Eric McLuhan in Columbia

This is the recording of Eric McLuhan’s last speech, delivered May 17th 2018, the night before he died. The speech was delivered at El Nogal, Bogotá, Colombia, on the occasion of the launch of La Universidad de la Sabana’s doctoral program in Communication and Media studies.

‘Media Ecology in the 21st Century.’ ©Eric McLuhan

We are grateful to the Universidad de la Sabana for making this recording available., for their assistance during a very difficult time, and for supporting and honouring Eric McLuhan’s work.

Andrew McLuhan, The McLuhan Institute

The Context of Eric McLuhan’s Last Lecture (Click on image for expanded view)

It’s a book,
No – it’s a poem,
No – it’s a diary,
No – it’s an art book
No – it’s a searing analysis of today’s politics,
No – it’s an indictment of the misuse of digital media seen through the lens of media ecology,
No – it’s a review of poetry and song lyrics.

Actually, it is B. W.’s meditations distilled into, words, colors, and fonts along with images by Marshall Soules and a masterful job of typesetting and page layout by NeoPoiesis Press.

Here is B. W.’s description of the Membrane in his own words because only B. W.’s words could describe this totally revolutionary way of writing a book, a poem, a diary, a political analysis, a critique and a literary review all in one:

Here’s  /
a seizing of moments  /
a venturing into the vibrations  /
a poetry collage essay  /  a journal diary
a gathering of aphorisms  /
a thought experiment that’s an attempt  /
to put my finger  /
on the pulse  /
the passion
Again  /  journeying on the waves  /  cycling back  /
Into the current  /
Yes  /  I admit  /
To following my fascinations  /  my obsessions  /

The Charge in the Global Membrane places you in Marshall McLuhan’s global village located on Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere contemplating Lama Anagarika Govinda’s mystery of electricity and the way it manifests itself as life, consciousness and communication. Here B. W. muses about and meditates on the global membrane including xenophobia, the refugee crises, pilgrims both physical and digital, Trump and other authoritarian despots, cult leaders, shock jocks, trolls, hackers, the loss of privacy in the “web whorl”, the misuse and sale of our data, the disappointment of the digital environment to meet our basic needs of connection and community, information overload, fake news, our misuse of the environment, global warming, climate change, the compromise if not the loss of literacy, the loss of intimacy. He touches on many other topics ranging from the “me too” movement and the obsessions with selfies to tattoos, graffiti, yoga, headphones, smartphones, iPhones, search engines, Google, Alexa, Facebook, robots, AI, virtual reality, blogs, podcasts, never-ending upgrades and all the other trappings of the 21st Century. In vivid detail, Powe reveals the dystopia of digital-based and screen-based life, with its endless flow of banal data “signifying nothing”.

While not providing remedies and solutions for the shortcomings of our global membrane, Powe through his searing analysis of all the woes that beset us at least identifies their stark reality, which is the first step in the amelioration of those woes. He also reveals their interconnections making another important contribution.

Powe’s communications’ analysis of Trumpism and the harm it does do society is connected to his media ecology analysis of the digital environment that makes Trump’s form of authoritarianism so compelling to so many. Powe shows how Trump uses twitter and TV sound bites to mesmerize his base. Powe also analyzes the way in which print media, television, and Twitter, as well as other social media, impact political dialogue and politics itself.

Powe combines the literary criticism tradition of his mentor and professor, Northrop Frye, with the media ecology tradition of his other mentor and professor, Marshall McLuhan. He interweaves the two traditions in a fascinating analysis of our brave new world of digital media and the new literary forms of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Like McLuhan, he critiques education, classrooms and reading styles. He references an endless stream of poets and writers: Emily Brontë, Blake, Mary and Percy Shelley, Dante, Simone Weil, Emily Dickinson, Coleridge, Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Alice Munro, Don DeLillo, Elena Ferrante, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Carson, Marilynne Robinson, Sylvia Plath, Sam Shepard, and Allan Ginsberg.

He reflects on pop culture, rock, and Woodstock and connects the lyrics of the songwriters Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, David Bowie, and Joni Mitchell, to the poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

Given Powe’s fascinating style, the reader should not expect a linear narrative. Rather B. W. creates a mosaic structure more in the style of mentor McLuhan rather than that of mentor Frye. But, I would suggest that B. W.’s writing style while somewhat similar to that of McLuhan’s that in a certain sense it is post-McLuhan in the way so many different streams of thought are juxtaposed challenging the reader to see the connections that animate B. W.’s vision of today’s digitalized reality. There is another major difference in the writing styles of McLuhan and Powe which is the beauty in the way B. W. expresses himself in a text that is highly poetic. As I said at the beginning of this review: “No – it’s a poem.”

