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222 Elisabeth Weber “Vectorizing Our Thoughts Toward‘Current Events’”: For Avital Ronell I. In Ingo Schulze’s 1999 text “Handy,” published in English as “Cell Phone,” the narrator, who will remain nameless throughout the story, and his wife Constanze have rented a bungalow near Berlin, in the village of Prieros, for their summer vacation. The same day that Constanze has been unexpectedly called back to her work in Berlin, five or six strangers arrive in the middle of the night and demolish the front portion of the wooden fence that surrounds the property. The narrator reports: “the fact was that not even a symbolic barrier protected the bungalow now. Given the situation, it was some comfort to have a cell phone. I’d got more familiar with it over the last few days, because I’d brought the envelope that included all the instructions—which Constanze had guarded so jealously—along with me to Prieros and had finally learned how to store numbers and activate my answering machine.”1 The next morning, while surveying the damage, the narrator is approached by a neighbor, Neumann, who, after helping him clean up the destroyed fence, asks for his cell phone number. The narrator never wanted a cell phone, “until Constanze came up with the idea of a one-way phone. To make calls, yes—to be called no, with the exception of her of course.” As a consequence, he does not know the number, but sits down to find it in the envelope. A day later, he too returns to Berlin. After several weeks, in late September, again in the middle of the night, the cell phone rings. Neumann is calling to report on the return of the vandals. i-viii_1-256_Davi.indd 222 4/10/09 3:15:00 PM 223 “Vectorizing Our Thoughts Toward ‘Current Events’” This is the occasion on which Constanze learns that her husband has given the cell phone number to someone else. In her profound disappointment, she offers a glimpse into the telephonic structure of contemporary life: “‘Think of all those people who could call now. . . . All those neighbors.’” Her husband replies: “’Our number’s in the book, a perfectly normal number. Anybody can call us.’ ‘That’s not what I mean. A building is on fire or gets bombed and somebody runs out with nothing but his cell phone, because it happens to be in his jacket or his pants pocket. You can talk with somebody like that now.’ I plugged the recharger into the wall socket beside the bed. ‘It can very well happen,’ Constanze said. Her voice now had that ‘teacher’ tone of hers. ‘Somebody calls you up from Kosovo or Afghanistan or from wherever that tsunami was. Or one of those guys that froze up on Mount Everest. You can talk with him to the bitter end. No one can help him, but you hear his last words.’ . . . ‘Just imagine who all you’ll be dealing with now. Nobody has to be alone anymore.’”2 Of course, Constanze is mistaken that all this can happen only because her husband has given his cell phone number away. Her husband is right to say that anyone could call them anytime at home. The destruction of the fence that symbolizes the breaking-into the sphere of intimacy via telephone is in itself nothing new, but defines the telephone. But Constanze points out something else that marks the difference between the telephone and the cell phone. The latter no longer needs an identifiable, permanent location: a building or phone booth. It can be carried anywhere, and is therefore the channel of transmission of disaster par excellence. “No one can help him, but you hear his last words”—this was, as is well known, lived hundreds of times during the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and United Airlines flight 93. The cell phone accomplishes what is often claimed of television but rarely truly the case: a transmission in real time. What Avital Ronell calls “the dark side of the telephonic structure,” “the call as decisive, as verdict, the call as death sentence,”3 is here strangely reversed : It is the condemned who places the call. According to Ronell, “one need only consult the literatures trying to contain the telephone in order to recognize the persistent trigger of the apocalyptic call. It turns on you: it’s the gun pointed at your head.”4 The “more luminous sides—for there are many—of grace and...


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