By Michael Cuenco   –   April 17, 2021

On January 6, a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. Among the most indelible images of that day was of a bare-chested man with bison horns, face paint, and a smattering of strange primal tattoos taking over the Speaker’s podium. Against the classical backdrop, some commentators noted that there could be no more apt image to encapsulate America’s decline and fall.

Beyond the conventional explanations of fascism and white supremacy, many have begun to point to the medium rather than any particular message. One headline claimed that “the internet is a crime scene,” while another asked “can Twitter exist in a democracy?”

Conspicuously missing, however, in this collective agonizing over social media is the guidance of media theorist Marshall McLuhan. After all, McLuhan was a seminal figure in pioneering the whole field of media studies. He defined media broadly as any technology, from the wheel to the woodcut and the washing machine, that might serve as a virtual “extension of ourselves.” He sought to map out or “probe” the totalizing psychological, cultural, and social environments created by any medium.

Alongside the more famous “hot versus cool media” dichotomy, he proposed a division between the “Western” or literate and the “tribal” or non-literate modes of awareness. McLuhan believed that the West was due for a period of “re-tribalization,” but by “tribal” he meant much more than the commonly understood definition.

Yes, there would be polarization: people would by and large become less civil, less rational, touchier, and more defensive about the smallest things. This much, we already know and see every day. But McLuhan went even further in his use of the term, arguing that electronic media—more so than any political ideology—shifts the sensorial basis of Western society away from the visual, the literate, and the abstract and toward the oral, the tactile, and the tribal.

In other words, he saw re-tribalization as a process that will eventually return modern man to the mental and epistemic world of his pre-literate tribal ancestors: the “global village.” Over the long run, this can be quite benign, even sublime: in 1969, McLuhan imagined its endpoint as a society of “mythic integration” where “magic will live again.” Speaking in lofty millenarian terms, he predicted technology would merge humanity “into an inclusive consciousness…a new interpretation of the mystical body of Christ…the ultimate extension of man.”

Such a moment of transcendence, however, is reserved for a distant day. For the time being, there is a more immediate challenge: as the growing oral-tribal segments of society brushes up against the old literate structures that govern them, there will be no end of tension, trauma, and misunderstanding. This is because the electronic tribalism McLuhan described, whatever its positive traits when taken on its own, poses a mortal threat to the values and assumptions of the still-dominant literate, liberal civilization.

It is worth revisiting McLuhan’s insights so as to help ensure that society’s road to any future settlement is as peaceful and orderly as possible. Otherwise, given the risk of violence involved in getting it wrong, there may not be much of a society left standing by retribalization’s end. In place of McLuhan’s prophesied universal consciousness, we could instead find epistemic incoherence, stagnation, and terminal de-civilization.

The Post-Literate Generation

The Return of the Oral World

Citing J.C. Carothers, McLuhan observes in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) that the literate mind and the typographic print world it inhabited were “surrounded by an abstract explicit visual technology of uniform time and…continuous space in which ‘cause’ is efficient and sequential.” This was the long historical era of the written word in the West: of philosophy and theology; the printing press; the Enlightenment; the individual and the private realm; mechanical segmentation and specialism. This was when the novel, the essay or the treatise were the currencies of public discourse; when concepts of modernity, progress, rationality, and objectivity became the norm.

By contrast, the life of pre-literate tribal man was set in “the implicit, magical world of the resonant oral word.” This was the realm of myth and legend; it was organic and communal as well as simultaneous and holistic; it prized the visceral and immediate over the detached and contemplative. In this world, “thought and behavior depend upon the magic resonance of words and their power to impose their assumptions relentlessly.” McLuhan quotes Carothers’s description of the folkways of the Kikuyu of Kenya, for whom “the correct use of magical words and their proper intonations…uttering these words in their ritual order” was of supreme importance.

Speaking at the height of the TV age, McLuhan believed that the oral world was returning via the electronic media’s influence on the young as it rendered them post-literate: “what is happening to our children is we’re watching them become Third World.” 

A society becomes post-literate when electronic media compresses its experience of literacy to such an extreme degree that the simultaneity of the oral replaces the sequentalism of the typographic as the dominant pattern of thought and sense-making…

Read the rest of this essay at https://tinyurl.com/2rybadys

Michael Cuenco is a writer and policy researcher. He is a graduate of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy.

A primary medium of post-literacy – the TV set – which has subsumed print media & culture

 

 



Publication Due on June 15, 2021

By Alex Kitnick, PhD

Marshall McLuhan (1911–1980) is best known as a media theorist—many consider him the founder of media studies—but he was also an important theorist of art. Though a near-household name for decades due to magazine interviews and TV specials, McLuhan remains an underappreciated yet fascinating figure in art history. His connections with the art of his own time were largely unexplored, until now. In Distant Early Warning, art historian Alex Kitnick delves into these rich connections and argues both that McLuhan was influenced by art and artists and, more surprisingly, that McLuhan’s work directly influenced the art and artists of his time.