Powe jumps from one theme to another often tracking back to a former topic and then pushing on in a never-ending flow of ideas moving forward again in a spiral whorl and whirling spiral of reflections and observations. By juxtaposing different currents of contemporary culture new insights emerge.

Powe’s Membrane is quite addictive. I read the book (I should say devoured it) in two sittings only interrupted by the need to get some shut-eye resuming my read upon awakening the next morning. Once you start this book it is hard to stop. There are no chapters, no sections, not even page numbers. No preface. No footnotes. No index. One page flows into the next in a non-stop flow of ideas, words, insights, and images. The book itself is a highly charged global membrane.

As the book comes to a close, Powe pens a poignant letter to the Net Gens, the digital natives describing their challenges and what digital media are doing to their brains and their spirits. He offers them his advice for what it is worth.

Powe then closes with his hopes for the future setting a religious tone that runs throughout the Membrane. His diary entries, for example, correspond to various religious festivals and special days of the calendar with a spiritual dimension to them: Ash Wednesday, International Women’s Day, Daylight Savings, the clocks change, The First Day of Spring, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, a day of rest for some cultures, Easter Monday, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Ramadan, World Environment Day. Then there are the references to the sacred books, Genesis, Book of Proverbs, Book of Job, Isaiah, and the Kabbalah.

Maintaining this focus on things spiritual he writes as the Membrane comes to a close:

When cries and moans become prayers and calls for grace… “Greetings
/ Blessings / I hope / for / the approach of hope / sparks / for / sparks/ of
hope / hope/”

And I close my review with my hope – hope you too enjoy B. W. Powe’s The Charge in the Global Membrane. It is well worth the read and the ensuing reflections that are sure to follow.

And I must say I have never written a review like this one because I never read a book like this one either.


The title of this posting is Marshall McLuhan’s title for his Introduction to Wilson Bryan Key’s “Sublimination Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America” (1973). It is in this essay that you will find such well-known McLuhan quotes as “Advertising is an environmental striptease for a world of abundance”

Here is the full-text of McLuhan’s essay which you can download as a PDF from the link at the bottom.

Media Ad-vice: An Introduction
by Marshall McLuhan,
Director, Centre for Culture and Technology University of Toronto

Customer in antique shop: “What’s new?”

Professor Key has helped to show how the deceits of subliminal advertising can be a means of revealing unexpected truth: the childlike faith of the ad agencies in four-letter words points to our obsession with infantile bathroom images as the chemical bond between commercial society and the universal archetypes.

The old journalism had aimed at objectivity by giving “both sides at once,” as it were, the pro and con, the light and shade in full perspective. The “new journalism,” on the other hand, eagerly seeks subjectivity and involvement in a resonant environment of events: Norman Mailer at the Chicago Convention, or Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood.

In the same way, the old history—as Michael Foucault explains in The Archeology of Knowledge (Pantheon Books, New York, 1972)–sought to show “how a single pattern is formed and preserved, how for so many different successive minds there is a single horizon.” But now the problem of the “new history” is “no longer one of tradition, of tracing a line, but one of division, of limits. It is no longer one of lasting foundations, but one of transformations that serve as new foundations….”

The study of advertising as contemporary cultural history, of history on the hop and in the hopper, of history as process rather than as a product, such is the investigation of Pro¬fessor Key. Advertising is an environmental striptease for a world of abundance. But environments as such have a way of being inaccessible to inspection. Environments by reason of their total character are mostly subliminal to ordinary experience. Indeed, the amount of any situation, private or social, verbal or geographic, that can be raised and held to the conscious level of attention is almost insignificant. Yet ads demand a lot of attention in our environmental lives. Ads are focal points for the entire range of twentieth-century knowledge, skills, and technologies. Psychologists and anthropologists toil for the agencies. So, Professor Key has drawn our attention to the use made in many ads of the highly developed arts of camouflage.

