McLuhan and Holeopathic Quadrophrenia | The Mouse-That-Roared Syndrome by Bob Dobbs

McLuhan and Holeopathic Quadrophrenia | The Mouse-That-Roared Syndrome

ListenBob Dobbs at “Legacy of McLuhan Symposium,” Lincoln Center, Manhattan, sponsored by Fordham University, 28 March 1998
by Bob Dobbs
(published in The Legacy of McLuhan)

Phase 1
“…much of III.3 (Book Three, Chapter Three-ed.) is telephone conversation… As III.3 opens with a person named Yawn and III.4 displays the ingress of daylight upon the night of Finnegans Wake, the note on VI.B.5.29 is interesting:
‘Yawn telegraph telephone Dawn wireless thought transference.’ “
Roland McHugh,The Sigla of Finnegans Wake, p.19, 1976

“…Orion of the Orgiasts, Meereschal MacMuhun, the Ipse dadden, product of the extremes giving quotidients to our means, as might occur to anyone, your brutest layaman with the princest champion in our archdeaconry, or so yclept from Clio’s clippings, which the chroncher of chivalries is sulpicious save he scan, for ancients link with presents as the human chain extends,…”
James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, p.254, 1939

(In McLuhan’s private library in one of his copies of Finnegans Wake he has pencilled in the words “me” and “moon child” next to Joyce’s “Meereschal MacMuhun”.)
“The ordinary desire of everybody to have everybody else think alike with himself has some explosive implications today.”
(the first sentence in the first article McLuhan wrote for Explorations-ed.)
H. M. McLuhan, Culture without Literacy,Explorations Magazine, Volume1, p.117, December, 1953

“Entertainment in the future may have quite different patterns and functions. You’ll become a yogi, you’ll do your self-entertainment in yoga style.”
Marshall McLuhan,Like Yoga, Not Like the Movies,Forbes Magazine, p.40, March 15, 1967

“T. S. Eliot’s famous account of ‘the auditory imagination’ has become an ordinary form of awareness; but Finnegans Wake, as a comprehensive study of the psychic and social dynamics of all media, remains to be brought into the waking life of our world.”
Marshall McLuhan,Letter to Playboy Magazine, p.18, March, 1970

“At electric speeds the hieroglyphs of the page of Nature become readily intelligible and the Book of the World becomes a kind of Orphic hymn of revelation.”
Marshall McLuhan, Libraries: Past, Present, Future(address at Geneseo, New York-ed.), p.1, July 3, 1970

“The future of government lies in the area of psychic ecology and can no longer be considered on a merely national or international basis.”
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, p.227, 1972

“And do you know,” he (Eric McLuhan-ed.) enthuses, “there are actually (four-ed.) laws governing media communications? At last we can prove to people that we aren’t just theorists. This is a real science…. We know there is one more law,” says Eric. “And we’ll find it. Sooner or later.”
Olivia Ward,Now! Son of Guru!,Toronto Star, p.D1, March 30, 1980

Marshall McLuhan made two decisions in 1937: one was the spiritual strategy of becoming a Roman Catholic, and the other was the secular strategy, after intensive study at Cambridge, of translating James Joyce’s Work-in-Progress (later given the title of Finnegans Wake in 1939) into an aesthetic anti-environment useful for countering and probing the cultural assumptions of a practicing Catholic.
For the next twenty years he refined his understanding of, first, the Thomist concept of analogical proportionality as the expression of the tactile interval, and second, its usefulness in perceiving the cultural effects of the new electric technologies, through an ongoing dialogue, analysis, and sensory meditation on the nature of metaphor and consciousness (including extrasensory perception) as an artifact. Since McLuhan defined “metaphor”(1) as the act of looking at one situation through another, each situation constitutive of figure-ground interplay (a concept borrowed from Gestalt psychology), then a metaphor was an instance of mixed media, or two figure-grounds. And so was consciousness – because of its essential subjective experience as doubleness, which is doubled again as the objective effect of its autonomous interplay with other consciousnesses. Metaphor, for McLuhan, was hylomorphic(2). In retrospect, the equation McLuhan was playing with could be flattened out as:

metaphor=mixed media=doubleness =consciousness=tactile interplay=the Christian Holy Cross=figure/ground=analogical mirror=iconic fact= cliché/archetype=resonant field= hendiadys=menippean irony,

each and all (except for “metaphor”) squared. However, after he made personal contact with Wyndham Lewis in 1943, their dialogue enhanced his appreciation of adopting Wyndham Lewis’ social probing style as a political anti-environment to McLuhan’s own commitment to the poetry of T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats, and James Joyce. Hence, his own studies simulated the doubleness he was observing technically. For the rest of his career McLuhan juggled the artistic approaches of these five artists in miming the tactile qualities of the analogical drama of proper proportions – the drama of being and perception. For him, language was the drama of cognition and recognition, or consciousness.

“The measure of our (Catholics-ed.) unawareness and irrelevance can be taken from the fact that no Thomist has so far seen fit to expound St. Thomas’s theory of communication by way of providing modern insight into our problems.”
H. M. McLuhan,The Heart of Darkness(unpublished review of Melville’s Quarrel with God by Lawrence Thompson, 1952-ed.), p.8, 1952

“The analogical relation between exterior posture and gesture and the interior movements and dispositions of the mind is the irreducible basis of drama. In the Wake this appears everywhere. So that any attempt to reduce its action, at any point, to terms of univocal statement results in radical distortion.(p.33)… It needs to be understood that only short discontinuous shots of such a work as Joyce’s are possible. Linear or continuous perspectives of analogical structures are only the result of radical distortion, and the craving for ‘simple explanations’ is the yearning for univocity.”(p.36-7)
Marshall McLuhan,James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial (1953) in The Interior Landscape, pp.33 and 36-7, 1969

“For the Catholic the revealed word of God is not the Gutenberg Bible nor the King James’ version. But the Protestant cannot but take a different view of the passing of the pre-eminence of the printed book; because Protestantism was born with printing and seems to be passing with it. There again the Catholic alone has nothing to fear from the rapidity of the changes in the media of communication. But national cultures have much to fear.”
Marshall McLuhan,Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters,Christian Humanism in Letters: The McAuley Lectures,Series 2, p.78, 1954

“Wyndham Lewis is perhaps the first creative writer to have taken over the new media en bloc as modes of artistic and social control. (Joyce and Eliot have done so on a smaller scale.)(p.17)… With the help of modern scientific medicine he (Lewis-ed.) re-edits and refurnishes the various levels of Dante’s Inferno in a startling way. The Devils appear as film stars perturbed by the ease with which their supernatural dimensions are mimicked by modern publicity devices. It’s this power of the new media which fosters a new humanist movement in Hell.”(p.18)
Marshall McLuhan,Third Program in the Human Age,Explorations Magazine, Volume 8, p.17-8, October, 1957

“Finnegans Wake is the greatest guidebook to media study ever fashioned by man.”
Marshall McLuhan,Newsweek Magazine, p.56, February 28, 1966

“The Catholic Church does not depend on human wisdom or human strategies for survival. All the best intentions in the world can’t destroy the Catholic Church! It is indestructible, even as a human institution. It may once again undergo a terrible persecution and so on. But that’s probably what it needs.”
Marshall McLuhan,Futurechurch: Edward Wakin interviews Marshall McLuhan,U.S. Catholic Magazine, p.6, January, 1977

McLuhan also meditated and formulated with the process-pattern that there had been three Copernican Revolutions in the collective consciousness: the first, via Copernicus, had thrown man as an image to the edges of the universe; the second, via Kant, threw man into an inner landscape; and the third, via the twentieth-century revolution of pattern-recognition, threw man inside the machine. His growing understanding of the third revolution in collective perception allowed him to see that the managers of contemporary society operated by means of the principle that the technological unconscious (the “archetypes of the social unconscious”)(3) is a massage in all facets of modern life. For example, Keynesian economics was the recognition, in the 1930s, that money would now be a technically-managed medium, or a guaranteed environment. In all areas of decision-making, this principle meant the use of the technique of the suspended judgement in parallel with a multi-levelled application of the anthropological concept of “phatic communion” (4).

