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Cold War LegaciesSystems, Theory, Aesthetics$
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John Beck and Ryan Bishop

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781474409483

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: January 2018

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9781474409483.001.0001

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Notes from the Underground: Microwaves, Backbones, Party Lines and the Post Office Tower

Notes from the Underground: Microwaves, Backbones, Party Lines and the Post Office Tower

(p.213) Chapter 11 Notes from the Underground: Microwaves, Backbones, Party Lines and the Post Office Tower
Cold War Legacies

John W. P. Phillips

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter links the essential parasitism of cold war systems to some general trends of 20th century telecommunications (economically motivated service-oriented multi-media). Certain (existential) fictions of the second half of the century explore and instantiate the peculiar logic of the parasite. The chapter draws out the implications of an ethics grounded in the attempt to deal with this logic and questions where such attempts, and the desires that drive them, might lead. These ethical concerns are connected via technological analysis to the 1956 plan for a radio link (known as Backbone) running north and south through the UK, avoiding large towns and meant to provide a safe route for communications vital to the prosecution of a war. The conjunction of existentialist fiction with the cold war technology ties together a triad of puzzles of the era: communication, existence and the problem of other minds. But the problems have since shifted—the rational subject now comes into being belatedly as an interrupter, a parasite, displacing or replacing the previous parasite. The parasitical arrangement does not follow the formal order of subject and object but occurs intersubjectively, producing its subjects in the process and figuring a fundamental alteration in social relations.

Keywords:   telecommunications, cold war, existentialism, parasite, Michel Serres, Literary studies

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