Kitnick builds the story of McLuhan’s entanglement with artists by carefully drawing out the connections among McLuhan, his theories, and the artists themselves. The story is packed with big names: Marcel Duchamp, Niki de Saint Phalle, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Nam June Paik, and others. Kitnick masterfully weaves this history with McLuhan’s own words and his provocative ideas about what art is and what artists should do, revealing McLuhan’s influence on the avant-garde through the confluence of art and theory. The illuminating result sheds light on new aspects of McLuhan, showing him not just as a theorist, or an influencer, but as a richly multifaceted figure who, among his many other accolades, affected multiple generations of artists and their works. The book finishes with Kitnick overlaying McLuhan’s ethos onto the state of contemporary and post-internet art. This final channeling of McLuhan is a swift and beautiful analysis, with a personal touch, of art’s recent transgressions and what its future may hold.

Table of Contents
Introduction
Chapter 1        The Age of Mechanical Production
Chapter 2        What It Means to Be Avant-Garde
Chapter 3        Lights On
Chapter 4        Electronic Opera
Chapter 5        Massage, ca. 1966
Chapter 6        Information Environment
Chapter 7        Culture Was His Business
Postscript: McLuhan’s Art Today
Acknowledgments
Notes
Bibliography
Index

Published by the University of Chicago Press, 224 pages | 56 halftones | 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 | © 2021 – Source of this information: https://tinyurl.com/3b4mp8wn

Alex Kitnick – Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Culture; faculty, Center for Curatorial Studies
Biography – Alex Kitnick is Assistant Professor of Art History and Visual Culture at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York, and a frequent contributor to publications including Artforum, Art Journal, and October. He edited October 136 on New Brutalism and a collection of John McHale’s writings, The Expendable Reader: Articles on Art, Architecture, Design, and Media, 1951–1979. His book Distant Early Warning: Marshall McLuhan and the Transformation of the Avant-Garde will be published by University of Chicago Press in 2021. He is the recipient of a grant from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, and Whiting, Hyde, and Helena Rubinstein fellowships.
BA, Wesleyan University; MA, PhD, Princeton University. Additional studies in the Whitney Independent Study Program and Getty Research Institute, where he was a postdoctoral fellow. At Bard since 2013.



Janine Marchessault

Janine Marchessault is a professor in Cinema and Media Arts and holds a York University Research Chair in Media Art and Social Engagement. Her research has engaged with four areas: the history of large screen media (from multiscreen to Imax to media as architecture and VR); diverse models of public art, festivals, and site specific curation; 21st century moving-image archives and notions of collective memory/history. She is a founder of the Future Cinema Lab, and the 2014-2016 inaugural Director of Sensorium: Centre for Digital Arts Research. A Trudeau Fellow, she is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Unfortunately, the embedding code for this TVO Video does not work. Therefore, please follow this link to view the half-hour video:
https://tinyurl.com/5x5j7ym4

This is TVO’s transcript for the presentation, unfortunately with the entire text capitalized. Obviously, they seem unaware that full textual capitalization is DIGITAL SHOUTING!

Janine says I THINK THAT PEOPLE ARE, ARE READING MCLUHAN AGAIN —
BECAUSE THE ROLE OF COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGIES IS IN MEDIATING AND PRODUCING FUNDAMENTAL SOCIAL CHANGES IS MAYBE MORE OBVIOUS RIGHT NOW THAN IT WAS 40 YEARS AGO.

THERE’S ARGUABLY A MORE PRESSING NEED RIGHT NOW TO UNDERSTAND THE FUNCTION OF TECHNOLOGY. THE CHANGES THAT ARE BEING BROUGHT ABOUT THROUGH TECHNOLOGY IN THE CONTEXT OF
GLOBALIZATION. OR RATHER THERE’S A PRESSING NEED TO UNDERSTAND
GLOBALIZATION IN TERMS OF TECHNOLOGY.

IN TERMS OF NEW COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY AND MCLUHAN’S WORK, I BELIEVE WILL PROVIDE US WITH TOOLS TO DEVISE QUESTIONS FOR THINKING ABOUT THESE CHANGES. FOR THINKING ABOUT WHAT’S BEEN CALLED SPACE, TIME, COMPRESSION. DESPITE THIS SENSE OF MCLUHAN AS A VANGUARD THINKER THOUGH, WE MUST ALSO REMEMBER THAT HE TRAINED AT CAMBRIDGE IN ENGLISH STUDIES AND WAS DEEPLY INFLUENCED BY THE CAMBRIDGE NEW CRITICS, ESPECIALLY F.R. LEVIS, AND I.A. RICHARDS.

SO MCLUHAN IS FIRST AND FOREMOST AN ENGLISH PROFESSOR. A CONSERVATIVE, IF NOT STUBBORNLY, ANTI-MODERN, MENTALITY. HE NEVER DROVE A CAR. HE DID NOT WATCH TELEVISION, A MAN OF LETTERS AND SATIRIST. AND IT’S CRUCIAL TO UNDERSTAND THAT HIS CONCEPT OF THE MEDIA, A TERM HE MADE FAMOUS BEGINS WITH AN AWARENESS OF THE MATERIALITY OF LANGUAGE, WITH LANGUAGE AS TECH NAME.