“It is on its technical and mechanical side that the front page is linked to the techniques of modern science and art. Discontinuity is in different ways a basic concept both of quantum and relativity physics. It is the way in which a Toynbee looks at civilizations, or a Margaret Mead at human cultures. Notoriously, it is the visual technique of a Picasso, the literary technique of James Joyce.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man, p.3, 1951

“By pretending that the new magic can be contained in the entertainment sphere we assume the old form-content split which is based on the doctrine that the form of communication is neutral. Even Hitler and Goebbels, fortunately, shared this illusion with the Western world. At present we appear to be living by an illusion but with magical media. Of course this may prove to be an enduring formula.”
Marshall McLuhan,Notes on the Media as Art Forms, Explorations Magazine, Volume 2, p.13, April, 1954

“As gimmick, the machine is useful. As object, as companion, as environment-shaper, it is magical. Marx was right to that extent. He saw that the machine would necessarily transform human feeling and sensibility. It would change habits of association and work. It would re-structure one’s idea of the world and of oneself. It was the revolution.”
Marshall McLuhan,Poetry and Society, Poetry Magazine, Volume 84, No.2, p.95, May, 1954

“A few Europeans like LeCorbusier and Giedion have undertaken to verbalize our technology for us. A few of our artists such as Poe, Henry James, Pound, and Eliot have in reverse order undertaken to technologize the traditional verbal world of the European.”
Marshall McLuhan,Space, Time and Poetry, Explorations Magazine, Volume 4,p.60, February, 1955

“Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message…. Specialized segments of attention have shifted to total field, and we can now say, ‘The medium is the message’, quite naturally. Before the electric speed and total field, it was not obvious that the medium is the message.”
Marshall McLuhan,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, p.28, 1964

“The futurists, the cubists, the Vorticists, and others accepted the mechanical as an art form. Today, Pop art, derived from the old environment of advertising technology, appears as an art form.”
Marshall McLuhan,New Media and the Arts, Arts in Society Magazine, Volume 3, No.2, p.239, September, 1964

“Like Burroughs, Joyce was sure he had worked out the formula for total cultural understanding and control. The idea of art as total programing for the environment is tribal, mental, Egyptian. It is, also, an idea of art to which electric technology leads quite strongly. We live science fiction.”
Marshall McLuhan,Notes on Burroughs, Nation Magazine,p.519, December 28, 1964

“My own interest in symbolist techniques in poetry and painting, and my concern with the poetic processes and the training of perception and awareness, have long taught me to avoid fixed positions and value judgements where techne is concerned.”
Marshall McLuhan,Obiter Dicta, Letter to Atlantic Monthly Magazine,p.39, October, 1971

McLuhan, however, revealed an aspect of this principle that included the concept of a collective extrasensory perception as an hylomorphic (“organic”)(2), dramatic quality and effect of any electric environment – an anticipation of the recent popular concept of the “meme”. Privately, he would refer to one facet of the complex extrasensory characteristics of this third Copernican revolution as the “‘Prince of this World’,… a great electric engineer, and a great master of the media”(5). McLuhan was anticipating what I would term “tetrad management”, the managerial “postures and impostures”(6) resulting from an environment of “participation mystique”(7) (effects merge with causes) and “anticipatory democracy”(8) (effects precede causes).

“Synesthesia, the new sin of the nineteenth century, roused as much misunderstanding as E.S.P. today. Extra sensory perception is normal perception. Today electronics are extra sensory, Gallup polls and motivation research are also. Therefore, people get all steamed up about E.S.P. as something for the future. It is already past and present.”
Marshall McLuhan,Electronics as E.S.P., Explorations Magazine,Volume 8, Section 3, October, 1957

“Any artist in any field whatever knows that ‘form’ and ‘content’ are a bogus pair. But when such a notion is all we have with which to cope with modern entertainment (and education) we are helpless. When we hear that ‘the medium is the message in the long run’, we think it is jabberwocky or Finneganese. And so it is. That is, such a formula speaks not of one plane of fact at a time, but is multi-leveled.”
Marshall McLuhan,Around the World, Around the Clock(review of The Image Industries by William Lynch, S.J.-ed.),Renascence Magazine, Volume12, No.4, p.205, Summer, 1960

“Wealth is already derived for the most part from the movement of information alone, and will increase in our time as the mere reflex of human chatter. That is why paid learning is long overdue.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Electronic Age – The Age of Implosion,Mass Media in Canada, p.201, 1962

By June, 1952, after television had become an environment in the United States, Harold Innis had died, and McLuhan had gotten tenure as a professor, he was ready to present his insights into the tentative maneuverings of tetrad-management in a multi-disciplinary format as an anti-environment to the new technical developments in society. Thus was born the Explorations experiment which ran its course until 1957
“We can win China and India for the West only by giving them the new media. Russia will not give these to them. Television prevents communism because it is post-Marx just as the book is pre-Marx.”
Marshall McLuhan,Media Log, Explorations Magazine,Volume 4, p.55, February, 1955

“Politics have become musical; music has become politics. Government has become entertainment, and vice versa. Commerce has become incantation and magical gesture. fScience and magic have married each other. Technology and the arts meet and mingle.”
Marshall McLuhan,Space, Time and Poetry, Explorations Magazine,Volume 4, p.59, February, 1955

“We have to know what we are doing in advance. We have to repeat what we were about to say.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Be-Spoke Tailor, Explorations Magazine,Volume 8, Section 4, October, 1957

“A bell is to auditory space what a polished surface is to a visual space – a mirror. ALP is river mirror of HCE the mountain. It is he for whom the belles toil.”
Marshall McLuhan,Television Murders Telephony, Explorations Magazine,Volume 8, Section 19, October, 1957

“In his Company Manners Louis Kronenberger describes how ‘one very real social phenomenon of our time is that “creative” people constitute America’s newest nouveaux riches ‘. Spectorsky in his Exurbanites refers to them as the symbol-manipulators, meaning those who have mastered the grammar and rhetoric of the new media.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Old New Rich and the New New Rich,Explorations Magazine, Volume 8, Section 23, October, 1957

“The effect of TV, as the most recent and spectacular electric extension of our central nervous system, is hard to grasp for various reasons. Since it has affected the totality of our lives, personal and social and political, it would be quite unrealistic to attempt a ‘systematic’ or visual presentation of such influence. Instead, it is more feasible to ‘present’ TV as a complex gestalt of data gathered almost at random.”
Marshall McLuhan,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, p.317, 1964

“In a world in which we are all ingesting and digesting one another there can be no obscenity or pornography or decency. Such is the law of electric media which stretch the nerves to form a global membrane of enclosure.”
Marshall McLuhan,Notes on Burroughs, Nation Magazine,p.518, December 28, 1964

“In an interview with James R. Dickenson for the National Observer (May 30, 1966) he (McLuhan-ed.) spoke about the pride he takes in understanding media and quoted Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, ‘We were the first that ever burst/Into that silent sea’.”
Raymond Rosenthal,Current Biography, McLuhan: Pro&Con, p.22, 1968

This project was obsolesced by Sputnik on October 4, 1957. During the following twenty years McLuhan studied the consequences of the post-tactile and post-television environments created by the new computer and satellite technologies (with an eye on the new laser inventions, also) which had cracked all the visual, acoustic, and tactile mirrors. The multi-media gestures that McLuhan made in this second twenty-year phase were based on a post-tetradic sensibility of menippean tactility, or menippean phatic communion, i.e., from the perspective of the “pentad-manager”(9) – one who understands that the Present can only be an art form.
“Jet travel and satellite broadcasting will foster the grasp of languages, ancient and modern, in a simultaneous cultural transparency.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Humanities in the Electronic Age, Humanities Association Bulletin (Canada), Volume 34, No.1, p.11, Fall, 1961

“And I think it is this multiplicity of media that is now enabling man to free himself from media for the first time in history. He has been the victim, the servo-mechanism of his technologies, his media from the beginning of time, but now because of the sheer multiplicity of them he is beginning to awaken. Because he can’t live with them all.”
Marshall McLuhan,Prospect, Canadian Art Magazine,Volume 19, p.365, September/October, 1962

“Rapidly, we approach the final phase of the extensions of man – the technological simulation of consciousness, when the creative process of knowing will be collectively and corporately extended to the whole of human society, much as we have already extended our senses and our nerves by the various media.(p.19)… For with the telegraph, man had initiated that outering or extension of his central nervous system that is now approaching an extension of consciousness with satellite broadcasting.”(p.222)
Marshall McLuhan,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,pp.19 and 222, 1964

“TV, as the latest archetypal environment or technology, is very much in this dishevelled phase. The movie remained in such a dishevelled phase for decades. Whether Telstar is already a new archetypal environment that assumes the present TV form as its content will appear fairly soon.”
Marshall McLuhan,New Media and the Arts, Arts in Society Magazine,Volume 3, No.2, p.242, September, 1964

“The hullabaloo Madison Avenue creates couldn’t condition a mouse.”
Marshall McLuhan,Newsweek Magazine, p.56, February 28, 1966

“The 70’s will see: The end of SOLUTIONS. Pattern recognition via inspection of multiple problems will bring an end to the hidden environments.”
Marshall McLuhan,Profile of the 70’S, The McLuhan DEW-Line,Volume 2, No.3, a poster, November, 1969

“For the future of the future is the present.”
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, p.134, 1972

“At instant speeds, everybody begins to live inside a 360-degree module in which every event echoes every other event back and forth at electric speeds, and all events bounce off each other creating patterns. There is one optimistic feature. The mind moves very much faster than light. Light travels to Mars in minutes. The mind can go and come back from Mars in an instant many times. The mind can actually recognize all these electric patterns as easily as it can alphabetic letters. It’s very much faster than the computer.”
Marshall McLuhan in McLuhan Dissects the Executive,Business Week Magazine, p.118, June 24, 1972

Returning to the first phase (1937-57) we see, from McLuhan’s perspective, he had enthusiastically performed as an agent and catalyst for a discriminating plenary awareness under electric conditions of the interplay between private and public awareness as an artifact. Miming the Logos (speech as an archetype)(10) this entailed retrieving the five parts of rhetoric (inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, and pronuntiatio) and the four Aristotelian causes (formal, material, efficient, and final) in parallel with the four traditional levels of exegesis (literal, allegorical, moral, and eschatological) and applying them as a grammarian, rhetorician, dialectician, musician, mathematician, geometer, astronomer, psychologist, sociologist, anthropologist, scientist, psychic, doctor, and politician either simultaneously or separately in their traditional specialized contexts, depending on the medium and audience addressed. This method was McLuhan’s conscious strategy of mirroring and testing the conventional “schizophrenic”(11) lives of the ordinary citizen: McLuhan as cyborg and floating, winking tetrad (see the four-level interplay of the SI/SC/HD/LD charts in McLuhan’s Report on Project in Understanding New Media, 1960-ed.). In this regard, he explored meditative attention a great deal further and deeper than the popular and influential Menippean religionist, Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895-1986), or any of his imitators or successors. This phase of McLuhan’s career inaugurated a new and enduring private and collective yoga inside an immanent “communication ecology”(12).

