A portion of the telegraph cable connecting Dover to Calais, 1850
“S” is about connections. More specifically, it is about two people who connect in the margins and write to each other from a distance. They write to each other, but they do not see each other. Messages are sent and received over time. Like the cave paintings of the K__. Like the messages exchanged between VMS and FXC. On and on it goes.
The telegraph is another means of connecting via writing over space and time. The word telegraph means, literally, writing at a distance. It seems interesting that a book about connections focuses so heavily on a city where the first submarine telegraph cable connected two countries and allowed them to begin writing at a distance to each other.
Consider the following clues in “S” that seem to continuously point back to the telegraph as a clue to something deeper.
- The Archer’s Tales, our mysterious book within Ship of Theseus, was written by a man named Arquimedes de Sobreiro. Sobreiro is the cork oak tree. A man named Robert Hooke (1635-1703) first viewed cells under a microscope inside a thin slice of cork from the sobreiro. He also is the origin of Hooke’s Law, which leverages Archimedes Principle in springs. In addition, Hooke envisioned a method of writing at a distance…
Just over one hundred years before Claude and Ignace Chappe developed their famous Semaphore Telegraph System in France, Robert Hooke had devised a fully formed complete ‘telegraph’ system “shewing a Way how to communicate one’s Mind at great Distances“. (source)
- Ernest Hemingway is mentioned several times in “S” – both in the footnotes of FXC (vi, 117) as well as in the marginalia of Eric and Jen (p?). In the margins, Hemingway and the “S” collective, including the S, are together at the Hotel Florida in Madrid, Spain, in 1937. The term for how journalists used to send informative but choppy messages across a telegraph was called cablese, or Hemingwayesque.
- The last written form of communication that FXC received from VMS, other than Ship of Theseus itself, was a telegram saying that the two should meet in person. FXC sent an earlier telegram to him saying that she deperately needed to finish the book (xi). The two people never actually met. They only knew each other through distance writing – much of it telegrams.
- S notices that two S symbols are in the scrollwork of the shutters on Zapadi’s house. (p130-131) The precursor to the electric telegraph was the shutter telegraph, also known as a semaphore line or optical telegraph. The man who invented it (Claude Chappe) is the same man who coined the terms semaphore and telegraph.
- The first time we meet the monkey at sea is p54. There, in the book, is an insert. A telegram. The telegram is sent from Valparaiso, Chile. Valparaiso, Indiana has a world famous telegraph and radio institute founded in 1891.
- One of the S symbols appears on a building with the words CENTRAL POWER. Thomas Edison invented the central power plant in 1883. He also made his fortune in telegraphy.
- There is no Hotel San Sebastián in Havana – where FXC and VMS were to meet (xi). However, the oldest hotel in all of Cuba is the Hotel Telegrafo in Havana.
- On p268, the text of Ship of Theseus says, “After a time, he notices more distant sounds: a rumbly drone wrapped in the fricative static of an ill-tuned wireless. Perhaps, he thinks, this is the sound of time accelerating.” The wireless he refers to is a wireless telegraph receiver not tuned well enough to hear the signal, but instead finds only static.
- One of VMS’s books is “Washington & Greene.” P365 and other pages of marginalia point to the Triangle Shirtwaist fire that occurred at the Asch building (now known as the Brown building) at the intersection of Washington and Greene streets in Anaya’s, just off Washington square. The building is now part of NYU. In 1837, Samuel Morse demonstrated his electric telegraph was capable of sending messages over 1/3 mile of cable – all running in circles around his room at NYU.
- The Straka Obituary in the Baltimore Bugle-Telegraph has a front-page article cut out, with only a sliver of the title visible, but just enough to yield Tiny ‘Moons’ Circling the Earth Proposed. This is an actual article from 1946, and it predicts the birth of artificial satellites, specifically to aid in international wireless telegraphy.
- Fn16, p353 mentions the VMS book “The Brigade”. There is a clipper ship from the mid 1800s called “The Light Brigade”. The original name for it was “The Ocean Telegraph.”
- p455 – Jen writes to Eric, I love you. Full stop. The End. The term “full stop” arose out of telegraph transmissions. The word “stop” was used at the end of each sentence to designate its conclusion. The term “full stop” was not used in such instances because it proved more expensive due to the addition of the word “full.” The words “full stop” was utilized at the ultimate conclusion of the telegraph transmission to indicate its actual and ultimate complete conclusion. The term “full stop” continues to be widely used – again, particularly in the United Kingdom – when it comes to punctuation considerations and issues.
- Jen writes We need to have enough to torpedo his idea (p236). The railway torpedo invented by Edward Alfred Cowper was used as a warning signal to train engineers. Cowper also invented the writing-telegraph, a device which allowed hand-written messages to be transmitted by telegraph. (@anabramsfan discovered this)
- S grabs hold of a naval mine while swimming from his ship, which was destroyed by waterspouts, before emerging in the city of B__. He mentions this to others later (p122) and the alternative version of Chapter 10 has the mines return. Samuel Colt worked extensively in the development of naval mines. He also created an insulation for telegraph wires to work underwater and worked with Samuel Morse to test them. In one instance, a battery that once powered a naval mine was used to power a telegraph.
- FXC mentions VMS’s typescript (x). Eric mentions that it was prose like this that shows FXC was a hack. The first known computer/electronic hack was on a telegraph.
- The first transatlantic radio signal ever successfully sent was by Marconi on December 12, 1901. He sent the letter “S” in morse code.
- In Fn17, p354, FXC mentions that VMS would often cable (telegraph) her to explain that he was watching birds and needed time to do that and nothing else.
- FXC is given the nickname nightingale by Eric on his postcards to Jen from Brazil. The USS Nightingale was used to lay telegraph cable across the Bering Strait.
Where do these allusions to the telegraph lead? I have some unformulated ideas. What do you think? Perhaps they lead to the next cipher and its solution…