(ProQuest: ... denotes non-USASCII text omitted.)
"The Medium Is the Message"
PZ: "The medium is the message" is an ambiguous line, making it even more seminal.
One read: The MEDIUM is the message. This is the MEA orientation.
Another read: The medium IS the message. This is the rhetorical orientation. In John Dewey's words, "it is a vehicle which becomes one with what it carries; it coalesces with what it conveys."1
Did McLuhan actually start with the latter - the rhetorical understanding, and then, through a strategic (or tactical) shift of focus (which is a rhetorical exercise), arrived at the former emphasis?
There are at least two pages explicating this dictum in The Book of Probes. It should be fair game to seek to enrich the exegesis.
EM: Dewey's use of "vehicle" (possible reference to the tenor/vehicle theory of literary criticism) puts him in the Shannon/Weaver camp. He has no sense of ground. Read Understanding Media, Chapter One, page one, first two to three paragraphs. McLuhan is careful to indicate exactly what he means by "medium." Perhaps the best interpretation is "the medium is the message." By "medium," McLuhan means environment or milieu, a total situation.
PZ: Does this make the situationists "natural" media ecologists? Two quotes from Dewey seem to indicate his ground awareness:
"... the nostalgia of the mountain-bred man when cut off from his surroundings is proof how deeply environment has become part of his being."2
"An 'inner' rational check is a sign of withdrawal from reality unless it is a reflection of substantial environing forces."3
EM: True/serious art always issues forged checks. (Ever read Ezra Pound's "The Serious Artist?" Strongly recommended.) A major character in Finnegan's Wake, Jim the Penman is both artist (writer) and forger ("penman" - slang). Fd hope to understand "withdrawal from reality" to mean numb stance = withdrawal into awareness, but I don't think that's what Dewey means by it. He's waxing a little too philosophical much of the time.
PZ: "Withdrawal from reality" means not having awareness, I think.
The Shannon/Weaver model aspires to an ideal communication situation (and therefore reminds me of Jürgen Habermas), in which the vehicle is transparent, and therefore ignorable. Dewey sees a sense of oneness between vehicle and what it carries - herein lies a rhetorical sensibility. McLuhan takes a giant step further by shifting attention to vehicle, understood as a hidden environment, rather than simply as part of a mechanistically conceived figure. Put otherwise, McLuhanism foregrounds the ground, or reverses figure and ground. This is the hardest thing to do for the visually (as against acoustically) oriented Westerner.
Dewey's point about the oneness of vehicle and what it carries calls to mind (but also differs from) Nietzsche's point about the reversal of form and content (to the effect that form is content whereas content is merely formal) by the artist.
Kenneth Burke's sense of "scene" is a giant step closer to McLuhan's sense of ground. (The pentad, made up of scene, act, agent, agency, and purpose, is central to Burke's dramatistic study of communication.) But there is still a lingering visual orientation in his or, to be more precise, his followers' understanding of "scene." A weak (twisted, non-Burkean) understanding of Burke goes: we are objects in a visually conceived scene or setting, impacting and impacted by each other like billiards. A strong rhetorical sensibility, by contrast, is ground oriented: ethos and pathos are more deadly than mere logos. A political manifesto that is divorced from the collective unconscious (that does not flow from the collective desire) is easily contained and defused. By contrast, a new medium has the irresistible potency to change everything. This gets us to rethink revolutions, 1989, the Arab Spring, Occupy Wall Street, and so on.
We are coming back full circle to the sense of "medium." While most people in his time (and today, too) reduced a medium to a figure, McLuhan reminds us at every turn that a medium is a ground - a milieu, a surrounding, an environment. McLuhan himself is a medium precisely in the sense that we now operate within the discursive milieu he created and keeps on creating.
EM: Several things here to deal with.
One is "the medium is the message." This is not ambiguity.
It is, in the first place, tautology: a copula is an =, so it means the one = the other. They are interchangeable.
In the second place, it is the rhetorical figure, paradox. Like Chesterton's observation that the Catholic Church is the one institution that "is much bigger on the inside than it is on the outside." That observation, by the way, applies perfectly to one of Bucky Fuller's domes. It takes a complex sensibility, not a linear-minded one, to appreciate and be able to play with paradox. Most people get lost in trying to turn "the medium is the message" literal. Of course they fail utterly, as they would with any other paradox, like Chesterton's. Such people have lost the capacity to play; their imaginations are stultified.
Shannon's (and Weaver's) apparatus of source-message-channel-receiver is all of it content of the new medium or ground. Dewey's vehicle is another term for Shannon/Weaver's channel. All figure.
This point of yours confuses: you say that McLuhan is a medium in the sense that we operate in the medium that he created. Sounds like you're making the maker into the thing made.
PZ: When we invoke an author's name, we often mean the authored. I often tell my students that Henri Bergson mediated by Gilles Deleuze becomes Gilles Deleuze - the medium is the message. The proper name stands for the corpus. On the other hand, a person really is a medium. It makes a difference to study with someone in an oral, embodied setting, to literally follow this person, to be his or her follower, because the medium is the message. In this sense, those who have studied with McLuhan in person definitely have some kind of advantage - immersion in his aura, instead of mere exposure to "a bunch of marks" on paper (figure minus ground). That's why distance learning makes for depleted learning, or the depletion of learning.
Deleuze does a great job explaining the idea of a person being a medium (an environment). When he speaks of those who make an event with their presence, he (rightfully) includes their aura as part of their being - maybe the more important part. As he puts it:
. . . when they enter a room they are not persons, characters or subjects, but an atmospheric variation, a change of hue, an imperceptible molecule, a discrete population, a fog or a cloud of droplets. Everything has really changed.4
If he is not talking about one with a pseudo-halo who coughs heavily, he must be talking about a Zen master.
EM: Regarding formulations. All formulations (statements) are rhetorical formulations; that is, every one is a figure of rhetoric. Erasmus once produced a little book in which he wrote "thank you for your letter" in over a hundred formulations, with dozens clearly to go, each one based on one of the figures of rhetoric.
The medium is the message. Why doesn't the crew emphasize the last word instead ("The medium is the MESSAGE")? Makes better sense. So they get the first wrong and imagine they know what the second means. A mob enforcer drags you into an alley and works you over for a loooong time. Then he shoves his face in yours and asks, "Get the message?" THAT'S what McLuhan means. The medium works you over completely. It mugs your culture.
Lastly, how's this: The medium is THE message.
PZ: It's interesting we've put emphasis on four out of five words in this single line, proving yet again that logos (especially the written word) is figure minus ground. It is therefore ambiguous in the last analysis! Also, to follow your point about tautology and the copula, one can also say: the message is the medium - the total situation.
EM: That condition of logos being figure actually did not obtain until after the invention of writing. Prior to that, the logos was ground and completely enveloping. No detachment or analysis was possible, so overwhelming was the involvement. Havelock gives a splendid account of this situation in Preface to Plato. And Pedro Lain Entralgo adds to our knowledge of the power of the oral (preliterate) logos in his Therapy of the Word in Classical Antiquity. In our time, the postliterate age, those old senses of the power of sheer words have begun to resurface. Before writing, there was only one way to experience words, in speech. After writing, especially alphabetic writing, there were three ways: spoken (which became the science of rhetoric), written (which gave rise to the science of interpretation and etymology), and thought, the word in the mind before speech (which gave rise to logic). Before writing, the thought word did not exist: words had to be uttered to be experienced.
