Mediamatic Magazine vol 5#3 Auguste de Villiers de L'isle Adam 1 Jan 1990

l'Affichage Céleste

Eritis sicut dii

Strange as it may seem, and tend as it may to make financiers smile, my story concerns: Heaven!


Auguste de Villiers de l'Isle Adam -

But heaven, let it be understood, considered from a commercial and serious-minded point of view. Having been singularly intrigued Constantine, the reflected upon the clouds from plains of snow, the Mounthaving, as it were, had his appetite whetted by certain historical occurrences nowadays scientifically established and explicated (or as good as), for example, the Labarum of Brocken phenomena of refraction and certain mirage-effects observed in the Northern regions, M. Grave, a learned southern engineer, conceived some years ago of the luminous plan for setting the vast expanses of the night to some useful purpose, and of raising, in short, the skies to the level of the times.

Of what use, indeed, are these azure vaults which serve no other purpose than to fill the sickly imagination of the latest professional dreamers? Would one not be acquiring legitimate rights to public gratitude and, let us say (why not?), to the admiration of Posterity, by converting these sterile spaces into really and profitably instructive spectacles, by turning to good account these immense uncultivated lands, and by obtaining, at last, some return from these indefinite and transparent Dartmoors?

There is no room here for sentimentality. Business is business. It is quite in order to call for the assistance and, if need be, the energy of serious-minded people with regard to the value and pecuniary results of the undreamtof discovery at issue here.

At first sight, the thing appears, in its very conception, to verge on the Impossible and almost the Insane. To clear the sky for cultivation, to assess the stars, to exploit dusk and dawn, to organise the evening, to put to profit the so far unproductive firmament itself - what a dream! How thorny, how multidinously difficult, of realisation! But what problems could refuse to yield up their solution to a Mankind driven by the spirit of progress? Buoyed up on this idea, and convinced that, if Franklin - Benjamin Franklin, the printer - had succeeded in wresting the power of lightning from the skies, then, a fortiori, it had to be possible to set the latter to humanitarian ends, M. Grave studied, travelled, compared, spent, dug deep, and, at length, having perfected certain enormous lenses and gigantic reflectors of the kind associated with American engineers -most notably of the apparati of Philadelphia and Quebec (lapsed, for want of a tenacious genius, into the domain of Cant and Puff) - M. Grave, (armed already with the ultimate advertisement requisite patents) is, let us say, proposing incessantly to offer to our great manufacturing industries, and even to the small trader, the aid of the ultimate advertisement.

Any competition becomes impossible in the face of the great populariser's system. Imagine, indeed, some of our great, turbulently teeming, centres of commerce - Lyons, Bordeaux etc. - as evening is beginning to fall. From here in Paris, we can see that bustle, that vitality, that extraordinary animation which financial interests alone are capable of infusing today into seriously big conurbations. Suddenly, powerful beams of magnesium or electric light, magnified a hundredfold, spring from the summit of one of those flowery hilltops so enchanting to young couples - from a hill akin, for example, to our own dear Montmartre: - these luminous beams, sustained by huge prismatic reflectors, cast instantaneously into the very heart of the skies, between Sirius and Aldebaran, the Eye of the bull, if not into the midst of the Hyades themselves, the gracious image of a youth holding a sash on which we read every day, with renewed pleasure, these beautiful words: Complete satisfaction, or your money back, guaranteed! Can one not imagine the different expressions appearing at this moment on the faces of the crowd? The illuminations, the bravos, the sudden upsurge of delight? After the first, understandable shock of surprise, former enemies begin to fall into each others’ arms, the bitterest family grievances are forgotten: everywhere, people settle down under the arbour of a vine, the better to enjoy this spectacle at once magnificent and educational. And the name of M. Grave is borne on the wings of the wind towards Immortality.

An ever so little amount of reflection is needed in order to imagine the results of this ingenious invention. Would the Great Bear herself not be flabbergasted if there appeared, suddenly, between her sublime paws, the disturbing question: Are corsets necessary, yes, or no? Or, better still, would it not be a spectacle to alarm the weak in spirit, and to arouse the attention of the clergy, to see appear, on the very surface our own satellite, on the blooming face of the moon itself, the lineaments of that marvellous engraving which we have alladmired on the boulevards, and which bears the inscription: The Way ? What a stroke of genius if, within a segment drawn somewhere inside the Apparatus Sculptoris, we were suddenly to behold the words: Kaulla s Venus Miniature!2- What acommotion there would be if, with regard to those dessert liqueurs recommended on so many grounds, one were to see, in the south of Regulus, that principal city of Leo, and on the very point of the Spica of Virgo, an angel with a bottle in her hand, while from her mouth there emerged a little piece of paper, with the words: Lord, how good it is!...

In short, it is clear that what we have here is an enterprise of flyposting on an unprecedented scale, of infinite stock and for an unlimited number of shareholders: an enterprise which the Government, for the first time in its life, might even guarantee.
I hardly need to dwell on the truly eminent services which such a discovery is destined to render to Society and to the cause of Progress. Imagine, for example, glass-photography and the Lampascope process3 applied in this manner - that is, magnified a hundred thousand times - in order to ensure the capture of either absconding bankers or famous wrong-doers. - The guilty party, from now on, as the song goes, easy to follow, would not be able to stick his nose out of the window of his compartment without seeing, in the clouds, his own face denouncing him.

And in politics! At election time, for example! What predomination! What supremacy! What an unbelievable simplification of those propaganda procedures that are always so onerous! - No more of those little blue, yellow or tricoloured pieces of paper which deface the walls and repeat to us nonstop the same name, as if we were all suffering from the same, awful ringing in the ears. No more of those photographs, which are so expensive (and more than often imperfect) and which miss their target, that is to say, do not arouse the sympathy of the voters, either by the agreeability of the candidates’ features, or by the air of majesty of the whole ensemble! For, in the last analysis, the actual worth of a man is dangerous, harmful and less than secondary in politics; the essential thing is that he have a ‘dignified’ air in the eyes of his constituents. Let us suppose that at the last elections, forfor them (one can but agree!), since these statesmen, if one credits Fame, once mounted winged Pegasus. Both of them might have been displayed there, throughout the evening before the poll, both faintlyinstance, the portraits of Messrs, b. and a. 4 had appeared every evening, life-size, just under the β-star of Lyra. Such would be a fitting placesmiling, their brows slightly darkened by an appropriate anxiety, but emanating, nevertheless, an air of confidence. The Lampascope technique could even modify, by means of a little wheel, moment by moment, the expressions on the two faces. They could have been made to smile at the Future, to shed tears for our past errors, to open their mouths, to wrinkle their brows, to flair their nostrils with anger, to adopt a dignified air, to do, in short, all that which is done on the public tribune and which endows with so much value the thoughts of a true orator. Each voter might thus have made his choice; might have been able, in short, to arrive in advance at an understanding, to form for himself some idea of his representative, instead of, as the saying goes, buying a pig in a poke. One might even add that without M. Grave’s discovery, universal Suffrage is nothing but a joke.

Let us look forward, then, to seeing M. Grave one morning - or better still, one evening - begin his important experiments, supported by the aid of an enlightened government. Between now and then, the sceptics will have a field day. just as in the days when M. de Lesseps talked of reuniting oceans (something he has since achieved, despite the sceptics). Science will have, once again, the last word, and M. Excessively Grave, the last laugh. Thanks to him, the heavens will at last become good for something and acquire an intrinsic value.

translation Jambs S. Williams