IT’S THIS PASSION FOR THE BEAUTY AND ORGANIC EXISTENCE OF LANGUAGE BOTH WRITTEN AND ORAL, THAT SETS MCLUHAN’S WRITINGS ON THE MEDIA APART FROM THE MORE, IMPERICALLY DRIVEN APPROACHES THAT CAME TO CHARACTERIZE THE NORTH AMERICAN SOCIAL SCIENCES IN THE 50S AND 60S.

MCLUHAN’S DISTINCTIVE, INTERDISCIPLINARY STYLE OF WRITING ALIGNS HIM WITH THE POST WAR GENERATION OF CULTURAL THEORISTS.
RAYMOND WILLIAMS, AUREL BACHT, UMBERTO ECO AND MOST ESPECIALLY, HAROLD INNIS. WHILE THESE THINKERS HAVE NOT ALWAYS SHARED MCLUHAN’S VIEWS OF THE MEDIA, WILLIAMS AND ECHO WERE SOMETIMES HIS STAUNCHEST CRITICS…

Janine takes a bottle with water from a nearby table.
She continues…

LIKE HIM THEIR THEORIES EXCEED ACADEMICALLY DEFINED NORMS OF WRITING AND DISCIPLINARY BOUNDARIES. ALL OF THESE WRITERS ADDRESS THE LIBBED CONTEXT OF EVERY DAY CULTURE.

THOSE THINGS THAT MAKE UP ORDINARY PERCEPTIONS AND EXPERIENCES, ALWAYS PLACES THEIR INSIGHTS WITHIN A HISTORICAL FRAMEWORK. IN THEIR WRITINGS, CULTURE IS WHAT IS SO FAMILIAR THAT IS HAS CEASED TO BE NOTICED.

THAT CULTURE IS AN ENVIRONMENT. A WHOLE WAY OF LIFE. A METHOS.

THESE CONCEPTUALIZATIONS HAVE HELPED TO LAY THE FOUNDATIONS
AND DEFINE SOME OF THE MOST PRODUCTIVE QUESTIONS FOR MEDIA
STUDIES, AND FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF CULTURAL STUDIES IN A VARIETY OF NATIONAL CONTEXTS FROM THE 50S ON.

MCLUHAN’S CAREER ENCOMPASSES THE MULTIPLE MEANINGS OF THE
WORD PROJECT OR PROJECT OR PROJECTION. THE PROCESS OF CREATING. THE PERFORMATIVE ASPECTS OF SPEECH, REFRACTED LIGHT,
PSYCHOLOGICAL TRANSFERENCE, A COURSE OF ACTION, A COMMUNITY
OF MAKING.

I SEE MCLUHAN’S, BOTH HIS WRITINGS AND HIS ORAL COMMUNICATION AS DEEPLY PEDAGOGICAL. HIS PEDAGOGICAL ART AS THE CANADIAN CULTURAL THEORIST, JOHN FECKADAY HAS CALLED IT, IS COMMITTED TO CREATING DIALOGUE AND INTELLECTUAL COMMUNITY, TO CREATING COMMUNITY, TO CREATING COMMUNION.

IT’S A PROFOUNDLY, CATHOLIC PROJECT. MCLUHAN’S PROJECT WAS TO
MATERIALIZE THE WEB OF HUMAN RELATIONS, MINUTE AND LARGE,
INFRASTRUCTURAL AND COTIDIAN IN THE WORLD. THIS CONNECTIVE WEB HE BELIEVED WAS ENHANCED BY ELECTRIC MEDIA. ONE CAN READ HIS COLLAGES AND HIS STIMULATING, SOMETIMES CRAZY, HOMOLOGIES AS MOTIVATED BY A FAITH THAT EVERYTHING IS INTER-RELATED.

THE RESEARCHER’S TASK IS TO DEVISE WAYS OF MATERIALIZING OR
EXCAVATING THESE HIDDEN RELATIONALITIES, AND FOR THIS REASON ARTISTS ARE ABSOLUTELY CENTRAL TO MCLUHAN’S PROJECT.

MCLUHAN’S WORK CANNOT BE DIVORCED FROM HIS IMMERSION IN THE CATHOLIC INTELLECTUAL TRADITION, WHICH INCLUDES ARISTOTLE, AUGUSTINE, AND AQUINAS. A TRADITION THAT IN HIS INTERPRETATION, GIVES PRIDE OF PLACE TO THE POETIC PROCESS AND TO ARTISTS.

THERE’S A WHOLE LINE OF ARTISTS THAT INTEREST MCLUHAN IN THIS REGARD. FROM CHAUCER TO HABELERT, AND SHAKESPEARE, POE, COLERIDGE, MALAMET, BAUDELAIRE, AND OF COURSE THE GREATEST WRITER OF THE 20TH CENTURY, JAMES JOYCE. POETRY IS THE PRIVILEGED ART FORM.

FOR CONTEMPORARY POETRY HAS ACCORDING TO MCLUHAN HEALED THE BREECH BETWEEN ART AND SCIENCE. AND LANGUAGE IS THE PRIMARY MEDIA, WHICH HE SEES AS A COLLECTIVE WORK OF ART BECAUSE OF ITS CONNECTION TO ORAL CULTURE, TO HUMAN SPEECH AND TO THE TEMPORIAL REALM.

