This is one of those lazybones, slow coach, watch-your-toe-nails-grow afternoons. A moment of ease and drowsy repose, a moment so slight as to be of no matter, so carefree as to be of no consequence. A now to outweigh any later, to balance any yesterdays on a scale of time perfectly still. It is an instant fit for nothing—which is just what I intend to do. Am I doing nothing? Are not my senses responsive to the rays of the sun, my skin receptive to the cooling breeze, and my ears alive to the slightest of sounds—sounds so soothing as to render highly unlikely the chance of this missive being shared before evening? I might not get anything done at present; but, as hard as it has been for me to put to sleep the guilt a Calvinism cut down to a strict work ethics and a suspicion of non-manual labor taught me to suffer, doing naught and doing not as some think one ought is a naughtiness that can produce a host of something—a host ready to accommodate a multitude of guests in the open inn of my imagination.
“Imagine”! It’s another word for my old-time radio primer (begun here)—and certainly one made for the airwaves, the medium that minds beyond matter. What does it mean, to imagine? According to Aristotle, it is the mental reproduction of sensory impressions. Does it follow that the imagined is inferior to the real, a mere copy of an original? Not a fruitful train of thought, perhaps, this levelling of mental streams with the concrete of matter-of-factness. Besides, you won’t get far with the concept of originality in old-time radio, which borrowed so freely that I might as well have let “I” stand for “influence.”
The notion that imagination is reproduction has caused artists of centuries past to prefer the word “fancy” as denoting invention, rather than imitation. Listening to the radio, however, imagination seems the more appropriate term, as much as 1930s theorist Rudolf Arnheim (1904-2007) insisted on freeing sound from the business of substituting for the other senses not engaged during the act of lending an ear.
Listeners of radio plays do not so much invent worlds as image them forth with the sonic inventory ordered by the writer and supplied by the producer. The furnished rooms, unlike those shown in pictures, on screens large and small, may differ greatly, according to the vocabulary, experience, and preferences of the audience.
Of course, associations can be more profound than the image of door being produced by oil-starved hinges. That sound may also produce thoughts of approaching danger, of impending entrapment, of what’s behind and what might lie ahead. On this day, 1 July, in 1954, for instance, Escape invited listeners to conceive of a “Dark Wall” and a closed door behind which was concealed a “beautiful woman whom you must find before she meets her death.” The rooms, after all, are not just set up to be furnished in accordance with a more or less clearly defined blueprint, to be inhabited by a set of characters. Within these dark walls, there also flourished doubts and wonderment, sorrow and fear.
To get behind that dark wall and sneak through the door takes about as much effort as closing ones eyelids, which makes listening to a play for radio the ideal activity for an idle moment like this—as long as the mind’s eye is ready to adjust to the luminescence of the imagined. Pardon me, while I wander off . . .