Robert Logan’s Review of a New Book by Adeena Karasick Titled Massaging the Medium: Seven Pechakuchas


A new book by Adeena Karasick

A Review of Adeena Karasick’s Book, Massaging the Medium: Seven Pechakuchas – By Robert K. Logan

Although as the editor of the journal New Explorations, I have assigned the review of Adeena Karasick’s book Massaging the Medium: Seven Pechakuchas to Steve Hicks, I decided to also review her book, as I so enjoyed reading it. Karasick’s poetry is so delightful and contagious that one wants to imitate it, so at times you will find my attempts at using Adeena-like verse. I cannot match the creativity of her use of, play with, and insights into words, nor provide the resonances both verbally and ideationally she creates. But that is what one wants to do after reading her text. But there is more to her poetry than just the tonal resonances that she provides. There are also the images that accompany her poetic text, so that each of her Pechakuchas consists of a series of poetic texts, each of which is paired with a set of multiple images. These delight as do the insights of her ideas and the humor that lurks about her words and the images that resonate and resound her poetic words. She has prepared for us a minestrone of words, sounds, images, humor, and ideas that nourishes the mind, the heart and the soul. Although Adeena’s text is pure poetry, it is at the same time a scholarly analysis of the impacts of the medium or the technology of language, and as such it is an important contribution to the canon of media ecology.

Here is an example of how Karasick combines her poetic text with images she has collected. This one is from section 5 of “Ceci N’est Pas Une Telephone or Hooked on Telephonics – A Pata-philophonemic Investigation of the Telephone”:


And as we are re-mediated through now wireless technologies

the present is always re-presented in a messy prescient,

a pressing sense that the future of the future

is the present which we walk backwards into; a present

(which is also a gift) a gift given with no giver, re-gifted

in a re-mediated immediacy

As the purpose of a review is to introduce the reader to the work being reviewed (i.e. viewed again), let me quote from the opening paragraph of Karasick’s own introduction to her book of seven Pechakuchas.


“I HAVE ALWAYS been obsessed with language, language as technology; a prime mover in the re-distribution of aesthetic values. Whether on the page, the stage, the mis-en-scène, the screen, over my 35 years of publication and performance, the work draws upon a range of neo-Fluxus post L=A=N-G-U-A-G-E, Sound Poetry, Concrete poetry and Vispo modes. And through an aesthetics of jouiss-ey transgression, invasion, contradiction, ambiguity, ornament, excess, heterogeneity, paradox, hybridity and desire, I have always been rapt with the physicality, materiality of language, how it sounds, look, feels, and tastes and the various ways meaning can be constructed from non-traditional modes of language construction — and how that fundamentally affects the way we see, breathe, feel, and act. How it propels us to see the world in new ways — of parsed plays laced socio-political-lingual cultural shards, pulsing with palimpsested resonance, instruments of change with time-binding capacities.

As such, all the work is marked by a kind of intertextatic syntacticism ; or in Korzybskian terms, “semantic disturbances,” weaving meaning through questions and celebrations, reverberation, elation, navigating ways this engagement with language invites us to embrace the impossibility of the possible, the contingency of our finitude, our brokenness, excess and exuberance, within the fissures of being.”

Adeena Karasick, the scholar and the poet, in Massaging the Medium “explore(s) the relational contingencies of visual and acoustic space,” providing us with a corpus callosum of the left and right brain sensibilities that both informs and delights. She is in fact our very own corpus callosum of media ecology and as such we are blessed. In reviewing her book, I have taken the liberty of quoting liberally from her text because paraphrasing Karasick cannot do justice to her delicious text with all its overtones, undertones, associations, nuances, and resonances.”

Karasick throughout the Seven Pechakuchas juxtaposes high and low culture, creating a fascinating mix of two types of genres in which the poetry of her words is combined with the images that accompany her poetic text. But at the same time, the text and images of her Pechakuchas also form rigorously researched multimediatic border-blurring essays.

All is fair game when Karasick plays with language. In fact, one of the markers of her writing is the way she poetically strings together adjectives that are closely related, enriching the noun she is describing and showing us the relationship of the adjectives that she has strung together. Here, as an example, is her two sentence-one paragraph description of her Pechakuchas:

“And as you can’t take the jew out of the jouissance, each Pechakucha erupts as an analytic meditation on the relationship between language, culture, technology, and communication, bound by a firm commitment to play and plaisir. Incorporating a hyper-generative aesthetics highlighting recycled language, sampling, borrowing, cutting, pasting, mash-up; engaged in an ‘inter-inventive’ poetics marked by neo-formalized post-consumerist media-infused transgressive linguistic practices – underscoring how whether on or off the screen, each luxuriant reference, phrase, meme is saturated with ideological codes, intertextually drenched palimpsested systems, an ever-shifting political, social gendered logospace of ‘ambi-valence’.”

This is just one example of the way she slings together adjectives. There are many more in the seven Pechakuchas that make up the content of her book with each Pechakucha consisting of anywhere from 12 to 22 pairings of text with and image. A short description of each one of these now follows.

1. Ceci N’est Pas Une Telephone
Hooked on Telephonics
A Pata-philophonemic Investigation of the Telephone

This Pechakucha extends McLuhan’s analysis of the telephone as found in Chapter 27 of Understanding Media. She describes the many uses, features and functions that today’s phones possess. She describes the way the phone engages our senses with not just the dimension of sound like the original telephone, but also the visual with text, images, and video, and the tactile with the touch screen. She “explores ways the telephone has shifted our sense and understanding of time and space” in light of the emergence of the smartphone and the Internet.