FOR MCLUHAN WHO SECRETLY BELIEVED THAT THE BEST ARTISTS OF THE WESTERN WORLD WERE CATHOLIC, THE ARTIST PROVIDES THIS SOURCE OF GREAT INSIGHT. THE ARTIST IS THE ANTENNA OF THE CULTURE. NOT AS PRIVILEGED HUMAN, BUT BECAUSE ARTISTS TAKE AS THEIR OBJECT HUMAN PERCEPTION AND COGNITION…

Read the rest of the transcript at https://tinyurl.com/c9wacn2n 

Marshall McLuhan: Cosmic Media (2005)



R.H. Thompson as Marshall McLuhan in The Message, at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto (Photo by Cylla Von Teidemann) Click on the image for an expanded view.

When it comes to Canadians who have shaped global culture, there are few peers to Marshall McLuhan. The visionary writer coined the phrases “global village” and “the medium is the message” in the 1960s, when he also pretty much predicted the arrival of the world wide web. Esteemed television and stage actor R.H. Thomson has long studied McLuhan’s ideas, and has even played him in the Tarragon Theatre play The Message. On this week’s episode of The Chesterfield, Thomson sits with our host Ben Rayner to explore the relevance of McLuhan’s work in the digital age, and to ring the alarm about Facebook and Google as the contemporary colonizers of public space that need to be resisted. Watch this 23-minute interview.


**********

R.H. Thomson stars as Marshall McLuhan in ‘The Message’
In November of 2018

Marshall McLuhan coined the famous phrase, “the medium is the message”. But how does it apply to our current time with social media and smartphones? Playwright Jason Sherman analyzed McLuhan’s work and life in the play ‘The Message’. R.H. Thomson joins Roger and Dina on Breakfast Television in Toronto to discuss its significance and importance (in November, 2018. Click on the link below to watch a 5-minute interview:

https://www.bttoronto.ca/video/iframe/2226196965001/SkX1bBGY/5968933760001

Read a review of The Message stage production here: https://tinyurl.com/6f4kw6ah



Macro Media Literacy

By Andrew McLuhan

“The meaning and effect of a medium is the sum total of all its impact upon psyche and society.” [Marshall McLuhan, letter to Harry Skornia dated July 6, 1964 in ‘Letters of Marshall McLuhan’, 1987 Oxford University Press.]
……….[snip]……….

Read the rest of this article at https://tinyurl.com/f5xt5wh6



Published by Gingko Press – 412 pages, Softcover – 6″ x 9 1/4″ (150 x 235 mm) – 20 individual offprints in a slipcase – English – ISBN: 978-1-58423-051-9

The essay is for exploring; the book, for explaining. Such was McLuhan’s philosophy about these two forms. The essay is the freer form and one better suited to exploration than the longer meditation, the book.
This startling new series puts the reader in the place of colleague and co-researcher. Instead of giving the reader just another collection of articles and interviews, McLuhan Unbound gives you offprints of the original essays. See how the two McLuhans, the literary academic and the public media expert are really one. Some of these articles were written before the subsequent book was envisioned: they are preliminary forays into new territory. Some were written after the book and encapsulate major themes; some set out additional discoveries or matters left out of the book; some present material discovered as a result of writing the book.
The McLuhan Unbound offprints series is not the last word in presenting McLuhan’s ideas and discoveries, but the first. (Source: https://tinyurl.com/5nn7z4zk)
**********
The following quotes above come from #7, “The Humanities in the Electronic Age.” They are typical rich McLuhanesque insights, sprinkled with references to Gibbon, Joyce, A. N. Whitehead, Shakespeare, Poe, Bertrand Russell, Leonardo de Vinci, C. P. Snow, Milton. It’s heady stuff, especially for those of us who are fans of Understanding Media:

— We are in an electronic age “in which we stand as primitives of an underdeveloped and unknown culture.”
— It is said that the main discovery of the nineteenth century was “the discovery of the technique of invention.”
— “The great discovery of the twentieth century is the technique of suspended judgment.”
— The humanist is a Luddite “because he gets a thrill of imagined potential from the fragmentary…”
The humanist is more fascinated by the incomplete Hyperion  of Keats than by the complete Prelude of Wordsworth.
— In mid-twentieth century, AT&T was the largest business in the world “with a gross national product equal to the entire Canadian economy,” and got that way by “doing nothing but move information. No wheels, no shafts, no belts, just the movement of information.”
— “With the computer all move out of the age of number and statistics into the age of the curve and the simultaneous awareness of structures.”
With satellite broadcasting … we move, scientist and humanist alike, into the world of instant and inexpensive access to anything and anybody on the globe.

