Wednesday, August 31, 2011


110. McLuhan rarely watched TV... the TV child is constitutionally different from the literate child. He emphasized that it was not what they read or watched, but that they read or watch. - M.J. Shoultz
111. McLuhan's writings are acoustic, not visual. His magic is personal and involved, not stand-offish and stiff. - M.J. Shoultz
112. Long before we became aware of Sushi and Zen, McLuhan saw that the West was going East - M.J. Shoultz
113. McLuhan pointed out that multi-national corporations have no boundaries, and can, at any moment, instantly transfer their assets to any part of the globe. - M.J. Shoultz
114. Do you want to know what I really think about these machines (TV)? If we want to save a trace of Graeco-Roman-Christian civilization, we'll have to smash all of them! - M.M.
115. Marshall was insisting upon the urgent need to ration an "electronic drug" that substitutes instant analogical imaging for logical sequential thinking. - Tom Langan
116. Become infallible prophets by being among the first to see what has already happened! - M.M.
117. Percepts, not concepts, created the "marvel" of Marshall's prophecies! - B.N.
118. Streaking is but a passing fanny.
119. His dictum, "the medium is the message," and its underlying revelation of the influence of media upon the freight they carry, is awesome in its implications. - Elwy Yost
120. Violence means "crossing somebody's way." - M.M.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Heart of Darkness

Meville's Quarrel With God by Lawrence Thompson, Princeton University Press, 1952. $6.00

       The theme of this book is briefly stated (p. 332) by the author:

       My suggestion is that Billy Budd should be viewed
       as Melville's most subtle triumph in triple-talk;
       that it was designed to conceal and reveal much
       the same notions as are expressed years earlier in
       Moby Dick and Pierre and The Confindence-Man: that
       Melville came to the end of his life still harping
       on the notion that the world was put together wrong
       and that God was to blame and that only the self-
       profiting authoritarians pretend otherwise, in
       order to victimize the stupid . . . . his chronic anti-
       Christian pessimism did not abate during the forty-
       five years which elapsed between Confidence-Man
       and Billy Budd.

       Phrased that way, Melville's case sounds typical enough.  Spelt out by Professor Thompson, however, this very typical attitude of our time is shown to have profound historic dimensions.  Melville's diabolism, like that of Byron, Blake, Milton, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, was directly linked to the old gnostic tradition of the Ophites and Parsees.  God and the devil are one.  But only the enlightened, the illuminate, know this.  For the populace another version of the facts is expedient.  Writing in Blackfriars of Karl Marx (July-August, 1952) Father Victor White provides a handy description of the myths of Marxist religion and counter-religion which corresponds exactly with the politics of the Marquis de Sade and with the views of Herman Melville -- namely that conventional religion and secular humanism are a swindle to put a benign countenance on the devil-god of reality.  Through revolution and tribulation men can perhaps mend the hideous defects of the dualistic divine being.  Mankind can be the saviour of a helplessly malignant deity.  From this point of view, the greater the criminal, the greater his efficacy as saviour.  The error of our age has been to regard its diabolical figures and politics as the fruit of impersonal causes and to disregard the historic continuity of devil-worship, with its perennial appeal to the ambitious intellects of every age.  Our situation enters its present phase with the eighteenth century 'attack' on belief in the personality of the devil.

       As Father White points out, Marxism does not repudiate religion, but channels it against Christianity: "Marxism, in short, only denies God in the sense of setting on record that He is, in our society, in practice denied and ineffectual, and in the sense of echoing the Satanic assurance, 'You shall be as God'.  Its power against contemporary Christianity lies in the fact that it has stolen Christ's thunder . . . . But just because it is the ape of God and His Christ, the Christian must see in Marxism a supreme embodiment of the Antichrist . . . ."

       A good portion of this book is concerned to show from Melville's letters and journals, as well as from his stories and poems, his theory of communication as it is linked to his diabolism: "An uncommon prudence is habitual with the subtler depravity, for it has everything to hide."

       Melville appears in this book as a conventionally devout Calvinist who happened to get initiated into the esoteric meaning of Calvinism.  He got a youthful shock on learning that Calvinistic Christianity was a deliberate swindle, or a popular disguise for the ancient pagan cult of devil worship.  For the rest of his life this revelation tormented him.  He was torn between rage at the deceit that had been practiced on his youth and innocence, and exultation in a secret knowledge which gave him vast superiority over the majority of mankind.  The point is this, that, as with Milton and Byron, the secret initiation which Melville underwent performed a violent intellectual operation on a genuine core of grace in his soul.

       Melville chose Carlyle as his intellectual twin and antagonist.  Professor Thompson is very helpful in lining up the two main traditions of European Manicheanism as they have been nourished and transmitted by the secret societies.  Carlyle and Melville are major representatives of the twin currents.  Carlyle, Professor Thompson links to Goethe and Platonism; but Melville is linked via Byron and Milton to the great Eastern masters of the dark arts.  Carlyle represents the Platonic tradition which views man as a spirit fallen into a fallen world.  Here in the 'Cave' we can by unremitting moral effort, by dialectic persistence and self-denial build within our hearts that divine pyramid or temple of Solomon which wil enable us to be free of subsequent incarnations.  In the Plato-Goethe-Carlyle axis we have the cult of 'humanism' and moral moderation.  The Zoroaster-Melville axis, however, scorns moderation in favour of heroism.  It prefers the irrational leap of Empedocles to the classical croonings of Callicicles.  The condition of men in this world is that of a Prometheus betrayed by a devil-god.  Instead of a cautiously conducted retreat from the horrors of existence, it is preferable to rush on any course that promises physical and spiritual annihilation.

       Melville's works are mainly concerned with dramatizing this heroic attitude against the numerous variants of 'moral cowardice and mediocrity' represented by Christianity, common sense and popular traditions.  Throughout, Professor Thompson presents us with a Melville who is primarily a diabolic priest and theologian.  He presents Melville as a major exponent of a great cult which has long existed in the world but never so powerfully as today.

Any reader who would wish to see Melville in the main tradition of the secret cults can consult such recent books as Kurt Seligmann, The Mirror of Magic; Stephen Runciman, The Mediaeval Manichee; Walton Hannah, Darkness Unveiled; A. E. Waite, HIstory of Freemasonry, and also his work on the Grail cults.  Perhaps Seligmann is most helpful, although like Waite, he writes in double-talk and triple-talk.

       Professor Thompson's book raises a major question for the teacher of literature, poetry and the arts.  Since the arts are manifestly linked to the pagan rituals of 'rebirth' as understood in the secret societies, what is to be the Christian and Catholic attitude to them?  The Catholic Church severed its lines of communication with the secret societies in 1738.  Since that time, has there been any 'Catholic' art except that produced by previously initiated converts?  The arts from Homer to the present day indeed form an ideal order, as Mr. Eliot has said, because they have been representations of the spiritual quests of the pagan rebirth rituals.  'Rebirth' in pagan ritual amounts to retracing the stages of descent of the soul in the hell of matter and chaos which is existence.  As such, the pagan rituals are in reality representations of the process of abstraction, of the stages of human apprehension.  From this point of view, may not the pagan rituals be valid as art and metaphysics in spite of their own assumptions, but impotent as religion?  James Joyce seems to have been the first to grasp all of these relationships.