Obsolescence (Retirement), Retrieval (Revival, Renaissance)
PZ: The meaning of "obsolescence" is fairly subtle. The Book of Probes offers a sophisticated explanation: "Obsolescence means that a service has become so pervasive that it permeates every area of a culture like the vernacular itself. Obsolescence, in short, ensures total acceptance and even wider use."5 This line seems to suggest that when something is obsolesced, it withdraws into the hidden ground, and becomes a strand of invisible force that is perhaps even more deadly since it is unperceived. "To say the GNP has become an obsolete tool, is another way of saying that it has just begun to penetrate the entire system."6 It has become part of doxa, so to speak.
This idea makes for a good account of revolutions and translates into solid political wisdom. For what is a revolution if not the becoming figure of ground, or a situation where all potency is raised into act at once?7 As the Chinese saying goes, "Water (the people, ground) can carry a boat (the ruling elite, figure); it can also overthrow it."
Another example: when a new recruit comes to the barracks, he is treated as figure - object of scrutiny, and sometimes harassment. Over time, he manages to get accepted and withdraws into the ground. Being figure is not always comfortable. As Michel Foucault suggests in "Panopticism," visibility is a trap.8 Perhaps that's why Deleuze promotes "becoming-imperceptible" as one of his ethical prescriptions.9
EM: Obsolescence is very far from a simple matter. Most people assume that it means disappearance, rather like yesterday's newspaper, which is declared obsolete by its dateline and by the appearance of today's newspaper. But obsolescence is actually the matrix of all innovation, and as such it is essential to the functioning of arts and sciences alike. Yeats concludes his poem, "The Circus Animals' Desertion," with these Unes on obsolescence:
Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
One of the first signs of obsolescence is not disappearance but rather sudden proliferation. A number of studies of the process of obsolescence is much needed to clarify its operation in the ecology of media and culture. Our time is deluged in major innovations, seemingly at the rate of a major new technology or set of competing technologies every couple of years, which means we are deluged with a corresponding rate of obsolescences. The sheer rapidity of these changes demands new strategies for observing and dealing with them.
PZ: "Obsolescence is the moment of superabundance," so says The Book of Probes.10
EM: The following is a note my father wrote on Obsolescence, which was appended to an essay finished on August 28, 1970.
When print or the motor car is referred to as "obsolete," many people assume that it is therefore doomed to speedy extinction. A casual glance at the historical record indicates the contrary. Gutenberg did not discourage handwriting. There is a great deal more handwriting done even in the age of the typewriter than was ever done before printing. The motor car has been obsolete for some time but it maybe some quite irrelevant aspect of the car that will finally finish it off. The car, as a means of concentrating workers, or polluting environments with both hardware and smog, seems to continue quite merrily. Its persistence in spite of numerous inconveniences may be due to some hidden factor such as its simulation of the space capsule, providing a carapace for the human organism in an ever more intimidating environment. In other words, transportation may not be the reason for the continuance of the car at all. Obsolescence is a very large and mysterious subject which has had very little attention in relation to its importance. The present paper may draw attention to this respect as refuse, garbage, trash, junk, and thus help awareness of the role of obsolescence in sparking creativity and the invention of new order.
The tetrad on obsolescence from p. 227 of Laws of Media should be revealing (see Appendix).
PZ: There is something peculiar about this line from that page: "Obsolescence refers to rendering a former situation impotent by displacement: figure returns to ground."11 It gives off the vibes of J Ching (The Book of Changes) in tone, sense, and syntax, which shouldn't surprise us because the tetrad is all about changes. There is an immemorial Chinese expression for the obsolescence of one thing and the enhancement of another: "ci xiao bi zhang" (one thing wanes while another waxes).
And another expression for retrieval: "si huifu ran" (dead ashes start to burn again).
And still another for reversal: "wuji bifan" (everything reverses itself if taken to an extreme).
McLuhan himself points out that chiastic patterns were "[pjerhaps first noted by ancient Chinese sages in / Ching or The Book of Changes."12 Tell me if Fm wrong, but it suddenly occurs to me that Laws of Media is simply a rewrite of the immemorial wisdom of / Ching. If anything, the next essay I'd like to write will be "/ Ching and Laws of Media." I highly recommend that the media ecology community (re)visit and retrieve / Ching to get a thorough understanding of McLuhan and McLuhanism. Zhuangzi is another good source. So is Laotze.
EM: Just so you know, / Ching was required reading among the young in the sixties. Laws of Media owes nothing to the / Ching, directly or indirectly. I would not recommend reading it as a side-door into McLuhan, though I would recommend reading Bacon, Vico, Joyce, et al., for that purpose. I have written dozens of essays to the effect that Laws of Media is a conscious effort to cap and complete the work of Bacon (both Bacons, actually, to include Francis's medieval kinsman, Roger Bacon) and Vico. It didn't begin that way, but as the project matured we discovered that what we were doing would accomplish that labor.
PZ: There is a productive way of "misreading" the line on p. 227 we are talking about. "Figure returns to ground" simply means figure becomes the new ground, which displaces a former ground, and becomes the ground (the medium, the surroundings, the milieu) that matters (that configures everything that is of the ground). Thus we get a fresh clue as to the first half of the line, which now means: a former ground (medium, milieu) is displaced, or rendered impotent, by the new ground (medium, milieu), which results from the obsolescence (the groundbecoming) of a former figure! That is to say, to be potent, figure needs to become ground first, and what is potent is invisible because it is in the (hidden) ground.
That's why the Chinese people mock at the new magistrate who compulsively does three illustrious things to show that he is in power, which indicates he is actually not yet in power until he has become the hidden ground - the medium or milieu that configures everything in it. Hence the sardonic metaphorical expression: "xin guan shang ren san ba huo" (when newly in office, the magistrate lights three fires).
Laotze's notion of "shang de wu de" or "superior Te (virtue, power) has no Te" seems to have the same reasoning behind it.
In his Hamlet's Blackberry, the Stoic-minded William Powers explains the "tremendous popular expansion in handwriting" when it was apparently obsolesced by print technology.13 Peter Stallybrass, Roger Chartier, J. Franklin Mowery, and Heather Wolfe have done some groundbreaking scholarship on this phenomenon.14
Powers's book, by the way, promotes a Stoic attitude toward digital technologies. This attitude can be summarized with a chiasmus from Zhuangzi, the ancient Chinese Taoist: "Thing things without being thinged by things."15 While the English wording here may sound Heideggerian, the use of nouns as verbs is nevertheless a common practice in ancient Chinese. Here's how the chiasmus (which involves a reversal of the doer and the done-to) looks in Chinese:
The flip side of obsolescence is retrieval. Its cultural significance is well explained by Lewis Hyde in his book chapter called "Matter Out of Place." His notion of "dirt work" is something I highly recommend to anybody who cares about the world, and the good life.16
Although he doesn't use the term "retrieval," Burke seems to associate it with a comic attitude toward cultural resources. As he puts it:
The comic frame . . . does not waste the world's rich store of error, as those parochial-minded persons waste it who dismiss all thought before a certain date as "ignorance" and "superstition." Instead, it cherishes the lore of socalled "error" as a genuine aspect of the truth, with emphases valuable for the correcting of present emphases.17
Burke sees the comic attitude in Socrates - a retriever of the earlier pieties. As he puts it:
Socrates . . . struggled like the great writers of Greek tragedy to integrate the new lore of the forensic with the traditions of epic heroism surviving from the primitive period of Greece. The sophistication of the Sophists was the simple negation of the earlier pieties - and Socrates tried to "transcend" it by "negating the negation." He did not want to be forensic-versus-primitive, but primitive-plus-forensic.18
There is an extra wrinkle, or a paradox, here, though. Deleuze and Foucault see Socrates as the first Sophist. The Platonic version of Socrates is not the most useful one. Similarly, there is a version of Confucius in Zhuangzi that is much more intriguing than the standard version. I'm curious whether Burke is talking about a Platonic version of the Sophists here. Some more retrieval needs to be done about Socrates, the Sophists, and Confucius.