Individual Essay Titles in the Slipcase
0 – General Introduction to Unbound Project
1 – Printing & Social Change
2 – The Effect of the Printed Book on Language in the 16th Century
3 – The Argument: Causality in the Electric World
4 – The Relation of Environment to Anti-Environment
5 – At the Moment of Sputnik the Planet Became a Global Theater in Which There Are No Spectators But Only Actors
6 – Culture Without Literacy
7 – The Humanities in the Electronic Age
8 – Introduction to The Bias of Communication (Harold Innis, First Edition, 1951)
9 – American Advertising
10 – Inside Blake & Hollywood
11 – G.K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic
12 – Roles, Masks & Performances
13 – Space, Time & Poetry
14 – New Media as Practical Forms
15 – Notes on the Media as Art Forms
16 – The Media Fit the Battle of Jericho
17 – The Media is the Message
18 – Myth & Mass Media
19 – Laws of the Media


 

The MediuM

A Marshall McLuhan Board Game
Inspired by legendary Canadian philosopher and innovative media thinker Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), The MediuM is a gaming experience of Laws of Media. The New Science (1988), developed by Marshall McLuhan and his son Eric McLuhan (1942-2018). Also known as “McLuhans’ Tetrad”, the Laws of Media reveal the four constant rules that govern all human innovations, four questions that can be asked in order to understand the implications that will inevitably result from any medium.

An entertaining and educational board game that stimulates players’ cooperative, innovative, and creative thinking skills.

Educational and hilarious for the novice and expert alike, The Medium is fast-paced, engaging and brainy fun that will have young and old laughing… as they learn out loud!

This game is played in teams of two or more players. Each round, one team member tries to get their team to guess the medium on the card. Clues take the form of answers to the four questions of the McLuhans’ Laws of Media. Teams move along the board when a medium is guessed correctly, pulling themselves out of the Maelstrom.

Use The Medium to analyze an artifact or human innovation from the past or present, and enjoy being the first team to escape the media Maelstrom!

  • Troubleshooting

    A thought-provoking experience that encourages us to become aware of the media environment by recognizing its unintended and invisible functions and/or implications.

  • Playable in teams or as individuals

    Ages: 14+, Playing Time: 30+ min. By playing in partners, The Medium stimulates a player’s cooperative, innovative, strategic and creative thinking skills,

  • Fully Documented

    Booklet, online tips, and expansions.
    The game can be used to analyze any medium, technology, innovation or human artifact, from the past or present.

“Break free of linear monopoly and flip into The Medium. No charade, you’ll laugh as you learn!” – Paul Levinson, author of Digital McLuhan (2001)

For more information and/or to order the game, go to https://tinyurl.com/ynw7j3jh

Previously announced here on May 5, 2018: https://tinyurl.com/a55uncdc

To understand McLuhan’s Laws of Media and how they can be applied to media and the kinds of insights that can be gained, see the following previous postings on this blog:
The Laws of Media – A Conceptual Tool for Understanding Media – https://goo.gl/1XmrPn
Interview with Eric McLuhan on the Laws of Media – https://goo.gl/S2338P

Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media Applied: Photography Flips into Snapchat – https://goo.gl/EGBA4p




John McHale (Sr.) with Self-Portrait (Photo: Sam Lambert)

Abstract 
Over the course of the 1950s, the Scottish writer and artist John McHale (1922 – 1978) was committed to exploring the effects of fine art, advertising, and new media on the human experience. He was a prominent member of the Independent Group (IG), which met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London (1952–1955), and was among the first artists in the group to travel to the USA, returning with a tranche of advertising imagery that became influential for their thinking about the mass media environment. McHale was also an early advocate of Marshall McLuhan’s media ecology theory and responded to it in his own artwork and writing. Focusing on a formative period for McHale, between 1954 and 1960, when he developed his collage practice, undertook a scholarship with Josef Albers at Yale University, and became a leading voice in the IG, the essay considers McHale’s writing and art practice as an evolving response to McLuhan’s media ecology. It identifies McHale’s two-part essay “The Expendable Ikon”, published in Architectural Design in 1959, as a key text for understanding his artwork and writings on the relationship between the fine arts and the mass media during this period.

Introduction: McHale and McLuhan  
In 1959 John McHale, the Scottish artist, writer, and participant in the Independent Group (IG) wrote to the Canadian academic Marshall McLuhan, informing him that: “for some years, since The Mechanical Bride was published, I have looked out for such articles as you have produced and they have been of immense value to myself and others here who are interested in the mass media”.1 An earlier draft of the same letter had put this in more emphatic terms, insisting that for artists in Britain, McLuhan’s work was “of great interest and considerable influence”.1 In the letter sent to McLuhan, McHale cited articles dating back to 1947 and the “Culture and Communications” seminars that McLuhan held at the University of Toronto between 1953 and 1955, revealing an early and sustained engagement with  McLuhan’s work prior to the publication of his best-known book Understanding Media (1964).3 McHale also shared his own developing theories on media ecology, enclosing with his letter a copy of his two-part essay “The Expendable Ikon”, published in Architectural Design in February (Fig. 1) and March 1959 (Fig. 2).4 This confirmed to McLuhan that discussions he was leading in North America about the language of the mass media were also now taking place in Britain. Furthermore, it posited “The Expendable Ikon” as a complement to McLuhan’s “most stimulating and informative text” “Myth and Mass Media”, which had been published in Daedalus a month after McHale’s piece.5 The artist was at pains to emphasise the didactic function of mass culture, stating that “for myself, and others who are interested in the mass media, this interest has been particularly directed to [its] role [in] the education of the artist and designer”.6 McHale’s letter initiated a back and forth with McLuhan that lasted throughout the 1960s and 1970s.7 The letters underscore the importance of McLuhan’s writing for the development of ideas and practices by members of the Independent Group, a radical group of young artists and architects who met at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London and were concerned with ways technology and the mass media shaped human experience. Lawrence Alloway later cited McLuhan’s publication The Mechanical Bride (1951) as a key text for the group.8