       Professor Thompson makes us fully aware of the traditional ritual symbolism of Melville's ships questing over the sea.  He is aware of all the other tropes and types of the spiritual quest such as constitute the major art forms of mankind.  But in particular, he is aware of the links between Moby-Dick the white whale, and the albatross of The Ancient Mariner.  As Porphyry explains apropos of the blinding of the cyclops in Homer's Odyssey, the cyclops is the type of man's earth daimon.  To kill the whale or albatross is to blind the cyclops, to kill one's earth daimon, to seek an immediate spiritual metamorphosis with all its violent consequences.

       The novel as a form of ritual quest had its antecedents in the epic and the Romances.  But the Renaissance tale and novel carry on the tradition with all the sectarian differences and distinctions.  In his History of Freemasonry, A. E. Waite explains how the Gothic romances and science fiction of the later eighteenth century were a direct projection into 'art' of the reviving hermetic rituals of that time.  Such is presumably the origin of the detective story of the past century, with the sleuth in the role of magus.

       Howe's book Wilhelm Meister and His English Kinsmen is a guide to the nineteenth century novels which are directly tied to Goethe's ritual, incantation novel.  Any reader of Wilhelm Meister will also see at once the true ritual character of Alice in Wonderland (a correlation underlined in Hannah's Darkness Unveiled).  And in The Atlantic Monthly for January, 1953, Thomas Mann explicitly links the spiritual quests of his novels to the rituals of hermetic or 'Eastern' and revolutionary wing of the secret societies.  That is the wing to which Melville belonged and which his novels explain in detail.  As Norbert Wiener has written of the atomic bomb that the only secret which could have been preserved about it was the possibility of splitting the atom, so with the invisible church of the Antichrist.  The only secret that hides it and which it hides, is that of its very existence.  The mere hint of its possible organized existence is sufficient to unveil it today, when the massive documentation provided not only by such books as Professor Thompson's Melville and Fyre's Blake, but the laborious testimony of the Romantic poets, is openly available.  The symbolists, the surrealists, and all the journalists of revolution point to the existence of this church. Its adherents have never hesitated to profess Christianity when pressure has made such a profession expedient.  The irony of such 'profession' as it appeared in Melville is, in fact, the main theme of Professor Thompson's book.

       On every page of this book there appears the inevitable conclusion of a devil-god resulting from a univocal approach to existence and the problem of evil.  Unassisted by grace, the human mind seems to be radically incapable of any but a univocal approach to the problem of evil.  Such is the history of all secular society, high and low, ancient and modern.  Chaos and suffering can only proceed from a malignant god or else from a spririt god -- one part of whom is malignant and one part benign.   This attitude presupposes the simple continuity of the Existence and the Divine.  Again, these univocal misconceptions seem to have brought into existence all the magical and expiatory rituals and arts of mankind.  And the art, archaeology and anthropology of the modern world have brought them all home to roost at once.

       It is this which makes the modern Christian's position so much harder that that of the early Christians and the Fathers.  They knew about devil-worship and yet they were confronted with only that small segment of it which was active in their immediate time and neighborhood.  Modern communication, written and mechanized enormously extends the range of pagan experience and practice past and present in which, willy-nilly, we participate today.  Moreover, the modern Christian is subjected to the pagan symbols and rituals in novels, poems, operas, radio plays and movies, in entire innocence of their efficacious and magical character.  Do we have a communication theory adequate to this situation?  Is innocence protection?   As Father White wrote concerning "Jung and the Supernatural" (Commonweal, March 14, 1952, p. 561):  "A living symbol does something to us; it moves us, shifts our center of awareness, changes our values.  Whether it is just looked at, or heard, acted out, painted out, written out, or danced out, it arouses not only thought, but delight, fear, awe, horror, perhaps a deeper insight."  In other words, the symbols of our environment, commercial and artistic, are not just signs whose reference has to be understood for them to be efficacious.  That is Cartesian and Lockean theory of communication which never fitted the facts.  But Catholics today still hold to that theory of communication, and it hands them over bound and helpless to the consciously manipulated pagan rituals of art, literature and commerce.  The measure of our unawareness and irrelevance can be taken from the fact that no Thomist has so far seen fit to expound St. Thomas's theory of communication by way of providing modern insight into our problems.

Friday, August 26, 2011


99. From Marshall, I learned that you make your own identity. - Kathy Hutchon

100. The tendency in our society is simply to disappear into the "ground" to become part of some corporate identity. - Kathy Hutchon

101. This "electronic drug" [television] created the "unperson" in constant quest of identity. And that led not only to more drug addiction, but also to more violence in search of new "tribal identities. - B.N.

102. McLuhan began talking about the drug culture -- why it had grown up in suburbia, with its lack of any sensory input that would help them see meaning in their lives. There was nothing to hang on to. - Kathy Hutchon

103. There are ways of discovering patterns that can serve as guides to action in the constantly changing human situation. - B.N.

104. Find or design the relevant questions that can reveal the nature of the dynamic process from which the problems arise. - B.N.

105. Marshall sought patterns that would lead to understanding of constantly changing processes rather than to "frozen" categories, like "good" or "bad," that lead merely to judgments based on past experience. - B.N.

106. We live in a new world of electric information speedup, where the old logical ways of sequential thinking can no longer keep pace with the new "eco-logical" action of our simultaneous being. - B.N.

107. There is not a present-day problem that couldn't be solved, if we understood McLuhan's insights. - M.J. Shoultz

108. Our young people are not illiterate, they are post-literate. Today's students want immediate roles, not far-off goals... - M.M.

109. McLuhan explained why schools were so boring to TV-oriented children. Due to television itself, they even focus their eyes differently. - M.J. Shoultz

Thursday, August 25, 2011

McLuhan is Ordinary Awareness Today

Hey baby!! Wake up from you're asleep.

"What may emerge as the most important insight of the twenty-first century is that man was not designed to live at the speed of light. Without the countervailing balance of natural and physical laws, the new video-related media will make man implode upon himself. As he sits in the informational control room, whether at home or at work, receiving data at enormous speeds—imagistic, sound, or tactile—from all areas of the world, the results could be dangerously inflating and schizophrenic. His body will remain in one place but his mind will float out into the electronic void, being everywhere at once in the data bank. Discarnate man is as weightless as an astronaut but can move much faster. He loses his sense of private identity because elec­tronic perceptions are not related to place. Caught up in the hy­brid energy released by video technologies, he will be presented with a chimerical "reality" that involves all his senses at a dis­tended pitch, a condition as addictive as any known drug. The mind, as figure, sinks back into ground and drifts somewhere be­tween dream and fantasy. Dreams have some connection to the real world because they have a frame of actual time and place (usually in real time); fantasy has no such commitment." - McLuhan & Powers. The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century.

