Literary/Aesthetic Cliché-Probes


ACT FIVE (under construction)

As the eighties turned into the nineties, a great surprise confronted all the post-McLuhan schools floating in the pentadic debris. Events such as the CNN coverage of the protests and massacre in China’s Tiananmen Square, the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, the reunification of Germany, the collapse of the Soviet Union, genetically-engineered food, and the widespread use of the Internet evoked a new school of media ecology. This school was established by communication technology itself – that is, technology that had come alive decades earlier. I call it the Pentadic school. No longer were the slogans identified with McLuhan’s icon – “the global village”, “the medium is the message” – to be debated and analysed. Now they were paraded about as essential wisdom, as necessary facts to be acknowledged for economic and social survival. Tom Wolfe’s old question about Marshall McLuhan, “What if he is right?”, had been answered in the affirmative. It was as if, while passing over into the astral realms, the pentadic saw not only its whole life pass before it, but could not avoid recognizing the pattern, the laws of its experience – it all made sense! And McLuhan was the physicist, sociologist, artist whose oeuvre had the most staying power of all knowledge profiles that had surfed the information highway since 1960. McLuhan rode the biggest, the longest, the most daunting wave

(see pp.150-151 in THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE).

My name for this organic technology that produced the Pentadic school is “the Android Meme”. It was this environmental, organic robotoid that created the swan song of the nineties as it hid its death throes under the cover of propping up and promoting the evolutionary triumphs of human creativity. This sleight-of-hand was only possible because humanity and its technological by-products had completely merged and therefore could restage the drama of cognition and recognition. The function of metaphor, of looking at one thing through another, was replayed as an ersatz anti-environment by the Android Meme. Thus, the four schools of media ecology, in following McLuhan’s mandate to perceive the Present, were presented with an awesome challenge in penetrating this Mount Everest of communication problems.

It is, therefore, most interesting to review the acumen of the four previous schools’ interpretation of and response to this strange “revival” of McLuhan’s mode of media ecology:

A. The Toronto school took advantage of the Android Meme’s revival of media ecology to reveal McLuhan’s actual methodology, as well as its roots, in analyzing media, which had been obscured by the corporate iconic image of McLuhan in earlier decades. However, the inadequacy of this tactic in meeting the Android Meme, producer of the Pentadic School, was that the term “media”, traditionally applied to individual technologies and their environments, did not reflect the unipolar and unilateral nature of this organic robotoid – the fused media environment. Frank Zingrone recognized this problem and later described it as “the media symplex” but he unfortunately included the word “media” in his new nomenclature. The very rise of “media studies” as a discipline in academia during the nineties signaled its obsolescence, its lack of creating perception of the living Present. In addition, the user-friendly nature of the Android Meme encouraged the merger of form and content so that media-criticism became the daily fare of the info-market, from Rush Limbaugh and Gerry Springer to Lou Dobbs and Bloomberg, Inc.

The Toronto school of media ecology, represented by the approach of Barrington Nevitt – along with allies such as Maurice McLuhan, Nelson Thall, Frank Zingrone, and Eric McLuhan – produced the following (sample excerpts provided):

Dave Newfeld and Nelson Thall, BOB’S MEDIA ECOLOGY. Toronto, Ontario: Time Again Productions, 1992.

Dave Newfeld and Nelson Thall, BOB’S MEDIA ECOLOGY SQUARED. Toronto, Ontario: Time Again Productions, 1993.

Dave Newfeld and Nelson Thall, THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE: McLuhan. Toronto, Ontario: Time Again Productions, 1994.

“Since the dawn of Western civilization, *art has preceded science*, precisely because the perceived effects always precede the conceived causes! Technology (derived from Greek *techne*: art or skill of the artisan) preceded science until the Age of Reason, which, pushed to extreme, became ‘mother of modern revolutions’ – a new chaos.

In the First Industrial Revolution of material ‘hardware’ production, ‘value-in-exchange’ via markets prevailed over ‘value-in-use’ for humans, and restructured their thinking and being. During this Age of Humpty Dumpty, technology became ‘applied science’, as all arts and sciences, thinking and doing, were further fragmented and separated. Physics stressed measurement of quantifiable aspects of material bodies, Alchemy (concerned with transmutation of metals from ‘base’ to ‘noble’) became Chemistry that stressed qualitative transformations of all materials (now, through ‘resonant bonds’, rather than ‘mechanical connections’).

In the Second Industrial Revolution of information ‘software’ production, the old logic of the Excluded Middle still prevails as the hidden ground of thinking in revolutions and counter-revolutions alike. By treating ‘software’ like ‘hardware’, this logic fails to achieve the potentials of exchanging information, when neither participant loses and both may gain, by making something entirely new.

Rather than more specialist knowledge, this new New Science demands comprehensive awareness of its own assumptions. We can find clues for a new ‘unity of science’, embracing all human knowledge, by studying the effects of our own artifacts, in the processes of human communication: the Tradition exemplified by Cicero’s Doctus Orator, Bacon’s Novum Organum, Giambattista Vico’s Scienza Nuova, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and the McLuhans’ Laws of Media. Hitherto, Western Science has organized knowledge for retrieval, while its Art organized ignorance for discovery.

