Thursday, March 31, 2011

McLuhan / Rosenberg Letter 1965

PROFILE: Henry James Barrington Nevitt

Throughout his life and career, as a professional engineer, international consultant, theorist, and linguist, Nevitt was associated with the phenomenon of modern communications. His interest in the theoretical aspects of mass media and communications resulted in a professional association and personal friendship with Professor Marshall McLuhan of the Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto. In addition to being a prolific writer, who even experimented with science fiction, Nevitt was an international lecturer.

Nevitt was born in 1908 in St. Catharines, Ontario and spent his early years abroad, returning to Toronto from England in 1917. From 1920 to 1930, Nevitt was involved in the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of radio equipment. Nevitt was employed as a radio operator for the Canadian Marconi Company on coast and ship stations between 1927 and 1928. For a year, he served as a bush pilot in training with the Ontario Provincial Air Service. In 1932 Nevitt went to Leningrad to work as a research and development engineer at Zavod Elecktropibor where he assisted in the development of VHF measurement techniques. In 1933, Nevitt returned to Canada and worked with the Northern Electric Company in Montreal as a manufacturing engineer of telecommunication equipment, remaining with the company until 1939. During WWII, Nevitt worked on various sensitive projects at Canadian Pacific and Defence Communications Ltd, and as an engineer developing radio teletype systems at RCA. He remained with RCA as an executive engineer until 1947.

Nevitt received his Bachelor of Applied Science, Electrical Engineering, from the University of Toronto in 1941 and his Master of Engineering in Telecommunications degree from McGill University in 1945. From 1947 to 1960 Nevitt worked for the Swedish international public utilities firm L.M. Ericsson of Stockholm as a telecommunications troubleshooter in various locales including Caracas, Venezuela, and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In the early 1960’s, Nevitt served as a consultant to the Royal Commission for Government Organization, and returned to work for the Northern Electric Company and for other private and governmental bodies. In 1963, he joined the Ontario Development Corporation as a manager in research and consultative services, rising to become the corporation’s Director of Innovations.

Nevitt’s association with Marshall McLuhan began while he was a graduate student. From 1965 until McLuhan’s death in 1980, they wrote various articles and papers together. In 1968, McLuhan invited Nevitt to collaborate on the book later published under the title Take Today; the Executive as Drop Out. For more than a decade, Nevitt assisted McLuhan in the conducting of weekly seminars at the Centre for Culture and Technology.

Nevitt published several works throughout the later portion of his career including: ABC of Prophecy, (1982), The Communication Ecology (1982), Keeping Ahead of Economic Panic (1985), Who Was Marshall McLuhan ? (co-written with Maurice McLuhan 1993), and the self published science fiction work Captain Gulliver’s Interplanetary Travels.

Aphorisms, representing a knowledge broken, do invite men
to inquire farther; whereas Methods, carrying the show
of a total, do secure men, as if they were at farthest.
- Francis Bacon

Download a .pdf of Barrington Nevitt's " Visible and Invisible Bias Via Media "

McLuhan, M. (1956). New Media in Arts Education.


In his book MUSEUM WITHOUT WALLS Andre Malraux faces up to the modern situation with respect to the art of painting. He asks us to consider the effect on painters of having before them the art of many other painters. Less than a century ago the painter tended to be acquainted with a very limited range of paintings. He would have had to travel to many places to see any appreciable number of paintings by one painter. His ideas of the work of a whole period were necessarily of the sketchiest. Today the reproduction of the art of men and periods is such as to permit the detailed knowledge of the styles and techniques of all periods of western pointing. In addition we know the painting, sculpture and architecture of dozens of other cultures in far greater detail than we once knew the art of our own time.

Quite recently, within the past six or seven years, we have all experienced a parallel occurrence in the world of music. Long-playing records have done for music what the Skira type of enterprise has done for pointing. Whereas we had been accustomed to a very limited orchestral repertory—a few composers and only a few of their works LP has suddenly opened up the music horizons to include the music of many centuries and many cultures. The Folkways series brings us the song and dance of the world. For the composer this means that he writes now for an audience altogether different in its experience. His own experience has also been profoundly modified. He can no longer accept nor expect others to accept a dominant musical style, fashion, or convention. Our music now includes the music of many periods and cultures in a vital and living relationship. And this had never occurred before in the world since there were no means of making a present which included so much and excluded so little.

The same situation exists in poetry. There have been great periods of poetry which grew from the discovery of other kinds of poetry which could be translated and adapted in order to develop new forms of experience in one region or country. It could he argued that great periods are always periods of translation. In the Elizabethan time English was enlarged and enriched by a large influx of foreign styles. Printing mode available, suddenly, and to a large audience, the styles of many Greek and Latin poets who were swiftly adapted to the resources of English. Older English poetry was available as well as French, Spanish, and Italian styles. And all of these got onto the popular stage in various modes and degrees.

Twentieth century poetry has absorbed the styles of Irish and Welsh bards, of Japanese and Chinese, and of many native cultures. Earlier, the Romantic poets had very consciously gone to the old ballads and to popular folklore in a search for new effects and new experiences which would release the human spirit from the chains of conventional perception. The discovery of rural landscape and of natural scenery they felt was a principal means of leading the spirit in the paths of self-discovery and meditation. And towards these ends they incorporated not only the old ballads and verbal incantation, but the art of painting as well. From Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard to Blake's Tyger or from Blake to Scott, Wordsworth and Byron, the poets were avid technicians of pic-turesque painting styles using the external scene to flash upon the in-word eye precious knowledge of the symphony of nature. They used the external scene to distinguish and to explore the wide range of passions and feelings and to discover new mental states. To arrest and fix these fleeting states by means of carefully delineated scenes was their aim and ambition, as, indeed, it also was of the pointers.

