“People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.” — Marshall McLuhan

 

Marshall McLuhan reading newspaper (1972) – Apropos Lou Forsdale visit to Marshall McLuhan for taping piece for Electric Media volume for High Schools (Harcourt Brace)

By Peter Feuerherd, professor of journalism at St. John’s University in New York and a correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter.

Communication theorists don’t usually merit international celebrity, with one giant exception. During the 1960s, and until his death in 1980, Canadian professor and author Marshall McLuhan improbably became part of cocktail party discourse and a household name.

McLuhan, born on July 21, 1911, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1937. After attending Cambridge, he taught at the University of Toronto, where he began exploring the postwar world of modern communications. He was fascinated by the life of his own children, who he discovered had moved beyond the print culture he was reared in. They watched the newly-created television, listened to radio, read, and multi-tasked in ways that captivated their professor father.

McLuhan’s signature concept was that any new medium of communication alters the entire outlook of the people who use it. He saw the newly emergent medium of television transforming the world into what he called a global village, breaking down isolated pockets of racial and ethnic identities, forging new narratives shared by entire populations, who were returning to pre-print ways of hearing and experiencing stories.

McLuhan’s theories were said to explain the generation gap. Corporations paid him large sums to lecture executives on their business models (he often told them they had no idea what they were doing). He was featured in scores of magazine and newspaper articles. Intellectuals (and would-be intellectuals) bandied about McLuhan’s proverbs such as “the medium is the message.” He even discussed his theories in a cameo appearance in Woody Allen’s 1977 romantic comedy Annie Hall.                                                                                                                                                                                                

McLuhan privately expressed his debt to the Jesuit mystic, scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ   (1881 -1955)

But there was one portion of McLuhanism that remained hidden to the general public, according to author Tom Wolfe. McLuhan privately expressed his debt to the Jesuit mystic, scientist and theologian Teilhard de Chardin for inspiring many of his theories. McLuhan saw his theories as harkening an age in which all people would become part of the body of Christ, a unity created by technological advances. Teilhard, who died in 1955, was known for his teachings which looked towards Darwinian evolution not as an enemy of religious faith but as evidence of God’s design for the evolution of humanity.

McLuhan kept this influence out of his public writings and speeches. Wolfe says he probably did so in response to Teilhard’s regular battles with Catholic authorities, who frequently saw his views as contrary to the faith and tried to suppress them. Teaching at a Catholic college, McLuhan might have been reticent for fear for his own position.McLuhan also saw that citing a mystical Jesuit would be a dead end with secular audiences, who would be suspicious of a religious viewpoint permeating the realm of communications theory.

In any case, McLuhan enjoyed guru-like status, invoked regularly and pondered by the world’s intelligentsia. His theories were applied by the innovators of the emerging internet of the 1990s, who saw in McLuhan a vision of how their own medium was transforming the world. Years after his death, McLuhan’s photo adorned the masthead of Wired, the print Gospel of the internet, a tribute to how a formerly obscure literary professor transformed the way the world views communication. The impact of his thought, notes Wolfe, cannot be overestimated, akin to that of Freud or Einstein. (Source: https://goo.gl/KJbTWv)

See also on this blog: Teilhard de Chardin’s Concept of Noosphere & His Influence on Marshall McLuhan https://goo.gl/vGjgav 


Participants at the Toronto School Conference, 2016 (click to enlarge image)

This recently added website on the Toronto School Initiative follows upon the highly successful Toronto School Conference of 2016 at the University of Conference. It offers basic information about some of the principal figures of the original Toronto School of the 1950s and ’60s – Edmund Carpenter, Northrop Frye, Eric Havelock,  Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Jacqueline Tyrwhitt, Walter, Ong, Jane Jacobs, Glenn Gould – plus other background information, articles, videos, resources and news.

The Toronto School of Communication

Active primarily from the 1930s to the 1970s, the so-called Toronto School of Communication Theory was instrumental in drawing worldwide attention to the provocative idea that technological engagement plays a fundamental role in the structuring of human perception and culture.

The very development of communication and media studies as academic disciplines owes much to the formative Toronto School scholars Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, Northrop Frye, and Marshall McLuhan. Moreover, the diverse intellectual lenses afforded by the ‘Toronto thought’ has attracted a great many thinkers, both domestic and international, active in a wide variety of pursuits both academic and otherwise. Such thinkers include: Edmund Carpenter, Tom Easterbrook, Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Carl Williams, Dorothy Lee, Walter J. Ong, Sigfried Giedion, Ray Birdwhistell, Peter Drucker, Karl Polanyi, Glenn Gould, Jane Jacobs, and Buckminster Fuller.

The mosaic of methodologies employed by the Toronto School reflects the eclectic diversity of the wider cultural impact of the core intellectual movement.

First described in the 1980s as a canonized ‘school’ of thought, the Toronto School might be conceived as an ‘invisible college’, a shared intellectual and creative approach which has gone beyond academia to have a lasting impact in art and culture.

With Innis entering the study of communication from the field of political economy, Havelock from classics, and McLuhan and Frye from literary studies, the Toronto School represents an approach to the topic of culture and technology practiced by a diverse range of scholars from across the humanities.

Media theorists continue to explore the impact of Innis, Havelock, Frye and McLuhan on our understanding of the mediated world around us, and to systematize what constitutes a Canadian or Toronto-specific school of thought.

For access go to http://thetorontoschool.ca/

Download the Toronto School Conference Program Download


Click on photo for expanded view.

As of July 1, 2017, McLuhan Centenary Fellow Paolo Granata will hold a professorship in “Marshall McLuhan and Print Culture” at the University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, as part of its sponsored program in Book & Media Studies within the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science.

Professor Granata is joining St. Michael’s College after spending 15 years at the University of Bologna, Italy, where he almost entirely established his own academic career in research, teaching, and public engagement.

