McLuhan and I Ching: An Interological Inquiry by Peter Zhang

27Sep14

Translated by Brian Browne Walker The I Ching or Book of Changes

Peter Zhang, Grand Valley State University

ABSTRACT
This article explores under-examined resonances between I Ching and McLuhan’swork. It presents I Ching as a metamedium, shows that McLuhan’s four laws of the mediahave precursors in I Ching, and evaluates the relevance of I Ching in the age of digital media-tion. The article illustrates that studying I Ching in comparison with McLuhan’s work opensup numerous opportunities for mutual illumination between the two.
RÉSUMÉ
Cet article s’intéresse aux interrelations peu explorées entre le Yi-King (ou « Livredes transformations ») et l’œuvre de Marshall McLuhan. On y montre que le Yi-King peutêtre conçu comme un « métamédia » au cœur duquel il est possible d’identifier des éléments paraissant anticiper les quatre lois des médias proposées par McLuhan. On s’y intéresseaussi à la pertinence du « Livre des transformations » à l’ère de la médiation numérique. Aubout du compte, cet article démontre qu’une étude comparative du Yi-King et de l’œuvre deMcLuhan ouvre la voie à plusieurs possibilités de correspondances mutuellementéclairantes.
*****
“The East goes outer with our old hardware as fast as we go on the innercosmic trip of oriental fantasy with our new electric circuits and circuses.The West has ‘discovered’ the I Ching and a concern with theprocesses of hidden environments”. (McLuhan, Culture is Our Business, 1970, p. 20)
Here is a short excerpt from this fascinating paper:-
This inquiry is interological in the sense that it allows us to reexamine I Ching through the lens of McLuhan’s work, and vice versa. It has been a fruitful exercise so far. For one thing, we realize that the term “interology” captures a crucial dimension of McLuhan’s work, and media ecology in general. “Media ecology as interology” is a topic that deserves the space of a full-length article. It is a project I need to finish next. Furthermore, I would not have realized that I Ching is a metamedium if I had not started this inquiry. This emergent understanding sheds light on the DEW Line card deck, which embodies the modus operandi of McLuhanesque explorations. Although aligning “hot vs. cool” with “yang vs. yin” seems to be the most natural move to make, I would not have made the move if it were not for this project. Incidentally, although the subtitle of Laws of Media is “The New Science,” this inquiry shows that “The Book of Changes” may not be a bad alternative, after all, especially when the book is translated into Chinese. 
My attraction to McLuhan’s work dates back to graduate school, when I was pondering the notion of “looking at” communication as opposed to “looking through”communication. The “irritant” came from Dr. Robert Terrill, who sees McLuhan as one who “looks at” media instead of “looking through” media. As I found out later, this distinction comes from Richard Lanham, the rhetorician and media ecologist in disguise. My admiration for McLuhan has increased over the years as I become more familiar with his work. I appreciate his mental agility, poetic wisdom, encyclopedic knowledge, and his amazing capacity to encapsulate and repurpose the works of other people, dead or alive. Over the years, I have seen traces of Lao Tzu and Confucius in McLuhan’s work. Then, as I was studying Laws of Media (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1972), I suddenly recognized the I Ching in him, which led me to undertake this inquiry. 
…. I write this article for a multifold purpose—partly to satiate my own intellectual curiosity, partly to rekindle interest inChing   in the international media ecology community, partly to suggest to like-minded scholars that there is an under articulated intellectual kinship between the immemorial I Ching and McLuhan, the metaphysician of media, and partly to put interology to practice. Yet the real stake that calls this inquiry into being is not theoretical, or intellectual, but ethical and existential, and hence the section on I Ching in the age of digital mediation and cybernetic control. I hope this comparative study or interological inquiry has created numerous opportunities for mutual illumination between I Ching and McLuhan’s work.
The full article can be found in the Canadian Journal of Communication, 39.3, 2014, pp. 449-468, which subscribers can access at http://tinyurl.com/ost3m4c .
The paper can also be accessed at Academia.edu here http://tinyurl.com/lapqcfd .
“The Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line card deck, co-designed by McLuhan and Harley Parker and released in 1969, is more or less a derivative of the yarrow stalks and hexagrams used by I Ching -informed diviners …. The deck helps one to see around the corner, get unstuck, and overcome one’s psychological blind spot. The benefit is a sense of “throughness …”                            
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