By the time of Baudelaire and Rimbaud the use of pointing as a means of fixing a mental state had been pushed very far. Suddenly the visual boundaries yielded to music, and the symbolist poets discovered the acoustic space of the auditory imagination. Let me say of once that this break through from the visual world into the acoustic world seems to be the most revolutionary thing that hos occurred in Western culture since the invention of phonetic writing. To understandl the human, social, and artistic bearings of this event is indispensable today whether for the reacher or the citizen. Most of the cultural confusion of our world results from this huge shift in the geography of perception and feeling. Let me repeal that the artistic developments which we associate with the Romantics in painting and poetry, hod consisted in the impressionistic use of external landscape as a means of exploring and defining mental states. When these artists came to the frontiers of visual landscape they passed over into its opposite, as it were, namely acoustic or auditory space. This unexpected reversal or translation of the visual into the acoustic happened again when the silent movies became sound pictures and again when radio was suddenly metamorphosed into TV. And the consequences of these shifts between sight and sound need to be understood by the teacher today since they turn the language of the arts into a jabberwocky that has to be unscrambled to be understood. When the arts shifted from sight to sound, from visual to acoustic organization of experience, the tempo and rhythm of cur culture shifted as though an LP disc were suddenly shifted to 78 speed.

The difficulty which most people experience with the poetry of Rimbaud, Mollarme, and Eliot or Joyce, or the difficulty they imagine to be present in the work of Picasso or abstract art is exactly the difficulty a listener might have in trying to listen to a disc played at the wrong speed. Here is a poem of Rimbaud which may help to illustrate these matters. It is entitled "Dimanche" or "Sunday":

When homework is done, the inevitable descent from heaven and the visitation of memories and the session of rhythms invade the dwelling, the head and the world of the spirit.
A horse scampers off along the suburban turf and the gardens and the wood lots, besieged by the carbonic plague. Somewhere in the world a wretched melodramatic woman is sighing for unlikely desertions. Desperadoes are languishing for storms, drunkenness, wounds. Little children are stifling curses along the rivers.
I must study some more to the sound of the consuming work which farms in all the people and rises up in them.

The organization of experience here is orchestral or acoustic rather than visual. Yet the various units of experience are visualized. There is a landscape, but it includes more than one space in its space and more than one time in its time. It is a simultaneous order such as music readily offers. A merely visual landscape, however, can offer only one space at one time:

Behold her single in the field
You solitary Highland lass
Reaping and singing by herself
Stop here or gently pass

The sort of landscape which Rimbaud presents is a kind of interior landscape of the mind. But it also began to be common in the newspaper fifty years before pnets took it over.

Today it is most necessary to stress this kind of occurrence when confusion causes people to lush out at the swarming new farms of popular culture which are obviously so upsetting to established conventions of culture. To get at Rimbaud and modern art it is not merely desirable but quite necessary to study the effect of the telegraph on the press and of both on poetry, painting and music.

The newspaper page upset book-culture and the book-page pro• foundly. The Romantic poets took courage from this upset to revolt against book-culture. (Read Hazlitt's essay on George Crabbe in The Spirit of the Ago.) The format of the hook-page offers a linear not a picturesque perspective. It fosters a single tone and attitude between a writer, reader and subject. Whereas the newspaper breaks vp this lineality and singleness of tone and perspective, offering many book-pages at the sortie moment. Now the telegraph gave instantaneity to this picturesque news landscape, (the telegraph was the electrification of writing not just the mechanization of writing which print had been.) The telegraph turned the news-sheet into a global photograph or world snap-shot. The press become a daily experience of all the cultures of the globe. It becomes a space-time landscape of many times and many places given as a single experience. With the arrival of photography this verbal landscape shifted to a pictorial one. With radio it become verbal again but not the printed word. With TV it becomes both. But by 1870 when Rimbaud made his verbal landscapes (which he called "Illuminations or colored plates") the newspaper format had revolutionized poetry. Nobody so far as I know has commented on the relation of Richard Wagner to the newspaper, but his esthetic program for including the whole of the human nythic post in a simultaneous musical present doesn't need much explaining. It was an obvious consequence of the above considerations. It remains the cultural situation today.