2. Where is Fancy Bred
Rethinking Imagination Through the “Unthought” and How that Affects Communication

In this Pechakucha Karasick deals with imagination drawing on a variety of sources, thinkers, artists, and religious practices, ranging from Heidegger, Jabes, Derrida, Lacan, Zizek, Coleridge, Baudrillard, Blake, Deleuze, Barthes, Freud, to quantum physics, Jazz, and the Torah. She examines and describes the many dimensions and nature of imagination, including ways to make the fanciful and the desired real, our conscious and the unconscious reality, the realization of the very existence of the world, of ourselves, of our knowledge, of our diversions, of our interconnections, of our meanings.

3. The Ghost in the Machine
Medium, Messages, and Mysticism

In this Pechakucha Karasick explores the relationship between the magical, mystical, or spiritual, and the machine, or our technology, especially given the use of computing, AI, and robotics, to imitate or replace the human. She traces this back to the arrival of the telegraph, the telephone, radio, and television. She examines the impact of computers and cars that talk to us, services like Siri that help us locate information we seek or use to solve problems, associated with the use of our computers, as well as sex robots, and likens all of these to the “ancient Kabbalistic practice of creating a Golem,” that operates as a private servant.

4. Medium in a Messy Age
Communication in the Era of Technology

In this Pechakucha Karasick provides us with “a playful media ecological investigation of Conceptual Poetry and its impact on communication.” Using the insights of McLuhan, Pound, and Kittler, she shines a light on this poetry movement, providing examples of some of its prominent practitioners.

5. Refracted Facts
The Crazy Talk of Checking In
A Postmanic ‘Pata Semantics

In this Pechakucha Karasick reflects on what is true and how poetry can disentangle the deception of Crazy Talk, Stupid Talk, as originally defined by Neil Postman. She then provides us with the poem “CHECKING IN,” which deals with the deception of language, a recurring theme of her seven Pechakuchas.

6. Maps and Terrortories, PreScience and In-Sanity
bill bissett and the Non-Allnes of Abstraction

In this Pechakucha Karasick creates a poetic homage to bill bisset and his use of language in which she once again wrestles with the meaning of language and its power to create, and yet its “inherent uncontainability.”

7. Scenes, Screams,
Screens and Semes
The Salomaic Elasticity of
the Page and the Stage

In this Pechakucha Karasick dances her dance of seven veils as she again and again suggests that words don’t stand still, but whirl around from one context to another, both revealing and obscuring. But in this her seventh dance of words and poetry, she reveals why she chose seven Pechakuchas
for her book.

When I first began reading this book, I was struck by the choice of seven chapters and knew of the sacredness of seven from my Jewish education. But in this her seventh dance, she confirmed my suspicion and revealed for me even more reasons for the choice of seven. In the opening of Chapter 11 of this Pechakucha, she wrote, “where for example, 7 unveils,” and then proceeds to list the many times that the number seven appears in the Bible and in Jewish practices.

But I say her work is not done, because there is also the sacred number 40 in Jewish lore. After the number 7, the number 40 appears the most often in the Bible. It rained 40 days and 40 nights when Noah was on his Ark. Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai before coming down from the mountain with the law written with the finger of G-d. The Jews spent 40 years in the desert after escaping Egypt, before they could enter the promised land. And there are many more. Even in the New Testament the number 40 appears, as Jesus fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, where he was tempted by the devil. So, Adeena Karasick, you have your worked cut out for you with 33 more Pechakuchas to go.

Summing Up: A Confession
I must confess that perhaps I went beyond the bounds of a straightforward academic review of Karasick’s book, Massaging the Medium, but that is one of the marvelous things about her writing; her ideas and her thoughts stimulate and inspire. So readers, take my advice and read her book. It can be ordered at: or from in the USA or in Canada and be inspired and enchanted and never again think of language the same way ever again. Amen!

Adeena Karasick, Ph.D, is a New York based poet, performer, cultural theorist and media artist and the author of 12 books of poetry and poetics.
Her Kabbalistically inflected, urban, Jewish feminist mashups have been described as “electricity in language” (Nicole Brossard), “proto-ecstatic jet-propulsive word torsion” (George Quasha), noted for their “cross-fertilization of punning and knowing, theatre and theory” (Charles Bernstein) “a twined virtuosity of mind and ear which leaves the reader deliciously lost in Karasick’s signature ‘syllabic labyrinth’” (Craig Dworkin); “demonstrating how desire flows through language, an unstoppable flood of allusion (both literary and pop-cultural), word-play, and extravagant and outrageous sound-work.” (Mark Scroggins). Her most recent book is Massaging the Medium7 Pechakuchas, (The Institute of General Semantics Press:  Language in Action. Karasick teaches Literature and Critical Theory for the Humanities and Media Studies Dept. at Pratt Institute, is Poetry Editor for Explorations in Media Ecology, Associate International Editor of New Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication, 2021 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Award recipient and winner of the Voce Donna Italia award for her contributions to feminist thinking. The “Adeena Karasick Archive” is established at Special Collections, Simon Fraser University.

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