T.S. Eliot long ago pointed out that the camouflage function of “meaning” in a poem was like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the house-dog of the mind so that the poem could do its work. Professor Key explains that the proclaimed purpose of the ad may, at one level, be just such a decoy so that the ad may do its work at another level of consciousness.

Secrets Within Banality
Today many people feel uneasy when serious attention is paid to objects and subjects that they are accustomed to classify as “trash.” They feel that the base commercial operation of ads is beneath any claim to their awareness or analysis.

Such people, on the one hand, have little heeded the lessons of history and archaeology which reveal how the midden-heaps of the ages provide the wisdom and riches of the present. And yet, on the other hand, they know how their snobbish “freeze” (or surrender) in the presence of the horrid vulgarities of commerce is exactly what is needed to render them the cooperative puppets of ad manipulation. The ad as camouflage often uses the blatant appeal to hide more subtle and powerful motivations than appear on the surface.

Shakespeare’s oft misquoted remark about “one touch of nature” that “makes the whole world kin” really concerns the eagerness of men to swallow a flattering bait. He is not suggesting that natural beauty is a social bond!”…

Read or download the entire essay at https://tinyurl.com/y5qu5r2q


Marshall McLuhan in 1926 Kelvin Technical High School yearbook

“Marshall McLuhan was born in 1911 and died in 1980. By the time of his death, he had been dismissed by respectable academicians, and he was known in the popular press as an eccentric intellectual whose day in the media spotlight had come and gone. By 1980, the transformation of human life catalyzed by television was taken for granted, and it no longer seemed interesting to ask where the electronic media were taking us. But in recent years, the explosion of new media – particularly the Web – has caused new anxieties. Or to put a more McLuhanesque spin on it, the advent of new digital media has brought the conditions of the old technologies into sharper relief, and made us suddenly conscious of our media environment. In the confusion of the digital revolution, McLuhan is relevant again”. 

– From  Wired 4.01: The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Foolhttps://tinyurl.com/bxb59e

Timeline: Herbert Marshall McLuhan – 1911-1980

1911 born July 21st in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
1932 B.A., University of Manitoba.
1934 M.A., University of Manitoba.
1936 B.A., Cambridge University.
1936-1937 Taught at the University of Wisconsin.
1937-1944 Taught at Saint Louis Louis
1939 M.A., Cambridge University.
1939 Married Corinne Lewis of Fort Worth, Texas.
1943 Ph.D., Cambridge University.
1944-1946 Taught at Assumption College, Windsor, Ontario.
1946-1979 Taught in the English Department at St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.
1951 The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man published.
1952 Full Professor.
1953-1955 Chairman of Ford Foundation Seminar on Culture and Communication.
1953-1959 Associate editor of the journal “Explorations” edited by Edmund S. Carpenter.
1959-1960 Director of Project in Understanding New-Media for National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB), and Office of Education, U.S.A.
1962 The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man
won the Governor General’s Award for Canadian Non-fiction for that year.
1963-1979 Appointment by the President of The University of Toronto to direct a new Centre for Culture and Technology (to study the psychic and social consequences of technologies and media).
1964 Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man published.
1965 Honorary degree from University of Windsor, D.Litt.
1966 Honorary degree from Assumption University, D.Litt. Outstanding lecture at the Second Annual A.V.B Geoghegan Lecture, University of Pennsylvania.
1967 – Marfleet Lectures, The University of Toronto.
– Purves Memorial Lecture, American Institute of Architects, New York.
– The Medium is The Massage with visual design by Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel, published.
– Honorary degree from The University of Manitoba, D.Litt.
– Honorary degree from Simon Fraser University, LL.D.
– Honorary degree from Grinnell University, Iowa, D.Litt.
– Recieved Honorary Award in Culture and Communications from Niagara University, New York. Molson Award for outstanding achievement in the Social Sciences.
– War and Peace in the Global Village, with visual design by Quentin Fiore, produced by Jerome Agel, published.
1968 Appointment to the Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities, Fordham University, New York.
1968 Relocated Centre for Culture and Technology to the Coach House at University of Toronto.
1969 Honorary degree from St. John Fischer College, Lit. Hum.
1970 Received the Institute of Public Relations President’s Award, Great Britain.
Appointment as a Champion of the Order of Canada.
Outstanding lectures at:
– Congressional Breakfast, Washington, D.C.
– Gillet Lecture Series, University of Western Ontario.
– Mary C. Richardson Lecture, State University College of Arts and Science, Genesco, New York.
1971 Honorary degree from The University of Alberta, LL.D. Received the Christian Culture Award, Assumption University, Windsor, Ontario Gold Medal Award from the President of the Italian Republic at Rimini, Italy, in recognition of original work as philosopher of the mass media.
1972 Honorary degree from The University of Western Ontario, D.Litt. Outstanding lecture, McAuley, St. Joseph College, West Hartford, Connecticut. President’s Cabinet Award, University of Detroit.
1973 Vatican appointment as consultor of the Pontifical Commission for Social Communications.
1980 Passed away peacefully in his sleep on the last day of 1980.