Nurtured by the century-old tradition of his Alma Mater, Professor Granata’s research and teaching interests lie broadly in the area of Aesthetics, Medium Theory, Heritage Communication, Visual Culture. He has authored a number of essays and book chapters published in Italian, English, French, and Spanish. His main books are: Arte in Rete (2001), Arte, estetica e nuovi media (2009), Mediabilia (2012), and Ecologia dei media (2015); his latest works is the upcoming Introduction to Media Ecology (2018).

Paolo may also be familiar to some at St. Mike’s – from 2015 to 2017, he was Visiting Professor and Program Curator at the McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology, University of Toronto.

Currently, he acts as co-curator of the McLuhan Salons series (www.mcluhansalons.ca) and as Chair of the Toronto School Initiative (www.thetorontoschool.ca). He is a board member of the Media Ecology Association (www.media-ecology.org).

As a cultural strategist and champion of urban sustainable development, he is also involved in a bid to designate Toronto as UNESCO Creative City of Media Arts.

Professor Granata aims to raise public awareness about the role that Universities should play in the 21st century: to provide an environment of social cohesion; to create the conditions for human development; and to strengthen participation in cultural life.

The Book & Media Studies Program, sponsored by the University of St. Michael’s College, a Federated University of the University of Toronto, offers both major and minor programs of study within the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts and Science. It provides students with an opportunity to study within an interdisciplinary undergraduate program focusing on the history and theory of book history, print culture, broadcasting, and electronic and digital media.

St. Michael’s College


This is a list of the distinguished keynote speakers who will participate in this year’s Media Ecology Association (MEA) Annual Convention at Saint Mary’s College Of California, Moraga, California, June 22-25, 2017. Unfortunately, Stewart Brand whose name and biography were part of this posting originally had to cancel his attendance for family reasons. Kevin Kelly is replacing him and his name and bio have been substituted below. The names are listed in the order of their scheduled sessions. For information about the convention see http://www.media-ecology.org/

 Robert K. Logan – University of Toronto. A Media Ecologist / Physicist’s Take on Pope Francis’ Encyclical Laudato Si: An Ecumenical Approach to a Dialogue of Science and Religion – Robert Logan originally trained as a physicist, but he is now a distinguished media ecologist. He received a BS and PhD from MIT in 1961 and 1965. After two post-doctoral appointments at University of Illinois (1965-7) and University of Toronto (1967-8), he became a physics professor in 1968 at the U of Toronto until his retirement in 2005. He is now professor emeritus. During this period, in addition to math-based physics courses, he taught an interdisciplinary course called “The Poetry of Physics,” which led to his collaboration with Marshall McLuhan and his research in media ecology and the evolution of language. His best known works are The Alphabet Effect, based on a paper co-authored with McLuhan, The Sixth Language: Learning a Living in the Internet Age and The Extended Mind: The Emergence of Language, the Human Mind and Culture. The Sixth Language won the Suzanne K. Langer Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Symbolic Form in 2000 from the Media Ecology Association. (Source: https://goo.gl/AoEUUM )

 

Scott McCloud – He is best known as a comics theorist or, as some say, the “Aristotle of comics”, following the publication in 1993 of Understanding Comics, a wide-ranging exploration of the definition, history, vocabulary, and methods of the medium of comics, itself in comics form. He followed in 2000 with Reinventing Comics (also in comics form), in which he outlined twelve “revolutions” that he argued would be keys to the growth and success of comics as a popular and creative medium. Finally, in 2006, he released Making Comics. Following publication, he went on a tour with his family that included all 50 U.S. states and parts of Europe. (Source: https://goo.gl/gN60UD 

Kevin Kelly is Senior Maverick at Wired magazine. He co-founded Wired in 1993, and served as its Executive Editor for its first seven years. His new book for Viking/Penguin is called The Inevitable, which is a New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller. He is also founding editor and co-publisher of the popular Cool Tools website, which has been reviewing tools daily since 2003. From 1984-1990 Kelly was publisher and editor of the Whole Earth Review, a journal of unorthodox technical news. He co-founded the ongoing Hackers’ Conference, and was involved with the launch of the WELL, a pioneering online service started in 1985. His books include the best-selling New Rules for the New Economythe classic book on decentralized emergent systems, Out of Control, a graphic novel about robots and angels, The Silver Cord, an oversize catalog of the best of Cool Tools, and his summary theory of technology in What Technology Wants (2010). (Source: http://kk.org/biography )

Eric McLuhan – Eric McLuhan received his BSc in Communications from Wisconsin State University in 1972 and his M.A. and PhD in English Literature from the University of Dallas in 1980 and 1982. In 2007, he received the Neil Postman Award for Career Achievement in Public Intellectual Activity from the Media Ecology Association. In 2011, the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada awarded him an L.L.D. of Sacred Letters. Marshall McLuhan, Neil Postman and Eric McLuhan together coined the term ‘media ecology ‘ during a conversation in 1967.[3] Marshall and Eric McLuhan co-authored the books Laws of Media: The New Science (1990), Media and Formal Cause (2011), and Theories of Communication (2011). According to McLuhan associate Dean Motter, Eric also collaborated with his father on some books as a ghostwriter. (Source: https://goo.gl/HQJlvF )  (Photo by Michael McLuhan) 

 Paul Heyer – After pursuing an undergraduate degree in geography at Concordia University, Paul Heyer went on to do graduate work in sociology and anthropology at The New School for Social Research in New York, and Rutgers University in New Jersey where he earned his doctorate. He’s a Professor of Communication at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario, Canada. His primary research interests are media history (film, radio, and television) and nonverbal communication. He is the author of Titanic Legacy: Disaster as Media Event and Myth, and co-editor (with David Crowley) of Communication in History: Technology, Culture, Society. A lifelong fascination with radio led to his book, The Medium and the Magician, which deals with the radio legacy of Orson Welles and how Welles’s use of sound in radio influenced his motion pictures. More recently, he has begun research on a project that assess media representations of island survivor stories, from Robinson Crusoe to television’s Lost. (Source: https://goo.gl/Krvx2q ) 