I have said that the Romantic break-through from the visual into the acoustic dimension was os great a revolution as that brought on by the development of the phonetic alphabet by the Greeks. Let me explain this o bit more in order to show you what has been happening to the arts and to all of us in the twentieth century. Today it is easy to know what the effect of writing was on culture because we have detailed knowledge of many cultures that have no writing. We have also watched them undergoing the impact of writing and print. Pre-literate mon has no experience of vertical or horizontal planes in visual perception. He does not use his eyes in the some way as a literate man. He cannot recognize the contents of photographs until instructed. A movie to him is not o picture at all, but a blur. He lives in on auditory or acoustic world. Let me spell that out a little. Pre-literate or acoustic man lives to a considerable degree in a verbal universe. Words for him are riot signs or symbols. They do not refer to something. They are the thing itself. We understand this easier in relation to music. We know that music need not refer to something. A phrase or melody defines itself and evokes an attitude or a state of mind instantly. But the phrase or melody does not refer to such attitude or state. It is the state and we are the music. This is the preliterate attitude to language. The word "tree" is tree, because it has the power to evoke tree. Acoustically considered a word is a complex set of harmonic relations. These relations are dynamic. They are simultaneous, and they ore set off by silence. The set of harmonic relations constitute a field entity which experimental psychologists refer to as acoustic space. If visual space is greatly dependent on our habits of seeing, acoustic space is entirely structured by our hearing. Psychologists tell us that acoustic space is spherical because we hear simultaneously from all directions. It has no lines or directions. It contains nothing and it is contained in nothing. It has no horizons, no boundary lines. All its relations are simultaneous, and it is a physical entity defined by these dynamic relations. In fact the more one says about acoustic space the more one realizes that it is the thing that mathematicians and physicists of the past fifty years have been calling space-time, relativity, and non. Euclidean systems of geometry. And it was into this acoustic world that the poets and painters began to thrust in the mid-nineteenth century. Like Coleridge's Mariner, they were the first that ever burst into that silent sea. This was the world of experience emerging to Keats when he spoke of "magic casements opening on the foam of perilous seas in foerie lands forlorn." It was to be a world in which the eye listens, the ear sees, and in which all the senses assist each other in concert.

Now from one point of view words themselves are a kind of symphony of the senses. Words arc a cinematic flow which includes all of our "five and country senses" as Dylan Thomas puts it. Writing meant o translation of this many-layered concert into the sense of sight alone. Reading and writing in this respect represent an intense degree of specialization of experience. Writing meant that the acoustic world with its magic power over the being of things, was arrested and banished to a humble sphere. Writing meant the power of fixing the flux of words and of thought. Writing permitted analysis of thought processes which gave rise to the divisions of knowledge. With writing came the power of visually enclosing not only acoustic space but architectural space. With writing came the separation of music from the dance and of both from words. And before writing ell these divisions were merged in a single knowledge and a single rhythm in which there was no present but all was always now. The Four Quartets of T. S. Eliot ore a complete guide to our own recovery of acoustic modes of knowing our own and past experience. The Finnegans Wake of James Joyce is a verbal universe in which press, movie, radio and TV merge with the languages of the world to form a Feenichts Playhouse. I am saying that modern technology which began by a visual recovery of the past in print has now come to the point of acoustic and visual recovery which installs us once mare in the heart of primeval consciousness and experience. If the Romantics pushed at the walls of vision until they yielded and became a shell of sound, we have all of us pounded on the doors of perception until they admitted us to a world which is both an end and a beginning. In our time we are re-living at high speed the whole of the human past. As in a speeded-up film we are traversing all ages and all experience including the experience of pre-historic men. Our experience is not exclusive of other peoples' experience but inclusive. That is why I have referred to it os symphonic and orchestral rather than linear or melodic. This gigantic flashback may sound like a collective version of that movie of o man's past life that is said to flash on when he is drowning. We may be drowning. But if so, the flood of experience in which we are drowning is very much a part of the culture we hove created. The flood is not something outside our culture. And so it is not catastrophic. We can turn it off if we choose or as soon as we wake up to the fact that the faucets of change are inside the ark of society, not outside.

In that break-through from the visual to the acoustic that transformed the visual world also, there occurred a revolution in art which still puzzles the twentieth century. The new music, poetry and painting that came in were not intended as entertainment any more. The arts for centuries had been speaking pictures to instruct and entertain. After the middle of the nineteenth century the arts become means of spiritual exploration. They became a radar screen to guide and plot the progress of the human spirit. And the technological world of the new media took up the role of entertainment.

But this division of functions I have already suggested was more apparent than real. And it is just as true to soy that the older arts are now areas in which one can readily discern the real meaning of events in the popular arts. Because the popular arts of the new media have been at least as full of artistic innovation as the older traditional arts.

Having now anticipated some of the conclusions that seem to me to lurk in the material we have been considering I should like to go bock to Rimbaud and to acoustic space as it has emerged in the world of the arts today. In a recent essay of "Space Concepts of the Aivilik Eskimos" (Explorations, V. pp. 131-145), E. S. Carpenter gives a very complete account of acoustic space as it dominates every level of primeval experience. In the Arctic: "There is no middle distance, no perspective, no outline, nothing the eye can cling to except thousands of smoky plumes of snow running along the ground before the wind--a land without bottom or edge ... when travelling by boat along the coastline in o heavy fog, a navigator relies on the sound of waves arid the direction of the wind. Without seeing light or land, and without any stars, he is still able to find his course by checking the wind and listening for the sound of the surf."

"Sometimes Aivilik artists take on old engraving and, without cleaning off the earlier work, simply put new engravings on top of them. To us, but not to the Aivilik, the results appear sloppy and confusing. We react similarly to their habit of sketching until a figure reaches the limits of the ivory, then turning the tusk over and completing the figure on the reverse side. Or they may complete a unit such as a dog-team on an-other horizon."

Siegfried Giedion, the Swiss art historian who has done so much to provide a grammar for the language of vision, has been reconsidering and revaluing the world of the cave paintings. In an essay on "Space Conception in Prehistoric Art" which is to appear in Explorations VI, he says:

I soon discovered that the existing photographic reproductions of primeval art were quite insufficient for the demands of modern art history ... However, I was not just hunting for photographs. I was above all striving to come to a closer understanding of the fundamental human experience which goes by the name of "art" . Prehistory is the pre-architectonic state of human development. As soon as architecture was evolved in Egypt and Sumer and became dominant over sculptures and paintings, a new space conception was developed, which, with many variations, existed until the building of the Pantheon in Rome. From that time on a new phase came about -another spoce conception—which lasted until the 19th century. A third architectural space conception set in around the turn of the twentieth century.