McLUHAN: There are grounds for both optimism and pessimism. The extensions of man's consciousness induced by the electric media could conceivably usher in the millennium, but it also holds the potential for realizing the Anti-Christ -- Yeats' rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouching toward Bethlehem to be born. Cataclysmic environmental changes such as these are, in and of themselves, morally neutral; it is how we perceive them and react to them that will determine their ultimate psychic and social consequences. If we refuse to see them at all, we will become their servants. It's inevitable that the world-pool of electronic information movement will toss us all about like corks on a stormy sea, but if we keep our cool during the descent into the maelstrom, studying the process as it happens to us and what we can do about it, we can come through. -- Playboy Interview. 

Q- would not religious leaders tend to welcome the electronic age since much of religion pertains to the so called ‘spirituality?’
MM - I think they have. I think John XXIII was taken in by it. He thought they had come to a great new age of Christianity but it was also an age of anti-Christianity. Interview with Marshall McLuhan, 1974, in The Review of Books and Religion 3(9).

PROBE: Content

"With satellite and electronic antennae as probes, the planet ceases in a way to be the human environment and becomes a satellite itself—a probe into space, creating new space and environments for the planet. If the planet itself has thus become the content of a new space created by its satellites, and its electronic extensions, if the planet has become the content and not the environment, then we can confidently expect to see the next few decades devoted to turning the planet into an art form."

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

PROBE: You Mean Life Isn't A Fountain ?

PROBE: All Thumbs

PROBE : Amateurism is Anti-Environmental

"Professionalism is environmental. Amateurism is anti-environmental. Professionalism merges the individual into patterns of total environment. Amateurism seeks the development of the total awareness of the individual and the critical awareness of the groundrules of society. The amateur can afford to lose. The professional tends to classify and to specialize, to accept uncritically the groundrules of the environment. The groundrules provided by the mass response of his colleagues serve as a pervasive environment of which he is contendedly and unaware (sic). The 'expert' is the man who stays put."

Backwards :

Two York Wilson Portraits

Marshall McLuhan Abstract Portrait by York Wilson

The idea of painting the "colour" of a person as opposed to a likeness had been turning over in York Wilson's mind for some time. This sort of thinking was not foreign to York. While painting in his studio in Mexico, he felt his friend Marshall McLuhan was in the studio with him, but in reality Marshall was three thousand miles away in Canada. The feeling was so intense it directed his painting. Though completely abstract, it was clear to him that it was a portrait of Marshall McLuhan. The various colours were aspects of Marshall McLuhan, such as the "blue" representing the intellect.

Marshall McLuhan by York Wilson

PROMPT: Postman Squared

"the tie between information and action has been severed ... Information is now a commodity that can be bought and sold, or used as a form of entertainment, or worn like a garment to enhance one's status. It comes indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, disconnected from usefulness; we are glutted with information, drowning in information, have no control over it, don't know what to do with it."

PROBE : Radical Software

Monday, August 22, 2011

Snippets From "Article on Death" (1977)

Chaplin, King of the Zombie nation
"We are now inundated with such mediations as life after life and reports of people recalled from death to life. …. In a world dominated by such rarefied abstractions as the ordinary telephone or TV, it would be surprising if there were not some basic changes in our attitude towards death. Only a few years ago the idea of 'living death' was associated with the interiorizing of mechanistic technology and automation conditions as presented in Chaplin in Modern Times."-- McLuhan (1977).

Saturday, August 20, 2011

It's in The Media Themselves

"The new art form of our time is the media themselves, not painting, not movies, not drama, but the media themselves have become the new art forms.... I write cartoons.... I have wanted to write a play, for a long time, on the media. And the media themselves are the avant-garde area of our society. Avant-garde no longer exists in painting and music and poetry, it's in the media themselves. Not in the programs. Avante-garde is not in hockey, not in baseball or any of these entertainments. It's in the media themselves."--McLuhan

PROBE : Next Level Sh*t

In Praise of the Non-Conceptual, Plastic and Immediate

In “Encyclopaedic Unities,” McLuhan meditates on two traditions of art history/criticism. One of these “traditions” extends from Hegel and includes Riegl, Worringer, and Spengler. The other extends from the humanist tradition of Burckhardt and includes Woelflin, Giedion and Moholy-Nagy. For the former, McLuhan notes, society and the arts are merely the clothes of the time, or a means of illustrating a set of ideas. This approach, orientation or disposition McLuhan argues, is dialectical and is divorced from sensibility. For the latter (the “tradition” extending from Burckhardt), McLuhan says, ideas merely serve as preliminary means to bring perception and judgement to an even riper fulfilment by contact with the society of the arts. Arguably, McLuhan’s makes his own sympathies and orientation clear, at least in terms of his teaching, in a letter to Hugh Kenner in 1949:
“Frank Budgen amazingly good even on F.W. he obviously loved Joyce’s art. The only one so far who takes real pleasure in the work on its own terms. But Joyce is so completely non-conceptual, so entirely plastic and immediate in his presentations. That he is constantly demanding a moral and metaphysical revolution in the Levins and Co. Hence their anguish. I’ve got my whole grad gang in just that state. Finally had to announce an oral exam for final. I’m asking [for] proficiency in the poetry. Exegesis of any part of any poem. Can tackle it as often as they like but will fail automatically if they miss one passage. You can’t credit their reluctance to look at those poems. Passionately eager to argue about. But they hate art.”

Friday, August 19, 2011


88. Resonance is sound as echo, as repetition and prolongation. - Philip Marchand

89. McLuhan liked to read the poetry out loud or to hear it read out loud. - Philip Marchand

90. In our work, we constantly stress not only resonant response that "keeps in tune" with another's action, but resonant action of our own that fosters participant interaction. - B.N.

91. We deliberately avoid "rigid connections;" and highlight multi-sensory metaphors that replay the process patterns of today's "global electric theatre," rather than visual models that display yesterday's "wired city." - B.N.