From http://www.mcluhan.org/timeline.html


On July 21, 1969, people around the world crowded around their televisions to witness history in the making: astronaut Neil Armstrong taking his first steps on the moon.

The United States’ Apollo 11 spacecraft landed on the moon the day before – becoming the first crewed vessel to do so.

The momentous occasion sparked a lively conversation on U.S. television network ABC’s As it Happens between U of T Professor and famed media theorist Marshall McLuhan, Scottish landscape architect and writer Ian McHarg, Newsday publisher Bill Moyers and journalist Howard K. Smith.

Watch the full conversation here:

Apollo 11: “As it happened LIVE on ABC”, Launch and TLI, July 16-19,1969, PART.1

The panel discussed the significance of the moon landing – from debating whether it was a conquest versus an exploratory mission to the space race with Russia.

McLuhan was looking to the future in order to gauge the long-term benefits of the moon landing.

“Let’s ask ourselves in long-term projects about the meteorological possibilities of the conquest of moon space,” he said. “Can we consider the possibility of space platforms that might serve the control of climatic conditions eventually on Earth?

He also predicted that transportation – from space travel to cars – will soon become obsolete in their current forms.

“We can tell by saturation and pollution that we’re reaching a terminus in many areas of use of materials,” he said.

And the biggest shift that will take place once man has explored the moon?

“The hidden change created by moonshot is a totally new environment for human knowledge,” he said.
(Source: https://tinyurl.com/y3xvswz)

Earthrise from the Moon

Marshall McLuhan and the author of this essay in the Valade Family Gallery at CCS (Photo: Matt Raupp).

The Medium is (is not) the Message: Marshall McLuhan and His Legacy

By Vince Carducci   –   March 30, 2019
On March 19, 2019, I gave a talk in the Valade Family Gallery on the campus of College for Creative Studies in conjunction with the exhibition “Feedback 4: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts.” I used a quote from avant-garde filmmaker and critic Jonas Mekas as a preface: “The film critic should not explain what a movie is all about, surely an impossible task; he should help to create the right attitude for looking at movies.” Similarly, my talk was not about the show, but about McLuhan as a jumping off point for subsequent developments in media theory, which would be useful in looking at the work on view. Below is the text of my talk, slightly edited for publication.
******

“The Medium is the Message” is perhaps one of the best known aphorisms of Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan. Among his most influential books include: Gutenberg Galaxy,a study of the influence of moveable-type printing on culture and human consciousness; Understanding Media,a more comprehensive study of the ways in which various media, especially the electronic, affect society; and The Medium is the Message,an inventory, as its subtitle suggests, of the effects of different media on the human sensorium, co-authored with graphic designer Quentin Fiore.

Media, McLuhan holds, are not just technologies that humans invent but the means by which humanity is itself reinvented. Emerging in the early 1960s, McLuhan’s understanding of media, and more particularly the condition of mediation, contrasts with most mainstream theories up to that point. (An exception was Harold Innis, a professor of political economy at University of Toronto whose books Empire and Communication and The Bias of Communication, influenced McLuhan early on.)

A good example of then mainstream thought is Harold Laswell’s famous model of communication from 1948, which understands the process of mediation with the formula: “WHO says WHAT in WHICH CHANNEL to WHOM to WHAT EFFECT?” Theories in this vein are also known as Hypodermic Models, which view the process of mediation as proceeding in one direction, from the encoder of message through the medium of communication to the receiver with the content essentially injected into the mind of the intended recipient. The Hypodermic Model sees media as transparent, i.e., a membrane to be looked through to the content, with the message being affected by the “noise” a medium might embody to distort the sender’s “true” message. This perspective often sees mass media, in particular, as a tool of indoctrination, an apparatus for, to use Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s term, “manufacturing consent,” in modern liberal democracies as well as in authoritarian regimes.