Needless to say, this third space conception of today is much like the primitive one of the cave painters. Giedion approaches this position carefully, since he is well aware of the prevailing opposition to his view. The standard notions of primeval painting is that it "lacks all order and control and is without any talent for combination and composition/' Giedion goes on to show that primeval men did not regard the caverns as architecture to be decorated: "Secret signs and figurations are placed in positions that are extremely difficult of access and at the uttermost ends of coves, where the walls narrow to a mere crack. In those cases it is clear that prehistoric man was more anxious to hide his artistic creations than to expose them ... From the unfettered imaginative power with which prehistoric man tackled his rough rock surfaces we con deduce his attitude towards them.

"Only a few examples can be referred to here. On the damp clay ceiling of the so-called Salle des Hieroglyphes in the Cavern of Pech-Merle which measures about 10 by d meters, generation after generation in Aurignacian times drew with their fingers the outlines of suppicalory figures, superimposing them upon one another; mammoths, bird-headed goddesses and certain ports of other beings . . the designs upon this ceiling, which dote from the earliest beginnings of art, are suspended above the void. It is, therefore, clear that there was no question here of space decoration.
"Many millenia later the same phenomenon appears upon the ceiling of the cavern Altamira, which represents the apex of Magdalenian art ... It was not mode to be seen as a whole, nor to adorn a space; it was created to work magic, and there its purpose ended."

One might observe here that the parallels with our culture are perhaps mainly to be found in the much larger caves of modern advertising. The rationale of modern advertising brings forth all the artistic resources of our culture but it does not exist to adorn space but to work a magical change in the minds of the consumer.
Giedion proceeds to analyze the approach of the primeval artist to the surfaces he worked on:

"Freedom of approach to all surfaces, regardless of horizontal or vertical direction is a basic principle of primeval art."

The parallel is in Joyce's approach to words. His outrageous puns: "The yung are easily freudened" are a free modelling of existing contours to reveal the secret powers within words just os the primeval painter sought to evoke the animal powers not by pictorial statement but by evocation of the animal form from the natural form. And Giedion concludes:

"The reason that we con now slowly understand the space conception of primeval art is due to the work of contemporary artists. Painters like Kandinsky and Klee have opened cur eyes to the realization that the composition of a picture is not dependent upon a constant vertical orientation but that there can also be a free ploy of the elements of the picture quite independent from it.

Giedion is approaching the nature of acoustic space from an art historian's viewpoint. My own approach began as a literary one. But study of Joyce, Pound, and Eliot did for me what Klee, Kandinsky, and Picasso did for Giedion—They revealed a primeval world within the materials of traditional study. In the same way the new art of linguistic anthropology employs linguistic art as an approach to the inner dynamics of cultures past and present. So that instead of an outer or descriptive view of things we are centered at once inside them. Simultaneity of inner and outer, above and below—this is normal to our culture today in approaching past or present problems and experience.

The moment one detaches himself from any particular medium of expression and considers the nature and ends of communication as such, he begins to develop that simultaneous sense of cultural unity and of the orchestration of the media, written, oral, sculptural, musical, and pictorial. Harold Innis in his Bias of Communication began this type of study in this decade. He pointed out some of the obvious effects of the mechanization of writing that was print. It isolated the learner. It fostered vernaculars and nationalism. It greatly intensified warfare. It depressed the status of painting, music, and architecture. This is all very shocking until one begins to look into the matter. Then it becomes very exciting and illuminating. In fact, today, when all the means of communication, new and old, are modifying one another at great speed, when the book is alternately depressed and boosted by radio and TV and almost extinguished by it at the same time, when photographs alter painting style and also act as a substitute for painting, in the midst of such a vortex we have no choice but to understand the process. The eternal qualities we had imagined to inhere in specific media have dissolved and reformed before our eyes in a single decade. A educators committed to the processing of information flow we have no choice but to teach the new languages through the old and the old through the new. The cinema students of Miss Cecile Starr at Columbia say to her on learning the language of film: "If only we had known this in high-school, how much more we would have enjoyed our literature courses." And if students of literature, painting, and music knew the profound interrelation between the technical innovations in these arts in the past century, if they were even prepared to notice the deep roots which the fine arts always have in the forms of the most vulgar and popular entertainments, they would be less alienated by formal instruction in the arts today.

In his "Theory of the Film," Balazs notes that "the discovery of printing gradually rendered illegible the faces of men. So much could be read from paper that the method of conveying meaning by facial expression fell into desuetude." He continues:

Victor Hugo wrote once that the printed book took over the part played by the cathedral in the Middle Ages and became the carrier of the spirit of the people. But the thousands of books tore the one spirit, embodied in the cathedral, into thousands of opinions. The word broke the stone into a thousand fragments, tore the church into a thousand books. The visual spirit was thus turned into a legible spirit and visual culture into a culture of concepts.