92. Elbert Hubbard wrote that "Fences do not exist for those who fly." McLuhan taught me to fly from field to field, century to century, culture to culture, thinker to thinker without a passport. - Tom Cooper

93. One could pole vault from idea to idea based upon the fit between the ideas, independent of their historical rooting within disciplines. - Tom Cooper

94. Having no fear of the absurd or outlandish juxtaposition of thoughts greatly enlarges one's ability to see possibilities. - Tom Cooper

95. Often great scientific discoveries, works of art, or inspiring breakthroughs come because the offbeat idea was given full consideration. - Tom Cooper

96. In welcoming new ideas, Marshall was never discriminatory -- he was an equal-opportunity employer. - Tom Cooper

97. Contrary to popular opinion, birds don't sing for joy. - M.M.

98. One could organize everything... by the resonance of the ear and the perspective of the eye. - Kathy Hutchon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

INVENTORY: Marshall McLuhan and the Oil Industry

From The Independent
Marshall McLuhan’s The Medium Is the Message draws to a close with these remarks:

If the formative power in the media are the media themselves, that raises a host of large matters that can only be mentioned here, although they deserve volumes. Namely, that technological media are staples or natural resources, exactly as are coal and cotton and oil. Anybody will concede that [a] society whose economy is dependent upon one or two major staples like cotton, or grain, or lumber, or fish, or cattle, is going to have some obvious social patterns of organization as a result … [f]or a society configured by reliance on a few commodities accepts them as a social bond quite as much as the metropolis does the press. Cotton and oil, like radio and TV, become “fixed charges” on the entire psychic life of the community. And this pervasive fact creates the unique cultural flavor of any society. It pays through the nose and all its other senses for each staple that shapes its life. (Understanding Media, p. 21)

It should be easy for Newfoundlanders to see how a staple like fish becomes a “fixed charge on the entire psychic life of the community”. McLuhan compares “technological media” to “natural resources”, but as I see it, oil already is a medium in McLuhan’s sense. It’s currently relevant for Newfoundland for obvious reasons. But its relevance is global as well as local, since oil remains humanity’s supreme energy source. Oil is also the material basis of contemporary mass production. Without it the consumer economy would be unthinkable.

Everyone wants prosperity, but oil’s controversy grows with our awareness of its risks. Those risks meet many responses, ranging from those which advocate rejecting “technology” and returning to “natural” life, to claims that consumer choice can save us, to denials of any problems, to nihilistic approaches: we’ll follow our destructive nature to its logical conclusion, and then the earth will heal itself. I won’t address the last two kinds of response, mostly because they’re uninteresting. The first two, however, are interesting, and I’ll return to them.

Understanding Oil

I started thinking about oil in connection with McLuhan because oil has a curious dual character that McLuhan’s thinking can uncover. In the everyday, oil appears as a “boutique” commodity, at our disposal and for our convenience. Its price fluctuations show it eludes control more than we’d like, but we know that that’s inherent in free markets and therefore to the life of a free society. This is the perspective that McLuhan thinks is too limited.

History is turning into a white-knuckle ride…We become more intense beings, jacked up on the audiovisual delivery systems of history…

In Understanding Media, McLuhan pays a lot of attention to the radical effects of electric media. In the previous article I discussed one of those effects, that of the instantaneous apprehension of global events which has made us “historical” beings par excellence. Before telecommunications emerged, we were unable to judge global events, real-time, against various theories of history. The same technology that, last year, had many cheering events in Egypt as human freedom’s inevitable self-assertion proved to perhaps just as many this year that the Arab world can’t escape its “history”: backwardness, barbarism and tyranny. That it’s now possible to make and broadly communicate such judgment calls is no doubt a reason why history is turning into a white-knuckle ride: if every event is globally deliverable as a world historical crisis, every moment is that much more intense; our “sensorium”, as McLuhan calls it, that much more vivid, overwhelming—and dangerous. We become more intense beings, jacked up on the audiovisual delivery systems of history; flightier, more tentative, habitually on edge. Our psychic reflexes are re-tuned, our reasoning relocated to new territory.

The question is: what has oil done with us? What’s the “set-up”? We can sketch an answer in relation to the two interesting responses to oil that I mentioned above. For the first, the solution is to return humanity to its “natural character” by removing technology like clothing. For the second, individual choice is the way out. Choice is inviolable, inalienable and intrinsically good, and if consumers don’t overwhelmingly choose to reject oil by consuming differently, then what’s left to say? The individual is not to be pushed around.

Both responses miss the set-up. The first, because it thinks that media are somehow alien to humanity; the second, because it takes things like “choice” to be self-evident and relies on current attitudes about freedom and individuality made possible by oil. In each case, we find a mythos about what the French thinker Maurice Blanchot calls “man at point zero”: humanity out of context, isolated from the earth, history and even the universe (Friendship, 1971, 73-82). It’s as if the solution is to rediscover our nature, whose concealment was just a mistake. The relationship between choice and freedom isn’t new; it’s been a philosophical and political problem since antiquity. Over that time, “choice” has been consistently rejected as the essence of freedom since, for one thing, there’s no absolute distinction between self-caused and externally caused choosing.

The problem still applies: today, our society generally accepts “choice” as freedom’s essence. Not coincidentally, freedom so conceived lies at the heart of the consumer economy. Economic health requires the rate of consumption and the production of new desires to match and support the pace of production, innovation and obsolescence. “Choice” among proliferating options partially drives this kind of economy; the other great economic motive force being “competition”.

The problem of choice

Here’s the difficulty: today, the consumer economy relies on material goods, most of which involve the use of oil, including food. I suggest that “choice” would never have gained such social and political momentum without oil, and therefore that “choice” as a solution to oil must be thoroughly assessed. First, “choice” seems to assume that a major consumer shift would deliver us from oil with relatively insignificant social, political or economic disruptions: no big deal, just consumer trends shifting and inducing market realignments! Additionally, our society shies away from thinking about desire-formation, except when it comes to “pathological”, deviant, or kinky desires. Marketers and advertisers know that “normal” desires equally involve processes of formation, but it barely registers in “serious” talk, probably partly because that would question the individual’s sovereignty—very poor manners.

It’s one thing to not buy a TV; it’s another to reinvent a world’s relationship to speed and distance.

It’s a complicated matter. Overcoming oil via “choice” means that people would have to examine how they’ve come to desire as they do, which means seriously questioning whether they can draw the line between their “true” desires and those acquired by suggestion or coercion. It also means making the analysis of desire-formation a mainstream motif of public and individual self-understanding. Finally, it also means taking “choice” out of its context and inserting it elsewhere. Easier said than done: if, as I think, McLuhan is right, set-ups affect us at the level of habit and not just at that of individual decisions.

Oil forms a deep current in the ocean of habits of which our intentional actions are only wave-crests. It escapes regular attentiveness, and supplanting it would involve an enormous effort to alter our habits. It’s one thing to not buy a TV; it’s another to reinvent a world’s relationship to speed and distance. It’s also doubtful whether supplanting oil would leave current conceptions of things like individuality and freedom intact. It’s therefore possible that such a shift really would entail the end of civilization as we know it—which means that and only that. Apocalyptic imagery evokes our failure to have changed and thus depicts the present rather than the future.

This analysis is incomplete: talking about the mere existence of oil and its products isn’t enough. As McLuhan points out in Understanding Media, Chapter 5, the “hybrid of the meeting of two media is a moment of truth and revelation from which new form is born” (p. 55). I’ll conclude with McLuhan next time by considering the consumer economy. It’s made possible by oil, but its distinct ethical and social values intersect with oil’s potential. At this intersection, the set-up murmurs through the noise of the everyday.