This perspective goes back to the Greeks, particularly to Plato who in The Allegory of the Cave denigrates mimesis as an imperfect representation of the Truth of the Ideal Forms and also in Phaedrus where he quotes Socrates as being critical of writing as an interruption of the direct communication of soul-to-soul intercourse. (The irony is that we know this because Plato wrote it down.)

McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Analysis

Where traditional theory sees media as transparent, McLuhan sees it as what Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin in their book Remediation: Understanding New Media term “hypermediated,” which is to say, a process of “looking at” vs. “looking through.” McLuhan’s Tetrad of Media Analysis proposes a multifaceted perspective that looks at what a medium (1) “enhances,” for example, a music video adds a visual narrative (sometimes for the better, sometimes not) to the performance of a song; (2) what it “reverses,” for example, painting’s reversal into its condition of flatness in the face of photography’s capture of the real; (3) what it “retrieves,” for example, radio’s recovery of the spoken word vis-a-vis print, and (4) what it “obsolesces,” the hypertext’s deconstruction of print’s linear flow…
Please read the rest of this lengthy and illustrated essay here https://tinyurl.com/y2umg8zp

Click on image for expanded view.
Hannah Whitaker, “Barcroft Branches” & “Arctic Landscape (Trees)” (both 2014)

Excerpt from How to Be as Well-Informed as Marshall McLuhan, John Eaton, Lester Patrick Watson (Fron Macleans, September 1, 1971, pp. 38-39)

Canada lost its innocence somewhere between the time Gordie Tapp expatriated to do Hee-Haw and Pierre Trudeau discovered we were a nation of bleeding hearts. As if we hadn’t had enough with Vietnam, racism, dope and the economic imperialism of the United States. Which one of us can remember when French Canadians lived quietly in “La Belle Province’’ and Americans were our “friends and neighbors to the south’’? When King Gannon fiddled and Marshall McLuhan taught Kipling? When we all wanted to grow up rich and famous like Stafford Smythe? How can we, that is, how can you, make sense out of it all? Buckminster Fuller wasn’t kidding when he said the real pollution was information pollution. We are, all of us, cast adrift in a sea of information, some of us swimmers, some of us sinkers. Maclean’s has asked some of the country’s better swimmers to tread water long enough to tell us how they keep informed without going under. Sinkers read on. [Comment – If it was difficult in 1971 to make sense of it all, how much more difficult is it for us today by using pattern recognition in what Douglas Coupland calls this “Age of Earthquakes?]

MARSHALL McLUHAN

Philosopher

One of my principal means of “keeping up to date” or of relating to my surround is conversation with people I encounter when I go away to give talks. This also includes the people who come to visit the Centre.

The writing of books compels a very sharp lookout for leads and guides. In the vast new information environment there are no trivial items. We have returned to the condition of the hunter who must alert all his faculties in order to dictate the moving lines of force and changing patterns of energy in the environment of the wired planet. Naturally, a “point of view” is quite inadequate as a means of relating to fast-changing processes. As regards reading materials, I find the daily work with graduate students in literature and many other fields puts me in touch with an enormous bibliography. Some access to materials on a plane, or in a dentist’s office, often serves to provide large evidence of patterns. For anybody who acquires the power of pattern recognition by the study of figure-ground gestalts, the present gives access to at least the next 30 years. That is, the present is in fact the future of the future for those who acquire the power to live in it. The power to live in the present is called “prophetic.” It is given to all major artists in any age. As a student of major contemporary forms, I enjoy a great advantage over those who merely take up a personal point of view. Understanding is not a point of view.
Source: https://tinyurl.com/yyra8ufu

Hannah Whitaker, “Blue Paper (Albers)” (2014)Source:

The University of Windsor, Dillon Hall

Media & Space: The Regulation of Digital Platforms, New Media & Technologies
Symposium October 25, 2019
University of Windsor

Faculty of Law  –  School of Creative Arts  –  Communication, Film, and Media

Deadline to submit abstract (between 500 & 1000 words) for paper: August 8, 2019
Submit via:
https://uwindsor.ca1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_bJ9nmDr3wHJd2y9

We invite submissions from scholars in a broad range of disciplines, and encourage submissions from PhD students, Post-Doctoral students, and Junior Faculty (appointed in the last five years as of October 2019). Limited funding may be available for selected participants to cover some of the travel or accommodation costs.