I have already suggested that the break-through from the visual into the acoustic and musical composition of the varieties of media and experience today can become a means of recovering our wholeness and integrity. It would seem to be a natural tendency of our technology which has great relevance to the class room and to traditional studies. Languages are mass media which control the thoughts and feelings of whole populations. The new media, on the other hand, from writing and printing to TV are new languages which profoundly modify spoken languages and oral culture. And the media since the telegraph which employ light and electronics instead of mere machinery, are ways of getting many new insights into older media, including verbal languages. In the electronic age the media are forced into the same kind of truce as nations. The old free-for-all in which the various arts and sciences engaged postulated a stability of culture and a personal security which no longer holds. Today the boundaries between the arts and between the arts and sciences, have simply disappeared. The boundaries between art and commerce are going. The old separation of art and nature we now see to have been based on an ignorance of nature. So that art today we apply to cities and to whole regions. Art is no longer for the few nor for the studio. And the learning process and the creative process which we had once reserved for scholars and geniuses we now know to be a character of all human perception.

In the same way, as teachers, we have had to recognize that education is no longer a monopoly of the class-room and that the young are learning as much outside as inside the classroom. Moreover, we ourselves have to face new facts and new media which are as novel for us as for our students. We have, as never before, to shape the learning process with them.

In this way, my theme about the orchestration of the media in the teaching of the arts today has many dimensions. The stage of development of the media of communication today is such that it invites a reassembly of our senses of perception. The mechanical media have helped us to rediscover language as itself an orchestration of our sense experience. And this discovery has in turn carried us back to the kind of integral awareness possessed by primeval man. But today we can share his awareness without sacrifice of our specialized advance. Today we are beginning to sense the possibilities of unity and harmony in the entire human family. But that sense is not separate from our sense of the possibility of unifying all the kinds of human knowledge. What we have hitherto called "subjects" in our schools and colleges may well undergo a very great change in the direction of unification. As our society becomes more conscious of its unity and interdependence, and as tradition and novelty enter into fruitful marriage we shall discover how to penetrate and to impart various kinds of knowledge in ever speedier and simpler ways. The awareness today of the close parallel between the modes of sensuous apprehension and the modes of the creative process have begun to abridge many tedious processes. Learning and creating are becoming very near to each ether. Just when it scorned that we had created an intolerable amount of knowledge for future generations to preserve and diffuse, we have discovered how to apprehend it swiftly from within. Harmony and ease among the many kinds of knowledge, among the arts and sciences, between living and learning and between learning and creating—these are only o few of the kinds of perception and activity available today through a wedding of the traditional arts and the new media.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Bruce Powe on Canada


“Marcel’s classic ‘Nude Descending a Staircase’ was a major manifesto of the electric age. The industrial hardware of the assembly-line had been enveloped by the new environment of the Magnetic City and the wired planet. As soon as the machine went inside the electric circuit, the mechanical forms of the industrial world that emanated from the Gutenberg technology of uniform, repeatable, and moveable types became transformed into 'art'. New technologies in supplanting their predecessors translate them into 'art' forms. The old form is enhanced by obsolescence. Ruins and antiques nourish the creative imagination of artists and poets. Humanism and ruins are synonymous."

- Marshall McLuhan, “Duchamp", MS., p.1

" the unexamined environment is not worth ignoring ..."

PROMPT: Distracting the Trigger Men ...

" I should prefer to de-fuse this gigantic human bomb by
starting a dialogue somewhere on the side-lines to distract
the trigger-men, or to needle the somnambulists."

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bad Boy at Bilderberg

"The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future
because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present."
- Wyndham Lewis, c.1930

Eric McLuhan & The Toronto School of Communication

The Phonograph: The Toy That Shrank the National Chest

The improvisational nature of modern inquiry signifies the abandonment of specialist goals and lineal problem-solving. A rigid, controlling personality is not programmed to exploit the opportunities provided by serendipitous discovery.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Perfect Reader and a Nuzzled Sentence

" McLuhan neither seeks nor deserves merely an interested reader.
Rather he, as with others in the “tradition” he participates, seeks
a perfect reader with a perfect case of insomnia."

" sentenced to be nuzzled over a full trillion times
for ever and a night till his noodle sink or swim by
that ideal reader suffering from an ideal insomnia "
(FW 120.12-14.)

Disney Says that "Mars Needs MoM"?


The Enemy Sessions 01

Bob Dobbs and Andrew Chrystall begin to discuss Andrew McLuhan's blog: Inscriptorium. According to Andrew "[Inscriptorium] is a blog about discovering the work of Eric McLuhan and his father, Marshall McLuhan; it’s about the paths which led to their discoveries, the triumphs and disappointments along the way; and it’s about me." In the blog Andrew is bringing to light some of the contents of McLuhan's private library (approx. 5000 volumes) and the marginalia in those works.

The Enemy Sessions 01 (part Apart Bpart C).

MoMday Seminar 04: Audio Available Now

Seminar 04, 21 March 2011
Special guest: Michael Edmunds

The format of this session was 3 hours of oral history. The "tailgate" session, when the audience flaunts its role as actor, begins at 2:51:01.

Edmunds had the privilege of studying under (or beside) Professor Marshall McLuhan. He went on to become the Associate Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology at the University of Toronto. He also held the position of Director of the ScotiaBank Information Commons.

PROMPT : the ludicrous image and the menippean frame

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

PROMPT : "I prefer to study the pattern rather than the theory "

"As mime, the artist cannot be the prudent and decorous Ulysses, but appears as a sham. As sham and mime he undertakes not the ethical quest but the quest of the great fool. He must become all things in order to reveal all. And to be all he must empty himself... the artist cannot properly speak with his own voice."