“This may be said, at least, by way of illustrating the mode in which any poet’s prose criticism directs the keenest possible ray on his own poetic practice.”
Marshall McLuhan,Pound’s Critical Prose (1950) in The Interior Landscape,p.80, 1969

“Industrial man is not unlike the turtle that is quite blind to the beauty of the shell which it has grown on its back. In the same way, the modern newspaper isn’t seen by the reporter except from the point of view of its mushy sensual content, its pulsating, romantic glamour. The reporter doesn’t even know there’s a beautiful shell above him. He grows the shell, unwittingly, subhumanly, biologically. This is not even the voice, but only the feel, of the turtle.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man, p.4, 1951

“Today we get inside the machine. It is inside us. We in it. Fusion. Oblivion. Safety. Now the human machines are geared to smash one another. You can’t shout warnings or encouragement to these machines. First there has to be a retracing process. A reduction of the machine to human form. Circe only turned men into swine. Our problem is tougher.”
Marshall McLuhan,Letters of Marshall McLuhan, p.227 (June 22, 1951), 1987

“Now was the time for the artist to intervene in a new way and to manipulate the new media of communication by a precise and delicate adjustment of the relations of words, things, and events. His task had become not self-expression but the release of the life in things. Un Coup de Dés illustrates the road he (Mallarmé-ed.) took in the exploitation of all things as gestures of the mind, magically adjusted to the secret powers of being. As a vacuum tube is used to shape and control vast reservoirs of electric power, the artist can manipulate the low current of casual words, rhythms, and resonances to evoke the primal harmonies of existence or to recall the dead. But the price he must pay is total self-abnegation.”
Marshall McLuhan,Joyce, Mallarmé, and the Press (1953) in The Interior Landscape,p.11-2, 1969

“As mime, the artist cannot be the prudent and decorous Ulysses, but appears as a sham. As sham and mime he undertakes not the ethical quest but the quest of the great fool. He must become all things in order to reveal all. And to be all he must empty himself… the artist cannot properly speak with his own voice.”
Marshall McLuhan,James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial (1953) in The Interior Landscape, p.31-2, 1969

“For it was Coleridge as much as anybody who hastened the recognition of the poetic process as linked with the modes of ordinary cognition, and with the methods of the sciences.”
Marshall McLuhan,Coleridge as Artist (1957) in The Interior Landscape,p.115, 1969

“Senecan antithesis and ‘amble’ (as described in Senecan Amble by George Williamson) provided the authentic means of scientific observation and experience of mental process.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man,p.103, 1962

“The central theme of Naked Lunch is the strategy of by-passing the new electric environment by becoming an environment oneself. The moment one achieves this environmental state all things and people are submitted to you to be processed. Whether a man takes the road of junk or the road of art, the entire world must submit to his processing. The world becomes his ‘content’. He programs the sensory order.”
Marshall McLuhan,Notes on Burroughs, Nation Magazine,p.517, December 28, 1964

“You can never perceive the impact of any new technology directly, but it can be done in the manner of Perseus looking in the mirror at Medusa. It has to be done indirectly.”
Marshall McLuhan,Address at Vision ’65, The American Scholar,p.202, Spring, 1966

“For all their obsolescence he (McLuhan-ed.) himself finds books ‘a warm, visceral, tactile medium’….”
Jane Howard,Oracle of the Electric Age, Life Magazine,p.96, February 28, 1966

Phase 2
Reviewing the second phase (1957-77) we can observe, again from McLuhan’s vantage-point, that he “acted” under and “mimed” the new and more challenging electronic (post-electric) conditions of the computer-and satellite-mandated programming of the whole planet. This meant that the technological environments, the “media”, were retrieved as coordinated rhythmic modulations to replace the formerly-retrieved formulaic “Logos” in his advocacy for, and training of, perception as a counter-program of “awareness”(13) for now-fused whole populations in the global theatre. This approach was McLuhan’s conscious strategy of probing and mirroring the “quadrophrenic” (post-tetrad) lives of the cyborgian citizens and their “pets”: McLuhan as Pollstergeist and multi-clairvoyant pentad(9) probing the environment of electronic “autonomy” in the situation of the post-fusion of Nature and Technology via satellite (see Up the Orphic Anti and Silencing the Virtually Solar Theatre).

“Today with electronics we have discovered that we live in a global village, and the job is to create a global city, as center for the village margins. The parameters of this task are by no means positional. With electronics any marginal area can become center, and marginal experiences can be had at any center. Perhaps the city needed to coordinate and concert the distracted sense programs of our global village will have to be built by computers in the way in which a big airport has to coordinate multiple flights.”
Marshall McLuhan,Letters of Marshall McLuhan,p.278 (December 23, 1960), 1987

“The work of James Joyce exhibits a complex clairvoyance in these matters.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man,p.74, 1962

“Such a program involves the endowing of each plastic form with a kind of nervous system of its own.”
Marshall McLuhan,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, p.220, 1964

“If University of Toronto professor Marshall McLuhan is right – and if he gets the money – he figures that within five years ‘Madison Avenue could rule the world’. In turn, governments could manage the national economy ‘as easily as adjusting the thermostat in the living-room.'”
Lee Belland,He Sees Planners’ Paradise, Toronto Daily Star,p.11, May 7, 1964

“The bias of our culture is precisely to isolate the bias of all others in an effort at orchestration. Social connubium?”
Marshall McLuhan and George Thompson,Counterblast, p.64, 1969

“One of the most successful genres of this age is the book title itself as a ‘youdunit’. It involves the reader in such titles as: Time and Western Man;… The Revolt of the Masses;… The Organization Man;… Space, Time and Architecture;… The Hidden Persuaders;… The Death of God;…. Replacing the encyclopedias of earlier centuries, such books are all ‘guides to understanding’.”
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,From Cliché to Archetype, p.91, 1970

“It is man who has become both figure and ground via the electrotechnical extension of his awareness.”
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, p.11, 1972

“The new art form of our time is the media themselves, not painting, not movies, not drama, but the media themselves have become the new art forms…. I write cartoons…. I have wanted to write a play, for a long time, on the media. And the media themselves are the avant-garde area of our society. Avant-garde no longer exists in painting and music and poetry, it’s in the media themselves. Not in the programs. Avante-garde is not in hockey, not in baseball or any of these entertainments. It’s in the media themselves.”
Marshall McLuhan,Forces Magazine, Hydro-Quebec, No.22, p.68, 1973

“Marshall McLuhan, the communications scholar, compared his own approach to that of the advertiser…. For centuries there had been no problem associated with what the product aimed to correct. So the manufacturer first invented the problem, through advertising, then made the cure available. ‘That’s the way advertising is done,’ said Mr. McLuhan. ‘They start off with the effects, then look for the cause. That’s how I prophesy. I look around at the effects and say: well, the causes will soon be here.'”
John Slinger,Advertising is: making someone ill, then selling the cure,Globe and Mail, p.5, August 5, 1973

“Again, the transmission of data at the speed of light creates non-persons.”
Marshall McLuhan (1978),The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century, p.143, 1989

Granted, I have just uttered, and you have just eaten, a huge mouthful. But I am qualifying and supporting these themes, as you can see and taste, with selective quotations culled from my archives (see note at end of paper-ed.), which includes the largest private collection of McLuhan’s creative output – outside of Langley, Virginia. This meal will include as many of the appropriate citings that the law and space will allow. Above all, these are offered in the spirit of modeling the mosaic of psychic surgery that McLuhan had at his fingertips.
“It is the difference between matching and making, between spectatorship and total dramatic participation. Through the drama of the mouth, we participate daily in the total re-creation of the world as a process.”
Marshall McLuhan, Letters of Marshall McLuhan, p.347 (December 15, 1967), 1987

“This principle of a continuous dual structure for achieving order has always been present in the work of Sorel Etrog. In one of his poems he called it ‘recollecting things to come’, which might have been an alternative title for Finnegans Wake, itself a dramatic spiral of a single sentence.”
Marshall McLuhan, Spiral: Man as the Medium (1976) in Sorel Etrog: Images from the Film SPIRAL, p.126, 1987

I will now retrace what I have already said and define a few details and then elaborate on them. The first key to my understanding of McLuhan is grasping the emphasis he placed on the drama of cognition as an artifact, in contrast to Freud’s study of the dream as an artifact. This drama is based on the doubleness of consciousness, the folding back on itself – the complementary process of “making” and “matching” that is necessary to create the resonance of coherent consciousness. An example of the “making” aspect of perception is the reversal of the rays of light that occurs in the retina as part of the process of creating the experience of sight. Another example is the fact that when food is ingested, what comes out at the other end is not the same as what went in. This sensory alteration, or closure, occurs with all sensory input. McLuhan used the transforming power of the movie camera and projector as a model of this drama of cognition. When the camera rolls up the external world on a spool by rapid still shots, it uncannily resembles the process of “making”, or sensory closure. The movie projector unwinds this spool as a kind of magic carpet which conveys the enchanted spectator anywhere in the world in an instant – a resemblance of the human’s attempt to externalize or utter the result of making sense in a natural effort to connect or “match” with the external environment. The external environment responds and the person is then forced to reply in kind and “make” again. This systole-diastole interplay is McLuhan’s “drama of cognition” and it is parroted by the movie camera and projector. (Has it occurred to you yet of what the live pick-up in the television camera is a parrot?) This drama is the archetype for all creative activity produced by humanity, from ritual, myth, and legend to art, science, and technology. McLuhan understood that James Joyce was the first person to make explicit the fact that the cycle of Ritual, Art, Science, and Technology imitates, is an extension of, the stages of apprehension. And this is possible because the extensions have to approximate our faculties in order for us to pay attention to them.