The Revolution Has Already Been Televised ...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

PROBE: Acoustic

Vorticisim: A Deep Sea Fish

In a letter to Sheila Watson (Sept. 1973) McLuhan recounts a conversation with Pauline Bondy about Wyndham Lewis. According to McLuhan, Bondy asked Lewis “what is vorticism?” He replied, “there is no such thing. For years I thought I had discovered a form that was not in nature, then one day I discovered it by looking through a catalogue of deep sea fish.” McLuhan concludes, noting that he had forgotten about this aspect of Vorticism.



77. Marshall on teaching: Provide shortcuts to old knowledge by organizing information, and explore means to discover new knowledge by organizing ignorance.

78. Marshall pointed out that there was not just one Renaissance, but several before the 16th century. Otherwise, there would have been a lack of manuscripts on which to base the new learning. - Mother Guinan

79. To be at leisure means that all the human faculties are developed to their utmost, running at full tilt with ease. - M.M.

80. We are most at leisure, when we are completely involved. - M.M.

81. Marshall McLuhan was this rare kind of teacher, in whom discovery and teaching (inventio and dispositio) could be found united... - Joseph Keogh

82. The intellectual life, as lived by a spirit as adventurous and passionate as McLuhan's, was an affair of both mind and body, senses and intellect. - Philip Marchand

83. McLuhan taught that a teacher did not ever have to lose enthusiasm for intellectual discovery. - Philip Marchand

84. McLuhan was excited because he really was discovering valuable things; and he discovered valuable things at least partly because he never lost that excitement. - Philip Marchand

85. The appreciation of the poets [in his course] was something McLuhan cared about more deeply than any other intellectual pursuit. - Philip Marchand

86. Modern poetry is resonance. - M.M.

87. Modern poetry is more intimately related to sound than to meaning, imagery, or what have you... - Philip Marchand.

PROBE: Gordie Howe Hat Trick

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Groucho McLuhanism Squared

Hand written note on BDH Laboratory Chemicals paper: “only way to escape change is to change…e.g. disguise” -- H. M. McLuhan.

see more :

Is America Still Communist?

In his correspondence with Robert Campbell O.P in 1968 (as part of the “Spectrum of Catholic Attitudes” project) McLuhan notes that Communism, in any practical sense of the word, is something that happened over 100 years ago. Marx, he asserts, “failed to notice that the world that he lived in was already communist. That is to say everyman had access to say postal services that went well beyond that any private wealth could set up or control.” McLuhan concludes his brief reflections on Communism noting that “I think communism occurs when the service environments for the ordinary person are themselves greater than those that the wealthiest person in the community can provide for himself.”

Monday, August 15, 2011

McLuhan | Morality | Art

St. Thomas Aquinas
In another of McLuhan’s early unpublished works we find him studying/meditating on Aristotle’s and St. Thomas’ disquisitions on intellectual virtues. McLuhan notes that there are five: (1) intelligence, (2) science, (3) wisdom, (4) prudence and (5) art. The first three, McLuhan notes, are defined as virtues of the intellect in its speculative function. The second two are virtues of the intellect in its  practical function. McLuhan goes on to note that prudence concerns right action while art directs right making. Ergo, he says, artistic activity is non-moral but accidentally becomes involved in moral questions.

PROBE: Double Flaming Star

PROBE: Cynical Commodity

Post-Alphabetic disappearance ...

" Terror is the normal state of any oral society,
for in it everything affects everything all the time.

PROMPT: Echo-Land

“The more the data banks record about each one of us, the less we exist.”
- Marshall McLuhan
  • figure… Marshall McLuhan cenntenial birthday July 21, 2011

  • We feared television would swallow us but, instead, we swallowed TV

  • We are anthropomorphic holograms, images projecting from within; “hollowgrams”

  • Tame Impala: “Solitude Is Bliss”

“Transmitted at the speed of light, all events on this planet are simultaneous. In the electric environment of information all events are simultaneous, there is no time or space separating events.”
- Marshall McLuhan
  • DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid: “McLuhan Remix”

  • McLuhan versus Go Go Dancers: “Aren’t they going to turn that down?”

  • Elyse Amsterdam: “Because I’m a Hologram (30 DUB) [ft. Liz Lemon]”

  • Picnic In Space: “The artist […] is always trying to pep up perception”

“I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.”
- Marshall McLuhan
“The medium, or process, of our time - electric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action,”
- Marshall McLuhan
“One of the effects of living with electric information is that we live habitually in a state of information overload. There’s always more than you can cope with.”
- Marshall McLuhan
from :

PROBE: Willful Suspension of Disbelief

exploring ignorence for discovery from BobDobbsTown on Vimeo.

everybody's a tetrad manger now from BobDobbsTown on Vimeo.

swarming over from BobDobbsTown on Vimeo.

obsolescence from BobDobbsTown on Vimeo.

memory theater from BobDobbsTown on Vimeo.

McLuhan on Lord Byron

Continuing with a few reflections from the same work, McLuhan notes that Austen (and Crabbe) is at least witness to the unification, which is her strength. Jane Austen’s thoughts, McLuhan asserts, are never felt in isolation from a delicately organized mode of perception and feeling. Hence everywhere her feelings are irradiated by thought.

Lord Byron
After Austen, however, we get Lord Byron. McLuhan uses Byron to shed light on the 18th century and how an entire civilization reached a state of confusion and uncertainty, which ended in vulgarizing society and literature. In no uncertain terms McLuhan states “the complex and organized world of thought and feeling collapses in Byron.” He is, in some respects, a book-end, the last known reference "point" before the separation of thought and feeling and the disintegration of the unified sensibility (after which point we see figures like Wordsworth, Byron, and Shelly think about their emotions and emotionalize their conceptions).
     McLuhan’s meditations on Lord Byron then segway into his evaluation of how various artists deal with the psychological effects of the alienation of the sensitive and integral individual from a decaying or vicious society. His score card reads:
  • Emile Bronte (Wuthering Heights) successful in her century.
  • Byron – temporary solution.
  • Shelly – breaks himself at it on merely a political level.
  • Swinburne, Pre-Raphaelites and Arnold and Tennyson – evade it.
  • Browning – pathological and unconvincing display of super-health.

Jane Austen vs Charles Lamb: McSmackdown

Jane Austen
"To complain that Jane Austen is smugly complacent about a social system which is wholly undemocratic is not to have read her. To suppose she would have been more critical of Regency England overlooks the fact that if the people of any time or place were half as reasonable in the dealings with one another that she insisted they should be, there would be no need of social improvements to be made.

"Lamb’s characterization is like a child looking at an adult world (like Dickens) – there is no question of rational conception. The tradition, that ends with Jane Austin, is alien to Lamb. The recollection of an uncomprehending gaze of childhood cuts his characters off from the realm of the intelligible." -- H. M. McLuhan (c early-1940s).