Terrence Deacon – Terrence Deacon is chair of the Department of Anthropology at UC Berkeley and a researcher at the Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute. He received his PhD from Harvard University in 1984 and has served on the faculty of Harvard University, Harvard Medical School, Boston University, and UC Berkeley. He is a biological anthropologist known for research on human brain evolution, language function, cross-species fetal neural transplantation, and complex systems approaches to evolutionary theory. His 1997 book, The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain (W. W. Norton & Company), was awarded the prestigious I. J. Staley Prize and his most recent book, Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter (W. W. Norton & Company), was published in 2012. (Source: https://goo.gl/tuLnSh )

 

St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga, CA


Prose Percepts, Lyric Responses by B.W. Powe, in collaboration with Marshall Soules, on NEW MEDIA, EMPATHY, IDENTITY, REFUGEES, NATIONALISM, THE DONALD TRUMP PHENOMENON, JUSTIN TRUDEAU, A-LITERACY, THE WILD INTERNET, PARANOIA, POETRY AND INTIMACY, BOB DYLAN, PATTI SMITH…

Street Art Photos by Marshall Soules

We´re experiencing the charge in the global membrane… By this I mean immersion in our electrified technological environment. All the puns in charge implied. Marshall McLuhan was one of the first to recognize we´re wired up, transformed, wholly inside borderless, transnational, instantaneous, entangling, speeding, here-there-everywhere-now states, in an always intensifying mutable milieu.

The global village became the global theatre: the theatre has become the global membrane. This phrase adapts what Teilhard de Chardin called “the noosphere,” the subliminal layering of externalized thought and emotions around our planet, in our era of apogees and abysses. The charge is the recognition of the second creation, the second Big Bang: the experience of technological expansion through electrification and the resulting accelerating streams and pulses of data-energy.

Antenna Head, Havana, 2016

The membrane is the communications’ envelope, the atmosphere of circuiting messages and vibrations.  The global membrane brings at once an Opening Time and a Closing Time.

 

The Donald Trump phenomenon is in part a reaction against the charge of the global membrane. One of its wounds is a loss of a sense of identity. All becomes amorphous when borders are fluid and homelands become unsettled or dangerous places. When identity is threatened and bruised, violent behavior and desperate responses can follow. In the refugee migrations we see people fleeing, driven to find new identities, escaping from places in vicious convulsion. They´re turning from their heartbreak, impelled to seek paths they hope lead to an opening in a new heartland. These are forced pilgrimages born out of radical political instabilities. But the refugees often find barbed wire barriers and the cry for increased border protections. This is the voice of the closing: separatist movements, whether based on ethnicity or economic concerns, are about walling out the global surges of sensational change.  Sometimes nationalist movements claim they want to rearrange trade deals, but this often cloaks an anxious urge towards insularity and grievance with the Other (someone else is to blame for the challenges of being here, in the global intricacies), a distinct status for people who regard their conditions as exceptional, under threat, besieged by waves of transformations (cultural, financial) that can´t, apparently, be shaped except by closing borders or establishing isolate regimes.

 

Expressions of nationalism are about preserving old identities and shutting down borderlines in a world that is jump-starting towards open communions of the soul. By which I mean solidarity with the experience of exile, abandonment, humiliation, and suffering; the common yearning for justice and generosity; our deep need to participate in abundance, to spread the wealth; our desire to break free from loneliness and perpetual fatigue; our sense that we´re at our best when we participate in the spirit of trust, compassion, welcome, and love. Because unstoppable information surges and blurts, in unbridled intensities, fear and anger arise: …who´s listening in? …who is in control? …who is the enemy? …who´s infiltrating our “values?” …these are some of the sensationalized responses to being wired into breaking immediacies.

Disconnected, Havana, 2016

Refugees move across the globe bringing a suffering so intense that they will move us with their pulses of grief. Injured souls tend to want to flee or withdraw. And the brutalization that comes from unlimited data, sensory input, can create “hard feelings”: thus the shouting out for tough action. The global membrane is more about ripples of sensibility than it is about ideologically determined positions. It initiates a conflict between openness, receptivity, forbearance, generosity, patience, and empathy, and set reactions, suspicion, judgment, anxiety, and intolerance.

 

Capoeira in the City, Havana, 2016

Trump’s call to “Make America Great Again” is a raging tough-line retrieval action for something that never truly existed. All identities are provisional. “How very one minute ago,” the saying goes… Meaning: the speed-effect ushers in crises of self-hood, unending feelings of displacement. Crucially, Trump uses media in an unprecedented way. We see this when we understand how he’s tuned into a-literacy, digital experience, the waves of sensation and impression, the currents of now that provoke trauma and paroxysms of reaction. Hillary Clinton, a private person, a policy wonk, aka a literate person, couldn’t counter the intuitive magic of one so connected to the a-literate waves of hearsay, “post-facts,” tweet-storming, conspiracy theories, public rambles that become abusive stand-up routines, sudden inexplicable flips in positions and stances, and show-biz. Extension, association: illiteracy means a person can’t read an alphabetic text; post-literacy means a person nostalgically recalls the act of reading a book or a printed page; a-literacy means a person has no interest at all in reading.

 

Block Head and Funnel, Havana, 2016

 

Former President Obama showed that he could speak to both the waves of emotion and to the intellect during his two election campaigns. And Michelle Obama can also do so now–she should run in the next American federal election: she’d likely soundly defeat Trump. During the 2016 campaign, Trump was “out of his mind” (great copy), the reckless outsider who relished audience (public and virtual) responses to evermore spectacular, extremist claims. Hillary Clinton seemed at times to embody common sense and the insider´s view: too cautious and careful for the prickling of incessant stimulation; secretive, because uncomfortable in the spotlight, therefore a person “under suspicion.” Any identification of a middle way will likely be unpopular when the pull of extremism takes hold.