“But, he (John Lindberg-ed.) argues, we now have the key to the creative process which brings all cultures into existence (namely the extension into social institutions of the central form and mystery of the human cognitive process).”
Marshall McLuhan,Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters, Christian Humanism in Letters: The McAuley Lectures, Series 2, p.86-7, 1954

“And it was his mastery of the art process in terms of the stages of apprehension that enabled Joyce to install himself in the centre of the creative process. Whether it appears as mere individual sensation, as collective hope or phobia, as national myth-making or cultural norm-functioning, there is Joyce with cocked ear, eye and nose at the centre of the action.”
Marshall McLuhan,Notes on the Media as Art Forms, Explorations Magazine,Volume 2, p.9, April, 1954

“We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools ape us…. We shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.”
Anonymous voiceheard on the album The Medium is the Massage, 1967

“Miss Sontag writes:… To this one can add that consciousness, as well as dreams, has a structure that can be aesthetically enjoyed.”
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,From Cliché to Archetype, p.199, 1970

The second key to understanding McLuhan is guessing that he realized that the implicit discovery of the nineteenth century via Marx, Schopenhauer, and Hertz was the fact that the medium is the message: Life, Art, and Science imitate, are an extension of, the technologies they use. But the concomitant mystery and problem evoked by this second insight is the need to explain why human beings cannot recognize this cultural fact. McLuhan realized that the effects of television had been spelled out in Finnegans Wake, in that the structure of the television medium resulted in a vivid X-ray of whatever culture employed this medium. Thus, the traditional spell or numbness that hypnotized any culture, and created a subliminal bias in that culture, could be overcome through the comprehensive, plenary, perceptual bias of television. In addition, McLuhan, at first, pretended to believe that Joyce had come up with a plausible sensory and mental strategy to explain and counteract this natural “numbness”, including the numbness induced by television (by virtue of the fact that Finnegans Wake, in the end, is a printed book), thanks to Joyce’s training in the thought and perception of the “angelic doctor”(14), St. Thomas Aquinas. But later, adequate scientific experiment and study by Hans Selye proved and explained the physiological basis for the cultural numbing process. (Selye’s results were published in the first issue of Explorations in December, 1953.) McLuhan then saw with Archimedean delight that Joyce had manifested the truism that the effects of an artist’s work precede the causes.

“A common observation of European visitors to America is that life here is more collectivized and stereotyped than communists have ever aimed to achieve. It was always the central theme of Marx that direct political action was unnecessary. The machine was the revolutionary solvent of bourgeois society. Allow the dynamic logic of the machine full play in any kind of society and it will, said Marx, become communist automatically. Certainly America is far more advanced on the road to a collective, centralized, consumer’s paradise than any other part of the world. May not some of the American panic about the communist threat be a dim recognition of this paradox?”
H. M. McLuhan,Revolutionary Conservatism (unpublished-ed.), p.1, 1952

“For Joyce has solved numerous problems which science has not yet formulated as problems.”
Marshall McLuhan,James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial (1953) in The Interior Landscape, p.41, 1969

“So extraordinary is this unawareness that it is what needs to be explained. The transforming power of media is easy to explain, but the ignoring of this power is not at all easy to explain.(p.304)… Examination of the origin and development of the individual extensions of man should be preceded by a look at some general aspects of the media, or extensions of man, beginning with the never-explained numbness that each extension brings about in the individual and society.”(p.6)
Marshall McLuhan,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,pp.304 and 6, 1964

How did McLuhan create a sensibility that could perceive the nature of his time with such acumen? By means of a thorough study not only of poetry as presented in the Western canon but also of the mystical, esoteric, and Manichean traditions in the alchemical concerns of the grammarian. Such were the preoccupations and background of his Ph.D. on Thomas Nashe. An essential program of these pagan doctrines has always been to use the senses as a laboratory. This sensory expertise, coupled with his Thomistic bias, was the knowledge that gave McLuhan the advantage over other students of Joyce, Lewis, Pound, Eliot, and Yeats.

“If we grant that human existence is the state of damnation, two possibilities follow. Either we can learn to retrace the stages of our fall into matter, and so escape, or we can devise some means of extinction of personality. The pagan art and culture of the world, past and present, is divided in the pursuit of these alternatives. On one hand art is followed as a continuous labyrinth in which by blind, dogged persistence we may struggle upward by means of will power and ethical struggle. On the other hand there is the intellectual course presented by Mr. Eliot, in which we move from one intensity to another, towards a final flash of awareness and extinction. In the one art – that linked with Plato’s cave man – Time, continuity, dialectic, are of the essence. In the other, time is lost in simultaneities and juxtapositions.”
H. M. McLuhan,Eliot and the Manichean Myth as Poetry (unpublished),p.3, 1952

“Aesthetically the newspaper creates an impact of immediacy and of super-realism. Metaphysically its mode is existential. Its impact is that of the very process of actualization. The entire world becomes, in this way, a laboratory in which everybody can watch the stages of an experiment.”
H. M. McLuhan,Technology and Political Change, International Journal,Volume 7, p.191, Summer, 1952

This advantage also enabled McLuhan to immediately exploit Harold Innis’ studies, once he encountered them, to engage, as a post-man/machine merger, the 1950s in a prophetic challenge to the fused cluster of sex, death, and technology he saw all around him. He understood that the tactility (“the central form and mystery of the human cognitive process”) of the television environment added the dimension of living thought, or the dancing drama of cognition, to that triad and loosened the grip of the mechanical Medusa. This was cause for a cautious and temporary celebration as any poet or scientist with a new vision will naturally express. However, the implied harmonies of this vision ended when Sputnik whirled around the planet.

“As the consequences of change accelerate, on the other hand, it is easier to discern causes. Another paradox of our time is the avid pursuit of a theory of change. Interest in formal causality seems to have declined after the sixteenth century, as did interest in analogy. But the artist picked up this interest where the philosophers left off and has always insisted on the formal (not just the efficient) causality of artefacts whether of individual or collective origin. (The Marxist claim to a theory of change may well be its major attraction in the West.)”
Marshall McLuhan,Around the World, Around the Clock (review of The Image Industries by William Lynch, S.J.-ed.), Renascence Magazine,Volume12, No.4, p.205, Summer, 1960

“It is quite literally true that since printing it has been the poets and painters who have explored and predicted the various possibilities of print, of prints, of press, of telegraph, of photograph, movie, radio and television. In recent decades the arrival of several new media had led to prodigious experimentation in the arts. But, at present, the artists have yielded to the media themselves. Experimentation has passed from the control of the private artist to the groups in charge of the new technologies. That is to say, that whereas in the past the individual artist, manipulating private and inexpensive materials, was able to shape models of new experience years ahead of the public, today the artist works with expensive public technology, and artist and public merge in a single experience. The new media need the best artist talent and can pay for it. But the artist can no longer provide years of advance awareness of developments in the patterns of human experience which will inevitably emerge from new technological development.”
Marshall McLuhan,Report on Project in Understanding New Media,Part VII(Exhibits), p.i, 1960

McLuhan took seriously Joyce’s ambivalence towards radio and television as communication technologies which did not have the traditional characteristics of former arts that had held up an energizing mirror to their respective cultures. The reason, for McLuhan: if you have ever looked at yourself in the television monitor while the television camera is focussed on yourself, you can observe that your electrified image is not reversed as it is in a flat mirror. In other words, there is no visual reflection in the television “mirror”. The viewer falls into it. The viewer becomes the screen and is forced to start swimming. Now imagine a whole society dunked in such a manner. How does it get a perspective on itself? What serves as a mirror or anti-environment to the new mode of collective consciousness, if it can be considered a consciousness at all? Does the society really need a mirror anyway, when it is fused and splashing in the same pond?
“That is to say, nuclear structures, whether sub-atomic or in the form of mass-audiences for radio and TV, are, in their instantaneous speed modalities, not capable of comprehension in visual modes, except `a la Walt Disney science shorts.”
Marshall McLuhan,Effects of the Improvements of Communication Media, Journal of Economic History,Volume 20, p.571, December, 1960

“The mirror, like the mind, by taking in and feeding back the same image becomes a wheel, a cycle, able to retrieve all experience.”
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,From Cliché to Archetype, p.163, 1970

The needs of the West, as articulated by Joyce and McLuhan, would certainly scream loudly in the affirmative. And the West quickly gave us one – the satellite, with a little help from the computer. These two great technological cloaks enabled the establishment of an integrated fulcrum from which to orchestrate the sensory mixes induced by older media for the intended harmony of all. Or such a potential, at least, McLuhan foresaw. Would others? Not likely, and certainly not enough to implement McLuhan’s vision. As a result, the satellite and computer environments were built with a fragmented perspective and with increasingly fragmented consequences. And thus, the 1960s ushered in a decade of social turbulence on a world-wide scale as every culture had a thrombosis and embarked on a violent identity quest. And this also was an effect that Joyce included in the possible scenarios suggested in Finnegans Wake.
“The oral man never asks for a blueprint. He never wants an over-all view. His but to feel he is a member of the team. The only possibility in an oral structure is a monarchical apex of control. Where the activities of many are to be orchestrated there can be only one conductor. But the more necessary the conductor the more expendable he becomes. The first job of a top executive today is to see to it that there are several who can succeed him instantly. They often do!”
Marshall McLuhan,The Organization Man, Explorations Magazine,Volume 8, Section15, October, 1957