- Marshall McLuhan, James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial (1953)

Eclectic Method - The King's Remix from Eclectic Method

McLuhan, M. (1933). "A Grand Tour for $300"

McLuhan Quotes

Countess of Meath
If a language contrived and used by many people is a mass medium, any one of our new media is in a sense a new language, a new codification of experience collectively achieved by new work habits and inclusive collective awareness. But when such a new codification has reached the technological stage of communicability and repeatability, has it not, like a spoken tongue, also become a macromyth? How much compression of the elements of a process must occur before one can say that they are certainly in mythic form? Are we inclined to insist that myth be a reduction of collective experience to a visual and classifiable form?

Languages old and new, as macromyths, have that relation to words and word-making that characterizes the fullest scope of myth. The collective skills and experience that constitute both spoken languages and such new languages as movies or radio can also be considered with preliterate myths as static models of the universe. But do they not tend, like languages in general, to be dynamic models of the universe in action? As such, languages old and new would seem to be for participation rather than for contemplation or for reference and classification. MY-MM-340

Here is the prologue to the drama of Big Brother Watching You that later unfolds in the Tatler and the Spectator (lo spettatore nel centro del quadro). VP-MMHP-109 (this probe is collated with the Portrait of the Countess of Meath by Peter Lely) 


4. What is needed is a great collection of anecdotes minus any point of view. The anecdote can yield multitudes of diverse insights unsuspected by the narrator of the anecdote. - M.M.

5. To define is to kill. To suggest is to create. - Stephane Mallarme

6. The interplay of anecdotal "figures" can reveal a "ground" of process patterns that gave them meaning. - M.M./B.N.

7. To reward and make celebrities of artists can be a way of ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for survival. - M.M.

Monday, March 21, 2011

McLuhan, M. (1933). "Heavens Above." In The Manitoban

“There was never a country that in its good moments was more beautiful. Even in drought or dust storm or blizzard, it is the reverse of monotonous, once you have submitted to it with all the senses. You don’t get out of the wind, but learn to lean and squint against it. You don’t escape sky and sun but wear them in your eyeballs and on your back. You become acutely aware of yourself. The world is very large, the sky even larger, and you are very small. But also the world is flat, empty, nearly abstract, and in its flatness you are a challenging upright thing, as sudden as an exclamation mark, as enigmatic as a question mark.”

Wallace Stegner from his classic, Wolf Willow

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Michael Edmunds Announced as Special Guest for Seminar 04

Michael Edmunds
MoM organisers are pleased to announce that the special guest for Seminar 04 will be Michael Edmunds. Edmunds had the privilege of studying under (or beside) Professor Marshall McLuhan. He went on to become the Associate Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture & Technology at the University of Toronto. He also held the position of Director of the ScotiaBank Information Commons.

In many respects Edmunds is the ultimate “insider”. He has remained at the centre of the post-McLuhan milieu in the wake of McLuhan's death. He was part of the TetraHeads, he managed the wildly influential McLuhan-L listserver (MCLUHAN-L@LISTSERV.UTORONTO.CA), and has continued, largely behind the scenes, to promote McLuhan to a global audience.

For further information on Michael Edmunds see:
* Edmunds, M. F
* Recent interview with Michael Edmunds here.

PROMPT Catch 22 : "a no-win situation" or "a double bind"

Within the book, "Catch-22" is a military rule, the self-contradictory circular logic that, for example, prevents anyone from avoiding combat missions. In Heller's own words:
There was only one catch and that was Catch-22, which specified that a concern for one's safety in the face of dangers that were real and immediate was the process of a rational mind. Orr was crazy and could be grounded. All he had to do was ask; and as soon as he did, he would no longer be crazy and would have to fly more missions. Orr would be crazy to fly more missions and sane if he didn't, but if he were sane he had to fly them. If he flew them he was crazy and didn't have to; but if he didn't want to he was sane and had to. Yossarian was moved very deeply by the absolute simplicity of this clause of Catch-22 and let out a respectful whistle.

Other forms of Catch-22 are invoked throughout the novel to justify various bureaucratic actions. At one point, victims of harassment by military police quote the MPs' explanation of one of Catch-22's provisions: "Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating." Another character explains: "Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing." The theme of a bureaucracy marginalizing the individual in an absurd way is similar to the world of Kafka's The Trial, and George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

cf. Milo Minderbinder and Egg Management
" In Catch-22, the figure of the black market and the ground of war merge into a monster presided over by the syndicate. When war and market merge, all money transactions begin to drip blood." - Take Today p.211

Macaulay: What a Man! The Manitoban 28 October 1930

Eric McLuhan (December 22, 2010) : " He deliberately modeled his style on Macaulay … his early style, anyway."

Thomas Babington Macaulay was a historian and politician who coined the phrase "the fourth estate". Born in Leicestershire, England, Macaulay attended Trinity College, Cambridge and published a famous essay on John Milton in the Edingburgh Review (1825) shortly before beginning the practice of law. In 1830 he was elected to Parliament, where he distinguished himself as a Whig politician, eventually serving as Secretary of War (1839-41) and Paymaster-General (1846-47). In 1842 Macaulay published a collection of poetry, Lays of Ancient Rome, and in 1843 he published the first volume of Critical and Historical Essays. In 1849 Macaulay published the first volume of his History of England from the Accession of James II (which, strangely, seems to cover quite a lot of material from before James II; here are volumes 2, 3, 4, and 5). Although the history has been criticized for its overtly Whig interpretation of events, it is often considered the second-best historical work of the 19th century for "Its brilliant narrative style and its vivid recreation of the social world of the 17th [century]..." In 1857 Macaulay entered the peerage as Baron Macaulay of Rothley. He died in 1859, leaving behind a substantial list of quotes ... " The gallery in which the reporters sit has become a fourth estate of the realm." being the most famous.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


