I don’t write to earn money; I write to kill time.
Jean-Marie Déguignet (1834-1905) escaped the grinding poverty of his Breton peasanthood to explore the world as a soldier-for-hire. He compulsively wrote down his life story—a copious, irate, paranoiac, and sharply funny chronicle that is a rare example of a memoir by someone outside of the privileged classes. In truth, he wrote it twice: erroneously convinced his publisher had destroyed the manuscript under pressure from the Catholic church, Déguignet wrote it all over again.
Éduoard Léon Scott de Martinville (1817-1879) wanted to find a way to see sound. To do so, he invented the phonautograph, a machine which recorded sound only in order to make drawings of its waves. Yet the sounds themselves, we now know, can be replayed—a byproduct of the real project Scott had in mind. Accidentally, then, long-lost voices—including Scott’s own—have been resurrected.
Déguignet and Scott never met. But both wanted, desperately, to be heard. This piece explores questions of recording, rewriting, and what it means to be important in one’s own lifetime.
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