“The Bomb is electric software. It inspires nightmares of population explosions in the old nineteenth-century minds. There is no finish line.”
Marshall McLuhan,Culture is our Business,p.334 (the last sentence of the book-ed.), 1970

“It is the speed-up of information by telephone and telex, etc., that destroys bureaucracies regardless of geography or ideology. China and Russia, as much as France and the U.S.A., experience this collapse at the same time.”
Marshall McLuhan,An Interview: McLuhan on Russia, The McLuhan DEW-Line,Volume 2, No.6, p.3, May/June, 1970

“The hijacker of a plane does not presume to operate the craft. He merely decides where it is to put down. So it is today with the very largest organizations. The larger the enterprise, the easier it is to shape its patterns and destinies, unknown to the occupants and ‘owners’.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Hijacking of Cities, Nations, Planets in the Age of Spaceship Earth, Explorations(insert in University of Toronto’s Varsity Graduate-ed.),Number 30, p.110, Spring, 1971

“Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.”
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, p.92, 1972

“When war and market merge, all money transactions begin to drip blood.”
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, p.211, 1972

“J. Pare: L. B. Johnson was a dropout in a sense, but it is difficult to conceive of John Kennedy as a dropout? M. McLuhan: He really dropped out. You know why: he was killed by the Establishment. He was executed. He was dangerous to them. J. Pare: Because he did not want to drop out, he wanted to change things like his brother? M. McLuhan: Yes. These men were executed by the Establishment. And they will be anytime they try anything like that.”
Forces Magazine,Hydro-Quebec, No.22, p.67, 1973

“As the world manifests its credentials and rewards in ever more theatrical terms, it becomes ever more difficult for some to resist the world, while for others it becomes easier and easier to reject its sinister and shallow pretensions. Like our money, which is a ‘promise to pay’, our advertising and P.R. only promise to pay promises.”
Marshall McLuhan,Forward to Abortion in Perspective:The Rose Palace or the Fiery Dragon, p.iv, 1974

“Everyone will be involved in role-playing, including those few elitists who interpret and/or manage large-scale data patterns and thus control the functions of a speed-of-light society.”
Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers,Journal of Communication, Summer, 1981, p.199

Phase 3
Now, after having reviewed this background, I would like to examine the condition and nature of “quadrophrenia”(15). McLuhan’s prolonged study of the qualities and functions of metaphor led him to see that the characteristics of the tetrad (enhancement, obsolescence, retrieval, and reversal) were intuited by Joyce and demonstrated in Finnegans Wake as the constituent properties of metaphor (The four parts of the Wake admit of the tetradic structure from the widest possible perspective:
Book One handles enhancement, or the extensions;
Book Two the obsolesced;
Book Three the retrievals; and
Book Four the reversal).
Using the Wake as a guide, he turned his meditative double-focus on television and observed that the contents of television (the evolutionary species and by-products of the interplay between culture and technology) would manifest in regular epicycles of tetradic action as long as no new environments were created.

“Newton revolutionized the techniques of poetry and painting. Joyce encompasses Einstein but extends his pictographic formula to the entire world of language and consciousness. The tendency of the challengingly new to revoke and reinforce ancient disciplines never appeared more strikingly than in Joyce. Literature may have come to an end in 1870 but poetic, rhetoric and metaphysic have come increasingly alive since then.”
Marshall McLuhan,New Media as Political Forms, Explorations Magazine,Volume 3, p.123-4, August, 1954

“Examples of the operation of the four laws for various communication media follow: VERBUM (utterance): (A) Intensifies and crystallizes percept – as word (thing); (B) Obsolesces the merely sensory via perceptual interplay; (C) Retrieval: transference of power from things to word-as-vortex; (D) Reverses into the conceptual (replay of meaning-minus-the experience).”
Marshall McLuhan,Laws of the Media, Et Cetera,Volume 34, No.2, p.177, June, 1977

But once they were, then the tetrad would be obsolete and Humpty Dumpty would fall off the wall and shatter again. However, this time it would be the after-image of a fall because humanity’s technological evolution had ended with television as all “hardware” had flipped and fused into “software” and what remained was a complex collective ESP the patterns of which would be invoked by constant audience research, polling and surveillance. These new “weather” patterns, since they were multi-sensuous and abstract, McLuhan called “pollstergeists”(16). These are what plagued the human citadel of consciousness as it stared from its cave at the newly-retrieved quantum fluctuations of a still-born “astoneaged”(17) society. The content of this situation, the human users and “media” themselves, imploded into a rapid, Sisyphean, and tetradic oscillation through the states of metaphor, metonymy, synechdoche, and irony which registered emotionally as states of paranoia, schizophrenia, hysteria, panic, and ecstasy. This is the condition I have designated as quadrophrenia in which the living metaphoric coherence of the collective consciousness appears to be usurped. Knowing it was unlikely “those few elitists” were going to take an active interest in his new discoveries, he retrieved Menippean satire as a hobby. Simulating the printed book’s archetypal response to this dissolution of the tetrad-manager, McLuhan produced an after-image of the epyllion – the Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. And this is where the symptoms of quadrophrenia make their entrance. McLuhan knew that he had to mime discontinuously the splintering after-images of human/technological cognition to manifest an “impossible”(18) anti-environment to the seduction effected by the pollstergeists. This is why an anticipated cursory inspection of McLuhan’s books produced the intended effect that they were rampant with confusion – an early and persistent complaint by his critics, which proved the success of the technique (“You mean, my whole fallacy is wrong.”)(19). One minute he seemed to be a utopian, the next a neo-Luddite, then a Gnostic, still later an agent of the Vatican, or a Zen Buddhist, then a technological determinist, pseudo-scientist, Manhattan Project romantic, and on and on and back and forth. But the classifiers couldn’t see the method in the actor’s performance – the miming of the fate that the Pollstergeist needed “a rapid succession of innovations as ersatz anti-environments”(20) to disguise the fact it had long disappeared. His satiric retrieval of the mini-module of acoustic and tactile mirrors via the constituency of the homeopathic print mirror, in the genre of a “memory theatre”, reflected the contemporary Medusan after-image of collective technological quadrophrenia, and its complementary human echo.

“…Whereas the cyclic epic, as in Homer, moves on the single narrative plane of individual spiritual quest, the little epic (epyllion-ed.) as written by Ovid, Dante, Joyce, and Pound is ‘the tale of the tribe’. That is to say, it is not so much a story of the individual quest for perfection as it is a history of collective crime and punishment, an attempt to justify the ways of God to man.”
Marshall McLuhan,Tennyson (1956) in From Cliché to Archetype, p.95, 1970

“It is postulated that just as white is a result of the assembling of the primary colors in ratio, so touch is an assembly of all the senses in ratio. Black is, therefore, the after-image of touch.”
Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker,Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting,p.15, 1968

“And no matter how many walls have fallen, the citadel of individual consciousness has not fallen nor is it likely to fall. For it is not accessible to the mass media.”
Marshall McLuhan and George Thompson,Counterblast, p.135, 1969

“The familiar ad form of rippling repetition of profiles is an accessible example of the mini-module that is found in every electric structure, from space capsule to the modes of consciousness.”
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,From Cliché to Archetype, p.155, 1970

“The epyllion, by creating an interface or continuous parallel between two worlds, one past, one present,… More’s (Utopia-ed.) Book I is the retrieval of the medieval archetype world, and his Book II is the cliché-probe of his own time, retrieving the past.”
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,From Cliché to Archetype, p.165, 1970

“Innovation is obsolete. So is obsolescence, as information speed-up transforms man and his world into art form.”
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, p.297, 1972

“The theology of discarnate man, I should think, is going to be extremely transcendental and gnostic. It’s not going to have much place for the human being as an incarnate spirit. Perhaps this may be behind the present swing toward abortion and the idea of euthanasia. (Why should we have people around when they’re of no use?).”
Marshall McLuhan,Interview with Marshall McLuhan, The Review of Books and Religion, Volume 3, No.9, pp.2 and 15, Mid-June, 1974

But there remained two more surprises. First, the Pollstergeist would generate the means for its own metaphysical self-consciousness, its own doubleness, or folding back on itself – the instant replay. This technology would allow the Pollstergeist to wallow in and exploit its own “memory theatre”, and, like an artist, create the effects beforehand, anticipating its first extension, of its own subsequent evolutionary leap – the hologram.