Here is a contemporary example of retrieval: unemployment revives public-works projects.
EM: McLuhan and Wilfred Watson devoted an entire book to the matter of retrieval: From Cliché to Archetype. The main theme of the book is that "New Archetype is Ye Olde Cliché Writ Large."
PZ: From a media ecological perspective, democracy can be understood as a historical phenomenon that rests on the effect of certain media of communication, especially the phonetic alphabet and the printing press. Does that mean it is anachronistic, or even politically conservative, to talk about democracy in our retribalized age? Is democracy to be saved by promoting the rhetorical sensibility, or will democratic societies move on to something else since democracy is historical?
EM: More like irrelevant. There is no demos in a tribe. The tribe, also a human artifact, is a complex and rigid hierarchical structure.
PZ: Another line of reasoning might lead us to see electronic and digital media as cultural forces that would intrinsically reconfigure and strengthen democracy.
EM: Electronic and digital media have already "intrinsically reconfigured" every democracy and every political system on earth because they are global environments. They surround and reshape all of their contents - the previous situation as a whole. For one thing, the demos is shaped into the electric crowd, a.k.a. the mass audience, which is simultaneously everywhere at once. As soon as the new environment appears, though, the old one, now its content, becomes available for fresh experimentation, so we can expect a host of new "democratic" initiatives and alternatives.
PZ: I fondly remember this line of yours from Electric LanguageUnderstanding the Message:
Postliteracy will bring with it a renaissance of literacy - but in renaissances the old thing always returns in a new form. Probably the most exquisite or most mannered writing is yet to come, something with the trembling delicacy of oriental dance or calligraphy.19
As a side note, Deleuze seems to suggest that Kerouac's writing has achieved such a quality. As he puts it in "On the Superiority of Anglo-American Literature": "Kerouac's phrases are as sober as a Japanese drawing, a pure line traced by an unsupported hand, which passes across ages and reigns."20 You will find the following lines from "Painting Sets Writing Ablaze" astoundingly close to the way you put it:
... a Kerouac sentence ends like a line from a Japanese drawing, hardly touching the paper. A Ginsberg poem is like a fractured expressionist line. We can therefore imagine a common or comparable world between painters and writers. And that is precisely the aim of calligraphy.2'
The last two sentences put me in mind of a Chinese expression: shu (which can mean both writing and calligraphy) and drawing have the same origin.
In a wonderful little piece called "Mediators," Deleuze points out: "it's impossible for the new race of writers, already preparing their work and their styles, not to be born."22
EM: Seems to me that there are two controlling factors. One is the reading public, which has been moribund for some decades now. The other is the demise of publishing houses. These new writers will have to publish themselves. The renaissance of literacy has taken an unexpected turn: we call it the flood of new "literacies" - media literacy, art literacy, cultural literacy, and so on; the number is legion and growing apace.
PZ: Similarly, in the Internet age, when people have instantaneous access to free information, teaching comes back as an art form. Does this logic apply to /josisocialism, /joifttructurahsm, or pojftnodernism by analogy? Does a yes answer mean socialism simply becomes an aestheticized, deactivated shell of itself, or does it mean the best kind of socialism is yet to come? What about neofascism? The notions of obsolescence and retrieval really raise intriguing, unsettled questions about larger historical patterns.
Admiration for your line aside, a question still haunts me: Does the digital enhance or liquidate literacy? I guess the answer should have some bearing on the democratic way of life. How I wish we could extend your reasoning to democracy so we could say: Probably the most exquisite or most mannered democracy is yet to come, something with the trembling delicacy of oriental dance or calligraphy.
As of now, shall we simply understand democracy as a metaphor for the good life, as an ethos in the last analysis? What do you perceive to be the threats to democracy? Has it been hijacked by capitalist interests all along, or are the two interdependent? What are your diagnosis, prognosis, and prescription? How shall we live?
EM: I humbly submit that you'd find my other book, The Human Equation, quite to your taste. It is Understanding Media from inside the body out, the extensions of man seen from the inside. BPS Books. (Ahem).
PZ: Speaking of the inside, Paul Virilio is concerned with "endocolonization."23 His chief concern is the negativity in technology (the negative tendency of technology).24 But let's stay on the topic of democracy.
EM: Let's start with media. There are no studies of the effect even of the alphabet in providing a foundation for democracy, or private identity on which it depends. Implicit in all electric media is the fact that they put the user both here and there at the same time. On the phone you are here and there, minus the body, of course, and the same is true of the other person: there and here at the same time. That condition has reigned for a century now. So much more is it true courtesy of TV, the Internet, the WWW, and satellites, and a heap of other things. Participation is a keynote of the digital world. What use are geographically distant representatives? They used to be there to present our various views to the folks in Washington: they (re)presented us. Now that we can be there instantly, what are re-presentatives to re-present?
Now, the job is to re-imagine democracy without representatives. Every night of the week, the entire population of the US can vote on this or that question or bill. What need for representatives? Or PACs (political action committees)? Add to the mix the role clearly indicated by social media, etc. How can the population participate in the process more fully?
PZ: This is definitely an optimistic view. Ours ought to be an age of strong democracy - mediated but not representative. The age of monopolized communication is over, as evidenced by the fast-changing Arab world. On the other hand, real time, or "the depletion of time," does not actually leave time for democracy because democracy relies on reflection, not reflex, so Paul Virilio suggests.25 The lifeline of democracy cannot be just voting. Who is there to frame issues, to set agendas? Years ago, Jean-Paul Sartre calls elections "a trap for fools."26 Voting is a political technology, a medium, and the medium is the message. According to Sartre, people always vote themselves out of power. Perhaps we should ask the question "What is the formal cause of democracy?" and go from there.
A line from Burke suggests that democratic theory might thrive precisely when democracy is attenuated. That is to say, the former might be a sign of the latter - something to watch out for! Here's what Burke says:
At the very time when Aristotle was putting the final touches to his forensic pattern, his former pupil, Alexander, commissioned him to write two tracts, one on monarchy, and the other on colonization. A practical administrator laid out for him the path of the future, while in the works of his own choosing he completed the ideological architecture that belonged to the fast receding democratic past. 7
Aristotle's view is a rear-view mirror view, so Burke seems to suggest!
The Alphabet Effect
PZ: Although this is not the most useful and productive way to read McLuhan, arguably, he commits a crude species of Anglo-American centrism, even if he obviously holds a mocking attitude toward what he claims to be the case. For one thing, much is attributed to the phonetic alphabet, sometimes in absolute terms. Might cultures elsewhere have achieved the semblance of the alphabet effect by other means, quite without the "benign help" historically lent by Christian missionaries?
EM: The short answer is, no. Only the alphabet, among all other human artifacts, has the power to separate the visual from the other senses in high definition and give rise to individualism and abstract science.
PZ: In "Dispelling the Alphabet Effect," Paul Grosswiler suggests that we talk about the writing effect instead.28 I see some kind of tension between his position and yours. My essay "The English Language as a Medium and Its Impact on Contemporary Chinese Culture: A Speculative Critique" addresses this tension a bit.29
PZ: I was reading The Global Village. The part on the two hemispheres feels like a reveal. Is McLuhan left-handed?