The Expendable Ikon 1

The essay, “The Expendable Ikon”, which McHale had enclosed in his first letter to McLuhan, examined the communicative function of images and the means by which the mass media conveyed the stereotypical mid-century Western experience. Working on the premise that “the whole range of the sensory spectrum has been extended [such that] man can see more, hear more, travel faster—experience more than ever before” and that “his environment extensions, movie, TV, picture magazine, bring to his awareness an unprecedented scope of visual experience”, the essay made the case that images had to respond in kind and become “loaded” with associations about “man’s total environment”.9 The term “ikon” signalled that the meaning of mass imagery extended beyond the representation of the figure depicted, in much the way that a religious ikon embodied an inconceivable divine entity and sought to induce a spiritual experience through the image of Christ, the Virgin Mary, or a saint. The unusual spelling may have been intentionally used to foster the connection to Eastern Orthodox ikons but more likely is that McHale adopted it from Reyner Banham, who used the same spelling in the catalogue for the exhibition This is Tomorrow in 1956.10

In “The Expendable Ikon” McHale categorised some prevalent trends in ikon-making in contemporary mass media. He cited Marshall McLuhan as an important source, describing The Mechanical Bride (1951) as a “classic of its kind”, while at the same time distancing himself from McLuhan’s “moralising” tone.11 Although McHale initially subscribed to McLuhan’s warnings about the potentially corrupting nature of the mass media, by the end of the decade, he was more circumspect. Their ambitions were aligned but not quite the same—McLuhan’s purpose being to understand the social and cultural implications of mass media, where McHale was equally interested in the question of where this expanded visual environment left fine art. By working through McLuhan’s ideas over the course of a decade, McHale came to understand the potential dangers of the mass media but also—as indicated in his initial letter to McLuhan—to appreciate what the fine arts could learn from its advanced methods of persuasion.12 The distinction he made between the two was based on their longevity or lack-thereof. The fine arts—the traditional preserve of ikon-making—stood the test of time, while mass media was characterised by rapid and continual change, its ikons only ever as relevant as the last photo-shoot, movie, or song released. This expendability, McHale argued, gave a more accurate picture of the cultural environment of the mid-century but it also represented a challenge to those artists who acknowledged its didactic potential as they grappled with the question of fine art’s function in a mass media age. The Independent Group, whose first series of seminars (1952–1953) had focused on technology, turned their attention to the relationship between fine art and mass media for their second series (1955–1956), and explored it through exhibitions, including Parallel of Life and Art (1953), curated by Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi, Alison Smithson, and Peter Smithson at the ICA; Collages and Objects (1954), curated by Lawrence Alloway at the ICA; and This is Tomorrow, coordinated by Theo Crosby at the Whitechapel Gallery (1956).13

In “The Expendable Ikon”, McHale focused on popular ikons like the pictures of Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley that pervaded popular magazines. Elsewhere, however, he also applied the term to his own artworks, writing in the catalogue for the exhibition Three Collagists (1958) that his works were “in the nature of ikons” because they captured the human image in the “extended environs” of the mass media.14 A photograph of McHale posing alongside his Self Portrait (1955), taken for the journal Uppercase, reflects this through its mirrored composition, the subject split between McHale’s exterior appearance and his symbolic representation of self as a television-shaped head covered with advertisements (Fig. 3).15 The exaggerated sensory features of Self Portrait—its enlarged eye, mouth, and outstretched tongue—emphasised the sensory overload of this new media environment, not merely a new visual education but a titillating sensorium. The work disregards formal likeness and instead seeks to capture the impact of the 1950s on the artist’s sense of self. Depicted as a generic receptacle filled with vivid advertising imagery, Self Portrait presents McHale as a product of his environment, his identity forged by the consumer boom he experienced while living in the USA in 1955.16 As this essay will show, collaged ikons such as these served as tools for analysing new media languages and their impact on human experience, a task McHale carried out in parallel and crossover with McLuhan. In this regard, they are not only the products of this expanded visual environment, but they are also a form of research that contributed to the burgeoning field of media ecology.17