“Dante’s Commedia was recognized as a ‘memory theatre’ in its time and later, as were the Summas of the philosophers. Vico was the first to spot language itself as a memory theatre. Finnegans Wake is such a memory theatre for the entire contents of human consciousness and unconsciousness.”
Marshall McLuhan,Letters of Marshall McLuhan,p.339 (December 1, 1966), 1987

“One of the conflicts of a progressive and rapidly changing world concerns the use of surrounding services which have been obsolesced by daily innovations and discoveries. A vast new industry has been born from this conflict, and its name is ‘Camp’, and its motto is: ‘Throw something lovely away today. Help beautify junkyards’. Despite the grotesque aspect of ‘Camp’ as the incessant revival of that which has scarcely had a chance to register its appearance or existence, it has already been itself obsolesced by the popular technology of the video replay. The instant replay, available mainly to the audiences of sporting events, offers, as it were, the meaning minus the experience, reversing Mr. Eliot’s observation that ‘we had the experience but missed the meaning’. The instant replay is the meaning in that it is less concerned with the input of experience than with the process of perception. The instant replay, indeed, offers not just cognition but re-cognition, and leads the mind to the world of pattern recognition, to aftersight and foresight.(p.44)… Living in a new environment of instant electric information has shifted American attention from specific goals to the cognitive thrills of pattern recognition, a change most obviously manifested in the TV service of the instant replay.”(p.54)
Marshall McLuhan,The Implications of Cultural Uniformity (1973) in Superculture: American Popular Culture and Europe,pp.44 and 54, 1975

“I think the instant replay is probably the most powerful experience that you will ever have in your lifetime.”
Marshall McLuhan,addressing students in his brother’s class at Sheridan School of Art & Design, Mississauga, Ontario, in January,1975(caught on video by Richard Kerr-ed.).

The stage for the second surprise was set by the implementation of the new digital chip as a technological environment in tandem with the established instant replay environment to usher in an unprecedented collective effect: the reincarnation of the Pollstergeist as the Android Meme. In short, the extensions of humanity had evolved to the point of actualizing their own drama of cognition. It thought like us, it intuited like us, and it anticipated like us. But we were “still”(21) suspicious. It seemed to have no staying-power. So humanity was left in the situation of having its ability to code and decode in “real time”(22) frustrated and paralyzed. It could only come up with a rear-view mirror term for the Android Meme’s subtle collective actualization – “virtual reality”.

“In fact, the next stage beyond subliminal projection has already occurred in the providing of TV for the blind by direct wire to the brain centers, by-passing external physical perception altogether. This latter step is slightly more contemporary than the crudities of subliminal projection, and for those who enjoy the thrills of moral alarm here is a field indeed in which to cavort. Since there is nothing to prevent all of us being provided with cranial wall-plugs which would permit instruction in all subjects to occur endlessly during a physical sleep which could be indefinitely prolonged.”
Marshall McLuhan,The Subliminal Projection Project,The Canadian Forum Magazine, p.196, December, 1957

“When the movies were new, they used literature as content. When TV was new, it used movies as content. The laser beam will use human dreams and the audience of the intellect right off the court decks. They will be scrubbed, but good!”
Marshall McLuhan,Response to New Media, Explorations(insert in University of Toronto’s Varsity Graduate-ed.),Number 23, p.68, November, 1968

As the Android Meme, in its own “anthropomorphic theatre”, began to extend and hypnotize itself, it enjoyed miming and simulating the natural human modes of cognition – paranoia, schizophrenia, hysteria, panic, ecstasy, individual sensation, collective hope or phobia, national myth-making and cultural norm-functioning. McLuhan did not live to see the Android Meme in action, but as an effective “empath”(23), he mimed the effects before the causes showed up. To accomplish this he intuited the “fifth element”, what I call the “holeopathic cliché-probe”(24), by means of an understanding of the homeopathic effect (creating and maintaining memory in water), which is a process of “etherealization” (Toynbee) or “doing more with less” (Fuller) that is invisible and post-fusion, and projecting that effect as the consequences of the hologram when it becomes an environment that starts to evolve.

“For all the conscious intellectual activity of an industrial society is directed to non-human ends. Its human dimensions are systematically distorted by every conscious resource while the unconscious and commercially unutilized powers struggle dimly to restore balance and order by homeopathic means.”
Marshall McLuhan,Inside Blake and Hollywood, Sewanee Review,Volume 55, pp.714-15, October, 1947

“45 years ago things were like this, but less so.”
Marshall McLuhan,Letters of Marshall McLuhan,p.227 (June 22, 1951), 1987

“The Expressionists had discovered that the creative process is a kind of repetition of the stages of apprehension, somewhat along the lines that relate Coleridge’s Primary and Secondary imagination. In the same way there would seem to be an echo of the formative process of consciousness in the entire content of the unconscious. This, in turn, implies a close liaison between private and corporate awareness, though which exerts the most effect on the other may depend entirely on the degree of awareness achieved.”
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,From Cliché to Archetype, p.200, 1970

“J. Pare: Nobody knows when it (TV-ed.) will be obsolete? M. McLuhan: Yes, with the hologram. J. Pare: That is 3D transmission? M. McLuhan: Yes, that makes the TV obsolete. And there are other developments, like the videophone, that might make it obsolete. The videophone is one of the things that terrifies people. I don’t think anybody wants a videophone.”
Forces Magazine,Hydro-Quebec, No.22, p.68, 1973

If you mate “hologram” and “homeopathy”, you might create the term “holeopathic”. I did. All evolution is the process of bashing and mating of clichés and archetypes. But when evolution can only be a non-linear process of resonance and modulation, there are no archetypes and we are left with only cliché-probes. And the human response is to stubbornly and cynically express quadrophrenia since we cannot avoid the four laws of the tetrad. But McLuhan playfully did this technically and artfully – the stance of the pentad-manager, who knows the Present could only be a fragile art form. Most everyone else, unless they retrace the stages of apprehension I have just outlined, is forced to painfully and reluctantly be a tetrad-manager – an unconscious response to the Internet and World Wide Web, the simulation of all electric and electronic technologies – from the telegraph to the satellite – for hoicking up an ersatz private identity. So, in conclusion, we see McLuhan made fun of those who live in the nineties, the mice who roar, by the traditional means of having perfect pitch when sung to by an inaudible environment of holeopathic quadrophrenia.

“BLESS the locomotives WHISTLING on the prairies proclaiming the SEPARATENESS Of Man.”
H. M. McLuhan,Counterblast, p.10, 1954

“A culture of quantum fluctuations where you can only know that you have never seen what you thought you were looking at because you have never really heard what you were listening to.”
Arthur Kroker,Spasm: Virtual Reality, Android Music and Electric Flesh,p.53, 1993

Anyway, this is what always occurs to me whenever I’m in the presence of Marshall McLuhan and contemplating how the world ignored his scientific discoveries. But still, there is one question we are all curious about: what would McLuhan say of the 1990s if he were alive today? Well, I happened to ask him a couple of years ago. Through a trance medium, when I asked him this question, he confidently asserted that he certainly would create his own web page, but then he added: “…and I would let James Joyce write the instructions on how to get to it.”
Yup, the medium is the message under electric conditions.


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Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters, Christian Humanism
in Letters: The McAuley Lectures,
Series 2, p.70,
Marshall McLuhan,
Letters of Marshall McLuhan,
p.460 (Jan.3, 1973),
Marshall McLuhan and George Thompson,
Marshall McLuhan,
Joyce, Mallarmé, and the Press (1953) in The Interior
Marshall McLuhan,
Letters of Marshall McLuhan,
p.387 (July 30, 1969),
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,
Take Today: The Executive as Dropout,
pp.15 and 26,
Marshall McLuhan,
The Crack in the Rear-View Mirror,
McGill Journal of Education,
p.31, Spring,
Marshall McLuhan,
Kandy Kolored Massage
(report on press conference held by McLuhan on February 25, 1972 at UCLA,
Los Angeles, California, written by Lowell Ponte-ed.),
International Times,
pp.34 and 44, No.129,
Frank Zingrone,
Laws of Media: The Pentad and Technical Syncretism,
McLuhan Studies,
Volume 1, No.1, pp.109-15,
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,
A Media Approach to Inflation,
New York Times, (op-ed, note the phrase “the Word Makes the Market”-ed.),
September 21,
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,
From Cliché to Archetype,
Marshall McLuhan,
Toronto Is a Happening,
Toronto Life Magazine,
pp.23-29, September,
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p.11, April 9,
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pp.11 and 297,
Marshall McLuhan,
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Volume 6, p.44, Autumn,
Marshall McLuhan,
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New York Times, (op-ed, note the title-ed.), May 10,
Marshall McLuhan,
Living at the Speed of Light,
MacLean’s Magazine,
p.33, January 7,
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,
Take Today: The Executive as Dropout,
pp.21 and 36,
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,
Take Today: The Executive as Dropout,
Marshall McLuhan,
Annie Hall
(a line created by McLuhan for his cameo and used on public occasions such
as convocation addresses when heckled by audience members-ed.), directed by
Woody Allen,
Marshall McLuhan and George Thompson,
Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt,
Take Today: The Executive as Dropout,
Marshall McLuhan and Bruce Powers,
The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and
Media in the 21st Century,
Marshall McLuhan,
The Informal Mr. McLuhan
(audio tape of interview by June Callwood-ed.),
Globe and Mail, Nov.25,
Marshall McLuhan and Wilfred Watson,
From Cliché to Archetype,
pp.107 and 165,

On McLuhan’s Mental Mosaic – Hologrammic Prose

“But McLuhan created a more fundamental means to a more organic understanding in the very aphoristic style in which he chose to convey his ideas one consciously embodying the concept that the medium is the message. Its means is not to follow a continuous, linear, and unbroken line of thought, but to create a tessellated pattern of ideas, with each of the tiles in the mental mosaic a particular facet of the overall pattern. Like fractals, an analogue that has gained currency only since McLuhan’s last work, the grand, overall pattern is contained in miniature in each of the parts. He also took as models for this style writers in the symbolist and modernist movements, particularly Mallarme, Eliot, Pound, and Joyce.”