EM: My father was a born leftie and forced to learn many things righthanded. One of those things was writing.
PZ: Left-handed people enjoy recognizing isomorphisms across boundaries. On a (not so) separate note, Proust and the Squid lists some highly creative dyslexia sufferers, such as Thomas Edison and Leonardo da Vinci, and indicates a positive correlation between dyslexia and pattern recognition (a crucial capacity according to McLuhan).30 Both Giambattista Vico and Kenneth Burke were said to have fallen off a ladder and "messed up" their brains. Deleuze sees much value in a healthy species of "delirium." The Global Village really offers a media ecological interpretation of creativity, which can be inhibited by left-hemisphere dominance. All seems to complicate McLuhan's attitude toward literacy, which is ambivalent and rightfully so. In the long history of humanity, literacy is a fragile achievement, but also a "deviance," as Christine Nystrom points out.31
According to The Book of Probes:
The abstract side of the brain, the left hemisphere, is figure without ground. It is logical and lineal and connected. It has classification, places to put things. It has syntax, grammar, order, which is all figure without ground.32
This is perhaps why Michel de Certeau holds a critical attitude toward the scriptural economy, which seems to him to be reductive, or even repressive.33
"Visually biased, or left hemisphere people, accustomed to the abstract study of figures minus their ground, are commonly upset by any sudden intrusion of the forgotten or hidden or subliminal ground."34 This line resonates with Lewis Hyde's notion of "dirt work."35 It also calls to mind James C. Scott's distinction between "thin simplifications" and "practical knowledge (metis)."36 There is also an obvious parallel with Carl Jung's notion of "collective unconscious." After all, what is the "sudden intrusion of the forgotten" if not "the return of the repressed"?
A Sinologist based in the Midwest once confided to me that his trade allows him to live in an aesthetic mode. McLuhan explains why in The Global Village:
Our left-hemisphere educational establishment ... is dedicated to achieving quantitative goals. The new right-hemisphere society (coming to the West) prefers artistic role-playing and an indulgent enjoyment of the quality of life rather than quantity.37
There is still a long way to go before this right-hemisphere orientation saturates the entire social field in the West, although it's already evident in books like Richard Sennet's The Craftsman, and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. There's a Stoic ethos here - the Stoic as the artist of life. This is a side note but I do think that our dictionaries, both Chinese and English, are fairly misleading, not just inadequate, when it comes to the Stoic ethos. One gets a much better handle on it by reading Sennet, Csikszentmihalyi, Powers, but also Burke, Foucault, and Deleuze.
Looking back, I can see that I have put numerous right-hemisphere authors on my syllabi: Friedrich Nietzsche, Lewis Hyde, Claude Lévi-Strauss, Gilles Deleuze, Alan Watts, Mikhail Bakhtin, Michel de Certeau, Victor Turner, Edward T. Hall, James C. Scott, and of course, Marshall McLuhan.
The late Mao was "right-minded" (pun intended) when he said that one needs to learn to play the piano. When we play the piano, typically the left hand (connected with the right brain), which plays the bass clef, creates the ground, and the right hand (connected with the left brain), which plays the treble clef, produces the figure. With figure-ground resonance as one of its built-in "biases," the piano should count as one of the least fragmenting of instruments. On the other hand, playing by reading notes makes the whole experience very "visual." Time in classical piano is totally mechanical or Euclidean. Hence Alan Watts's promotion of the approach adopted by Oriental musicians and Western jazz artists.38 Edward T. Hall strikes a similar note when he says, "Japanese musicians and their music are 'open score,' Their music, like their time, comes from within themselves."39
Lastly, I suggest that we closely study Iain McGilchrist's 2009 book entitled The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World.40 Many will be surprised (or delighted) by the argument that the right brain actually matters a lot more!
Hot and Cool
PZ: Do you see the following understanding in McLuhan's work?
... when the medium is hot, nothing circulates or communicates except through the cool, which controls every active interaction.... the hot can cool down the cool and the cool reheat the hot: it's like heating an oven with snow balls.41
This is Deleuze talking about the use of hot and cool colors in Gérard Fromanger's paintings. Feels like Taoism to me. What do you think?
EM: This is Deleuzian. The writer does not understand McLuhan's take on what constitutes hot or cool. He is expounding some fiction of his own invention. Recall the Law of Thermodynamics - "You can't pass heat from a cooler to a hotter?" Applies here. Recall, too, that hot and cool are relative, not absolute terms. Recall, too, that hot and cool refer not to the things but to the response of the user's sensibilities....
Time to go back to basics, don't you think?
PZ: "Heating an oven with snow balls" is definitely a fanciful idea. But the first two formulations make sense to me. First, yang without yin spells stoppage and stagnation (all the st- words come to mind); yang along with yin allows for play and interplay, flow and interflow, flux and interflux (all the fl- words come to mind, including "fleuve" the French equivalent of "river"). The interstice, interval, or interface is where the action is. I see a very similar understanding (i.e., similar to the idea that the cool controls every active interaction) in the following lines from Laotze (or "Laozi" in standard pinyin), as cited by McLuhan in The Medium Is the Massage:
Thirty spokes are made one by holes in a hub,
By vacancies joining them for a wheel's use;
The use of clay in molding pitchers
Comes from the hollow of its absences;
Doors, windows, in a house,
Are used for their emptiness;
Thus we are helped by what is not,
To use what is.42
To make the analogy more explicit, I'd say: the cool to the hot is as "what is not" to "what is."
As a quick side note, Geling Shang, a Nietzsche, Zhuangzi, and / Ching scholar, has been conducting a philosophical exploration in what he calls "interology," a discipline in the making and of his making. He lives the understanding before he articulates it. His work seems to spell the implosion of ontology. I have the impression that many are talking about interological issues in ontological terms. McLuhan is an admirable exception. But the interological sensibility has been out there for millennia, not just in the Orient. I see this sensibility in Victor Turner, Deleuze, and Paul Virilio, and of course, McLuhan.
Second, the cool feels cooler in comparison with the hot; it also makes the hot feel even hotter - as far as the beholder's perception is concerned. Hot and cool are tactile sensations. This dovetails with McLuhan's point that "Color is not so much a visual as a tactile medium."43
The Return of the Oral, Neoprimitivism
PZ: The relevance, or heuristic value, of Walter Ong's Orality and Literacy seems to be on the rise and rightfully so because there's been a return of the oral in the electric and electronic age.
EM: Which began in 1845 with the Telegraph - or perhaps earlier with experimentation with static electricity: that was powerful enough to kick off the Romantic Movement.
PZ: As if humanity was a step closer to telepathic communion - does this capture the sentiment of the Romantic Movement? Or is the following the gist of it: "... the Romantic poets were violently opposed to lineal structure," as McLuhan points out.44
EM: The main effect of early electricity was to open the irrational and set aside the rational as modes of experience and exploration.
Telepathy was and is irrational (behind this see left/right sides of the brain). Romantics were a huge step into emotion, etc., after centuries of exploring the opposite. Emotion was for females, not artists, by George!
PZ: Why not artists? What's for artists then? Deleuze suggests that artists work with percepts and affects.
EM: Why not indeed. I am parroting the responses of their previous generation. They were rational, decidedly so.
PZ: Now, I get the sarcasm. There are artists and there are "artists," right?
Ong's notion of "secondary orality," however, sounds somewhat technical and could be loosened up some to encompass the acoustic, the right hemispherical, and the neoprimitive. This way his book will be more explicitly about this spiral from the oral to the literate and then to the postliterate, or the neoprimitive, which is a cultural paradigm with psychic, social, and existential entailments.
