Play it Again

Renée Farrar (United States Military Academy), ‘Play it Again: Remediation and Berrigan’s “Telegram to Jack Kerouac”’

In 1968, John Giorno created Dial-a-Poem, a phone-based service, which allowed individuals to dial “Giorno Poetry Systems” and listen to a randomly selected contemporary poet recite his or her work. Through several staged iterations of this telephonic artwork (envision ten rotary phones in an empty room at the Museum of Modern Art), this exhibit connected over a quarter of a million people with recordings of contemporary poets via a rudimentary answering system. One of these featured poets, Ted Berrigan, recited his composition “Telegram to Jack Kerouac” for this installment. In two spoken lines, “Bye-Bye, Jack. / See you soon,” Berrigan invokes an array of media. The dots and dashes of the telegram, the cyclical nature of recorded, spoken word, and the immediacy of the telephone juxtapose with the deliberate and slow choices wrought out by pen and paper.

The difficulties of sorting through the media that converge in Berrigan’s performance parallel a collective struggle that our contemporary age faces as it revisits, reconstructs, and accesses older media, especially recorded sounds, through digitized recordings and the Internet. Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin point to this tension in Remediation: Understanding New Media, when they argue that “Although each medium promises to reform its predecessors by offering a more immediate or authentic experience, the promise of reform inevitably leads us to become aware of the new medium as a medium.” As we “play it again,” new media attempts to supersede old media, challenging the reader’s ability to evaluate a work without becoming distracted by its reincarnations. Berrigan’s poem serves as a bridge between theory and practice. By considering the media archaeology of “Telegram,” it is possible to more broadly interrogate what is gained and lost by both recognizing and scrutinizing all layers of remediation.

Renée Farrar is a Captain in the U. S. Army and an Assistant Professor of English at the United States Military Academy, West Point. She completed her M.A. in English at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and specializes in media studies, focusing on social systems of control, especially exerted through digital media and drama.


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