Read the rest of this essay at https://tinyurl.com/2sn42tc2

Telemath VI 1957 by John McHale 

Footnotes

  1. Letter, John McHale to Marshall McLuhan, 1959, John McHale papers, Buffalo NY (uncatalogued).
  2. Letter, John McHale to Marshall McLuhan, 1959, John McHale papers, Buffalo NY (uncatalogued).
  3. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964). Marshall McLuhan set up the “Culture and Communications” seminars with Edmund Carpenter at the University of Toronto in 1953. The seminars, which ran for two years, brought together academics and graduate students from Anthropology, Economics, English, Psychology, and Town Planning to explore how the methods used in each discipline codified reality. The findings were published in the journal founded by McLuhan Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication.
  4. John McHale, “The Expendable Ikon 1”, Architectural Design 22 (February 1959): 82–83.
  5. Letter, John McHale to Marshall McLuhan, 1959; Marshall McLuhan, “Myth and Mass Media”, Daedalus 88, no. 2 (1959): 339–348.
  6. Letter, John McHale to Marshall McLuhan, 1959.
  7. Marshall McLuhan’s archive contains fourteen correspondences between McHale and McLuhan dating between 1959 and 1979: Marshall McLuhan papers, Library and Archives Canada, MG 31, D 156, Vol. 31, file 34; McLuhan and McHale also met in person when McLuhan visited him and Buckminster Fuller at Carbondale, Illinois, where they had established the World Resources Inventory Office.
  8. Lawrence Alloway, “The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty”, in David Robbins (ed.), The Independent Group: Postwar Britain and the Aesthetics of Plenty (Cambridge, MA: MIT University Press, 1990), catalogue of an exhibition at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College [et. al.], 1–18 February 1990, 59. According to the art critic and historian Irving Sandler, McLuhan only became influential among American artists after the publication of Understanding Media in 1964: Irving Sandler, American Art of the 1960s (New York: Harper & Row, 1988), 79.
  9. McHale, “The Expendable Ikon I”, in John McHale, The Expendable Reader: Articles on Art, Architecture, Design, and Media (1951–79), edited by Alex Kitnick (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 49.
  10. Lawrence Alloway, Reyner Banham, David Lewis et. al., This is Tomorrow (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 1956), catalogue of an exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery, 9 August–9 September, 1956.
  11. McHale, “The Expendable Ikon I”, in Kitnick (ed.), The Expendable Reader, 51.
  12. Letter, John McHale to Marshall McLuhan, 1959.
  13. The Independent Group programme for 1955 is reprinted in Anne Massey, The Independent Group: Modernism and Mass Culture in Britain, 1945–1959 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1995), 142–144; Nigel Henderson, Eduardo Paolozzi, Alison Smithson, and Peter Smithson (eds), Parallel of Life and Art (London: The Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1953), catalogue of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 30 November–4 December 1953; Lawrence Alloway (ed.) Collages and Objects (London: Institute of Contemporary Arts, 1954), catalogue of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 13 October–20 November 1954; Theo Crosby (ed.), This is Tomorrow (London: Whitechapel Gallery, 1956), catalogue of an exhibition at The Whitechapel Gallery, 9 August–9 September 1956.
  14. Lawrence Alloway (ed.), 3 Collagists: New Work by E.L.T. Mesens, John McHale and Gwyther Irwin (London: Cambridge Contemporary Art Trust, 1958), catalogue of an exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, 3–29 November 1958, unpaginated.
  15. Theo Crosby (ed.), “John McHale”, Uppercase, 1 (London, Whitefriars Press, 1958), unpaginated.
  16. McHale spent a year in the USA studying at Yale in 1955–1956.
  17. Alex Kitnick lays the groundwork for this study in his discussion of McHale and McLuhan in Alex Kitnick, “Hip-Artificer”, in The Expendable Reader: Articles on Art, Architecture, Design, and Media (1951–79), edited by Alex Kitnick (New York: Columbia University Press, 2011), 12–30…


100 Years Later: The McLuhan Program That Could

By Carly Conway

One hundred years ago today [July 21, 2011] one of Canada’s most iconic and controversial academics was born. More than 30 years after his death, Marshall McLuhan is still credited with changing the face of communication studies — even if many have dismissed his famous one-liners as contradictory and superficial (hot media, cool media, anyone?). And, a beloved series of weekly gatherings he began in the 1950s is making a comeback.

Though he was born in Edmonton, grew up in Winnipeg, and was educated in England and the United States [No, he was educated at the University of Manitoba and Cambridge, not in the USA at all!], McLuhan and his family settled in Toronto in 1946. McLuhan became a fixture at the University of Toronto, where he held his famous Communication and Culture seminars on Monday nights; every week, scholars from across all disciplines and non-scholars alike would meet to discuss the role communication technology played in shaping people’s lives. These innovative, multi-disciplinary seminars propelled Canada onto the world stage of communications research, and laid the groundwork for what became the Centre for Culture and Technology in 1963. Tucked away in the Coach House building on the eastern edge of campus, the Centre was essentially McLuhan’s personal research facility, where he was free to investigate the effects of technology as he pleased. He ran the Centre until 1979. Following McLuhan’s death in 1980, however, the future of his Centre, and his research, didn’t seem entirely secure.                          A Monday Night Seminar, April 15, 1973 at the Centre, Photo By Robert Lansdale

“Many people thought he was kind of a flake,” recalled David Olson, who was appointed to resurrect the centre in a different form. Olson became the first director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, and he worked up a program that aimed to turn McLuhan’s clever quips into academically sound research questions. Although it eventually made its way up the administration chain and was approved in 1983, the program met with harsh reservations along the way. Olson remembers one administrator who reminded him, “McLuhan was no genius, you know.”
There were growing pains—largely in the form of severe financial restrictions—along the way, but the young program quickly established itself by sponsoring or co-sponsoring more than a dozen national and international conferences. Philosophers, psychologists, and academics of all sorts got involved in pursuing research related to media and communication arts. But as Olson’s time at the McLuhan program wound down by 1990, he conceded: “The program had good content, but we didn’t have any independence and we didn’t have any money.”

