Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Cases of the Dropped Eaves

There is a sense of Victorian naughtiness and covert inherent mischief in a word you hear now only on the rarest occasions.  The word has moved close to being an endangered species, close to extinction.

 More modern synonyms emerge like mushrooms after a pelting rain storm.

You hear of interception, of capturing, of bugging and recording, but not a word about eavesdropping.  To use the word in speech much less in a story is to brand yourself with the stigma of earlier generations, of melodrama.

Perceptions of covert conversations have changed , dramatic conventions have evolved.  Today, listening in secret to conversations of others is accomplished through tiny transmitter microphones called bugs, allowing the eavesdropping to be performed at a distance, sometimes even a considerable distance between the covert listener and the actual conversation.  Sometimes the trespass is committed through the intervention of a cohort wearing a wire or hidden microphone.

In a wickedly funny novel, The Abbess of Crewe, the Scottish novelist Muriel Spark, making playful fun of the Nixon administration in this country and its eventual fatal flaw, the Watergate Incident, bugged an entire convent, recording more often than not conversations of boring piety and naivete but on other, more dramatic moments, conversations laced with the inner politics of a convent in England.

Although this may seem a silly thread for a novel, such exaggerations remind us of the delegate balance between dialogue that is worth eavesdropping on or recording or capturing and the kinds of conversation we are more apt to hear waiting in line somewhere, at a check-out stand in a market, say, of a ticket line for a motion picture.

At one point in your writing career, you became convinced that Sunset Strip and lower Hollywood Boulevard coffee shops were vibrant places to work at writing because of the potential for significant dialogue all about you.  Not.  Even though some remarkably dreadful transactions take place in the world of absolute reality, they pale against the needs of dramatic situations to be laced with edgy agenda.

You've never heard conspiratorial conversations and in the one situation where you were alleged to have been involved in a conspiracy, the entire case was thrown out on the basis of the alleged connective tissue alleged to be in presence between the alleged conspiring characters being too remove to bear any potential for a standard connection.

You do believe there are actual conspiracies being launched and abetted with consistent regularity, but few of them will be heard by eavesdroppers and indeed many of them will have been expressed in beyond the reaches of eavesdroppers or electronic eavesdropping devices.

Best case scenarios seem to be politicians forgetting a microphone was on before saying things of a politically embarrassing nature.

Working on occasion in coffee shops, you are convinced that the reason to be there is not at all for the content but rather for the ambiance.  You wish the challenge of overcoming the all-too-human chatter, thinking--hoping--this will get you focused enough to produce work.  You have one page of notes you secured from working in such coffee houses, so your visits are not for the sparkle of secretly obtained intimate materials.  You go precisely because in such places, persons speak as they would speak or behave anywhere else.

Generations of sophisticated eavesdropping materials are available, but in thinking about them, you are reminded of the days when you studied codes, inventing a number of your own before succumbing to breakfast cereal coupons you could redeem for coding devices of another era.  You felt powerful for moments until you realized how all the imaginative coding devices and coding systems yielded no significant good unless you had a message of true significance.

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