“McLuhan contends that all media–in and of themselves and regardless of the messages they communicate–exert a compelling influence on man and society. Prehistoric, or tribal, man existed in a harmonious balance of the senses, perceiving the world equally through hearing, smell, touch, sight and taste. But technological innovations are extensions of human abilities and senses that alter this sensory balance–an alteration that, in turn, inexorably reshapes the society that created the technology. According to McLuhan, there have been three basic technological innovations: the invention of the phonetic alphabet, which jolted tribal man out of his sensory balance and gave dominance to the eye; the introduction of movable type in the 16th Century, which accelerated this process; and the invention of the telegraph in 1844, which heralded an electronics revolution that will ultimately retribalize man by restoring his sensory balance. McLuhan has made it his business to explain and extrapolate the repercussions of this electronic revolution.”–Playboy,

Marshall McLuhan Speaks Special Collection: Television News Is a New Mythic Form

Concept: Television news is a new mythic form
[Wolfe]I think a hundred years from now historians, that’s assuming that the Chinese will have any interest our character or history, won’t look at the 1960s in the case of, say, the United States as the era of the war in Vietnam, of the moon shot or anything of that sort. I think it will be looked at in terms of what you refer to as the ground has changed, the way people have changed the their ways of living.
[McLuhan]We used to concentrate on figures and now the ground itself has become figure. The area of attention has shifted from the older characters to the ground. Now that includes audience. The audience has now become actor. Don’t you think this is a tendency as a result of developments in our time?
[Wolfe]Well, certainly Woodstock was a perfect example of it. Woodstock is probably the great, typical event of our times because …
[McLuhan]Instant city.
[Wolfe]It was set up. From the very beginning there was going to be a movie made of Woodstock. As it started out every one of us were paying our eighteen dollars for the weekend. Gradually, so many people came, they just abandoned that and let them all come in. But actually they should have paid them all eighteen dollars asthey came in because they became the show.
[McLuhan]Consider in that regard what we call coverage. Coverage now is no longer just on a single individual but on a whole complex action. In turn, don’t you think that in both Vietnam and in the North of Ireland that the audience wants to get into the action, that the coverage encourages the audience to get into the action? I have been told by reporters from the North of Ireland that when the news is not on, and the cameras are ready to go, the public is all out in the streets ready to go into action as soon as the cameras are.
[Wolfe]Yes, that’s marvelous.
[McLuhan]They all retire inside to watch the news, and then come outside to participate in covering the news and in acting it out themselves. Now I think the difference between hired actors and the public itself is tending to merge. This kind of unexpected flip happened in the Eichmann trial. The coverage pushes up the figure dramatically into heroic dimensions but at the same time involves the audience so completely in the process of his action that it begins to feel far more guilty than he did. He appears merely as a person carrying out orders – the orders of the community. He was a welladjusted, nice guy who was doing what had to be done, according to the audience command, the audience being so involved in this process that it now begins to feel like a villain. Therefore, they want to cut that show right out of their lives.
[Wolfe]Do you think this explains the really strange fascination that Arthur Bremer had with Sirhan Sirhan? Bremer obviously looked at Sirhan as some kind of heroic figure. He wasn’t this poor, helpless, useless human being who had done this desperate thing, certainly not in Arthur Bremer’s eyes.
[McLuhan]No, and again, he had made the news. Sirhan had made the news. Now this you can take in every sense of the word as having gotten into the news, having been created into a vast figure by the news. “Making the news” is a very strange phrase, but the media themselves can now create events that are so much bigger than people, so much bigger than the audience, that it really is a new mythic form.
[Wolfe]I would really like to run down a checklist of all the predictions you made six years ago that people thought were absolutely crazy that have come true.
[McLuhan]I’ve always been very careful never to predict anything that had not already happened. The future is not what it used to be.


The Medium is the Massage–Marshall McLuhan (FULL FILM)

A member and nodal point within the tale of the tribe, Marshall McLuhan made a great impact on the thinking and writing of Robert Anton Wilson. McLuhan, like Wilson performed by example the role of an ‘intellectual celebrity’ (sadly missing in 2015 pop culture?) as Richard Metzger put it, at Dangerous Minds. McLuhan speaks VOLUMES about political showbusiness (election show-business) and hundreds of other cultural phenomena that can help all of us process the billions of signals we have to deal with today, in our hyperconnected global village.

I find the number of views on youtube of this video very very sad indeed. To me this experimental TV show from 1967 acts like a unique time-capsule (a sharable time-capsule) capable of describing the genius of James Joyce, Ezra Pound, Norbert Weiner, Buckminster Fuller and Robert Anton Wilson, all-at-once. You really should try and find time to watch this, or at least bookmark it. (you might want to open a new tab and use your search window to search some terms and names)

Perhaps I am over sensitive?

–Steve Fly


Terence McKenna – Surfing Finnegan’s Wake

In late April 2000, San Francisco
possibly at 1015 Folsom
I joined Terence Mckenna’s

today i miss Terence
and his wise
playful wordwhirl

late 20th century
modern teller of
the tale of the tribe:
Joyce and McLhuan
and Vico
here comes everybody…

R.I.P Terence. (November 16, 1946 – April 3, 2000)

Terence McKenna – Surfing Finnegan’s Wake

Letter to Harold Innis from McLuhan, 14th March 1951.

Within the small and obscure field of those who follow the tale of the tribe, as defined by Robert Anton Wilson will probably already be familiar with this letter by Marshall McLuhan, to Harold Innis.

In the letter McLuhan more or less drafts the trajectory RAW expands upon, with the addition of Giordano Bruno, Alfred Korzybski, Nietzsche, Claude Shannon and Orson Welles, RAW weaves a landscape of, dare i say, cybernetic post modernism?

Internet…probably the greatest catalyst, tool, for the evolution of language and human-language interfacing. And so, 12/13 historical characters are selected by RAW to approximate the innovations that took place to bring us here, and the human biographical tales crisscrossing with the design science revolutions and new styles. RAWs tale of the tribe.

Here is that letter that helped start it all, in some sense.

–steve fly 

Letter to Harold Adams Innis
Toronto, 14th March 1951

Dear Innis,
Thanks for the lecture re-print. This makes an opportunity for me to mention my interest in the work you are doing in communication study in general. I think there are lines appearing in Empire and Communications, for example, which suggest the possibility of organizing an entire school of studies. Many of the ancient language theories of the Logos type which you cite for their bearings on government and society have recurred and amalgamated themselves today under the auspices of anthropology and social psychology. Working concepts of “collective consciousness” in advertising agencies have in turn given salience and practical effectiveness to these “magical” notions of language.
But it was most of all the esthetic discoveries of the symbolists since Rimbaud and Mallarmé (developed in English by Joyce, Eliot, Pound, Lewis and Yeats) which have served to recreate in contemporary consciousness an awareness of the potencies of language such as the Western world has not experienced in 1800 years..

Mallarmé saw the modern press as a magical institution born of technology. The discontinuous juxtaposition of unrelated items made necessary by the influx of news stories from every quarter of the world, created, he saw, a symbolic landscape of great power and importance. (He used the word “symbol” in the strict Greek sense sym-ballein, to pitch together, physically and musically). He saw at once that the modern press was not a rational form but a magical one so far as communication was concerned. Its very technological form was bound to be efficacious far beyond any informative purpose. Politics were becoming musical, jazzy, magical.

The same symbolist perception applied to cinema showed that the montage of images was basically a return via technology to age-old picture language. S. Eisenstein’s Film Forum and Film Technique explore the relations between modern developments in the arts and Chinese ideogram, pointing to the common basis of ideogram in modern art, science and technology.

One major discovery of the symbolists which had the greatest importance for subsequent investigation was their notion of the learning process as a labyrinth of the senses and faculties whose retracing provided the key to all arts and sciences (basis of myth of Daedalus, basic for the dreams and schemes of Francis Bacon, and, when transferred by Vico to philology and history of culture, it also forms the basis of modern historiography, archaeology, psychology and artistic procedures alike.)

Retracing becomes in modern historical scholarship the technique of reconstruction. The technique which Edgar Poe first put to work in his detective stories. In the arts this discovery has had all those astonishing results which have seemed to separate the ordinary public from what it regards as esoteric magic. From the point of view of the artist however the business of art is no longer the communication of thoughts or feelings which are to be conceptually ordered, but a direct participation in an experience. The whole tendency of modern communication whether in the press, in advertizing, or in the high arts is toward participation in a process, rather than apprehension of concepts. And this major revolution, intimately linked to technology, is one whose consequences have not begun to be studied although they have begun to be felt.

One immediate consequence, it seems to me, has been the decline of literature. The hyper-trophy of letter-press, at once the cause and effect of universal literacy, has produced a spectacular decline of attention to the printed or written word. As you have shown in Empire and Communications, ages of literature have been few and brief in human history. The present literary epoch has been of exceptional duration — 400 years. There are many symptoms that it is at an end. The comic book for example has been seen as a degenerate literary form instead of as a nascent pictorial and dramatic form which has sprung from the new stress on visual-auditory communication in the magazines, the radio and television. The young today cannot follow narrative but they are alert to drama. They cannot bear description but they love landscape and action.

If literature is to survive as a scholastic discipline except for a very few people, it must be by a transfer of its techniques of perception and judgement to these new media. The new media, which are already much more constitutive educationally than those of the class-room, must be inspected and discussed in the class-room if the class-room is to continue at all except as a place of detention. As a teacher of literature it has long seemed to me that the functions of literature cannot be maintained in present circumstances without radical alteration of the procedures of teaching. Failure in this respect relegated Latin and Greek to the specialist; and English literature has already become a category rather than an interest in school and college.