Giving Voice (Julier), Havana. 2016

The fierce debates in the media about Trump manifest a civil war of sensory bias. The print media is ganging up on the electronic media. Print media demand historical verifications (fact checks), research confirmations, descriptive consistency, and cultural memory. Newspapers and journals thrive on steady editorial points of view. The electronic media thrive on orality, rumor, reverberations, echoes, icon and image, quick access at your finger-tips (being in touch), headline prompts, confrontational blogs, and avatar (or troll) identities: the speeding cubist expression of an everything-at-once experience. Print works on lag-time, gradually catching up to events. Contexts and situations are shifting so fast that no essaying can truly keep track. Images are instantaneous X-rays which enhance both scrutiny and blurring. Blurbs can be memorable and transient. Print may allow for contemplative attention and concentrated analyses: you need time and space (privacy) to read. E-connectivity grows with snapshots (Instagramming) that simultaneously encourage snap protests, spontaneous flash-risings that strike back at the hunger for authoritarianism that is rapidly re-appearing in North America, South America (Venezuela), and Europe (especially in Hungary and Poland). The ideal for the sensorium is a gestalt of print and e-media, in a fearful symmetry.

City on My Mind, Havana, 2016

 Justin Trudeau is the positive mirror image of the dark negating Trump. Justin uses the electronic media effectively, too. We can see how intertwined he is with net sensation when he strays from prepared speeches: he’s often incoherent (lots of “ums” and “uhs”). He massages the media to encourage us with “sunny ways”–-lightness; when he falters, the lightness becomes shallow. He has charm (magic): beyond ideological, he nevertheless tries to steer a wary way through the middle of our global epic of extremism.  It remains to be seen whether either the Conservatives or the NDP in Canada will be able to counter his authentic hopeful tone: and whether his photo-op charisma will be enough to counter Trump´s unhinged corporatism and contempt for letters. Justin’s charisma differs from that of his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau. He was a literary person, a private sensibility with considerable gravitas, who nevertheless could, paradoxically, flippantly play with what was the new media then. Trudeau Sr. opposed militant nationalism in all its guises. Would such a politician be electable in our entrancing, inter-connective, anxious, shimmering, supra-attentive atmosphere?

 

Advice to readers (a pause for a thought). People are told not to post long, complex writings on the net because no one will read them. Attention spans are drawn to the brief interval, the turn to screen magnetism, its ionic agitations. ADD has become a natural state of reception. Nevertheless, let´s go on:

 

Conspiracy theories swarm in the gaps between the print medium and the electronica of sensation and over-heated, transforming story-head-lines. There is necessary fictionalizing in print and electronica: it´s necessary because we must tell stories. Still, descriptions that match facts are almost impossible outside of science and mathematics. Not even Quantum Mechanics, with its strange evocations of subatomic realities, truly has a language that can map what we can´t fully envision. Imagination and opinion must play a part: we´re always making. Now we´re making in conditions of I-cloud and access overdrive…

Terror TV, Havana, 2016

 

“Shifts Happen,” the wry graffiti announces. But what happens when a political leader insists that his take on things is the only “real” one? This is how a leader or a movement turns authoritarian. “I alone…” Trump repeatedly announced during his election campaign. “In the end you will thank me…” Trump said during the first months of his presidency after another magnetizing and demagnetizing act (the meaning of polarization). Remember Groucho Marx´s prophetic gloss: “Who are you going to believe–-me, or your own eyes?” Data bubbles insulate users, habituating them to closed circuits. This provokes hyper-states of awareness that ramp up assent and anxiety.

Cartoon-like conspiracy theories become frenzied when people think there´s a subterranean order lurking in the static, vibrations, dash, and blur, the immediate press of data. The visible is being shadowed by an order not apparent to everyone else. Vast networks sending-receiving information must traffic in weird, dangerous intentions (it seems). The gaps invite conspiracy theorizing, the mind operating “outside of itself.” This is pattern-recognition flipping into paranoia. Some claim they have special second-sight (insight, foresight)–-an occult seeing into the gaps of static where things seem hidden. Sleeplessness and panic, bombast and insensitivity, incite internet alternative worlds, in which destabilizing threats and accusations run rampant. Philip K. Dick´s sci-fi visions now seem routine. Democracies become deeply vulnerable in the skittish conditions. People feel harassed and battered. Who’ll stop the reign of speed? The faster things go the more events and ideas flip into caricatures. Those who make alarming twitter claims often see themselves as searing leaders of mass movements, welcoming the formation of cult-like followers and rallies.

 

Seers and Followers, Havana, 2016

Everyone feels the static cling and so we become “touchy.” Tempers flare, grievances spill over, nerve-ends jump, emotions frazzle; positions become inflexible, crudity and cynicism become habitual; debates turn unforgiving and accusatory. The pulsations of the membrane amplify irritabilities but also the desire for easing and peace. Notice the proliferation of yoga studios in cities and towns, places where people stretch out their bodies to calm down. “Show your heart,” yogis say.  A planet of excited messaging concentrates billions of eyes and ears, scoping, scanning, listening in, eaves-dropping. “Don’t become de-sensitized…,” editorialists and reporters say. It’s an apt warning, after the global village and global theatre were subsumed into the vibrant membrane.

 

In this sense-surround, empathy and impressionability must stay alive by listening to differing voices, by cultivating spaces of inwardness and contemplation, by finding time for reflection and intuition, by practicing restful periods, by dialing down the noise, by piecing together the news from many sources, by a healthy dissent to counter the unfettered cravings and nihilistic lies of many leaders, by developing the skill to recognize patterns with compassion and good will, by meeting people directly who are suffering (being at the side of the Other). We´ll know truth by comparing fictions. This helps to slow down the pulse rate in our jittery fervors and soul exposures.