1. Great men are misperceived as their mounting celebrity distorts their image. - F. Zingrone

2. The artist: The man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time, the man of integral awareness. - M.M.

3. Any medium has the power to restructure our minds in a unique way by imposing its own mode of thought. - Maurice McLuhan

Friday, March 18, 2011

McLuhan Quotes

Spoken word is mirror of the mind: canon is mirror of the voice, when one voice repeats or reflects what another has stated. GV-MMBP-171                         
. . .         
            There is a fascinating example in Milton's Paradise Lost of the process of intellectual anesthesia. Milton's problem, which is that of orthodox theology, is to explain how Satan, who has supreme created intelligence, should immediately be able to intuit the results of any sin. Therefore the problem is: how can he be said to commit sin and be of high order of intelligence? Milton solves this problem wittily by showing how Satan uses language to obscure his thinking. CA-MMWW-14
. . .
            Imagination is that ratio among the perceptions and faculties which exists when they are not embedded or outered in material technologies. When so outered, each sense and faculty becomes a closed system. GG-MM-314
. . .
The Analogical Mirrors. IL-MM-63

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Case For Edible Spaceships

"A heuristic is also a construct that can be tested. Seeing McLuhan's work as a hypertext heuristic points the way to that rarest of endeavors in the humanities, the undertaking of pure research. As details of the present picture McLuhan described come to fruition for us now in that rearview mirror we call the future, the heuristic tools he devised reveal themselves as powerful reagents catalyzed by time. Contrivances such as the difference between public and mass, the participation gradient of media hot and cool, the corporate image or form whose parts are interpenetrating, the content of media forms being other media, and their colonizing effects studied as tetrads - these jargon-free, counterintuitive heuristic devices provide valuable feedforward in deciphering 'the cultural logic of late capitalism' (T. Frank, COMMODIFY YOUR DISSENT, 1997, p.15), what we loosely refer to as postmodernism. Phenomena as diverse as the rise of the new attention economy; the vulnerability of people's personas online; the triumph of the news leak; the fact that guests take lie detector tests on the more interactive talk shows; and metaphenomena such as alternative youth culture; hyperdemocracy and the erosion of representative government; separatism and balkanization in the face of corporate supranationalism; downsizing, decentralization and disintermediation; the interchangeability of business and culture and the blurring line between advertising and programming; cooptation of irony by the televisual nexus; the proleptic simulation of real events by media occurrences; the apparent rise of violence - these vectors of the zeitgeist are able to be charted using many of McLuhan's probes, not least of all because they bear many of them out."

- Michel Moos, "The Hypertext Heuristic: McLuhan Probes Tested (A Case for Edible Spaceships), excerpt from a paper presented at the McLuhan Symposium, New York City, March 28, 1998.

PROMPT: Gerald O'Grady Talks About McLuhan

Trust from r4ltman on Vimeo.

MoMday Seminar 03: Audio Now Available

Date: 14 March 2011
Special Guest: Buzz Coastin, Youtube artist.
Surpise Guest(s): [censored]
The audio for Seminar 03 is available for download here.

We were HACKED during this seminar/colloquia. Subsequently, a significant part of the audio file has been deleted and/or censored. The file linked to here is NOT a true and accurate account of the full proceedings. It is about 1/3 of the actual length of the total session. Further details to follow at a later date when our investigations into the phenomenon have concluded. 

Monday, March 14, 2011

PROMPT: McLuhan and The “Values” Discussion Group at the University of Toronto, February–May 1949

Marcel Proust
Fifth meeting: March 8. (Clark, Dryer, Easterbrook [Chairman], Ginsberg, Helleiner, Innis, McLuhan, and Savan)

Mr. McLuhan proceeded to make several assertions about the Arts and the artist:

“The artist is an explorer, and an innovator, one who restlessly seeks new areas; as [James] Joyce and [Marcel] Proust.

The artist is a man for whom the cliché, the banal, is intolerable. The artist is given to concern with freshness, precision and immediacy in the plying of his craft. His object is to renew human awareness of itself and of the world; a renewal of the experience of perception through sight, sound, smell, touch.

The artist is concerned to present a precise demarcation of things. Ordinary human experience is vague, sloppy, confused. The artist’s life is taken up with the ordering of things. He wants to select, to add, remove, to make vivid details.

The artist requires the exact equivalent; the precise formula for every emotion or combination of emotions. Mr. McLuhan illustrated by citing a passage from Dante’s Inferno in which Dante had employed an image suggesting victory against the forces of Hell. It was the introduction of a flood of emotion into a passage of objective description.

The artist seeks to make ordinary observations precise, and to develop taste. His function is the function of an educator. His values are existential; immediate enjoyment of arts. The critical judgment of scholars is that the Arts train perception and develop judgment.

Contemporary education practices are deficient in not using the Arts effectively. These values are not being achieved because the training methods insulate the subject against these values.

Developments in the Arts occur; but they never improve. In the hands of an artist, painting, music, sculpture, achieve a kind of excellence at one leap that cannot be improved upon. The artist must sacrifice early excellence in proceeding to new fields of development. The components of human experience don’t change. The themes of Homer’s Iliad — war, pathos, sorrow, tragedy, defeat, and of the Odyssey — man wandering in exile — are as valid today as they were for Homer. These two modes used by Homer are unchanging; they appear to be basic to human experience.

