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

Ez TSOG YALE and SPIES.

“The scholar who works for a government intelligence agency ceases to be an independent spirit, a true scholar,” stated a Boston Globe editorial in the mid-1980s.

My Ezra Pound ‘Google Alert’ just alerted me to an article from the Yaledailynews by Ava Kofman that outlines the history of the CIA’s relationships with Academia, and therefore criss-crosses with ‘The Tale of the Tribe’ material and helps to refresh our minds to Dr. Wilson’s brilliant essay ‘TSOG: The Thing that ate the Constitution, 2001′ and information concerning Ezra Pound, James Jesus Angleton and the impact the Spycraft had on Modernism, poetry and the arts. Wilson writes:

But James J. Angleton was a pathological case of some sort himself; he often hid his middle name because it revealed his half-Hispanic genes. An exceptionally intelligent and sensitive student of modern literature while at Yale, Angleton adored Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, I.A. Richards, e e cummings and other SuperStars of Modernism; he met most of them personally. They collectively influenced Angleton’s fascination with multiple perspectives, labyrinthine ambiguity and the eternal uncertainty of all inferences and “interpretations.” These modernist tendencies, which also appeared in science and philosophy at the same time, blossomed into obsessions and, perhaps, raging madness when Angleton systematically applied them to the spy-game. After all, modernism really begins with Wilde’s “The Reality of Masks” and Yeats’s hermetic mystique the world we know emerging from interactions of Mask, Anti-Mask, Self, and Anti-Self: which may or may not fit all of us or all the world but certainly fits the world of spooks and snoops that Angleton created.–http://www.rawilson.com/tsog.html

Ava Kofman writes in ANNONYMOUS ACADEMICS:

“James Jesus Angleton ’41, breeder of rare orchids and disputably a paranoiac, founded and edited the short-lived but reputable literary magazine, Furioso, during his time as an undergraduate at Yale. Beginning a series of enthusiastic correspondences with Ezra Pound after the two met in Italy during the summer of 1938, Angleton published Pound’s poems along with the work of Cummings, MacLeish and Williams in his magazine the next year. But more ink has been spilled describing Angleton’s life than those of his beloved poets. Returning to Washington after World War II, Angleton would go on to help found the Central Intelligence Agency.”http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

“Varsity crew coach Skip Waltz recruited for the OSS what he saw as the best of Yale’s white Anglophile protestant males from its population of mostly white Anglo-Saxon protestant males. Following the conclusion of war in 1947, OSS alumnus Walter L. Pforzheimer ’35 contributed to drafting the act that would establish the CIA.

And still today, some recent alumni from both campuses include CIA directors Porter J. Goss ’60, R. James Woolsey Jr. LAW ’68, and George H.W. Bush ’48. Now a visiting lecturer at the Jackson Institute, John Negroponte ’60 served as the first Director of National Intelligence under President George W. Bush ’68. William F. Buckley ’50, founder of the National Review, wrote one of the many aforementioned fictionalized accounts of Angleton’s life, and served a stint in the CIA as well.” http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

 “Why learn how to write a policy memo on preventing nuclear proliferation if you can’t even convincingly make a case that the human race — much less the United States of America — is a good thing that’s worth protecting,” laments the anonymous source. “Does the U.S. government exist to merely protect us and clothe us and feed us or to foster public and private virtue? These are questions that the Yalies of yesteryear could tackle quite easily and eloquently. Today, almost no one can.” http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

The skills that most Yale majors teach students well — namely, close reading, critical thinking and strong writing — are the same valuable assets that make its graduates good analysts. Or for that matter, good at any job.

“An analyst job is like writing a paper except its called an intelligence report,” said a senior government official, who requested to remain anonymous citing government policy. “But instead of using a book or a person as your evidence, you’re using classified intelligence.” He points to this as to why Yale turns out so many journalists and policy makers as well. The only difference in what those jobs consist of, the senior official argued, is in the subject matter and sourcing of what they’re writing on. http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

 

“In 2001, following the attacks of September 11, around 750 students expressed an interest in the CIA when they passed through the agency’s career fair booth. For some years thereafter, interest in the agency was at a new high.  http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

“With the rise of cyber-espionage, it would seem that the CIA’s interest in Computer Science and Math majors who can write and break code might balloon.
Regardless of their background — whether it be in C++, the classics or both — applicants need to be realists and understand, the senior official warned, that for many it’s a “desk job.”
“Your cover is going to be a dark close-up of the shadow of Nathan Hale’s face,” a senior government official teased, “but the reality is that people [in the CIA] work in cubicles that look like a Proctor and Gamble office — and it’s mostly a bunch of Mormons.” The senior official paused dramatically, letting the reality of his vision of the CIA sink in.http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

 Borrowing a phrase from T.S. Eliot’s Gerontion, Angleton often described the inner workings of the agency as a “wilderness of mirrors.” Angleton’s means of ordering the world moved along so many deceptions that it ceased to be real.  http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

One that could recast, for better or worse, the arbitrary boundaries drawn between literature and the classroom, reality and a dream, poetry and analysis. Our fascination with the CIA, with its mythical figures and failures, as a national legend — as a genre of fiction — may be of just as much interest for learning about the intuitions of the modern mind — as it is for learning about the institution itself. http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/

The spy world then, turns accident into meaning and so frees us to imagine and presume in broad leaps and strokes.
“For in [the spy] profession there is no such thing as coincidence,” writes Le Carre in the film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
And consider an illustration of these two approaches to thinking: Most of the American public would prefer to watch say, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a fictionalized account of the spy world, than read the continually growing number of now declassified documents made readily available, or, for that matter, the adapted book. http://www.yaledailynews.com/news/2012/jan/13/academics-anonymous/