 

Social Networking, Havana, 2016

 And if you’re still reading this:

Note how many literary people opt out of the wired wireless, avant-garde spectacle–-Alice Munro, Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Carson, Marie-Claire Blais, Marilynne Robinson–sometimes eluding, if not trying to evade, the effects of Big Media. Ironically, this becomes a media tale, too. Pynchon’s refusal to be photographed is legendary. Munro and McCarthy give rare, prized interviews that reveal almost nothing about themselves or their craft. This is solitude’s rebellion against noise, mobbing data. Writers turn to the margins, going underground, where they can work slowly, preserving their sense and sensibility. Privacy has come to mean turning within, becoming inward. Authors often seem to call out for quiet, stillness, meditative time, sustained attentiveness to the beautiful ambiguities of words and the shapes of sentences, so we can concentrate and listen to the elusive spirit on the page. The literary space becomes smaller and smaller: observe the obsession in contemporary fiction with rooms, little towns, interior monologues, family breakdowns, individual hurts and crack-ups, trekking alone through a wilderness. But this is, quixotically and paradoxically, a privacy that hides in the open: the margins are a vulnerable place in the intimate throb of our cellular conditions.

 

Dreaming of Home, Havana, 2016

The doors of perception have been ripped off their hinges in our data-ion saturations. Meaning: we´re not standing on one side of the door or the other: all is hum, hack, flicker, tweet, leak, skype, livestream, buzz and feed; all is permeating turbulence, engulfment of the senses–a dynamo that generates ecstasy and a shrinking (or shuddering) from the impact.

 

Our immersion in the global systole and diastole is a universal experience–not happening to you or me, to us or them, but wholly to we. Moments of receptivity and grace; and linked impulses that can lead to shut-down. We may say, “It´s not clear enough” (bring on more transparency), and we may say, “It´s too much” (tilt). Selfies are like birth-certificate and passport images in the borderless-ness of the membrane. They confirm we exist–we´re in a digital archive–living now here and there (nowhere and everywhere). IMs… This is what techies call Instagram Messaging. A translation of that acronym: I am plural; I am multitudes. Each person is a mediator of the one and the many; each of us a part of the beat and the chorus, both a wave and field.

 

Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith are cusp figures: in the inter-phase of book culture and electronic musical reach, adeptly moving between communicating domains, songs and poetry. Dylan´s interviews can be put-ons of insolent eloquence; they´re often rich with storytelling and gracious tributes to fellow musicians. Chronicles Volume 1 is an indispensable work that reveals how attuned Dylan is to environments (attentive to influence). It also shows how masked a personality he is; he gives little away about his soul´s state. Will there be a Volume 2?  Maybe. Maybe not. Evasion and ambiguity are his ways of staying alive artistically. Cohen over the years cultivated a courtly, often priestly public persona that shrouded his practiced ironies and his obsession with slippery sex. Beautiful Losers, his best book, moves into hallucinatory, shape-shifting spheres. Chants, omens, rituals, orgasms and longings haunt the shadowy speaker in this prose poem. It remains a hermetic work of holy aspirations and erotic visions, with its roots in the Book of Ezekiel and Henry Miller´s Tropic of Cancer.  Depths require patient exegesis. Curiously, Patti Smith rarely mentions music in her meditative book, M Train. She mostly cites novelists and poets; and she makes detailed references to detective shows (about private eyes) on TV. Nevertheless, her contemplation exalts a reverent personal space. It’s an elegy for the passing of the people she loves and a reverie-like contemplation of stillness and silence. Her tone in M Train is steeped in mourning and loss, a sense of the dearness of things.

 

Water Everywhere…(Julier), Havana, 2016

 

Dylan, Cohen, and Patti Smith began their work in the thrall of the teenage visionary iconoclast Arthur Rimbaud. They shared the early intuition that his alphabet of the soul, the universal symbolic language, had arrived in the miraculous ability to commune 24-7-52-365 with everyone and all via the wirings of the global village. Van Morrison recognized this pressing of the charge when he sang, “It´s too late to stop now,” in his spiritual crisis song, “Into the Mystic.” We can also see now that Rimbaud´s prophetic demand that we live in continual crisis through “the deliberate derangement of the senses” is the new normal of the global membrane.

La Sirène Urbaine, Paris, 2016

 

These cusp-artists found ways to live long productive lives by conjuring and configuring the ripples and rush, the wild shifts and darkening divisions. We honor them by following up through our homages, our preservations of complexity and inwardness, our pursuits of wonder and awe, our Eros of creating, our enigmatic cultivation of beauty and spirit, our call and response to those (to all of us) who are also pilgrims and know wishing wells and heartbreak.

 

Pattern Recognition, Havana, 2016

 

It´s not our eyes that need to be wide awake all the time: it´s our souls. We can close our eyes but our souls will still hunger for insight and vision…

 

The global membrane can be a great heart, its effects like tides in our ears, felt on our skin. Simultaneously, its effects can be like noisy, invasive drives that incite a need to arrest and even kill its pull. Opening Time… Closing Time… Will one effect prevail over the other? I pray for the courageous heart. I hope for the language of the open communion.

 

Heart of the City, Havana, 2016

 

We´re turning and turning in this whorl, this planetary emergence: the time of the galvanized atmosphere of thought and feeling, the momentum and pressure of vast meaning.

 

Does it matter if any of us like these processes of transformation?

 

The evolutionary pulse beats on, in hyper-speed.

 

B.W.P. 2017


Marshall McLuhan in 1973, University of Toronto Archives

By Paul Levinson

Introduction

Marshall McLuhan (b. 1911–d. 1980) burst into iconic fame in the 1960s as a scholar who could explain the revolutionizing medium of the time, television, as well as radio, motion pictures, telephone, print, and all the media that had come before and now accompanied TV in its impact. His two most important books, The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, argued via analogy and poetic example that the dominant media of any time shaped the surrounding society—without radio there would have been no Hitler; without television, no John F. Kennedy as American President. These books were read and talked about by many, but fully understood by few. A flurry of sharply critical tracts and anthologies ensued.