As mechanical media have popularized and enforced the presence of the arts on all people it becomes more and more necessary to make studies of the function and effect of communication on society. Present ideas of such effects are almost entirely in terms of mounting or sagging sales curves resulting from special campaigns of commercial education. Neither the agencies nor the consumers know anything about the social or cutural effects of this education.

Deutsch’s interesting pamphlet on communication is thoroughly divorced from any sense of the social functions performed by communication. He is typical of a school likewise in his failure to study the matter in the particular. He is the technician interested in power but uncritical and unconcerned with social effect. The diagnosis of his type is best found, so far as I know, in Wyndham Lewis’s The Art of Being Ruled. That pamphlet is probably the most radical political document since Machiavelli’s Prince. But whereas Machiavelli was concerned with the use of society as raw material for the arts of power, Lewis reverses the perspective and tries to discern the human shape once more in a vast technological landscape which has been ordered on Machiavellian lines.

The fallacy in the Deutsch-Wiener approach is its failure to understand the techniques and functions of the traditional arts as the essential type of all human communication. It is instead a dialectical approach born of technology and quite unable of itself to see beyond or around technology. The Medieval schoolmen ultimately ended up on the same dialectical reef.

As Easterbrook may have told you I have been considering an experiment in communication which is to follow the lines of this letter in suggesting means of linking a variety of specialized fields by what may be called a method of esthetic analysis of their common features. This method has been used by my friend Siegfried Giedion in Space, Time and Architecture and in Mechanization Takes Command. What I have been considering is a single mimeographed sheet to be sent out weekly or fortnightly to a few dozen people in different fields, at first illustrating the underlying unities of form which exist where diversity is all that meets the eye. Then it is hoped there will be a feedback of related perception from various readers which will establish a continuous flow.

It seems obvious to me that Bloor St. is the one point in this University where one might establish a focus of the arts and sciences. And the organizing concept would naturally be “Communication Theory and practice.” A simultaneous focus of current and historic forms. Relevance to be given to selection of areas of study by dominant artistic and scientific modes of the particular period. Arts here used as providing criteria, techniques of observation, and bodies of recorded, achieved, experience. Points of departure but also return.

For example the actual techniques of common study today seem to me to be of genuine relevance to anybody who wishes to grasp the best in current poetry and music. And vice versa. There is a real, living unity in our time, as in any other, but it lies submerged under a superficial hubbub of sensation. Using Frequency Modulation techniques one can slice accurately through such interference, whereas Amplitude Modulation leaves you bouncing on all the currents.

Marshall McLuhan

from Marshall McLuhan — Complete Correspondence,
edited by Matie Molinaro & Corinne McLuhan

TTOTT 2013: Go git’ yr’ pens and pads

TTOTT 2013 by Steven ‘fly’ Pratt.

Some of my readers, and a small portion of friends may be familiar with Robert Anton Wilson and his tale of the tribe, but, alas i imagine that most are not. If you stumbled upon this writing, and are out of facebook well done, I dearly wish you might give me a chance to turn you on.

I have shared the continued relevance and impact that the individuals and ideas from ‘the tale of the tribe’ have had, and are having on global humanity through a network of blogs and posts. I am also resending the same simple message here: read Robert Anton Wilson’s books and try out his ideas, again! This post consists of a short review of his ideas from TTOTT and current 2013 events and breakthroughs that have a direct correspondence to the characters.

Swooping from the global banking and credit circus to ‘open source’ software ‘The tale of the tribe’ forms a unique doorway into a coherent system, running from the renaissance to the present day, that helps frame some big questions pertaining to our times, a bawdy bunch and global cross-section of individuals and their works selected by Dr Wilson for an equal balance of high-brow and low brow, art and science and mysticism, all innovators and ahead of their time.


Most of them, worryingly to me, are still understudied overlooked and almost forgotten in the majority of mainstream Academic institutions, yet, together in synchrony and as the TRIBE, they bootstrap their influences and coherence into a group of 13–relatively unknown–super geniuses. A kind of renaissance super hero-gang. I think that Dr Wilson picked these characters very very very carefully, and of course, they still hold infinite potential for anybody crazy enough to begin studying em’ and carefully scaffolding between ideas, and, furthermore, I am certain they will be important for the future scenarios and technological breakthroughs during 2013 and ahead, in the spirit of the poet as early warning missile defence system.

“Pound & Joyce supplement each other
like Jefferson & Adams
each created a NEW non-aristotelian
for the tale of the tribe”–RAW

In one sense, the tale of the tribe includes some of the most complicated and scholarly works known to man: Finnegans Wake, Information Theory, General Semantics, Pound’s Cantos, Cybernetics, Ulysses, Media Studies and Quantum Mechanics. On the other hand, I think that Dr Wilson recognized this ‘too complicated’ factor, and might have been hinting, in part, that in the age of internet search engines and masses of shared data, translation software etc. the once esoteric works and ideas available to the select few, can now be read, decoded, studied and poured over, even when high…by anyone and everyone who can connect to the net. You don’t need no stinking Yale or Cambridge library, or even their professors, in many cases, you require a connection and whole lot of time, will and energy to invest in things that at first may not seem worth your while pursuing. I hope to persuade you otherwise.

“Distinguish also between faith-based programs [NO FEEDBACK]
and research-based programs [MAXIMUM POSSIBLE FEEDBACK].–RAW

For me today, the tale of the tribe boils down to the concept of humanity. The problems confronting everyman man, women and living system on planet earth today. Dr Wilson stressed a comprehensive strategy, a GLOBAL view, and he was known for having at least seven models for explaining anything. This wish to communicate and show compassion to all-around-humanity remains a goal of ‘TTOTT’ and at the same time liberate humanity, consciousness and our  daily doings from the boot and chains and guns of the oppressors:

Those who champion closed systems, surveillance, secrecy, violence, war and clandestine attacks on the emotional and physical strings of a mostly innocent humanity-as-a-whole. Those that fan the flames, do damage to names, switch the rules, the sneaky pundits and spin doctors, the war advertisers and the TV Mirage salespeople, those that wish the majority of us live in fear and in debt, be it to Gods or States-entities, they’re surely watching you even now. I hear you, and I think ‘TTOTT’ provides an historical current that runs counter to the above trending towards centralized control and secrecy, to shallow pools of bullshit passing as news and bad, wrongheaded single mindedness and bullying throughout the mediasphere. The decentralized universe of the mystics, poets, shaman & shawomen, neuro-scientists, design scientists and information theorists pushes against centralized control, both psychological and political (via. The digital hacktivist revolution) these are new forces that we have all heard about, if not felt in our daily life.

“can we see this emerging in psychedelics & internet?
or in Leary & McLuhan at least?”–RAW

Fly On The Tale Of The Tribe: A Rollercoaster Ride With Robert Anton Wilson

by Steven James Pratt


Continue reading “TTOTT 2013: Go git’ yr’ pens and pads”

Massive Online Open Courses: From McLuhan to MOOC.

Note to Maybe Logic Academy!

Massive Online Open Courses: From McLuhan to MOOC.

“In this summer of 2012 the buzz in the world of higher education is about massive online open courses, or “MOOC.” It seems that cyber-prophet Marshall McLuhan saw this coming.

As a classroom teacher for over 35 years who is about to set a virtual foot onto the campus of MOOC U (my neuroethics course will be offered by Coursera in January, the other major entrant into MOOC being EdX), I wonder what I’m getting into. I have a feeling I’m not alone among my dozens of colleagues in this regard. Surely they also wonder if the transmission of knowledge to which they’ve given much of their lives is about to undergo an unpredictable transformation in which they will play a part. University of Virginia professor Mark Edmundson is dubious that the classroom artistry of the truly fine teacher can be captured in the online experience.

Edmundson has a point. I know exactly what he means when he compares those precious moments of didactic flow in a physical classroom to jazz improvisation.

Yet the precise contours of the MOOC experience and its implications for higher education remain a mystery to everyone, including the investors, institutions and instructors. All we really know is that (1) the sheer number of potential online students is mind-boggling and hard to resist; and (2) the “production values” need to be far better than those for the university-produced online lectures I’ve watched in the past few years.

The MOOCs need to hit that sweet spot between two hours of a static lecturer-focused camera and the flash-and-dash of TED Talks. But at this stage that still doesn’t tell us much about what to expect.

In search of an oracle, I stumbled upon a piece co-authored by Marshall McLuhan in 1967 in, of all places, Look magazine (many teachers worry that online students will look but not think). The article forecast the learning experience of “The Class of 1989”; the same issue included a long essay by a Look senior editor on “The Generation Gap.” Just as young people were demanding more “relevance” in schools, McLuhan recites the longstanding progressive critique of standardized education as “bodies of knowledge” and lectures, the latter seen “one of the least effective [mode of education] ever devised by man,” soon to go the way of all other “mechanized production line[s].”

Instead, McLuhan wrote, “the new modes of instantaneous, long-distance human communication — radio, telephone, television — are linking the world’s people in a vast net of electric circuitry that creates a new depth and breadth of personal involvement and events and breaks down the old, traditional boundaries that made specialization possible.” McLuhan thus foresaw the end of the mass-produced student. “When computers are properly used, in fact, they are almost certain to increase individual diversity. A worldwide network of computers will make all of mankind’s factual knowledge available to all students everywhere in a matter of minutes or seconds.”

Not bad for 1967, just as the Pentagon’s packet switching technology was indeed laying the groundwork for “a worldwide network of computers.”