Without independence or stable funding, the program joined up with the Faculty of Information Studies in the 1990s under the direction of McLuhan’s former colleague Derrick de Kerckhove. Again, though students and scholars enthusiastically researched and created new technology, administration remained reluctant to fund the program’s $25,000–$30,000 base budget. As then–Vice Provost Paul Gooch told Canadian Business back in 1995, “The problem is….it’s very difficult to find new money within the university’s own budget for any new ventures these days.”

The McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology has undergone more significant changes in the last several years. In 2008, Dominique Scheffel-Dunand was appointed the program’s new director. And in 2009, the Faculty of Information launched the Coach House Institute, a research unit under which the McLuhan Program operates. The mandate for the renewed program is clear: “to investigate and debate the fundamental issues raised by digital media,” Scheffel-Dunand says.

Though McLuhan is famously known for coining the term “global village,” and the McLuhan Program garnered attention back in the 1980s by hosting international conferences, Scheffel-Dunand is taking a different approach. “We’re doing things locally again,” she told us. “We’re not focused as much on the international. We want to rekindle what Marshall McLuhan did here within the university, and within the community.”

Scheffel-Dunand wants to do that by putting Coach House back on the map. For starters, she helped bring a CONTACT Festival exhibit to Coach House in celebration of McLuhan’s centennial birthday. But perhaps most importantly, the McLuhan Program is re-launching the Monday night seminars that McLuhan himself began about 60 years ago—same night, same building. The University of Toronto has committed to two years of weekly seminars, starting September 12, with a seminar called “Performance, a Critical Path.” The project is called “Edge of Academe,” a name meant to encapsulate the wide range of people across many disciplines the seminars hope to attract.

“What I’m trying to do is to point out that this space is particular,” Scheffel-Dunand says, about using the space in the spirit of McLuhan. She hopes the renewed speaking program will call attention to Coach House and its history and significance, and keep McLuhan’s ideas vibrant in the city in which they first took shape.
Photos from the University of Toronto Archives and Records Services, Lonsdale Fonds.
(Source: https://tinyurl.com/11bf4j60)

Marshall McLuhan at the Coach House on the University of Toronto campus, c 1950s (courtesy Robert Lansdale Photograpahy, University of Toronto Archives)



Towards a Digital Epistemology: Aesthetics and Modes of Thought in Early Modernity and the Present Age

By Jonas Ingvarsson

This book explores the concept of digital epistemology. In this context, the digital will not be understood as merely something that is linked to specific tools and objects, but rather as different modes of thought. For example, the digital within the humanities is not just databases and big data, topic modelling and speculative visualizations; nor are the objects limited to computer games, other electronic works, or to literature and art that explicitly relate to computerization or other digital aspects. In what way do digital tools and expressions in the 1960s differ to the ubiquitous systems of our time? What kind of artistic effects does this generate? Is the present theoretical fascination for materiality an effect or a reaction to a digitization? Above all: how can early modern forms such as the cabinets of curiosity, emblem books and the archival principle of pertinence contribute to the analyses of contemporary digital forms?

Table of Contents

From the Foreword – The Digital Switch: From Causality to Relationships

Today, investments in digital humanities are carried out at many universities all over
the World, and research calls that encourage various forms of multidisciplinary
database projects, preferably with one foot within the natural sciences and
technologically oriented social sciences, are staple goods nowadays. The question
we must ask ourselves is: What does digital media do with the knowledge production
in comparative literature – and in the humanities in general? What new theoretical frameworks do we need to address the digital? What new methods and
methodologies are possible? Or can, and maybe even should, we just continue as
before?
Based on this challenge, Jonas Ingvarsson’s heuristic arguments in Towards a
Digital Epistemology suggest a number of possibilities for the future design of
comparative literature and the humanities. The ambition here seems to be that
through the digital – as a lens and mode of thought, which Ingvarsson
consistently maintains – afford a new understanding of (and for) comparative
literature and the history of the humanities. In short, it is about conceptualizing
the technological situation of which we are always already inevitably a part. With
ease, at times almost with a cocky elegance, Ingvarsson incorporates an impressive
and compelling energy into his argument.
Ingvarsson argues that the consequences of digitization for the humanities are
far-reaching, beyond digital tools and mechanical distant reading techniques. Based
on a combination of posthumanist-oriented philosophies of technology and media
theory, Ingvarsson argues that the digital affords a new paradigm of knowledge: A
digital epistemology. The purpose of the book is to elucidate the far-reaching consequences of this digital epistemology…

  • Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2020 edition (Dec 1 2020)
  • Language : English
  • Hardcover : 140 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 303056424X
  • ISBN-13 : 978-3030564247

Jonas Ingvarsson is Senior Lecturer in Comparative Literature, Digital Humanities and Editorial Practices at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. He is the author of books and articles on posthumanism and culture, media archaeology and digital epistemology. He is currently heading a research project on the history of literary criticism, combining discourse analysis with text mining and big data analysis.
Source: https://www.palgrave.com/gp/book/9783030564247