At the same time, McLuhan was dubbed the “sage of Aquarius” by William Kuhns and favorably compared to Darwin, Freud, and Einstein by literary critic Tom Wolfe. McLuhan was mentioned on the TV show Laugh-In, interviewed by Playboy, and appeared in Woody Allen’s movie Annie Hall. He had begun collaborating with other thinkers as early as the 1950s, with Edmund Carpenter, and he later co-wrote important books with Harley Parker, Quentin Fiore, and Barrington Nevitt.

His former students and other disciples, most notably Walter Ong in the 1950s and Neil Postman in the 1960s, began publishing essays and books that built upon McLuhan’s work. At the time of his death in 1980, he was somewhat out of favor, but the digital revolution that his writing anticipated brought him back to public and scholarly notice by the beginning of the next decade, when Wired magazine made McLuhan its “patron saint.” Books by a new round of younger disciples, including Joshua Meyrowitz, Paul Levinson, and Robert K. Logan, followed in the 1980s and into the 21st century. The rise of social media, which further epitomized McLuhan’s 1962 notion of the global village, cemented and accentuated his preeminent position in media studies in the second decade of the 21st century. Numerous academic conferences were held to commemorate the centennial of his birth in 2011. Conferences continue to explore his work, and books and articles continue to be written about him on a yearly basis.

General Overviews

McLuhan’s two most important books—The Gutenberg Galaxy (McLuhan 1962) and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (McLuhan 1964)—provide the best general overviews of his work and an introduction to his array of ideas. Culkin 1967 offers a succinct overview of McLuhan’s media studies. Meyrowitz 2001 examines McLuhan’s migration into the 21st century.

  • Culkin, John. 1967. A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. Saturday Review, 18 March: 51–53.

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    Explicates and evaluates McLuhan’s unique approach to understanding media and their impact on society.

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1962. The Gutenberg Galaxy. New York: Mentor.

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    Consists of 107 brief essays with lengthy titles or glosses, such as “the electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.” This was a hallmark of McLuhan’s style, and from the vantage point of our social media age these can be seen as tweets (the titles) followed by blog posts (the short essays).

  • McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: Mentor.

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    Presents most of McLuhan’s key ideas, including “hot and cool” media and “the medium is the message.” As a striking example of both, McLuhan observes that “had TV come first there would have been no Hitler”—because Hitler was too “hot” for the “cool” medium of television, and the medium through which he presented his ideas (radio) made his ideas viable in 1920s and 1930s Germany.

  • Meyrowitz, Joshua. 2001. Morphing McLuhan: Medium Theory for a New Millennium. Keynote address delivered at the Second Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, New York University, 15–16 June 2001.

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    Balanced assessment of the relevance of McLuhan’s work in the 1960s to the world of media fifty years later.

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LAST MODIFIED: 27 APRIL 2017 (Introduction republished by permission)

Source: https://goo.gl/bSrp6c

About Paul Levinson: Paul Levinson, PhD, is Professor of Communication & Media Studies at Fordham University in NYC. His nonfiction books, including The Soft Edge (1997), Digital McLuhan (1999), Real Space (2003), Cellphone (2004), and New New Media (2009; 2nd edition, 2012), have been translated into twelve languages. He co-edited Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion in 2016. His science fiction novels include The Silk Code (winner of Locus Award for Best First Science Fiction Novel of 1999), Borrowed Tides (2001), The Consciousness Plague (2002), The Pixel Eye (2003), The Plot To Save Socrates (2006), Unburning A lexandria (2013), and Chronica (2014). Extended biography here: https://goo.gl/U6C9xZ


In Whatcha Doin’, Marshall McLuhan? the writer Ken Hollings re-examines the man and his legacy. He talks to those who have been influenced by McLuhan as well as those who knew him well, including the celebrated novelist and journalist Tom Wolfe, and asks how and why McLuhan fits into the media narrative of the twenty-first century.

A 45-minute audio presentation available now on May 14, 2017 (Don’t know for how long). If not available when you go to the link, there should be a podcast of it available. Follow the link below.

Producer, Dan Shepherd   –   A Far Shoreline Production for BBC Radio 3

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The 1967 publication of the bestselling paperback ‘The Medium is the Massage’ confirmed Marshall McLuhan as the first mass media guru and ‘prophet’ of the electronic age. With it he achieved global fame. Newsweek even compared him to Batman.

So how did a tweedy middle-aged Professor of English literature from the plains of Canada become such an iconic public intellectual?

Throughout the ’60s McLuhan attempted to explain to its rapidly expanding audience how television’s immediacy affected people’s psychology and behaviour. Few actually understood his complex theories but he expounded them in a reassuringly authoritative manner, often using short catchy phrases. McLuhan coined the phrase ‘the medium is the message’ and was the first to talk about the ‘global village’, both flashcard maxims that helped to define the era’s thinking on electronic media.

By the time of his death in 1980, Marshall McLuhan had been all but forgotten, his theories ridiculed or dismissed. But with the rise of the internet and the rapid encroachment of social media into our lives, McLuhan’s observations on the media have recently enjoyed a critical resurgence. In explaining how television disrupts our lives he laid down a series of principles that can arguably be applied to today’s digital regime. McLuhan’s books have all been reprinted, his writings are taught on design and media courses again, whilst WIRED magazine claimed McLuhan as its ‘patron saint’.

To access go to http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08jfckq


McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology with Cultural Workers Organize

Organizer of Book Launch: Culture/Work/Resistance

 LOCATION: McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology, 39A Queens Park Crescent                       East off 121 St. Joseph St., Toronto, ON M5S 2C3
DATE & TIME: Tuesday, May 30, 6:00 – 7:30 PM 
REGISTER NOW at https://goo.gl/kHNxFZ

Mark Banks – Creative Justice: Cultural Industries, Work and Inequality, (Rowman and Littlefield) – launched by Sarah Sharma

Creative Justice examines issues of inequality and injustice in the cultural industries and cultural workplace. It first aims to ‘do justice’ to the kinds of objects and texts produced by artists, musicians, designers and other kinds of symbol-makers – by appreciating them as meaningful goods with objective qualities. It also shows how cultural work itself has objective quality as a rewarding and socially-engaging practice, and not just a means to an economic end. But this book is also about injustice – made evident in the workings of arts education and cultural policy, and through the inequities and degradations of cultural work. In worlds where low pay and wage inequality are endemic, and where access to the best cultural academies, jobs and positions is becoming more strongly determined by social background, what chance do ordinary people have of obtaining their own                                                                   ‘creative justice’?..