I find the following probe utterly profound:
While bemoaning the decline of literacy and the obsolescence of the book, the literati have typically ignored the imminence of the decline of speech itself. The individual word, as a store of information and feeling, is already yielding to macroscopic gesticulation.45
In the electric era, there's a return of/to the oral. As society goes deeper into the electric era, however, people's active vocabulary may start to dwindle. For lack of adequate articulateness, they resort more and more to gesturing, posturing, winking, and inarticulate grumbling. Paradoxically, as technology turns digital, a rise in the analogical can be detected in face-to-face communication. (Language is digital.) The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis could be read as indicating that a shrunken vocabulary means a shrunken human world. E. M. Cioran should feel relieved about this reversal.46 Humanity ultimately "corrects" itself by going to an extreme.
Nowadays, with social media becoming increasingly part of people's daily lives, their relationships are increasingly mediated - more time spent interfacing with machines and gadgets than sharing each other's presence in the same space. As such, people are losing their social skills and becoming interaction averse.47 "Communication" (as transmission and transportation) at the expense of "communication" (as a ritual), that is. The transmission model is such a sterile model! Jacques Ellul has it right when he says "... we live in a kind of splintered space by reason of the new solitude. The traffic flow rules out encounter. Alluring physical communication displaces social communication. Solidarity becomes abstract and impersonal."48
Theoretically speaking, in the transition period (at the threshold moment) between the oral age and the literate age, or that between the literate age and the post-literate age, we tend to get the richest kind of writing and the most articulate kind of speaking (Clare Quilty from Stanley Kubrick's Lolita comes to mind) - the best of both worlds.
It is interesting that the legalization of marijuana is happening now - a historical crux where society is reverting back to tribalism, or neoprimitivism, where overproduction has necessitated frequent economic recessions as a cure (rather than a problem). Herein lies the timeliness of the Occupy movement.
Logos as Formal Cause
PZ: The tetrad on rhetoric says: rhetoric obsolesces "the logos." What is meant by "the logos" here? The term seems to have a very subtle sense in this context.49
EM: The Logos that rhetoric sets aside would be that original integral powerful logos that Havelock talks about, for example; the one that accomplishes the mimesis that so subsumes its listeners. The logos of pre-alphabet times, that splits into fragments with the arrival of the alphabet, fragments that became the trivium. But rhetoric retrieved that transformation aspect of the old logos as its mode of operation on audience.
PZ: I'd like to bring up the following quote of yours: "Each medium is the logos of a technology, and is certainly the massage and the message that it holds for the user culture. To say this is to equate formal cause with logos, an ancient understanding of the power of language and the language of power structures."50
I find the three tautologies (i.e., medium = logos of technology; medium = massage and message; formal cause = logos) to be (provocatively and productively) circular, and central to McLuhanism. We only need one more equation to close the loop: medium = formal cause. Logos means "adequate logos," redundant as this may sound.
I'd like to single out the third one and reverse the order, so we have "logos = formal cause." "Logos as formal cause" is an incredibly powerful idea! Logos gives shape to the world. Logos rules life. Logos is environmental. Indeed, man is the logos-(ab)using and logos-(ab)used animal (an allusion to and revision of Burke's clause "man is the symbol-using animal.")51 The whole discipline of rhetoric revolves around this equation. My conversation with Dr. Corey Anton entitled "Syntax and Ethics" touches upon some aspects of this problematic.52
Now, a line from Laws of Media comes to mind: "[The Stoics'] logos spermatikos is the (uttered) logos as 'seeds' embedded in things animate or inanimate that structure and inform them and provide the formal principles of their being and growth (becoming)."53 My question is: when we see logos as formal cause, are we talking about logos spermatikos only?
EM: Logos- the old, integral logos - shapes the world and much more. To the ancients, the entire cosmos (kosmos) was informed through and through by logos.
Logos Spermatikos certainly has lots of work to do when it plays its role of formal cause. Recall that the full Logos is formal cause of a great deal! Any of the three (or more) parts of the Logos can serve formal-causal ends.
PZ: This old, integral logos sounds more or less like Tao.
PZ: I have been entertaining the idea of logotherapy - logos as a drug, as an oral pill. A few sources immediately come to my mind, including Plato's pharmacon, Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning, Alan Watts's Om: Creative Meditations, and, of course, Martin Heidegger's notion of "language is the house of being." We live in the words we utter. To make a positive announcement is to make a psychic clearing so we could become, as if we were now drawn by a lighthouse, not just pushed by material conditions. People tend not to see that oftentimes it's easier to fix our life in toto than to fix our numerous problems in piecemeal fashion.
As the Chinese saying goes, "A mind disease needs to be treated with a mind drug."
What is a mind drug if not logos? Sometimes people feel like puking not because of what they have eaten, but because of what others tell them they have eaten. People do get obsessed with and suffer from the words they keep on telling themselves, whatever the source. At a particular moment, certain well-calibrated words can function as an antidote to counteract other words. Our susceptibility to words makes us at once anxiety-prone and curable. Burke would say that logotherapy is a matter of "comic correctives," a matter of intervention in our "terministic screens."54 For Burke, the value of logotherapy is not just personal, but also cultural.
Like drugs, words themselves can be addictive, getting us to fixate upon its hallucinatory web ("Some Pig" from E. B. White's Charlotte's Web comes to mind - a positive example, though), so we become oblivious of what James C. Scott calls "metis," or practical, uncodifiable knowledge. On a larger scale, a culture may suffer from what Deleuze calls "interpretosis" - a species of word cancer, I'd say. That's why words are anathema for Zen masters, who communicate in the coolest, most word-stingy mode imaginable. The point is: there is a time for words; there is also a time for purgation of words. The latter is often harder to do. Hence George Lakoff's title Don't Think of an Elephant. Sometimes it's easier to purge words not by trying to get rid of them, but by taking them all the way to an extreme so there can be a reversal, a moment of catharsis. That's the Aristotelian approach, as Burke understands it.
To come back to the therapeutic side of it, it seems that words as a therapy can directly benefit the body as well. Years ago on a train from Tianjin to Xi'an, I overheard a conversation between two ordinary-looking men who regularly practiced qigong (breathing exercises). Something intriguing emerged in the conversation. I don't remember who told whom what but according to the conversation, uttering the sound "yu" in a prolonged manner (there's only a tiny bit of exhaling involved in making the sound) "strengthens the stomach" (...).
Uttering the sound "xu" in a prolonged manner, according to the conversation, "removes obstructions in the liver (...)." An obstructed liver is believed to be associated with an irritable temperament. So the "xu" sound should help with anger problems. "Xu" is an actual word in Chinese that looks like "Pf," which means a sigh - for a good reason. There's more exhaling involved in making the sound - a bodily gesture of expelling pernicious elements from the system. Burke points out in Attitudes toward History that "Capitalism shouted to Marx until the annoyance gave him a diseased liver."55 Uttering the "xu" sound often could have helped.
Also, an extended "si (...)" sound moisturizes the lungs (...), according to the conversation. Interestingly, although the phonetic symbols (pinyin) for ... (the equivalent of a "neigh") are both "si," for the qigong exerciser, there must be a meaningful difference between the two as far as the amount of aspiration or exhaling is concerned. There's little exhaling involved in making the ... sound.
