Who needs a shrink? If he kept it on while people were talking it was just diverting enough to protect him from getting too involved, a process he described as being like magic. In fact, it was a buffer in more ways than one. Able to conjure or dismiss company at the touch of a button, he found that it made him stop caring so much about getting close to other people, the process he’d found so hurtful in the past.
This is a strange story, perhaps better understood as a parable, a way of articulating what it’s like to inhabit a particular kind of being. It’s about wanting and not wanting: about needing people to pour themselves out into you and then needing them to stop, to restore the boundaries of the self, to maintain separation and control. It’s about having a personality that both longs for and fears being subsumed into another ego; being swamped or flooded, ingesting or being infected by the mess and drama of someone else’s life, as if their words were literally agents of transmission.
This is the push and pull of intimacy, a process Warhol found much more manageable once he realised the mediating capacities of machines, their ability to fill up empty emotional space. That first TV set was both a surrogate for love and a panacea for love’s wounds, for the pain of rejection and abandonment. It provided an answer to the conundrum voiced in the very first lines of The Philosophy: ‘I need B because I can’t be alone. Except when I sleep. Then I can’t be with anyone’ – a double-edged loneliness, in which a fear of closeness pulls against a terror of solitude. The photographer Stephen Shore remembered being struck in the 1960s by the intimate role it played in Warhol’s life, ‘finding it stunning and poignant that he’s Andy Warhol, who’s just come from some all-night party or several of them, and has turned on the television and cried himself to sleep to a Priscilla Lane film, and his mother has come in and turned it off’.
Becoming a machine; hiding behind machines; employing machines as companions or managers of human communication and connection: Andy was as ever at the vanguard, the breaking wave of a change in culture, abandoning himself to what would soon become the driving obsession of our times. His attachment at once prefigures and establishes our own age of automation: our rapturous, narcissistic fixation with screens; the enormous devolution of our emotional and practical lives to technological apparatuses and contraptions of one kind or another.