Enda Brophy – Language Put to Work: The Making of the Global Call Centre Workforce, (Palgrave MacMillan) – launched by Ursula Huws

This book examines the striking rise of call centres over the past quarter century through the lens of the resistance and collective organizing generated by workers along the digital assembly lines. Drawing on field research in Atlantic Canada, Ireland, Italy, and New Zealand, Enda Brophy investigates the contested making of the transnational call centre workforce and its integration into the circuits of global capitalism. Moving beyond depictions of call centre labour as either entirely liberated or utterly subordinated, Language Put to Work inquires into the forms of work refusal and insubordination provoked by the spread of these communicative workplaces …

Nicole Cohen – Writer’s Rights: Freelance Journalism in a Digital Age, (McGill-Queen’s University Press) – launched by Tanner Mirrlees

A timely study of freelance journalists’ working conditions and what is at stake for the future of journalism in precarious times.


As media industries undergo rapid change, the conditions of media work are shifting just as quickly, with an explosion in the number of journalists working as freelancers. Although commentary frequently lauds freelancers as ideal workers for the         information age – adaptable, multi-skilled, and entrepreneurial – Nicole Cohen argues that freelance media work is increasingly precarious, marked by declining incomes, loss of control over one’s work, intense workloads, long hours, and limited access to labour and social protections…

English Prof, author and poet B.W. Powe publishes compelling new book of poetry, Decoding Dust, in 2016the launching point for a must-read Brainstorm Q&A.

Esteemed Canadian poet, novelist and essayist B.W. Powe is one of York’s treasures, bolstering this University’s strong literary tradition. A prolific writer, he has produced books that were championed by Canada’s leading publishers including Coach House, Guernica Editions and Random House.

Powe, who began at York in 1995, teaches courses on Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye and on Visionaries, and has helped found the Dead Tree Medium Theatre Group through the McLuhan Initiative at York University.

Described by Toronto writer/editor Elana Wolff as “oceanic in intellectual breadth and interest, spiritual vision and pure, unshielded feeling,” Powe produced an engaging new volume of poetry: Decoding Dust (NeoPoiesis Press, 2016). It contains emotive themes of family and deep connections; it perfectly encapsulates life at a particular point in time – with grown kids and ailing parents – as well as the universal ‘stuff’ of life.

In this Q&A, he discusses his new book.

Q: Why did you write Decoding Dust?

A: The poems came from a desire to get close to the soul and sorrow, the heart of my family and heartbreak, shapeshifters and the garden of vision. I wanted the book to be a place of intensities, where many voices would speak.

Sometimes my desire was just to shape something beautiful. It may seem an odd thing to say, but if you’ve added beauty to the world, in the way a tree is beautiful, then I think you’ve done something. That’s part of what I wanted to do: leave a beautiful line on a page.

Q: What are the key ingredients to your writing process?

Decoding Dust. Reproduced with permission of NeoPoiesis Press.

A: Time, concentration, quiet, few interruptions, the cultivation of images and voices, a solitude that creates receptivity. Keeping myself open to atmospheres and the closeness of things, to the voices of soul yearning and transformation… This is what I hoped to get into Decoding Dust … an availability to dreaming true, letting the spirit speak.

One of the things I say to my creative writing students is, if you don’t like solitude, you’re in the wrong business. It’s a double-edged experience because the reverse of solitude is loneliness… and loneliness is one of the epidemics of our time. There’s loneliness and there’s heartbreak in the voices that inhabit Decoding Dust.

I call the creative environment that you need “the greening,” from Hildegard von Bingen’s word, viriditas. It means your space/time should have signals of encouragement, music, artwork, light, films, a spiritual-imaginative nourishment that allows you to make associations and imagine stories.

“I’m indebted to York’s English department for the encouragement to teach my courses – on Visionaries, on McLuhan and Frye. The courses are my children, in a way.” – B.W. Powe

Q: What writers inspired you to write?

A: When I read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, I thought: I want to write. Then I read Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and Of Time and the River… Virginia Woolf’s The Waves… Hermann Hesse’s Steppenwolf… They were extraordinary books for me. I read McLuhan at an early age, and Sartre’s essays, Susan Sontag’s books. They inspired my essays.

The poets who spoke to me early on were William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Rimbaud and William Butler Yeats. And song lyrics: I was a fan of Bob Dylan and The Who’s Pete Townshend. Patti Smith became another inspiring figure.

Q: Who are your favourite poets? What are you reading now?  

A: Canadians, of course – I revere Anne Carson and A.F. Moritz – and many European, South American and Spanish poets. Rainer Maria Rilke, César Vallejo, Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Antonio Machado. I’m currently reading Rubén Darío. He’s Nicaraguan. I revere Federico Garcia Lorca and I’ve been translating his lyrics. It’s the way I teach myself Spanish. My wife is Spanish and she says that my translations are good. I think she’s being nice. I’m also reading Marilynne Robinson’s trilogy, Gilead, Home and Lila, novels I admire very much. I’m re-reading George Steiner’s After Babel on translation.

Q: Can you speak to York’s support for your work and how York fosters excellence?

A: There has been very strong support. Recently, York funded a theatre project by the Dead Tree Medium Group, which will transform Decoding Dust into works for stage and video.

A great thing York has given me is time. I’m indebted to York’s English department for the encouragement to teach my courses – on Visionaries, on McLuhan and Frye. The courses are my children, in a way. I suppose they’re a little unusual in the curriculum, but they’ve been encouraged. That kind of support on York’s part has been remarkable. I should mention that [former] Dean Bob Drummond was very keen on having a creative/scholarly mix in the English department, which has been maintained here extremely well. I’ve found fine colleagues here too.