It is a pity that I missed at least a few other therapeutic sounds. Given that "xu" is an immemorial interjection used by generations of Chinese people, other interjections might be a good place to poke if we were to figure out those other magical sounds. Burke teaches us to use "word magic" when associating with others.56 But the magic is for ourselves, too. Logos as a therapy, as equipment for living, for both self and Other, so to speak. (Foucault spoke extensively on this idea of logos as equipment for living when he was lecturing on the Stoic practices of listening and writing at the College de France.)57
Over the years, I've tried invoking the magical therapeutic powers of "xu," "yu," and "si" on those occasions when their utility was called for. And it helped. I must have been abusing those "parts" of my body beyond the reach of these three sounds, or at least failed to practice the care of the self in a holistic manner. As I say it, I realize that "parts" is a dubious term.
If you were to practice logotherapy, what kind of practice would you imagine it to be? Are there good sources you'd recommend?
EM: OK, how about Pedro Lain Entralgo's Therapy of the Word in Classical Antiquity! Logotherapy is not news. How about the arts as therapy for a culture under attack? Hypnosis? HipGnosis? Psychiatry (the shrink as paid listener)?
Charge of the Light Brigade/Barricade
PZ: Is the latter a typo, or...? Thanks for any reveal. A pet phrase of McLuhan's, of course, found in Understanding Me, among other places. A surprise no pun was intended in the title. Understanding ME ("me" plus "media ecology") should work just fine.
EM: "Charge of the light barricade" is from Finnegans Wake. It was one of Joyce's main images for television, the last technology he treats of in that book. The TV screen is like a barricade in front of the viewer. The whole image is rather complex but that should give an idea.
PZ: This is a McLuhanesque moment - the sense is by no means singleleveled. Ambiguity becomes a source of richness and superabundance, rather than a problem. Although it is distasteful to literalize things, the analytical side of me, the will to disambiguate, simply prevails at this moment. In one sense, electrons are dashing (i.e., charging) toward the screen (the barricade, the barrier). In another sense, the screen is charged up so it lights up, and an image in the style of a pointillist painting is perceived by the viewer. (As Virilio points out, "pointillism is pixels.")58
On p. 313 of Understanding Media (1964), it is spelled as "Charge of the Light Brigade." (TV is "light through." So this is McLuhan punning away! "Light" is appropriated as a noun, not an adjective any more. Literally, it means charge of the electrons and photons, which make a "brigade" metaphorically. But at the same time, Joyce's voice does not go away. The one voice without the other does not make for a pun. The pun is a double-voiced utterance par excellence.)
So there is no typo regardless of the inconsistency in wording, right?
EM: They can both be right, can't they? Imagine the one as the source and the other a reference to the source, if a bit oblique. Joyce wrote that he was writing Finnegans Wake "after the style of television." Every word on the page, every phrase is a flash of light, the page dotted with hundreds of them, like the TV image. Both the TV image and the page of the Wake form an impenetrable mesh or mat - a barricade. The prose is not intended to be transparent; it, more than the meanings, is supposed to engage the attention. In that field of dots, the beholder has a whale of a lot of connecting to do.
Trained Incapacity, Closure
PZ: A chief concern of the media ecology orientation is the "trained incapacity" that comes with each medium, or the invisible hands that bend and torture us, to use Nietzsche's words.59
EM: Another term for this is the bias imposed by each new extension of the senses and faculties.
PZ: I'm profoundly disturbed by the complacency of those who idolatrize and brandish their smart phones. Have we ever encountered a more total surveillance machine? I keep wondering whether humans have become extensions of technologies - the dog wagged by the tail.
EM: Of course: that's part of the closure for having them. Look at this passage from The Book of Probes about "closure":
To behold, use or perceive any extension of ourselves in technological form is necessarily to embrace it. To listen to radio or to read the printed page is to accept these extensions of ourselves into our personal system and to undergo the "closure" or displacement of perception that follows automatically. It is this continuous embrace of our own technology in daily use that puts us in the Narcissus role of subliminal awareness and numbness in relation to these images of ourselves.60
PZ: Our blindness to the psychic consequences of technology has a lot to do with the "unmoved mover" mentality. Similarly, there is no "unseen seer" in Panopticon (which is a technology). Seer and seen are interlocked in the trap of visibility in the same way slavery breeds a slave mentality on both ends.
Perhaps the deep reason is that we are too much seduced by our transitive verbs, which funnel our attention to unidirectional action (which has positive connotations in "our" culture) only, while blinding us to interaction and interdependence. Those more sensitive writers amongst us tend to have the habit of using the main verb in both the active and the passive voice in the same sentence to gesture toward the reciprocal nature of forces. I guess alphabetic literacy only enhances this lack of awareness, or trained incapacity. For an imperfect example of bidirectional formulations, take this line by Ellul: "The car both answers and demands this extraordinary dispersal that is called an opening up to the world. It effects (and is required by) the work of industrialization and urbanization."61 The use of "both answers and demands" and "effects (and is required by)" somewhat tempers the ideology of efficient causality.
Deleuze and Guattari point out: "... the great artist is indeed the one who scales the schizophrenic wall and reaches the land of the unknown, where he no longer belongs to any time, any milieu, any school."62 This line lends itself to a media ecological read (or misread) if we substitute "the wall of alphabetic literacy" for "the schizophrenic wall," as McLuhan teaches us to.
Work as an Ideology
PZ: The ideology of work is something media ecologists are singularly well equipped to critique. Such a critique cannot be divorced from a critique of the psychic, social, and ethical implications of literacy and its attendant sense of time and space. This relates to David Harvey's project on the crises of capitalism.
"Neoprimitivism" is a very right-minded term. Like children, "primitives" (a totally positive term for me) cannot be forced to work. "High performance" as a work ethic is problematic precisely in an ethical sense. For Nietzsche, overwork is a modern vice.63 This is a point echoed by Burke in a passage from "Good Life," as quoted below:
In an ideal society, a man would not go to a doctor when he lacked ambition - he would consult a doctor to help him cure ambition. In the paradoxes of capitalism, inordinate ambition has become the norm; the man who loses it simply "drops out of the bottom." And he loses it as soon as he ceases to want all sorts of idiotic baubles that keep millions frantically at work.64
EM: Take Today: The Executive as Dropout by Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt has three main themes, all three of them reversals caused by the electric environment: from centralism to decentralism, from jobs (work) to roles, and from hardware to software.
PZ: McLuhan suggests that prior to the division of labor there was only play.65
Obliquity, the Perseus Myth, Practical Criticism
PZ: I'm intrigued by this line from A Thousand Plateaus: "... the term we would prefer for this form of evolution between heterogeneous terms is 'involution'.... Becoming is involutionary, involution is creative."66 A synonym for "involution" would be "aparallel evolution."67 I have the feeling that the potential for "aparallel evolution" between media ecology and other disciplines is under-tapped. Developments in other fields can and should be taken by media ecologiste in totally unexpected directions, and vice versa.
Put differently, it's one thing to systematize McLuhan's thoughts, or to use his thoughts to analyze issues proper to media ecology. It is quite another to pick up McLuhan's darts and launch them in an oblique direction.
EM: I would strongly advise against systematizing his thoughts. He himself did not construe a system, which he might easily have done. But a system is a mode of paralysis. You need to be extremely playful if you want to work with formal causes!
PZ: Exactly. McLuhan's probes embody the liveliness of thinking. A system does the opposite - it domesticates the drive to explore. Probing is active. System building is reactive. As McLuhan puts it, "There is an alternative to classification and that is exploration. This doesn't easily register with nineteenth-century minds."68
An analogy for involutionary relationships between disciplines would be the wasp-orchid relationship. But it takes a rare species of intellectual nomadism to pull off such involution, or aparallel evolution. Isn't that what McLuhan himself did? What do you perceive to be some of the undertapped potentials for mutual mediation between disciplines?