Selected papers will be considered for publication in a special issue of an academic journal subject to the journal’s peer-review process.

Conference Synopsis: This conference seeks to bring together scholars from various disciplines including but not limited to law, communication, media, the arts, geography studies, and political science, to reflect on the challenges posed by the regulation of digital media platforms as liminal spaces that undermine clear distinctions between public and private. Topics might include social media, big data and smart cities, personal data sovereignty, algorithmic discrimination, cybersecurity, freedom of expression, and ubiquitous state and corporate surveillance. To address these disparate topics, our conference asks participants to address how the work of Marshall McLuhan on media and space —physical, virtual, public, private, borders, boundaries, environments and anti-environments— may be a point of departure and/or arrival to inform current and future regulatory/legal frameworks addressing digital media? What approaches to media and space help explain contradictions between contemporary globalization (of economies, cultures, technologies) and reassertion of national sovereignty and border controls? What is the relationship between changing media ecosystems and legal systems? Does Canada afford a unique geopolitical vantage point to explore these issues?

Keynote Speakers
Andrew McLuhan – Director of The McLuhan Institute

Special guest speaker Andrew McLuhan will trace out an exploration drawing a comparison between our past -of the regulation and creation of the pharmaceutical industry in the United States by the Pure Food and Drug Act (1906) and subsequent creation of the FDA- to our present Wild West of unrestrained technological innovation, to imagine a possible, more considered and deliberate way forward. Andrew will also discuss his family legacy as well as “The Relationship of Environment to Anti-Environment” manuscript to be donated to the University, which his grandfather Marshall McLuhan originally published in The University of Windsor Review.

Elaine Kahn – Author

In her presentation, Elaine Kahn will explore the relationship of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Marshall McLuhan through an examination of their correspondence, which has never been studied as a discrete entity. Her book “Been Hoping We Might Meet Again” collects their entire correspondence from 1968 to 1980 when television ruled and “new electronic interdependence” recreated a planet “in the image of a global village.” The two men were at the forefront of discussions about critical issues of globalization, especially the political uses of media, at a time when globalization was not yet a recognized keyword in the literature. All this is reflected in the correspondence. Both were experts at media manipulation and recognized that in the other. McLuhan was teaching the world about the global village at the same time as Trudeau was helping Canada find its place and meanings in it. Even a cursory glance at the news today shows how much their work is still relevant and needs to be built upon.

Michael Darroch – Associate Professor, School of Creative Arts, University of Windsor

Professor Darroch’s presentation, titled “Border Environments:  Theorising Media and Culture in the Windsor-Detroit Borderlands, 1943-1946” will trace Marshall McLuhan’s assertion that a border is not “a connection but an interval of resonance” to the mid-1940s, when he lived and taught in the Canadian border city of Windsor, Ontario, which sits opposite Detroit, Michigan. McLuhan corresponded and collaborated with both Wyndham Lewis, who was also lecturing in Windsor/Detroit, and Siegfried Giedion, who was touring North America. Lewis and Giedion would each have a decisive influence on McLuhan’s emergent theorisation of mediated cultural environments. McLuhan’s experience in Windsor-Detroit can be seen as providing a context in which his concept of a “global village” began to take shape, not simply as a utopian sphere anticipating a culturally
harmonious landscape, but rather a sphere in which we are increasingly involved with each other whether we like it or not. Through their capacity to cause mutual irritation, borders are collective spaces in which cultural differences must be acknowledged.

Detroit on the left opposite Windsor, Ontario

First published in Hamilton Arts & Letters, June 11, 2019
Review by J.S. Porter

FROM GLOBAL VILLAGE TO GLOBAL MEMBRANE:
A REVIEW OF B.W. POWE’S THE CHARGE IN THE GLOBAL MEMBRANE,
WITH STREET ART PHOTOS BY MARSHALL SOULES

“The new electric environment is a collective poem.” – Marshall McLuhan

Two implicit questions skulk around in B.W. Powe’s new book: Who are we?
Or, is the more accurate question, What are we? And: Where are we?