McLuhan Writes Kenner and Lays the Foundation for the MoM Enterprise

Hugh Kenner
Reflecting on what needs to be done, McLuhan notes to Hugh (Jan. 1951) that the “object is not to spin or project analogies but to use them to illicit dialogue, to stimulate social organs and areas remote from our own. The analogies may be smoke, but they are to be smoke signals also. Network is pure experiment. A dove launched from an ark to discover not whether there is land but whether there are men.
            Hawk and Hound assumes business as usual only better. Ignores both Deluge and Babel.
            I’m ready to quit English because there is no business going forward there at all. There’s nothing to sell and nobody to buy. Network in short assumes catastrophe has already occurred. It is not an effort to ward it off, but an attempt to establish a primitive oral tradition (dialogue) Mute and Jute once more.
            If 30-60 men [sic] can be found, gradually, and encouraged to talk to one another instead of to the robots they must pretend to talk for a living, then something may come of it.
            The Mechanical Bride is something that happened before the Flood. Assumed an audience. I know that you exist, that Innis exists. It is a wedding announcement found a 1000 years from now in a block of concrete.
            Another point, Network is a communication hook-up between live minds. Anything spoken over that hook-up is merely tentative. Your idea of a program assumes extant social categories and functions which have gone."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

PROBE: Wobble

"The business is to ascertain the stylistic assumptions rather than extract meaning and ideas from it." -- McLuhan, H. M. "Review of Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature (Erich Auerbach, 1953)."  

Dead All Us (The Era Before the User-Friendly GoD)

"Know-how is so eager and powerful an ally of human needs that it is not easily controlled or kept in a subordinate role, even when directed by spectacular wisdom. Harnessed merely to a variety of blind appetites for power and success, it draws us swiftly into that labyrinth at the end of which waits the minotaur. So it is in this period of passionate acceleration that the world of the machines begins to assume the threatening and unfriendly countenance of an inhuman wilderness even less manageable than that which confronted prehistoric man." – McLuhan, Mechanical Bride.

Is television a monster?
MM: "Yes. It’s literally a tribal monster like the Minotaur from Greek mythology trapped in a maze of sensation. This Bull-man monster swallowed humans lost in the maze. And that’s exactly what TV does. Some of our young are fed to the Minotaur every year."— McLuhan, "McLuhan on the Evils of TV”

Marshall McLuhan on C20th Mega-Machines

In “Last Look at the Tube” McLuhan notes that “for discarnate man the only political regime that is reasonably in touch with him is totalitarian – the state becomes religion.” In brief, he argues that when loyalty to natural law declines, the supernatural becomes the last remaining anchor. The supernatural, he adds, can and (in all probability) will take the form of the megamachines of state that Lewis Mumford talks about as existing in Mesopotamia and Egypt some 5000 years ago, or like those we can see in North American, e.g. our vast security systems and/or the multi-trillion dollar advertising industry dedicated to the manipulation of the public psyche.


"a self contained world placed on a void of sand"
66. The desire to break away from the industrial community and the highly pyramided, vertically structured, has been felt by all our young people today. - M.M.

67. The right [cerebral] hemisphere tends to favour the ear, music, acoustic space, simultaneity. - M.M.

68. All convicts are apparently now supplied with good TV sets... There really is an astonishing story of how much television has helped to improve the level of crime. - M.M. 

69. The implication that society of the late 1940s was married to the bride of technology was rather startling. - Mother Guinan

70. North Americans go outside to be alone, and they go home to be social; whereas Europeans go outside to be social, and home to be alone. - M.M.

71. Privacy is something that you buy with your car. - M.M.

72. [North Americans] do their thinking, their decision-making, their planning, while in the car.  There is no privacy outside the car.  That's why [we] do not mind commuting 20 or 30 miles a day. - M.M.

73. The motor car is really the antithesis of community.  Yet it is the central fact of our lives. - M.M.

74. Much of our [American] literature is based on the idea of wandering forth to be very much alone, like Walden Pond.  Thoreau at Walden Pond didn't want to meet anybody. - M.M.

75. We learn as we teach and vice versa.  Wordsworth recognized this complementarity as: "The child is father to the man." - B.N.

76. The parents make their children just as the children remake their parents, and each other, in a continuing process. - B.N.

PROBE: Whole Lotta War Pigs

" War has always been a compulsory form of education for the other guy."

Whatever the eventual outcome of the war in Viet Nam, historians may argue for years about just why the U.S. became involved. Marshall McLuhan, the 1960s' mystagogue of the media, has proposed something of an explanation—or at any rate, a suggestive metaphor for the collision that has occurred in Indochina.

By McLuhan's reasoning, "there are no raw materials in that area [Indochina] that could possibly tempt American imperialists, and there is no meaning to 'containment of Communism,' since Communism in Iowa and in Cairo and in Peking and in Moscow has totally different meanings." In an unpublished article, McLuhan sees Viet Nam as a "resonant interval" or a "massive interface between a Westernizing Orient and an Orientalizing West." The entire Western world, McLuhan argues, is now turning inward upon itself—in the old Oriental pattern—while the Orient "has been increasingly engaged in an outer trip, aided by Western technology." McLuhan believes that "as the complementary areas of the Orient and the Western world reverse their immemorial roles, the area of interface between them has necessarily become agitated in the extreme. Korea and Viet Nam and other 'trouble spots' could then be observed as intervals of dissonance, which actually manifest the perturbations originating elsewhere. These 'trouble spots,' then, are like the interval between the wheel and the axle; they are areas of touch and they are where the action is, but they are not the action itself. The real action is taking place inside the massive Oriental and Western entities, which are undergoing total revolution and reversal of roles at very high speeds.",9171,878088,00.html

PROBE: Supreme Evil

PROBE: Don't Hold Back, Just Push Things Forward

A Love Song from MoM

Master-Clue to all Future Government

…Myths are for Lindberg the traditional religions imposed on men. They are products of reason. They are expedient lies. They are the means of curbing the monsters bred of men's passions. Norms or moral conventions, on the other hand, are merely a cinematic projec­tion on the screen of the city of the passions and preferences of men. Myths are vertical affairs imposed by ruling authority on the ruled. Norms are horizontal developments spreading outwards in accordance with men's desires. Myths are static. The authoritarian myth-built city is local, brittle, easily susceptible of shock. If one myth falls, all will tend to fall. But the norm-structured society is open, elastic, malleable, receptive of change. Under current conditions of communication the static, myth-built cities of the Western world are doomed, says Lindberg. The foundations of social survival are, however, to be found in a switch from reason to passion, from fear to love. And the possibility of the switchover resides in our capacity today to discover the creative dynamics of norm-making. Norm, the region of passion and flux, was no basis for any past city. But norm seen as a product of an individual and collective creative activity may be a clue to a new social dynamics …. And it will perhaps amuse Lindberg to learn that his book [The Foundations of Social Survival] is the best introduction written to date to Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegans Wake. -- McLuhan, H. M. 1954. "The God-Making Machines of the Modern World."

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Technology and Political Change

By H. M. McLuhan , 1952. 
“I know about the reasons for the revolution in Mexico," wrote Karel Capek, "but I know nothing at all about the reasons for my next-door neighbour's quarrels. This condition of the man of today is called world citizenship, and it arises from reading the papers." This is to say, among other things, that no matter how much technology reduces the intellectual and social isolation of people, their metaphysical isolation is little affected. But the speed with which we are today abridging the intellectual isolation of people is unquestioned.

