22 MAY 1936, Page 24

The Theory of a New Art

Radio. By Rudolph Arnheim. (Faber and Faber. 12s. 6d.) Dn. book is similar in conception to the treatise

on films which. he published a few years ago ; just as that was an attempt to see films with. clear eyes, so in this new book he- tries to show .us the possibilities idthe art of " blind hearing." But he finds the task-not quite as simple ; for, while he could treat the film as an art pure and unmixed, he is obliged to see a social significance in wireless in addition to its existence as an artistic medium. So, 'a little reluctantly but very fairly and sensibly, he includes a couple of chapters on the-sociology-- of wireless—what effect is it having on its listeners and what is it going to have ? The fact that he does make this effort to differentiate his books is an example Of his. honesty of purpose ;• essentially he wants to write another .essay on aesthetics, but- the world is there, it cannot be ignored, and he-settles down manfully, perhaps a little• heavily, to write about- the impact of wireless upon the lives and politics of the people in it. That ought to be counted highly to his credit ; for though lie says little more on the sociological aspects than could be produced- by any intelligent man, it is often in the things a writer does worst and most dislikes doing that be shows his integrity of- purpose. One is soon assured of Dr. Arnheim's ; and accord- ingly one believes the more spontaneously in the aesthetic judgeinents where he is happiest and most practised, where he is, so to speak, on his home ground.

The greater part of the book is the exposition of wireless as a pure art, the most characteristic form of which Dr. Arnheim takes to be the wireless play. He begins his discussion in a completely unempirical a priori fashion ; we have as our medium; lie says, sound divorced from any other sensation. The listener is simply there to listen. It is a world of sense in which the Inhabitant has only his ears. We have to start from these conditions and create our art, says Arnheim : and he works out the aims which such an art can have, and then goes methodically on to the technique, the actual studio devices,. which will secure them most completely. If one assumes these aims, then the means seem entirely reasonable to a -layman, though of course they ought to be criticised by someone familiar with the acoustic side of wireless. For instance, Arnheim insists that the right way to perform a • wireless play is first to make a sound-track of it (as though it were a talking film), then for the producer-to cut and mount it at his leisure and to his heart's content, and finally to broad- cast the play from the new and perfected sound-track. His case is very convincing to read ; very likely lie is right, but, to one with a faint distaste for a priori thought, it would be • comforting- to have the different methods tried experimentally •

on the same night by the B.B.C. - • .

Much of the book moves one to the same admiring doubt ; it is able, considered, spirited ; the writer has a good mind (a deductive rather than an analytical mind), humanity and good taste ; and yet, many of his pages leave the obstinate feeling that he is being-abstract in a field where the way is

not yet cleared for absfractions—and, even when he does not give that after-taste of disagreement, the close-packed argument produces the heay, -Vie; jading atmosphere that is too often left by a priori thought. It is not a fault of his writing, nor of the translation, which is admirable ; if it is a fault at all, it belongs to his habit of inintf. ' Although it makes part of Rie"Ixink difficult to read, there is still a great deal which excites one and remains in the mind ; about the whole book there rests the unassailable distinction of a none too easy intellectual feat carried through honeStly and well. . Dr. Arnheinis case is complete if, as I mentioned, Its aims are assumed ; but, although a review is 'Oa the place to challenge them at length, it ought .at least to be suggested that they are more open to criticism thon:_the argument which follows them. First, it. is more or less an academic exercise to construct all this paraphernalia of" blind hearing" as an art-form at a date when television is almost with us ; the author is conscious of this difficulty, tries to meet it, but only succeeds in saying that it is good to have a theory of " blind " wireless, even if the art is no longer extant. Finally, there is another and more fundamental criticism that

can only be hinted here :. eVenif.blindwireleSs were with us for ever, it is diiubtful whether this kind of theory-does not obscure as much as it reveals. For, iii- coneentrating upon

the technique of sound and presentation, there is a danger, into which Arnheim „often falls, of neglecting the substance which is to be presented ;= in writing of wireless plays, he, who is so sensitive to the acoustic shades, shows an odd, an almost repulsive indifference to. the human beings, the." characters who are the essential life of the drama. Behind the presenta- tion in any dramatic form, in the play or the film or wireless play or the dramatic novel, there is a further technique whose aim is the. revelation of human beings ; if this is for- gotten, if it is allowed to pass into the backgrolusd as we play happily with our new media as though they were fresh and ingenious toys, it were better that they had never been in- vented. That is a long argument, however ; and, for all its difficulties and omissions, this is a fascinating. and most intelligent book.

C; -P. SNOW: