Second First Committee Hearings

Jane Lewty Testimony Transcript

Jane Lewty

Tom McCarthy: We understand that you're looking at the impact of the wireless on writing. And this is an impact that you've described in the past as 'noxious' or 'infectious'. You're looking at the emergence of the relationship between the wireless and writing in the period around World War Two. So perhaps we could start by asking you: what were the main uses to which radio was put during this period?

Jane Lewty: Well, of course it was in communication purposes, but for my research I generally concentrate on the area of propaganda.

TMcC: And where can we find the best example of radio being used for propaganda purposes?

JL: The name that immediately everybody would probably associate with that is Lord Haw Haw, real name William Joyce. And he was an upper middle class member of the British National Party who defected to live in Germany in the late 1930s, and became employed by Joseph Goebells in his Concordia Bureau.

TMcC: What was the Concordia Bureau?

JL: That was, that was a group of reprobate expats who were initially perhaps PoWs from the previous war, or people who'd kind of got stuck in Germany when Hitler came to power, and for some reason, for many reasons, were dissatisfied with the state of Britain and wanted to project that to their compatriots back at home. It was... A few of them were, they, a few of them had designs to actually support the Nazi regime. A lot of them were bored, disaffected as I said, were paid quite considerably, and delivered quite poor broadcasts on what is now known as... they called it 'black radio stations'. A lot of them broadcast from Hamburg, a few from Berlin. They were called things like 'Workers' Challenge'. And, yes: Lord Haw Haw was largely in charge of a lot of this. Joseph Goebells called him 'the best horse in my stable'. He was very proud of him.

Anthony Auerbach: Was Concordia directed specifically at Britain? Or was it a general organisation, like a Nazi World Service?

JL: It was specifically directed towards Britain, although there were speakers from the other occupied countries such as France. But it was largely directed at Britain.

AA: And can you tell us how William Joyce was recruited?

JL: He had sympathies... He was a very, I say close friend of Oswald Moseley who was the, as everybody probably knows, Oswald Moseley: he was a close friend of him, and he was... He had a lot of resentment against many facets of British life, largely the Jews, and he felt a kinship rather with a lot of Hitler's views.

AA: But did he have a background in broadcasting?

JL: No, not at all. No he didn't. He did a degree in English Literature from Oxford. And he was very well versed and apparently could be very urbane and quite a decent person. That was one side of him anyway.

TMcC: What was the typical content of his, of his transmissions?

JL: I have one here, actually. I'll just...

TMcC: Do you want to hold it up to the microphone? Or put the microphone down to the... These went out how frequently?

JL: Three to four times a week. It wasn't always William Joyce who gave them.

Zinovy Zinik: How long each of them?

JL: I'm sorry?

ZZ: How long was each of them?

JL: It varied. Some of them only three minutes long; others were rants which lasted for about twenty-five minutes.

[William Joyce's voice]: Germany calling... Germany calling... Germany calling... Here are the Reichdeutschfunkstation Bremen and Station DXB on the back of one metre band...

JL: Did everybody hear that?

TMcC: So what was the effect of them? People listened in England? Is this an example of your sort of 'noxious' theory of radio? I mean, he was the enemy but people seemed to have still listened quite compulsively.

JL: People generally listened to the black propaganda stations because they were convinced that the BBC wasn't delivering an objective viewpoint of the war. It's largely construed that Lord Haw Haw was seen as a bit of a joke. People used to imitate the way he spoke; people used to say that they'd tuned in for light relief. But my research has elicited something different, in that a lot of listeners at the time were genuinely perturbed, by... not by what he was saying but by the manner by which it was transmitted, which was he would literally cut in, cross-cut official broadcasts.

TMcC: He'd hack?

JL: Yes. And his colleagues. They would do that, which, swinging in with what they purported to be the truth.

Jane Lewty
Photo: Eugenie Dolberg/INS

AA: Do you mean to say that they broadcast on the frequencies that people were tuning into for domestic British radio?

JL: They occasionally would do that, yes. They had their own waveband, but they would often, as I say, cross...

AA: So it wasn't necessarily a kind of loyal audience of Nazi sympathisers?

JL: No, it was people who either found their legitimate wavelengths disturbed or people who were literally scanning the dial or the white, the waveband, and would actually alight upon this noise, this sound of this person who was supposedly telling the truth. And when I say 'noxious' it means that... There was a big contingent of, sorry a small contingent should I say, in Britain at that time who were convinced that anti-British propaganda was actually causing mental disturbance, which...

ZZ: Why?

JL: Because of the idea that they couldn't rely on what was, on the establishment as such, so they were having to constantly switch, change, hear snippets of information. And of course it didn't, it belied any sense of trust in Churchill's government, in the war itself and the outcome. There was one comment, one person said: 'I'm not even sure if this war exists, because it's, I'm hearing so many different excerpts, that...'

ZZ: So would... Exactly, would you say that just in the course of your research that you have found that at that time the BBC was the only voice of the nation, so to speak, identified by people, by the people, as, as the voice of the nation, and any other voice would not bring a kind of democratic variety of voices but rather disturb this notion of national identity as singularity of the voice of the BBC?

JL: Yes, that's right. That's right. Which is odd in a way because, because the BBC was such a bastion. In itself that's a dictatorship, saying that 'we represent the body of the nation and you must not listen to any other information'.

TMcC: So I understand from talking to you in the past that Haw Haw and Pound corresponded.

JL: Yes, they did. Pound, Ezra Pound, was a modernist writer who was labelled and considered also a radio traitor for the United States.

TMcC: Could you give us a brief outline of Pound's trajectory through the war?

JL: Yes. Ezra Pound was an American who actually left America officially in about 1908, lived in London for a time and then defected to Italy... primarily because he set up a sort of writers' commune in Rapallo. And during the 1930s he became very intertwined, his theories, rather, became intertwined with Mussolini's. He actually developed a sort of hero worship for Mussolini's monetary policy and reform, and the idea of fascism as an entire trope. He used it in his poetry. And when war broke out he was hired by Rome Radio to deliver broadcasts twice a week to his compatriots in America, and...

TMcC: What was the content of these broadcasts? Were these poetry, or also propaganda?

JL: No, these were what could be largely construed as propaganda... except the difficulty was that when he was actually brought to trial it was rather farcical, because he always maintained, as did his supporters, that he did not speak in regard to change the opinion of the American troops either stationed in Italy or people at home. He quoted, he said: 'All I want to do is change the machinery and oil up some gadgets of America, by the... What I am saying is...' He used to say: 'I am trying to make you listen, I am trying to make you see.' Literally like, sort of, pull the veil away from people in America's eyes.

TMcC: Was radio a medium that he'd always been drawn to?

JL: No. Absolutely not, because... He never actually had a radio. When he lived in Rapallo his friend Nathalie Barney, who people might know... she used to hold salons in Paris and she was a great socialite... She visited him and dropped off a radio, and he actually said, he wrote a letter to somebody saying: 'Goddamn dispersive devil of an invention', and subsequently called it 'the devil-box', because he said that his work that he wrote in the 1930s was the last piece of work that anybody had ever written without the radio. He called it...

TMcC: Without the radio being invented or being on?

JL: Being on, being invented, being around. Because he called it... He thought the radio itself was noxious, because he called it 'the personae poked into people's homes' and altering opinion and clouding judgement with jargon.

TMcC: So towards the end of the war he was arrested, he was incarcerated, and he continued writing during this period.

JL: Yes. He was taken to Pisa, and he was incarcerated in a detention training centre with sort of brawlers and malingerers and general Americans who'd sinned and committed very minor crimes in Italy. And he languished there for about six months, and they did actually put him in what was considered the death cell. That was what they called it. And he was at the mercy of the elements, and had very little to read, to derive any inspiration from, other than Time Magazine, a selection of Confucian Odes, some Chinese poetry and the constant sound of a radio tannoy that was blaring music into his compound.

TMcC: But he continued to write during this period, right?

JL: Yes. He wrote the Pisan Cantos. He'd previously not actually written anything during the time he was broadcasting. There was a white noise actually in the text of the Cantos, which implies 'when I was broadcasting instead of writing'.

TMcC: What do you mean by 'white noise in the text of the Cantos'?

JL: I mean there's a sort of crackling space whereby... I mean, Ezra Pound was very prolific. He wrote constantly all the way through his life. And there's a notorious space in his writing sphere as it were, when he actually was very much embroiled in the machinations of radio, actually broadcasting, writing the scripts, becoming actually very obsessed with his radio space, and then the microphone was taken away from him.

TMcC: So you're saying this sort of radio space invaded his actual writing, so the writing came to take on the properties of radio, and of...

JL: Yes.

TMcC: ...static and ellipses and losing signals: I mean, is that...?

JL: That's what my work implies. It's... I'm not entirely sure whether people, other critics would agree, but... Especially those verses that he wrote whilst he was incarcerated in Pisa I deem to be radio-suffused. The way that he incorporates shards of radio sound actually into the text, I mean is it implicitly wound into the typewriter as he's typing, or is it a deliberation of his? I still don't quite know. But I do... I recognise that, like, pieces of contemporary tunes, of contemporary Italian songs are actually being relayed through the tannoy system and they actually break the narrative that he's trying to project onto the page.

TMcC: I find it interesting that he was also going... he had a breakdown, I mean he sort of went mad at that period.

JL: Yes, he did.

TMcC: Did he experience... I mean, could you make links with radio there as well?

JL: Yes. It's quite... It could be construed as tenuous but I don't think it is. While he was in the cell he called it 'the lesion of May'.

TMcC: The...?

JL: The lesion of May, whereby he felt as though the top portion of his brain detached itself from its root, and only fluid was, remained, like a sort of... I mean, I write that he felt like a disembodied instrument that was sort of leaking battery fluid, and he was actually twitching and gibbering at the time, and...

TMcC: Did he ever describe hearing voices or anything like that?

JL: When he was in, when he was under trial, he was actually examined by a number of psychiatrists, who all asked him if he'd heard voices while in the detention centre, and he was...

TMcC: And what was...?

JL: And he was very, very evasive indeed. I should say also that not only was the trial for treason a farce...

TMcC: Why was it a farce?

JL: Because, as I was saying earlier on, it was very non-specific as to, you know, whether he'd deliberately wished to cause harm.

AA: But did he try to portray himself as naive as a propagandist, or did he come out as a fascist sympathiser?

JL: He tried to portray himself as being very virtuous as to the nature of fascism, as I was explaining how, you know, he wished America to understanding fascism as it were. But in fact there was a very good article in New Masses, and it was Arthur Miller and a number of other writers, who under the title 'Should Ezra Pound be Shot?', and they believed that yes he should, because he played on all the insecurities of the American public, you know, with regard to foreign elements, and... which was what Lord Haw Haw was, not, I wouldn't say 'commended', but that was what he was noted for, the fact that they, these people, radio traitors, played on people's insecurities. And it very debatable whether Pound meant to do that.

AA: But at the same time he attributed his own psychological disturbance to radio.

JL: Yes. Yes, he did.

AA: And, I mean what interests me is a possible correspondence between what Pound suffered, or claimed to have suffered, was exactly what Goebbells was aiming for in his Concordia Bureau.

JL: Yes. That's the irony. Because Pound, when he was actually brought to trial he was declared insane and was again incarcerated in a mental asylum for fifteen years. And that's exactly what I write about: how the noxious fumes, I suppose, of wireless which Goebbells hoped that the radio traitor, radio traitors in general would perpetuate, that as you say Pound did actually suffer in the end, but in very inadvertently and didn't realise until probably later on in his life, I don't believe.

ZZ: Can I ask... It's just it's amazing, I mean do you, did you research the situation psychological attitude to radio, because it's definitely, what you are saying and what I have read, the notes that Tom, that Tom's prepared, that the situation with the perception of radio drastically changed.

JL: Pound's.

ZZ: After the war... no, our perception of radio. Listening to many voices; we disregard them, we don't listen and then we half listen to them. We ignore them, basically. And then we key into a particular station we like, politically, or because the presenter has a very charming voice or something else. What you're saying is just then, before the war and after and during the war, this uniqueness and the sole identity of the voice as the voice of the nation, was absolute must, kind of thing, and that any disturbance would provoke a mental disturbance amongst the population. Is it true to say?

JL: That's a viable comment, because people, I do believe, in the area in which I research did tend to objectively, sorry consciously, listen: 'I will turn on the radio.' Virginia Woolf once wrote in her diary: 'We stood by'... not only for the declaration of war, but they would even stand by for a broadcast specifically. And that's what people like Ezra Pound were actually relying upon: the fact that somebody somewhere will be tuning in to me. I will be listened to.

TMcC: But then there seems to be a complete schism between his propaganda work, which relied on that sort of logic, and his poetry which seemed to anticipate this post-war...

ZZ: ...plurality...

TMcC: Yes: plurality, cacophony.

ZZ: On the other hand, it's just, the medium is, radio is the medium of a paranoid kind anyway by definition: you hear voices, anyway. So it's just: to what extent this, it does reflect the personality of the person, to what extent indeed the person, broadcaster, a broadcaster, is responsible for his own voices? Sometimes the same broadcaster has different voices, because he runs different programs.

JL: Yes. That's what... That's why I think that Ezra Pound himself was not a natural broadcaster. He did not have the trademarks of a broadcaster, because, because in the end he felt as though, and said, he actually wrote to Lord Haw Haw, William Joyce: 'I am literally shot to pieces'. Which evokes the idea of being discharged, through the aether. He was fragmented. He actually later on as well in the asylum said that his personality was atomised, because he could not deduce a) who was listening and b) what he should say. He was generally just addressing the masses as a whole. And if anybody would ever hear his broadcasts... I haven't, they're all in the States... they're very schizophrenic, very... He literally speaks in a multitude of tongues and ideas and everything's very...

ZZ: So he used as a personality, rather than the content of his broadcasts was in a way irrelevant, apart from...

JL: It was an audience of one, really. He was...

TMcC: If I could move from one Joyce to another: I understand that you've written a lot about James Joyce. John Cussans was talking earlier about Raudive's EVP, Electro Voice Phenomena, tapes. I understand that you've detected a... I guess it would be logically wrong to call it an 'influence', but a very strong parallel between Finnegans Wake and Raudive's work. Is that so?

JL: Yes, that's right. It's a bit of an outrageous reading of Finnegans Wake. I posit the notion of electric voice phenomenon on or within the text of James Joyce's final novel, which was written, or concluded, in 1939 but written from 1929 onwards. And I argue that it's not, as is generally perceived, a novel about dream state. It's actually a literal EVP experiment, where all the voices that speak in Finnegans Wake are dead, and because the polyglot language that they employ is very similar to a lot of Raudive's voice tapes.

TMcC: So you'll have Lithuanian and Russian and English and Swedish all...

JL: ...and Cantonese and French...

TMcC: ...compounded together. Do you have any, can you cite us any examples of this?

JL: I can. Such, I can cite the example of Chapter Two, Scene... Book Two, Scene Two of Finnegans Wake particularly, which is very interesting for your purposes, which is... Given that the whole book is a continual séance, and the sleeper, who is being visited by these voices, has a radio by his bedside and he's twiddling the dial...

TMcC: That's made very clear in the text of the book, isn't it?

JL: Yes, I think it is. And the voices, they ask him...

TMcC: He even identifies... sorry to interrupt... he even identifies stations, doesn't he: Radio Eire RF2 or something...

JL: Yes. Yes, that's right. They ask for the 'swish channels'; they actually ask for them between Radio Ireland and Radio Connaught I think it is. And at one point in the book it all fails because of external influences, meaning that the nearby radio transmitter is pumping out too strong frequencies for them. Because they don't like legitimate frequencies, these voice entities; they prefer to, as John was outlining, sit in the white noise and sort of take fragments and sort of, you know, speak like that. So...

TMcC: And...

JL: Yes?

TMcC: Sorry: go ahead...

JL: So I found some examples. They actually say: 'Berore inter med sender!', which is very very similar to Raudive's transactions as well, which is: 'Keep away from the transmitter!' you know, allying these frequencies. And one voice entities is a version of one of the gospels, called Matthew, and he says: 'Dis and dat and dese and dose! You're crackling out of turn like always. And 2RN and Longhorse Connaught. Stay off my air!' 2RN was the key call for Radio Ireland. And he's actually objecting to the noise 'crupping into our spirit speak' I believe is actually one of the phrases as well.

TMcC: That's fantastic. I don't have any other questions and we're running out of time, so perhaps we could wrap it up there. Thank you very much for coming in.