Protocols for Listening

Tom Melick

Zoom, a user’s guide

— Every day an obstacle.

— The obstacle appears in the form of an opening, a window without a breeze.

— It’s an obstacle not because it’s a screen but because the objective is to get to the other side, and to do that you have to make your way through concepts and bad connections.

— To study a concept is to turn it on its head. Even the highest concepts fall to earth because that’s where they begin, so when you come across one on a walk or in a text or see one falling from the sky, pick it up and turn it on its head.

— A concept may shrivel or grow in the sun, it may get stuck between the teeth, it may collect in a pocket, or be archived in the lungs.

— ‘Knowledge of the world demands a kind of tactile flair. Sight slips over the surface of the universe’ remarked the art historian Henri Focillon. He was writing in praise of hands, distrusting of photography where ‘the hand never intervenes to spread over it the warmth of human life.’ [1]

— I call my niece in San Francisco and she puts her little grubby hand on the camera, smudging the view.

— Zoom is a passing platform. It already sounds antiquated. We use to meet on Zoom. Do you remember Zoom? Can you believe I’m still using Zoom!

— Zoom is a twentieth-century word invented by pilots when they realised they could blur and obliterate the ground. Zoom belongs in a dada poem, or maybe it was Marinetti’s last word, when he found God after he found Fascism.

— A photographer zooms in on history but the image is always blurred. If I focus on zoom I see a pair of eyes staring blankly at me in the middle of the word.

— Because I teach on Zoom I try to approach it like a text, something that can be read like a photograph or an essay or a poem; pleasurable, infuriating, boring. Zoom often reads like a text for bosses operating as ‘hosts,’ their preferred nom de plume.

— During a class on Zoom my supervisor drops in unannounced, doesn’t realise her camera is on, and hangs around weirding everyone out. Behind her is a painting, a still life of oranges and apples vaguely reminiscent of Cézanne. Later, I wonder if she painted it.

— Zoom will never be a classroom. It’s a text of broken encryptions, missed links, trolls, set design, and bad connections.

— When I finish early one day my supervisor sends me a text message asking why I finished early. When I find out she’s watching the recordings I wonder if she does so while she paints like Cézanne.

— The next class I go on a tangent about Cézanne’s theory of vision, his reformulation of pictorial space, where every object reaches ‘a culminating point’. For Cézanne even a flat surface is round.

— Like a dream too good to be true, managers at the university are very nervous about this transition to Zoom. They send email after email to students and staff checking in, trying to boost morale with how to work and research from home, saying nothing, and spreading their usual misery.

— The students aren’t nervous about Zoom, about working from home—they have everything else to worry about.

— During class one student accidentally turns their camera on. They are lying in bed with the sheets pulled up over half their face. Another student rests their phone on the kitchen table as their entire family attends the class while eating an early dinner. This might be the best way to use Zoom.

— For every obstacle doubles as a platform, so long as you take care to turn it on its head.

  1. ^ Henri Focillon, ‘In Praise of Hands’ (1939), in The Life Forms in Art (New York: Zone Books, 1989).

Tom Melick is the co-editor of Slug and part of the Rosa Press collective.