The other great thing about being at York has been my students. I’ve been blessed in attracting extraordinary students.

“The fact that York University pays me to do this is one of the great gifts of the cosmos.” – B.W. Powe

Q: What’s the advice you would give a budding writer in your class?

A: Good luck! And courage, strength, stamina, inspirations and wisdom. Love what you do. Find the heart in it. Decoding Dust was another attempt to put the heart on the page. The first ultrasound we saw of our baby last week was of her/his heart. It was very moving. And I thought, well, that’s kind of what we’re doing here: trying to find a way to make the heart beat as loud as it can… to remind us how miraculous it all is.

I encourage students to set aside time and delve. Take a poem or a story, and read it over and over. You’d be amazed at how much awareness comes when you take time. I suggest: allow inspiration (from the Latin word inspiritus) to enter you. The second word I use is entheos, the Greek word for being filled with the Gods. It translates into our word “enthusiasm.” Another word is, again, “greening:” creating an environment in which awareness can deepen. The fourth word, duende, I’ve taken from the Spanish tradition. The word comes from Flamenco, meaning the rising to the moment.

It seems to me a spiritual crime to go into a classroom and dispirit people. You need to lift them. But it’s a two-way process: they inspire me, too. The fact that York University pays me to do this is one of the great gifts of the cosmos.

For more information about Decoding Dust, visit the publisher’s website. For more about B.W. Powe, visit his faculty profile or his blog.

By Megan Mueller, manager, research communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University, muellerm@yorku.ca          (Interview Source: https://goo.gl/fCpfPH )

On B.W. Powe’s latest book of poetry, Decoding Dust, see https://goo.gl/eSLDvI .


Media Theorist Marshall McLuhan & The Timothy Leary Message

In his great new book, The Attention Merchants, Tim Wu tells the story about how Timothy Leary’s famous message on LSD, “Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out” became so viral during the 1960s, thanks in large part to media theorist Marshall McLuhan [1]. It provides a glimpse into how a message, even a countercultural one about LSD, might be refined by the branding techniques normally reserved for selling sugared water.

The two academics met at New York’s Plaza Hotel (think Eloise) in 1966. Leary was a 49-year-old recently-fired Harvard psychology instructor who had been had been working with another professor on using LSD as a tool to block out the manipulation of mass media on our culture. He and his colleague, Richard Alpert (also fired from Harvard, and who would later become the spiritual guru Ram Dass) experimented with drugs like LSD to free people from the tools of mass manipulation from the mainstream media and the government.

The Medium Is The Message

Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian scholar whose book Understanding Media was getting a lot of attention itself, where he famously said that “the medium is the message”. [2] His point has been often misconstrued, and that confusion was even parodied in Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, where Allen brings over McLuhan to admonish an academic blowhard behind him in a movie line, saying “You know nothing of my work!”. But he believed that the nature of a media form has a profound influence on how that message is understood.

Different forms of media had subtle, but distinct attributes, or affordances that combine with our cultural understandings to affect what is actually being communicated. McLuhan believed that the printed word encouraged more emphasis on visual sensory input, where communication from earlier oral cultures placed more weight on our sense of hearing, and therefore fundamentally changed the nature of the communication. [That is true, but is not exactly what McLuhan meant by “the medium is the message.” See the quote/graphic below and the last two quotes for what McLuhan really meant by his most famous aphorism.]

The Message, The Slogan, The Branding

In spite of, or maybe even because of his dismissal from Harvard, Leary’s star had been rising and he sought McLuhan’s advice on how he might “reach all the disaffected”. McLuhan suggested he had his framing all wrong. Rather than considering himself a reformer or philosopher, he should take on the role of a Mad Men era advertiser, he needed a catchy hook to lure them in with. McLuhan wrote a little jingle for him right there, based on a classic Pepsi ad of the day: “Lysergic acid hits the spot / 40 billion neurons, that’s a lot”.

Leary toyed around with adapting patriotic slogans such as “Give me liberty or give me death” and “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself”. He even tried adapting a Lucky Strike jingle with no success. Later that day, while taking a shower, as is often the case with good ideas, Leary’s branding was born and became the inspiration for the slogan for his countercultural message as “Turn On, Tune in, Drop out”.

Like all good propagandists before and after, Leary repeated the mantra many times during a speech he gave on on January 14, 1967, at San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. The event was a countercultural mixture of biker gangs, students, and hippies billed as “A Gathering of the Tribes for a Human Be-in” and Leary’s message and went viral from there.

Like McLuhan, Leary’s message was ultimately misconstrued by the public. Instead of a call to resist the various messages from business and authority, a kind of attentional revolt, as Wu termed it, Leary’s message was sometimes received as an invitation to “Get stoned and abandon all constructive activity”. In spite of this, the branding helped spread his message to a very wide audience.

Maybe the medium is the message, after all? (Source https://goo.gl/xW5J9m )

For more on McLuhan & Timothy Leary, see:-

Timothy Leary, Marshall McLuhan & Electronic Media – https://goo.gl/Dkc75i

Timothy Leary & Marshall McLuhan, turned on & tuned in – https://goo.gl/gwuNFq


The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium – that is, of any extension of ourselves – result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” – Understanding Media,  MIT Press ed., p. 7.

“When I say the medium is the message, I’m saying that the motor car is not a medium. The medium is the highway, the factories, and the oil companies. That is the medium. In other words, the medium of the car is the effects of the car. When you pull the effects away, the meaning of the car is gone. The car as an engineering object has nothing to do with these effects. The car is a FIGURE in a GROUND of services. It’s when you change the GROUND that you change the car. The car does not operate as the medium, but rather as one of the major effects of the medium. So ‘the medium is the message’ is not a simple remark, and I’ve always hesitated to explain it. It really means a hidden environment of services created by an innovation, and the hidden environment of services is the thing that changes people. *It is the environment that changes people, not the technology*.” – Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003)