Bergson argued that if some cosmic jokester were to speed up the entire universe we could detect the event by the impoverishment of mind that would ensue. If only on a planetary scale, we are now in a position to observe the effects of such accelerated operations socially and intellectually, because modern communications have become geared to the speed of light, and transportation is not too far behind.

It is perhaps useful to consider that any form of communication written, spoken, or gestured has its own aesthetic mode, and that this mode is part of what is said. Any kind of communication has a great effect on what you decide to say if only because it selects the audience to whom you can say it. The unassisted human voice which can reach at most a few dozen yards, imposes various conditions on a speaker. However, with the invention of the alphabet the voice was translated
to a visual medium with the consequent loss of most of its qualities and
effects. But its range in time and space was thus given enormous extension. At the same time that the distance from the sender of the recipient of a message was extended, the number of those able to decipher the message was decreased. Writing, in other words, was a political revolution. It changed the nature of social communication and control.

Intellectually, the visualization of the word may have made possible the rise of dialectics and logic as they are found in Plato's dialogues. And the Platonic quarrel with the Sophists, from this point of view, may represent the clash of the older oral with the new written mode of communication. For the written form of communication permits the arrest of a mental process for private analysis and contemplation, whereas the oral form is naturally concerned with the public impact on an audience. The Platonic dialogue may well represent a poise between the aesthetic claims and tendencies of these two forms of expression, between dialectic and rhetoric.

The conflicting claims of dialectic and rhetoric or private and public communication account for a good deal of subsequent intellectual and social history. The Roman world divided the dispute in accordance with the position of Seneca and of Cicero, and the mediaeval world opposed the methods of study and teaching of the Fathers and the Schoolmen. But the invention of printing or letter-press upset the mediaeval equilibrium in this matter. For the mechanization or writing reduced the effect of the spoken word even more than had the invention of writing. And the cheap and rapid multiplication of books not only extended the audience for books, but it changed the methods of study and teaching from a social to a private mode. There arose a cult of privacy. Western culture and religion became centered in the home and the book.

Politically speaking, this social change was felt in the new intensity of commercial exploitation of the vernaculars. Printing fostered nationalism when the printers sought to extend their markets as widely as possible. For any one vernacular market of newly-taught readers was larger than the whole European community of Latin-reading and speaking scholars.

One obvious effect of writing and printing is to bind together long tracts of time by making past writers simultaneously available. Associated with this effect is the republicanism of letters. Anybody, no matter what his origin or condition, has access on equal terms to the written messages of "the mighty dead," so that we can readily link, as most have done, the rise of democratic attitudes to the mechanization of writing.

As the mechanization of writing advanced in speed and cheapness, and the daily newspaper became possible, a whole series of unpredictable social and political consequences appeared. The press became a source of advertising revenue, for one thing. And larger circulation called for a larger range and variety of news. This led to the development of news-gathering agencies and techniques of great scale. And while the newspaper took on the format of a popular daily book, collectively written and produced, it reversed the character of the first printed books.

At first the book had abridged time, making the reader of any period the social equal and contemporary of Homer, Horace, or Petrarch. However, the new book of the people, the newspaper, created a one-day world utterly indifferent to the past, but embracing the whole planet. The newspaper is not a time-binder but a space-binder. Juxtaposed simultaneously in its columns are events from the next block with events from China and Peru. And naturally the technologically determined format of the press has had revolutionary political consequences. It has changed everybody's way of thinking, seeing, feeling. Perhaps the most significant single fact about the newspaper is its date-line.

Aesthetically speaking, a week-old newspaper is of no interest at all, even though intellectually speaking it has exactly the same components as today's paper. Aesthetically the newspaper creates an impact of immediacy and of super-realism. Metaphysically its mode is existential. Its impact is that of the very process of actualization. The entire world becomes, in this way, a laboratory in which everybody can watch the stages of an experiment. Everybody becomes a spectator of the biggest show on earth - namely the entire human family in its most gossipy intimacy. One curious aspect of the press is its willingness to be as surrealist as possible in its handling of geography and space, while sticking rigidly to the convention of a date-line. As soon as the same treatment is accorded time as space, we are in the world of Joyce's ULYSSES where it is 800 B.C. and 1904 A.D. at the same time. And it is certain from even a casual glance at modern science fiction that the popular mind is decades ahead of the academic mind in being already prepared to drop the date-line on newspapers, and to range as freely in time as in space as a means of intellectual discovery.

This spectator mentality applied not only to the external world but to history includes the habit of seeing oneself as part of the scene, of participating in one's own audience participation, as it were; and it receives a final degree of extension in television where the participants in a show can easily see the broadcast in a studio monitor while engaged in acting the show. It is noteworthy that the spectator attitude is explicitly associated with one of the early newspapers. For the SPECTATOR of Steele and Addison was a commentary on the social and intellectual scene in the days before professional news-gathering had begun. Various inventions like the telescope, the microscope, the spectroscope, and the camera obscura coincided with the landscape interest in painting and poetry to foster a spectator attitude to the world. The very idea of "views" as a way of expressing moral and political attitudes arose at this time. Popular metaphors naturally provide an index to changing experience.

For the student of the arts and of politics it is instructive to observe how many of the techniques developed for example, in picturesque poetry, not only appear in the popular novel but in the press. In fact, most current ideas of the opposition between vulgar and sophisticated art, or between popular and esoteric culture, are based on a considerable ignorance of the ways in which communication takes place in society. More specifically, the general concepts of culture have been based on an interest in the moral and intellectual content of art forms, to the neglect of the form itself as a major component of the expression. As attention has widened to see any culture as a communication network, it has become apparent that there are no non-cultural areas in any society. There is no kind of object or activity that has not some rapport with the entire network.

The beloved detective story will serve as an example of a supposedly non-cultural type of expression. Built around the character of an omniscient and omni-competent sleuth whose lineage stretches backwards from Holmes to Da Vinci it manages to be popular poetry about the modern city. The sleuth is a master of every facet of the city. With the skill of an organist at a five-keyboard instrument, he can touch any note or level of metropolitan life. He is familiar with all the dives and clubs. He knows the whole range of drinks, foods, clothes, perfumes, as well as every intricacy of transportation routes and schedules. Anybody in the future who wished to acquaint himself with the full range and texture of the modern big town would not be able to find in reputable novels anything comparable to the poetic reportage of the detective story. The raw mechanical power that is imparted to the ordinary metropolitan citizen by his milieu is found in the gestures and idiom of the sleuth.

But much more remarkable, as cultural expression, is the form of the detective story. Written backwards, in order that the effect of the story may always be the exact reconstruction of a crime, the form is based on the same method as that employed in laboratory experiment and in modem historiography, archaeology, and mechanical production. But the detective story preceded these sciences in the discovery of this method. It is only one striking instance of popular expression which has its tap-root in the deepest intuitions of our culture.

