Philip Robinson played Krapp in a production of Krapp’s Last Tape, last night in Ashburton, Devon, in a friend’s living room. It was”right”. Everyone — 20 of us — could really see and hear, notice the ticking clock at otherwise silent moments, empathise with the technological frustrations, and the technological authority. As Philip later put it, we were “complicit”.
The tape recorder pins the script to a particular moment in the 1950s — 1958 was the date of the first performance. But it’s set in the future, probably the 1970s. The record a person may keep of her past is, by tradition, written; to hear one’s own voice is something completely different. Does the voice have stronger presence, more authority, more presence? It lets us, the audience in…
The phrase comes from Flusser’s description of himself as he chats with other men who smoke pipes. He notices the very different choices each of them has made about the pipe itself, the tobacco, the order in which the various tasks of preparation, actually smoking, then cleaning, scraping, and returning the materials and tools to their established places. The description introduces a discussion of ritual, and Flusser has chosen it very carefully. Each man knows with certainty that his own way of performing this ritual is the right one. And each regards the surrounding instances, each different from his own, with “smiling tolerance”. The essay, “The Gesture of Smoking a Pipe,” goes on to position ritual as one of three very broad categories of human gesture (logical ethical and ritual), “gestures” being communications — “movements of the body or of a tool attached to the body.”
Another essay, “The Gesture of Writing,” appears in the same volume (It is only one of at least six different versions of the essay, in different languages.). I sense strong parallels in the way he describes pipe-smoking on the one hand, and writing on the other. These are first-person, step-by-step accounts that are rare elsewhere in his writing. They suggest that for him, writing is ritual. And given his seeming contempt for the “scholarly apparatus,” designed to acknowledge and credit other writers, he may well have regarded them with “smiling tolerance”: