|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.
|Letter to Harold Adams Innis|
|Toronto, 14th March 1951
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.
|from Marshall McLuhan — Complete Correspondence,
edited by Matie Molinaro & Corinne McLuhan
SEMIOTIC MACHINES: by Louis Armand, presents a number of passages that see James Joyce, McLuhan, Shannon, Weiner, Von Neumann, criss-crossing and pollinating the tale of the tribe with a Joycean, atomic, digital glossing. Also invoking Orson Welles through the reference to expanded cinema of Gene Yougblood, this essay exhibits the highest standards of critical writing on Joyce IMHO, and in the kind of prose i would like to see utilized to help explicate the questions of the tale of the tribe as defined by Robert Anton Wilson, Ezra Pound, Buckminster Fuller, and Joyce.–Steve fly
Above all, the importance of Joyce for McLuhan resides in the decisive role of Finnegans Wake in re-defining the late stages of print culture and the advent of digiculture (the so-called “postmodern moment”). In this sense, Joyce’s text assumes a pre-eminent status among the agents and historians of late modernity—among them John von Neumann, Norbert Wiener, Claude Shannon, Lewis Mumford and Siegfried Giedion—and, along with the Mallarméan critique of the book and Marcel Duchamp’s satirisation of mechanical rationalism, the Wake becomes something of a benchmark in the early discourse of cyberspace.
Joyce’s technique of “verbivocovisual presentement”(5)—reprising the symbolist preoccupation with effects of synaesthesia—bears directly upon the conceptualisation of virtual reality and emersive signifying environments. Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema (1970?), which proposes the integration of computing technology and other forms of telecommunications for the synaesthetic and syncretistic expansion of film, is heavily indebted to McLuhan’s reading of Finnegans Wake in Understanding Media (1964) and The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). “The stripping of the senses and the interruption of their interplay in tactile synaesthesia,” McLuhan writes, “may well have been one of the effects of the Gutenberg technology”—of which Finnegans Wake is considered a kind of apotheosis.(6)
Cybernetics as a discipline was firmly established by Wiener, McCulloch and others, such as W. Ross Ashby and W. Grey Walter. Walter was one of the first to build autonomous robots as an aid to the study of animal behaviour. Together with the US and UK, an important geographical locus of early cybernetics was France.
In the spring of 1947, Wiener was invited to a congress on harmonic analysis, held in Nancy, France. The event was organized by the Bourbaki, a French scientific society, and mathematician Szolem Mandelbrojt (1899–1983), uncle of the world-famous mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot.
During this stay in France, Wiener received the offer to write a manuscript on the unifying character of this part of applied mathematics, which is found in the study of Brownian motion and in telecommunication engineering. The following summer, back in the United States, Wiener decided to introduce the neologism cybernetics into his scientific theory. The name cybernetics was coined to denote the study of “teleological mechanisms” and was popularized through his book Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and Machine (Hermann & Cie, Paris, 1948). In the UK this became the focus for the Ratio Club.
In the early 1940s John von Neumann, although better known for his work in mathematics and computer science, did contribute a unique and unusual addition to the world of cybernetics: Von Neumann cellular automata, and their logical follow up the Von Neumann Universal Constructor. The result of these deceptively simple thought-experiments was the concept of self replication which cybernetics adopted as a core concept. The concept that the same properties of genetic reproduction applied to social memes, living cells, and even computer viruses is further proof of the somewhat surprising universality of cybernetic study.
Wiener popularized the social implications of cybernetics, drawing analogies between automatic systems (such as a regulated steam engine) and human institutions in his best-selling The Human Use of Human Beings : Cybernetics and Society (Houghton-Mifflin, 1950).
While not the only instance of a research organization focused on cybernetics, the Biological Computer Lab at the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign, under the direction of Heinz von Foerster, was a major center of cybernetic research for almost 20 years, beginning in 1958.
“One great part of every human existence is passed in a state which cannot be rendered sensible by the use of wideawake language, cutanddry grammar and goahead plot. –JAMES JOYCE, Referring to Finnegans Wake in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver (1926-11-24)”
I have a playman’s or better yet ploughman’s interest in physics, science and the paranormal, once again due for the most part to Dr. Robert Anton Wilson.
I was fortunate to meet many of the bright characters from the Berkeley Based Physics Consciousness Research Institute, where RAW was a somewhat regular alumni, with an irregular illumi.
Fly On The Tale Of The Tribe: A Rollercoaster Ride With Robert Anton Wilson
by Steven James Pratt
Thanks to Mark Pesce for kicking this into ‘hyperspace‘
E z r a
ARGUABLY The greatest single resource for the study of DR. Robert Anton Wilson’s tale of the tribe.
Marshall McLuhan: Renaissance for a wired world By Gary Genosko.
The medium and the magician: Orson Welles, the radio years, 1934-1952 By Paul Heyer.
The classic Noh theatre of Japan By Ernest Francisco Fenollosa, Ezra Pound
The legacy of Norbert Wiener By Norbert Wiener, David Jerison, Isadore Manuel Singer, Daniel W. Stroock
The virtual Marshall McLuhan By Donald F. Theall
Popular culture in a new age By Marshall William Fishwick
Vico and Joyce By Donald Phillip Verene
Science and sanity: an introduction to non-Aristotelian systems and general semantics By Alfred Korzybski
The Ezra Pound encyclopedia By Demetres P. Tryphonopoulos, Stephen Adams
Giordano Bruno and the geometry of language By Arielle Saiber
Giambattista Vico and Anglo-American science: philosophy and writing By Marcel Danesi
Beyond Good and Evil By Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.
The New Anthology of American Poetry: Traditions and revolutions, beginnings… By Steven Gould Axelrod, Camille Roman, Thomas J. Travisano
The good European: Nietzsche’s work sites in word and image By David Farrell Krell, Donald L. Bates
The Dragon Painter By Mary McNeil Fenollosa
At the speed of light there is only illumination: a reappraisal of Marshall McLuhan By John George Moss, Linda M. Morra
The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry: A Critical Edition By Ernest Fenollosa, Ezra Pound
From Whitney to Chomsky: essays in the history of American linguistics By John Earl Joseph
The imported pioneers: Westerners who helped build modern Japan By Neil Pedlar
Fearing the Dark: The Val Lewton Career By Edmund G. Bansak, Robert Wise
Spoken and written discourse: a multi-disciplinary perspective By Khosrow Jahandaríe
American literature and science By Robert J. Scholnick
The poetry of Ezra Pound By Hugh Kenner
Nietzsche: an introduction By Gianni Vattimo
News is people: the rise of local TV news and the fall of news from New York By Craig Allen