The short answer to the first question is: No one. No one or nothing yet. We are still under construction. We are still making our character, our identity, our destiny. And the answer to the second question is: Nowhere. ”Increasingly we reside in cyberspace – on cell phones, online, in the mediascape. We’re plugged in beings who move like ghosts through electronic membranes”. In Powe’s words, “We’re wired up, inside borderless, transnational, immediate, entangling, speeding, here-there-everywhere-now states, in an always intensifying, mutable milieu.”

C215 Annotated, Barcelona 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

We have made our tools, as Marshall McLuhan said years ago, and our tools have remade us. By extending our brain into networks, no tool has so thoroughly remade us as the computer.

Antenna Head, Havana 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

In Powe’s update on tools and their remaking of the human, we move from the Earth to the Global Village to the Cosmopolis to the Global Theatre or, in other words, from the first brightened cities to the Village (made possible by telephone, radio, TV and cinema) to the Theatre to Satellite Wi-fi Networks to the Membrane Cell. This new “hyper-evolution is both biological…and sensory-psychic—we’re webbed into complexity, sensation, information, imagination, emotion and soul-making.”

Powe’s words and Soules’ images take us into the post-McLuhan world with joy, fun (don’t miss Powe’s take on Trump’s Covfefe, Trudeau’s ums and Obama’s pauses) daring, alarm, wisdom, playfulness and zest. Powe and Soules are master guides of the Here and Now.

Powe tells us where we are, and maybe who we are, by sound: “All is hum, hack, flicker, tweet, leak, feed, livestream, buzz and more buzz.” Soules shows us who we are by image. The Human Face is shocked, stunned, peeling, morphing, the new not-yet born:

Future Shock, Barcelona, 2016. Photograph by Marshall Soules.

The Charge in the Global Membrane is an original, mind-stimulating, heart-expanding book and a work of great hybridity. It’s a book of epigraphs (Emily Dickinson contributes two), poems, prayers, mini-biographies (on David Bowie, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen), a handwritten diary, a long letter to the Net generation (Net-gens), mini-essays, memos, proclamations, manifestoes, quotations, questions. A presence ever-powerful and lucid throughout Powe’s pages is the philosopher and mystic Simone Weil, an indispensable Elder of the Tribe.

My favourite question is Powe’s borrowing from Lama Anagarika Govinda: “Do we really know what electricity is?” The book is also an art gallery of contemporary wall art from cities in Europe and the Americas, Barcelona and Havana most prominent among them. It’s a child’s paint box with splashes of colour, variegated fonts and typefaces. It’s a snapshot of the future and the now. It’s a call for soul-making – quiet and reflection within the frenzy.

In Powe’s words, the book is “a seizing of moments/a venturing into the vibrations/ a poetry collage essay/ a journal diary/ a gathering of aphorisms/a thought experiment…” The multi-genre book flows without pagination as if it were one long breath.

You can read this book visually as well as verbally. Marshall Soules’ photographs have the freshness, punch and poignancy of Jean-Michel Basquiat’s street art. Soules often shows the emotional states of those living in the global membrane. Not since Marshall McLuhan’s and Harley Parker’s Counterblast have I seen such a close and enriching collaboration as that of Powe and Soules. Word and image mix, and sometimes meld, beautifully together.

Freefall, Barcelona 2016. Marshall Soules, Photographer.

Throughout the tumbleweed roll of language, Powe speaks in a personal voice in which he’s not afraid to confess self- ironies. The seer into the flux and flow of the cybersphere isn’t on Facebook, doesn’t tweet or use Instagram, doesn’t own an iPhone or wear a watch and stays away from e-mail for two days a week. In fact, like McLuhan, he’s a reader (as well as a teacher and a writer) who, like David Bowie, sends out a phenomenally good reading list to his readers. Don’t miss the three pages of Sources at the end of the book.

I use the phrase “don’t miss” throughout my response to The Charge quite deliberately. The book is like a river. You can step into it anywhere and you can miss things in the flow. The flow begins and doesn’t stop until you close the book or write on the last page where you’re invited to write your own future and that of the planet’s on blank paper.

The section of the book I personally found most enriching is Powe’s long address to the young, those who are often chastised for being non-readers, non-thinkers, non-participants in society. Powe encourages: “I take heart realizing that you sense how to live with unpredictability and shape-shifting” just as “cusp-artists” like Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen do, like B.W. Powe and Marshall Soules do.