There is no discussion in the Arts.
The Arts present a possibility of extending the range of one’s experience.” (VDG, March 8, 1949, pp. 2-3)

McLuhan’s statement led to a discussion of “the meaning of improvement in the Arts and Sciences” with particular reference to whether technique in the arts could be viewed as cumulative (p. 3). The extent to which cumulation in the arts and the physical sciences, respectively, was addressed. The group then considered how children’s acts, in relation to art, compared to those of “trained persons.” This was followed by a general discussion of the nature of artistic expression, how the artist is viewed by society, and how people respond to art exhibitions. The session concluded with a discussion of the historical relationship between artistic achievement and broader social factors, with specific attention given to “the existing climate of opinion and artistic or scientific expression” and “[w]ith the conflict between ecclesiasticism and science, science and Nazism, and science and nationalism generally” (p. 6).

PROBE : "I'm trying to generate insight, not establish theories or classifications ..."

" ... I have no devotion to any of my probes as if they were sacred opinions. I have no proprietary interest in my ideas and no pride of authorship as such. You have to push any idea to an extreme, you have to probe. Exaggeration, in the sense of hyperbole, is a major artistic device in all modes of art ..."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

PROMPT: “Let me write the songs for the people and I care not who writes their laws”

At the National Conference on Canadian Goals (9-12 September, 1964) McLuhan calls attention to the Beatles as figures of significant authority in the electric age. A song, he notes, creates a pattern for participation and involvement. It is the means for shaping and controlling the feelings of an entire society. A law, by contrast, McLuhan asserts, is a very specialised and limited form of control.

Perhaps, had he lived through the 1980s, McLuhan would have turned his attention to Michael Jackson—the king of pop and Captain EO—who usurped the Beatles. He may even have considered the point of intersection (boundary line?) as realised in the Jackson/McCartney’s duet about the possession of the mysteries of the Dogon:
Every night she walks right in my dreams

Since I met her from the start

I'm so proud I am the only one

Who is special in her heart

The girl is mine

The doggone girl is mine

I know she's mine

Because the doggone girl is mine
It is interesting to think what he would have said, particularly since his own meditations on the Dogon had intensified in the late 1970s. References to the Dogon in McLuhan’s work can be found in: Place and Function of Art in Contemporary Life, the Global Village (cf. Griaule and Dieterlen, and Douglas Fraser's African Art as Philosophy) and in the archive notes for the re-write of his Nashe thesis (includes special reference to Barbara DeMott’s The Spiral and the Checkerboard in Dogon Ritual Life).

Friday, March 11, 2011

Surfs Up ! : unfinished + unpublished

" The end of the book means the beginning of 'surfing' ..."
ie. rapid, irregular and multidirectional movement through
a heterogeneous body of documents or knowledge.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

MoMday Seminar 02

Gerd Stern (1963)
Special Guests: George Thompson & Gerd Stern.

Full audio of the session can be downloaded FREE from here:
MoM Seminar 02, Part 01:

MoM Seminar 02, Part 02 (aka "Tailgate"):

GERD STERN is a poet, media artist and cheese maven. He has several published books of poems and his oral history, From Beat Scene Poet to Psychedelic Multimedia Artist 1948-1978 has just been publisherd by ROHO, The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley. He was a founder of the arts/technology cooperative USCO, an early member of The Reality Club, president of the public company Intermedia Systems Corporation, consultant for the Rockefeller Foundation ats program, for NEA and NYSCA and remains as president of Intermedia Foundation. He was born on the German/French border and presently lives in New Jersey and on the island of Jamaica (material borrowed from: ).

Further information about Gerd Stern can be found here:

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Scanning Finger

The following is a sample of the many "sheets" McLuhan 'mimeographed' and sent periodically to a small mailing-list of people who shared his interests. He often personalized these sheets with hand writtten comments at the end

Thursday, March 3, 2011

PROMPT: MM Surfing Maui

McLuhan coined and certainly popularized the usage of the term surfing to refer to rapid, irregular and multidirectional movement through a heterogeneous body of documents or knowledge, e.g., statements like "Heidegger surf-boards along on the electronic wave as triumphantly as Descartes rode the mechanical wave."
     With this in mind we turn to consider Matt Meola. MM hales from the North Shore of Maui. He is one of the new breed of surfing innovators. Here is Matt Meola's winning edit from the Innersection contest, filmed & directed by Elliot Leboe of ACL Digital Cinema. This is the new style.

Special Guest for MOM Seminar 02: George Thompson

The Coach House @ dusk
MOM conference organizers are pleased to announce that the guest of honor for Seminar 02 will be George Thompson.

Seminar 02 is scheduled for: Monday, MARCH 07, 2011. 7pm EST. The conference Dial-In number: +1 760 569 7070. Participant Access Code: 929710#

George Thompson worked at Marshall McLuhan's Centre for Culture and Technology during the years 1965 until its closure following McLuhan's death in 1981. He came to the Centre following a position at the Royal Ontario Museum where he worked with McLuhan collaborator Harley Parker on innovative museum exhibition design. Mr. Thompson himself was a graduate of the Ontario College of Art in 1951. During his years with the Program as McLuhan's administrative assistant, he worked directly on the layout and design of McLuhan's Counterblast as well as a deck of cards with pictures and aphorisms. This card deck was intended to stimulate problem-solving and thinking and was distributed as part of the DEW line publication. He was one of the original members of the Marshall McLuhan Foundation based in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, which was established for the electronic publication of McLuhan's works. He continues his studies and probes with his many friends. {From contributors to issue #149 of the Antigonish Review.