EM: I think I have developed some of this in my piece entitled "Marshal McLuhan's Theory of Communication: The Yegg."69
PZ: McLuhan read the Moderns as if they were talking about technology and media. Similarly, we could read Dewey, Spengler, Heidegger, and Burke, etc., as if they were media ecologists. Burke's notion of "perspective by incongruity," or "planned incongruity," would be a good way to characterize McLuhan's approach. There is an unmistakable metaphorical sensibility in McLuhan. "Metaphor," as The Book of Probes has it, "is a means of perceiving one thing in terms of another."71 This should count as an element of McLuhanism, which is a radically exploratory hermeneutic praxis (which goes far beyond mere textual exegesis), among other things.
Through the Vanishing Point is all about perspective by incongruity. An arch example would be the two pages on "The Parable of the Blind."72 There is an explicit line about this strategy in your own "Poetics on the Warpath," which is a wonderful piece that illuminates McLuhan's approach: "Humor and playfulness is basic to McLuhan's probing, aphoristic associating of incongruities."73
Here's another line from "Poetics on the Warpath" that's relevant here: "[McLuhan] had discovered how to apply the formal sensibility of the artist outside the realm of art."74 To couch it in Deleuzian terms, McLuhan used the Moderns as "mediators," absorbed the energy but used it in an oblique direction.75
EM: My father used the Moderns (Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Yeats, Lewis) as training of perception and brought their work to bear on contemporary matters. It works. You should try it.
Deleuze is deluded. Deleuze ought to read Eliot's essays on the matter, as ought most of the communications folks who tangle with these processes. They have ideas about perception and so on, but have never had any training outside dialectic - no sense of the grammar of audiences or of situations, no sense of formal causality, no sense of how to read environments or how to counter environmental power and effects. They haven't absorbed the Moderns themselves (which is a hell of a lot of work), are going by received ideas (most of which are erroneous) as to what the Moderns were up to.
McLuhan knew what the Moderns were doing in the new electric environment. He was applying their techniques just as they had done. He was also using a device called Practical Criticism, which is fundamental to any understanding of his work. It too takes training and time and practice, which no one seems able to afford.
PZ: Speaking of the Moderns' techniques, Burke has a perceptive observation to contribute to this dialogue:
. . . one thing is seen in terms of something else - Joyce charting modern life as a parody of the Odyssey ... Eliot expressing the mystic's sense of "drought" by borrowings from the lore of primitive magic; Yeats sharpening his realism by reference to a reservoir of fanciful correlations; Pound working with a concept of the "contemporaneous" very much like Spengler's, as he interprets a present situation by classing it with analogous situations taken from any point in time.76
Deleuze would call McLuhan's approach a matter of "picking up the arrows shot by others, and then relaunching them." It is a matter of "relay," characterized more by discontinuity than continuity. I'll have to say Deleuze is totally antidialectical, like Nietzsche (at least his version of Nietzsche). As a side note, Deleuze is also an anti-communication fellow. Lévi-Strauss holds a similar sentiment: overcommunication hinders inventiveness.77 Instead of "delusion," Deleuze would much prefer being associated with a productive "delirium."78
In his book entitled Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, John Kay promotes the oblique approach (which McLuhan used in his explorations) based on the understanding that rationally designed plans often have unintended consequences (precisely a major concern among media ecologists) whereas playful, seemingly aimless poking often results in unexpected discoveries. This is what the book means to me.
Put in a nutshell, the Perseus myth is all about obliquity - not pretending that Medusa was not there, but not facing her directly, either. Rather, Perseus used Athena's shield of polished bronze as a mirror to avoid being petrified. As the story has it, "In the mirror of the bright shield he could see [the Gorgons] clearly, creatures with great wings and bodies covered with golden scales and hair a mass of twisting snakes."79 In very elliptical terms, Athena's shield to Perseus is as games to McLuhan, art to Hayakawa, and literature to Burke.80 What defines a cultured person is the capacity to face life's immediate problems (the equivalent of Medusa) in an oblique fashion, that is, through the refraction, reflection, and also deflection of cultural artifacts (games, art, literature). Absent such obliquity, we subject ourselves to the risk of gravity and dead seriousness, which are symptoms of insanity. That Hélène Cixous reads Medusa as the first feminist - she does so in a compelling way - is quite another matter.81
After formulating the above passage, I was shocked to chance upon this line from Laws of Media: "All serious art, to use Pound's phrase, functions satirically as a mirror or counter-environment to exempt the user from tyranny by his self-imposed environment, just as Perseus's shield enabled him to escape stupefaction by the Gorgon."82 The Chinese use history and other people as a mirror.
Will study I. A. Richards's Practical Criticism more closely. But I think the idea is well captured by the following lines from Through the Vanishing Point:
The Medieval scribe, like the ancient scribe, accepted
a multileveled approach to his text. Where we
find a simple statement, they discovered implications.83
Another line that comes to mind is from Laws of Media: "[The Stoics'] logos spermatikos... is the root of grammar (which meant 'literature') with its twin concerns of etymology and multiple-level exegesis, the groundsearch for structure and roots."84 Sounds like Practical Criticism has a lot to do with "grammar."
EM: Practical Criticism is rooted in rhetoric, though, as criticism/ interpretation, it is certainly grammatical. Rhetoric, because of Practical Criticism's inclusion of the audience as a determining consideration. Another example of the fruitful alliance between the two disciplines. The contemporary (more or less) "New Criticism" from Oxford did not make the same inclusion and remains the darling of the American intellectual establishment-tribute to its dialectical bias. The Americans (and many others) have conflated the two modes of Criticism in their thinking-tribute to their ignorance of rhetoric.
To come full circle in these observations, let me note that the medium is itself an unintended consequence of each new technology.
PZ: This line of yours simply nails the subtle sense of "medium" that runs through McLuhan's entire corpus.
1 . John Dewey, Art as Experience (New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons: 1934), 199.
2. Ibid., 345.
4. Gilles Deleuze & Claire Parnet, Dialogues, trans. Hugh Tomlinson & Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987), 66.
5. Marshall McLuhan & David Carson, The Book of Probes, ed. Eric McLuhan & William Kuhns (Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press, Inc., 2003), 496.
6. Ibid., 535.
7. Marshall McLuhan & Eric McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), 227.
8. Michel Foucault, "Panopticism," in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1979), 195-228.
9. Gilles Deleuze, "Literature and Life," in Critical Inquiry 23 (1997): 225.
10. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 220.
11. McLuhan & McLuhan, Laws of Media, 227.
12. Marshall McLuhan & Eric McLuhan, Media and Formal Cause (Houston, Texas: NeoPoiesis Press, 2011), 28-29.
13. William Powers, "Hamlet's Blackberry: Shakespeare on the Beauty of Old Tools," in Hamlet's Blackberry: Building a Good Life in the Digital Age (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), 149, 150.
14. Peter Stallybrass, Roger Chartier, J. Franklin Mowery, & Heather Wolfe, "Hamlet's Tables and the Technologies of Writing in Renaissance England," Shakespeare Quarterly 55, no. 4 (2004), 380-419.
15. Zhuangzi, "The Mountain Tree (U) if.)," see Geling Shang, Zhuangzi: Dancing with the World (Shanghai: Shanghai Translation Publishing House, 2010), 155.