In lines resembling a personal manifesto, B.W. Powe writes:

Cusp-artists find ways to live long creative lives by conjuring and configuring the ripple and rush, the wild shifts and darkening divisions. We honour them by following up with our homages, our preservations of complexity and inwardness, our pursuit of wonder, our Eros of creating, our enigmatic cultivations of beauty and spirit, our call and response to those (all of us) who are also empathic pilgrims and know wishing-wells and heartbreak.

The Charge in the Global Membrane wouldn’t be a B.W. Powe book without its also being an open and vulnerable heart (“a pasture for gazelles, and a convent for Christian monks… and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and the tables of the Torah and the book of the Quran…” from Sufi philosopher Ibn Arabi) and an exhortation to soul-making even in, especially in, Electronica. After all, “It isn’t our eyes that need to be wide awake all the time: it’s our souls” which “long for insight and vision.”

You can order The Charge in the Global Membrane (Seattle, WA: NeoPoiesis Press, 2019) on Amazon.ca and Amazon.com.

SEE MORE STREET ART PHOTOGRAPHS by Marshall Soules from Hamilton Arts & Letters here https://tinyurl.com/y665rkg9

J.S. Porter is Culture Critic for The Nancy Duffy Show and contributes to Hamilton Arts & Letters. Porter’s recent work includes two poetry chapbooks – Of Wine and Reading, and Small Discriminations – published by David Zieroth’s Alfred Gustav Press in Vancouver. He was shortlisted for the Vallum magazine chapbook contest for Scraps & Small Discriminations in 2017. In 2018, he co-authored, with Susan McCaslin, Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine. He is currently at work on a new poetry collection, Reedrite.

B.W. Powe is a writer from Toronto. He is the author of The Solitary Outlaw (essay), Outage(novel), Where Seas and Fables Meet (multi-genre) and Decoding Dust (poetry), among other works. He teaches at York University, and he has taught at the University of Catalunya, in Barcelona. He lives in Stouffville, Ontario, and in Córdoba, Spain.

Marshall Soules is the former Chair of Media Studies at Vancouver Island University and author of Media, Persuasion and Propaganda (2015). He has been photographing wall art since the 1980s. The photographs included here are all from The Charge in the Global Membrane, his collaborative work with B.W. Powe.


Published by Springer Nature Switzerland AG
  • Applies the theories of Marshall McLuhan to science fiction studies, which have yet to be considered from this perspective
  • Provides concrete examples of how McLuhan’s theories find their reflection in the aesthetics of classic and new science fiction films, demonstrating that many of his observations can be practically employed in film studies
  • Includes valuable guidelines for researchers interested in conducting similar research

This groundbreaking book uses observations made by Marshall McLuhan to analyze the aesthetics of science fiction films, treating them as visual metaphors or probes into the new reality dominated by electronic media:

–          it considers the relations between the senses and sensuality in Blade Runner, the visually-tactile character of the film, and the status of replicants as humanity’s new clothes;

–          it analyzes the mixture of Eastern and Western aesthetics in Star Wars, analyzing Darth Vader as a combination of the literate and the tribal mindset;

–          it discusses the failure of visual society presented in the Terminator and Alien franchises, the rekindling of horror vacui, tribalism, and the desire to obliterate the past as a result of the simultaneity of the acoustic space;

–          finally, the book discusses the Matrix trilogy and Avatar as being deeply related in terms of the growing importance of tactility, easternization, tribalization, as well as connectivity and the implosion of human civilization.

Table of contents (5 chapters)

  • Clothes Make the Man—The Relation Between the Sensual and the Sexual in Blade Runner (1982)  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 1-14
  • Star Wars as an Aesthetic Melting Pot  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 15-45
  • Horror Vacui and the Critique of Visual Society in Alien and Terminator Films  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 47-72

  • The Digital Natives and the Implosion of Humanity in The Matrix and Avatar  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 73-99

  • Conclusion  –  Skweres, Artur  –  Pages 101-103

Artur Skweres, PhD is an Assistant Professor at the English Department of the Faculty of Pedagogy and Fine Arts, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. His academic interests include American culture (especially literature and film), as well as theories of comedy and humor. In 2012 he published his first book, entitled Searching for Truth and Freedom: Philip K. Dick’s Works in Light of Alexis de Tocqueville’s Thought, followed by a monograph on the play principle in comedy, titled Homo Ludens as a Comic Character in Selected American Films (2017).

Marshall McLuhan