes, when above all the noise of radio one sees the silence of the heavens above and in the silence the all-absorbing Light, absorbing almost the walls of heaven, then one holds one's breath half in fear and half in joy lest in the very next moment the noise of the radio may be absorbed by this light and disappear therein.