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Beyond the Boundaries of Interference: Ramón Gómez de la Serna and the Radio Revolution

From: Romance Notes
Volume 52, Number 3, 2012
pp. 301-309 | 10.1353/rmc.2012.0018

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Ramón Gómez de la Serna was a trailblazer in Spain’s early radio industry. From the moment the fledgling radio stations Radio Barcelona and Radio Ibérica began sporadically broadcasting in 1924, he was captivated by radio technology and its epitome of all things modern. He was simply awestruck at how a mechanical device simply called “el aparato” could effectively collapse the spatiotemporal order and fold the listener into a discursive community thriving thousands of miles away. In 1925, he began his involvement with Madrid’s innovative Unión Radio that King Alfonso XIII and Primo de Rivera inaugurated personally, but it was not until 1930 that the radio station granted him the ability to broadcast from the intimacy of his apartment (Díaz 120). As far as we know, he was the first vanguardista in Spain to have a radio emitter at his immediate disposal. An ardent believer in radio’s democratizing potential, he broadcast a miscellany of daily reports that consisted in nothing less than rendering intelligible the dynamism of urban experience:

Un día relataré el extremo de la obra excepcional sobre la misma marcha de los acontecimientos . . . otro día el gran hombre que muera a la medianoche tendrá su necrología inmediata con lirismo de primera oración sobre su cadáver . . . otro día radiaré la conversación sin aire de entrevista que la casualidad me lleva a sostener . . . Mi voz será como la voz de la intimidad y de la conciencia, dando los últimos alcances del mundo, para lo que lanzaré los más urgentes “¿qué pasa?” por mi teléfono.

From what we know about Gómez de la Serna’s involvement with radio before his exile to Argentina in 1936, there is no doubt that he regarded the technology as a liberating medium. In his own words: “Para mí la radio es el mayor teatro del espíritu que se conoce” (Automoribundia 504). There is, however, another side to his technophilia that bears telling, particularly as it concerns his novella ¡Hay que matar el Morse! of 1925 and his contributions to the avant-garde radio journal Ondas between 1927 and 1932. It must be noted that Ondas was the literary wing of Unión Radio and one of the foremost publications in Spain on the exploding field of radio communication. As such, “[e]n Ondas se dan cita casi todos los escritores que formaron parte del movimiento vanguardista español. La radio, como invento revolucionario, es en la revista donde encuentra su alter ego que le da réplica en cuanto a modernidad se refiere” (Blanco Carpintero 254–255). Gómez de la Serna’s novella and contributions in Ondas provide the basis for a more nuanced understanding of his affinity with radio technology. While they clearly evidence his passion for radio, they also clarify that he was quite exasperated with its technical shortcomings to the point of believing they could threaten the promise of the newly-formed radio community. What makes these writings so revealing is that they not only bear witness to the potentially devastating setbacks that beleaguered radio’s early development (the seemingly insoluble problem of interference), but also give voice to the period’s fundamental anxieties with communications integrity in a world of fast-paced technological progress.

Since the early Enlightenment, technological progress has frequently been regarded as that expansive teleological driving force propelling civilization “in a desirable direction,” to use J. B. Bury’s well-known words (2). While narratives of progress have always retained a privileged status within modernizing societies, it is also true that at least since the time Rousseau conceived of le bon sauvage, they have also engendered more systematic counter-narratives that have registered the many ills unleashed by man’s technological evolution. While Gómez de la Serna was a champion of progress and technological innovation in his youth – between 1909 and 1919 he was an advocate of Marinetti’s mechanized aesthetic of progress in which “great locomotives, twisting tunnels, armored cars, torpedo boats, monoplanes, and racing cars” improved our lot by freeing us from the cultural burdens of the past – his views on...

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