If the mechanization of writing had some such typical effects as have been suggested, it is not too surprising that its extreme development should have coincided with a tendency to switch from words to pictures. This switch was already under way in the eighteenth century with its spectator outlook and passion for landscape in the arts. By the nineteenth century the demand for illustrations for letter-press became very strong, not only in the book and newspaper but also in the very form taken by the esoteric arts, as for instance Rimbaud's ILLUMINATIONS. Photography and cinema may be seen as the response to prolonged pressure of demand rather than as gratuitous inventions. Perhaps they can be viewed as ultimate or extreme mechanizations of writing. More probably, however, telegraphy has claims to be considered the extreme verge of the mechanization of writing beyond which one enters the Marconi world of the mechanization of speech.

Like any extreme these processes reversed the original effect, and tended to separate people from the printed word. So that in pictorial papers and magazines even words take on the character of landscape. Variety of types is employed to build up the page as a visual unit rather than as a mere linear transmission of printed words. The Chinese never had an alphabet, but their ideograms are pictorial translations of human gestures and relationships. As our press has become more pictorial our whole culture has become more sympathetic to Chinese art and expression. So that the very features of our culture which have intruded disruptively into the East have also brought us a basis for approaching their kinds of communication. Modern advertising is a world of ideograms.

There have been so many domestic and social revolutions associated with the consequences of the mechanization of writing that it is natural to wonder why so little attention has been given to the matter. Without any special awareness of just what revolutions we have been through we have hurried from the age of cinema into the era of television. Between cinema and television we managed to squeeze in radio, the mechanization of speech.

By way of obeisance to our own ingenuity, people have often felt obliged to marvel at radio and television by exclaiming: "Although it's happening over there, it's also happening right here." This kind of self-hypnosis is undertaken in a spirit of uneasy propitiation of the new god. But the real power of these deities is exerted when we aren't looking. The mechanization of speech meant that the most intimate whispers or the most ordinary tones of conversation could be sent everywhere instantly from anywhere. Beside the effects of this revolution in communication even those associated with the invention of writing and printing are trivial events. Radio meant the widest dispersal of the human voice and also the ultimate dispersal of attention. For listening is not hearing any more than looking is reading. And all the networks of human communication are becoming so jammed that very few messages are reaching their destination. Mental starvation in the midst of plenty is as much a feature of mass communication as of mass production.

The stereotypes of advertising have been developed as the nexus between mass consumption and mass production. Advertising has been the means of organizing the mass market. For advertisements are constructed scientifically as machines to stream-line and channel the multiplicity of human desires until they are effectively geared to production. A more effective mode of psychological collectivization could not be imagined than that imposed by the giant stereotypes of the desirable which are insinuated, without argument but with intimate urgency, by the symbolist techniques of visual and auditory appeal in advertisements. These stereotypes are not the product of chance but of careful investigation and experiment with the human recipients. For the present time the realities of political and social change are to be studied in this area. Among other things, these changes mean that events cannot be reported if they involve a degree of complexity in excess of the available stereotypes, so that in modern diplomacy the negotiators will naturally refuse to attempt a working agreement that cannot be followed by or reported to non-professionals. There must be some simple moral or national formula to hand for the diplomats to depend upon, such as will justify them to the half-listening, half-waking world hour by hour and day by day. In this way the new media have compelled history and actuality to feign a simplicity that just isn't there. Thus the magic and mythic power so characteristic of the mass media, having first hypnotized the recipients of their messages, have then, in effect, pronounced the real world to be an illegitimate and reprehensible territory. The same sort of paradox is inherent in the movie as a night-time therapy applied to the victims of dream routines of daily work.

It would be too much in the spirit of the current effect of the new media to brand these and allied developments as deplorable. For, if the new reality of our time is in the main a collective dream or nightmare brought about by the mechanization of speech (television takes the final step of mechanizing the expressiveness of the human figure and gesture) then we must learn the art of using all our wits in a dream world, as did James Joyce in FINNEGANS WAKE.

On looking closely at the newspaper once more, it becomes evident that as a popular art form it embraces the world spatially but under the sign of a single day. The newspaper as a late stage in the mechanization of writing is handicapped in taking the next step, which occurs easily in radio and television, namely to cover not only many spaces but many times, or history, simultaneously. But even the newspaper has long felt the pressure to take this step. In juxtaposing items from Russia, India, Iran and England, it is plain that there is also a diversity of historical times that are being artificially and arbitrarily elucidated under a single date line. Even in so intimate and influential a fact as dress design, modern archaeology has increased the range of style and idiom to include in a single season types of attire developed many thousands of years apart. The TIME AND WESTERN MAN of Mr. Wyndham Lewis is the classic study of the romantic stigmata of the enthusiastic time-traveller. But the further development of communication in space as in historical time, has tended to lessen the romantic appeal of distant times and customs in favour of a direct stylistic interest in their immediate value and relevance. The modern study of the past, as of distant places, has the effect of making them as much a part of the present as our own problems. So that for the modern mind history has become not a receding perspective but a present burden.

This cumulative effect of our techniques of production and of communication has been felt everywhere in the world as an impatience with "the dead hand of the past." As we become more familiar with the components of this revolutionary state of mind we shall discover in our social life as in our private life that there is no past that is dead. And that "the dead hand of the past" is an indispensable guide in the present.

In other words when communication devices have achieved the speed of light, there occurs a social and historical simultaneity as well as a local and temporal one. And since the various societies of our world comprise many ages, as well as many places, the immediate effect of modern communication in overlaying all of these is to create dislocation and distress. The first impulse of reason is to cry out for uniformity at any cost, to prevent further waste, confusion, and madness. A clean sweep, a new start, and the abolition of historical differences seem to be demanded for mere survival.

It would seem that even so superficial an examination of the impact of technology on culture and politics poses some useful matters for study. The great political discovery of the eighteenth century was social equality. The principal insight of this century to date is perhaps the anthropologist's awareness of cultural equality. Modern anthropologists, deeply influenced by our new skills in communication, have arrived at the conviction that all cultures are equal. That is to say, that seen as communication networks, all cultures past or present represent a uniquely valuable response to specific problems in interpersonal and inter-social communication. This position amounts to no more than saying that any known language possesses qualities of expressiveness not to be found in any other language. But as a matter of practical politics the awareness of cultural equality (a by-product of new techniques of communication) will certainly prove as benign a force as can be imagined, because it frees each society from the odium of inferiority or the arrogance of superiority. Each is free to learn from all the others while possessing itself in quiet.

And by way of abating some of the dread most people feel towards the power of mass communications at present it might be well to consider how with radio or the mechanization of human speech, the hustings and the forum have given way to the round table and face-to-face discussion in the presence of small audiences. Also, with television has come a weakening of the magic and myth of the movie "star." It appears that the intimacy and immediacy of the flexible television camera and screen are much less favourable to the star system than the movie camera and its giant screen on to which are poured such dreams as money can buy. - INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL, Vol.7, Summer, 1952, pp.189-95