'Dyschronia in Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape'
The Stone Tape (BBC, 1972) concerns a group of scientists who have assembled in a country house, in order to devise new recording technologies. After their programmer Jill seems to have experienced a ghost, the team discovers that the walls of the house have acted as a recording medium, on which a tragic death has been stored. The team accidentally wipes this high fidelity recording. Beneath it a deteriorated recording of a more distant past is revealed, indecipherable and thus far more horrific. Kneale’s plot belongs to a hybrid sub-genre, which synthesises science fiction and the ghost story; ostensibly paranormal phenomena are rationalised by advanced science. As in most fictional exorcisms, the ghost is understood when its past is narrativised, but in this sub-genre, it is mainly technology which is used to unfurl the alternative history represented synecdochically by the ghost. Advanced science is thus associated with different modes of reading and articulating history. The Stone Tape is unique, though, in that its climax hinges, not on a narratable ghost, but on the playback of a decayed recording; during the period in which a recording haunts the house, the stored information deteriorates. The result is a corrupted alternative history, or dyschronia, which is irreducible to a discrete, coherent narrative. The recording is no longer an isolable ghost, but a series of abstract signals, redolent of the oscillograms shown in the programme’s title sequence. Advanced technology and ancient signals are linked by The Stone Tape. The discrete, concrete narrative of the Victorian ghost is juxtaposed with both atavistic and futuristic abstract signs. This paper explores the metaphysical oppositions in The Stone Tape between the concrete and the abstract, and between the narratable and the indecipherable, in the context of British television drama in the early 1970s.