16. Lewis Hyde, "Matter Out of Place," in Trickster Makes This World: Mischief, Myth, and Art (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), 173-199.
17. Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 2nd Edition (Boston: Beacon Press, 1961), 172.
18. Ibid., 327.
19. Eric McLuhan, Electric Language, 99.
20. Deleuze & Paraet, Dialogues, 50.
21. Gilles Deleuze, "Painting Sets Writing Ablaze," in Two Regimes of Madness: Texts and Interviews 1975-1995, ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Ames Hodges & Mike Taormina (New York: Semiotext(e), 2006), 182.
22. Gilles Deleuze, "Mediators," in Negotiations, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), 134.
23. Paul Virilio & Sylvere Lotringer, Pure War: Twenty-Five Years Later, trans. Mark Polizzotti (LA: Semiotext(e), 2008), 111.
24. Ibid., 38.
25. Ibid., 42.
26. Jean-Paul Sartre, Life I Situations: Essays Written and Spoken, trans. Paul Auster & Lydia Davis (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977), 198-210.
27. Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 58.
28. Paul Grosswiler, "Dispelling the Alphabet Effect," Canadian Journal of Communication 29 (2004): 145-158.
29. Peter Zhang, "The English Language as a Medium and Its Impact on Contemporary Chinese Culture: A Speculative Critique," Explorations in Media Ecology 10, Numbers 1 & 2 (2011), 39-53.
30. Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2007), 198-200.
31. Christine Nystrom, "Literacy as Deviance," ETC 44 (1987), 111-115.
32. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 508.
33. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, trans. Steven Rendali (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988), 131-153.
34. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 537.
35. Lewis Hyde, Trickster Makes This World: Mischief Myth, and Art (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1998), 173-199.
36. James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998), 309-341.
37. Marshall McLuhan & Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 101.
38. Alan W. Watts, "The Philosophy of the Tao," in The Way of Zen (New York: Vintage Books, 1957), 9.
39. Edward T. Hall, "The East and the West," in The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1984), 95.
40. Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2009).
41. Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-1974, ed. David Lapoujade, trans. Michael Taormina (New York: Semiotext(e), 2004), 250.
42. Marshall McLuhan & Quentin Fiore, The Medium Is the Massage (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1967), 145.
43. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 254.
44. Stearn, ed., McLuhan: Hot and Cool, (New York: The Dial Press, 1967), 145.
45. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 541.
46. E. M. Cioran, "A Portrait of Civilized Man," in Hudson Review 17 (1964): 9-20.
47. Peter Zhang, "Navigating the Technologized Campus Environment," in Ecograthents, Retrieved February 24, 2012, http://ecograthents.com/ #/post/l 8206367841.
48. Jacques Ellul, "Diversions," in The Technological Bluff, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1990), 374.
49. McLuhan & McLuhan, Laws of Media, 211.
50. Eric McLuhan & William Kuhns, "Poetics on the Warpath," in Marshall McLuhan & David Carson, The Book of Probes, ed. Eric McLuhan & William Kuhns (Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press, Inc., 2003), 407.
51. Kenneth Burke, Language as Symbolic Action: Essays on Life, Literature, and Method (Berkeley, University of California Press, 1966), 3.
52. Corey Anton & Peter Zhang, "Syntax and Ethics: A Conversation," in ETC: A Review of General Semantics 68 (2011): 238-254.
53. McLuhan & McLuhan, Laws of Media, 124.
54. Burke, Language as Symbolic Action, 44-62.
55. Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 68.
56. Kenneth Burke, "Style," in Permanence and Change: An Anatomy of Purpose (New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1954), 50-58.
57. Michel Foucault, The Hermeneutics of the Subject: Lectures at the College de France, 1981-82, ed. Frederic Gros, trans. Graham Burchell (New York: Palgrave McMillan, 2005), 331-370.
58. Sylvere Lotringer & Paul Virilio, The Accident of Art, trans. Michael Taormina (New York: Semiotext(e), 2005), 32.
59. Friedrich W. Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra: A Book for Everyone and Nobody (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 37.
60. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 533.
61. Ellul, "Diversions," 374.
62. Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem, & Helen R. Lane (New York: Penguin, 2009), 69.
63. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufman & R. J. Hollingdale, ed. Walter Kaufmann (New York: Random House, 1967), 48.
64. Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 258.
65. Marshall McLuhan, "Clocks: The Scent of Time," in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964), 145-146.
66. Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 238.
67. Deleuze & Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 10.
68. Marshall McLuhan & Gerald Emanuel Stern, "A Dialogue: Q. & A.," in Gerald Emanuel Stearn, ed., McLuhan: Hot and Cool (New York: The Dial Press, 1967), 285.
69. Eric McLuhan & Marshall McLuhan, Theories of Communication (New York: Peter Lang, 2011).
70. Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 308-314.
71. McLuhan & Carson, The Book of Probes, 298.
72. Marshall McLuhan & Harley Parker, Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting (New York: Harper & Row), 84, 85.
73. (Eric) McLuhan & Kuhns, "Poetics on the Warpath," 415.
75. Deleuze, Negotiations, 121-134.
76. Burke, Attitudes Toward History, 62, 63.
77. Claude Lévi-Strauss, "'Primitive' Thinking and the 'Civilized' Mind," in Myth and Meaning (New York: Schocken Books, 1979), 15-24.
78. Deleuze, Critical Inquiry: 225-230.
79. Edith Hamilton, Mythology (Boston: Little, Brown & Company, 1942), 204.
80. Marshall McLuhan, "Games: The Extensions of Man," in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1964), 234-245. S. I. Hayakawa, "The Unacknowledged Legislators," in Symbol, Status, and Personality (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1963), 131-140. Kenneth Burke, "Literature as Equipment for Living," in Kenneth Burke, The Philosophy of Literary Form: Studies in Symbolic Action, 2nd Edition (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), 293-304.
81. Hélène Cixous, "The Laugh of the Medusa," in Signs 1 (1987): 875-893.
82. McLuhan & McLuhan, Laws of Media, 226.
83. McLuhan & Parker, Through the Vanishing Point, 49.
84. McLuhan & McLuhan, Laws of Media, 124.
85. McLuhan & McLuhan, Laws of Media, 227.
An internationally known lecturer on communication and media, Dr. McLuhan has over thirty years' teaching experience. He worked closely with Marshall McLuhan for fifteen years and has also done extensive communication research. He has published many books and articles on media, perception, literature and the arts. Most recently, The Human Equation (BPS Books, 2011), Media and Formal Cause (NeoPoiesis Press, 2011), and Theories of Communication (Peter Lang, 2011). Dr. Zhang is assistant professor of Communication Studies at Grand Valley State University. His scholarship so far has unfolded in the interzones between media ecology, rhetoric, Spinozian ethics, French theory (Deleuze, Foucault, de Certeau, Virilio), Zen Buddhism, and affirmative criticism. Contact: email@example.com.
Appendix: Tetrad on Obsolescence in Layout Form85
Obsolescence refers to rendering a former situation impotent by displacement: figure returns to ground.
Resurrection of the junk yard:
'Throw something lovely
Its Material Cause
Surfaces as cliché,
A terrible beauty
is born' (Yeats)
ground becomes figure;
Act returns all potency raised into
to potential act at once
Awareness of The ground of the
ground as all old item
Potential as a
ground of hidden
opportunity: junk heap as
dynamic resource. Cf. Dr Johnson,
on the sale of Mr Thrale's brewery:
this is not a mere collection of vats and
boilers, but 'the means of becoming rich
beyond the dreams of avarice!'…