In contrast to the Next Industrial Revolution, now ‘foreseen’ as visible FIGURES by ‘hi-techies’ in their latest rearview mirrors, is the invisible GROUND of the Next Next Industrial Revolution, now here via electric media. And that revolution will embrace both market and non-market economies, as consumer and producers merge like audience and actors. It will also usher in the next Next Cultural Revolution, which demands that we look behind all visible FIGURES to find their GROUNDS: to make sense of our human situation not only after, but *before* creating its causes. We can thus learn to cope with the new chaos that becomes a boundless resource in our Global Theatre via Instant Replay, by recognizing its complementary process patterns in our actual times and spaces.

Having already learned to ask ‘WHY?’ logically like Western EYE-men, we must now learn to ask ‘WHY NOT?’ unlogically like Eastern EAR-men. Both are essential to restructure our present situation. In the real ground of constant change, in pristine and modern chaos alike, only stable figures really need explaining. The NEW New Science will embrace Art, Science, and Religion – all human knowledge – both perceptually and conceptually.

The impact of scientists on Marshall was through the metaphors underlying their theories in particular, but whatever impact McLuhan had upon scientists was through his process-pattern metaphors in general.” – Barrington Nevitt [with Maurice McLuhan], WHO WAS MARSHALL McLUHAN?: A Mosaic of Impressions Explored. Toronto, Ontario: Comprehensivist Publications, 1994, edited by Frank Zingrone, Wayne Constantineau, Eric McLuhan, and Nelson Thall, pp.246-247.

“In our work with Marshall, we eventually recognized how each sense (and each medium) makes (and requires) its own humour. The deaf and the visually-minded prefer ‘slapstick’. They chortle especially when the visual goes into high-definition and flips into the kinesthetic; the magically violent choreography of the Three Stooges, for example. The blind and the oral cultures, on the other hand, like Marshall, appreciate word play. Marshall was a big fan of the Marx Brothers and of W. C. Field – the foursome and the loner.

In the electric circus, stand-up comics ‘put-on’ the audience to share each others misadventures, misdemeanours, and misfortunes, or misplaced credulity. Stand-up comedy has emerged as the premier mode to handle the unexpected that we expect to find in our global theatre of the absurd. In all communication, the users are the content of the medium. But, in a ‘put-on comedy’ the users are captivated by the process of being captured as content. They may also playfully protest: ‘Don’t put me on!’, which is another put-on.” – Ibid., p.188.

“The selections in Part IV, ‘Culture and Art: Figures and Grounds’, exemplify McLuhan’s erudite playfulness. He works a trope or two on Carl Jung and sheds new light on the notion of archetypal power. (Who would have thought anyone could alter the idea of an archetype after the dominance of that area by Jung?) Art is very serious, high-powered play, and the intrusion of popular culture into the arena of art has been one of the most important new aspects of Western culture.

Reading this material requires that the user be willing to unlearn some things that dominate our perceptual lives – for example, that logical clarity and narrative sequence are always the index of solid meaning or that the opposite of a great truth is falsity (it may be another great truth). Different media, like styles in painting or literature, are special ways of seeing and induce specific states of mind. Also, the user should remain open to the proposition that much of what is most important, and that works the most powerful changes in our lives, lies outside our general awareness, as environmentally hidden. McLuhan’s work is useful and exciting precisely because it is still the best way to discover underlying structure and meaning in a world that most of the time seems impossibly overloaded with conflicting information.” – From the Introduction by Frank Zingrone and Eric McLuhan, ESSENTIAL McLUHAN [by Marshall McLuhan]. Concord, Ontario: House of Anansi Press Limited, 1995, edited by Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone, pp.9-10.

“The odd language of Finnegans Wake clearly marks it as belonging to a lively tradition of composition called Menippean satire and thereby relates it to serious cultural observation and poetic activity of a high order. To identify Finnegans Wake as an example of this particular species of satire requires looking at it in an unorthodox manner. Both of the conventional approaches to Menippism miss the mark. Classicists define it as involving ‘a mixture of verse and prose’ (the Wake does contain plenty of verse, overt as well as embedded in the text), but maintain that the practice of Menippizing died out either in antiquity or in the Middle Ages. Contemporary literary critics, particularly those basing their approach in the observations of Northrop Frye, classify works as Menippean using objective description of outward features and themes of known Menippean satires. But to approach Menippism objectively is to miss the essential character of the satire.

Of the three modes of satire – the other two are Horation and Juvenalian – Menippism, following the practice of the Cynics, aims its attack at the reader. A Menippist will do anything necessary to reinvigorate the reader’s numbed sensibilities, so the art blossoms with novelty in every age as well as with blatant plagiarism of other, earlier Menippists. Descriptive approaches cannot keep pace with novelty, and objective appraisal of the satires and their contents means ignoring their effect on the reader. The first part of this study, then, focuses on the nature and tradition of Menippism and the techniques needed to study a Menippean satire, especially Joyce’s. Since rhetoric is the science of using words and images to produce a given effect in an audience (of hearers, viewers, or readers), classical rhetoric and principles of decorum are invoked as the ideal method of approach.

A great deal of the remainder of this study involves examining the language of Finnegans Wake and the reasons for its departures from the normal and the expected. Once we know that the Wake is a Menippean satire, we know two things, both crucial: we know what the Wake is (not simply a ‘monstrous joke’, as one bewildered reader howled in frustration), and we know what it is for. As a Menippean satire it is far from alone, for it belongs to a vital tradition of writing that contains similar works and that extends from Homer (Margites) through Varro, Seneca, Plutarch, Lucian, Macrobius, Martianus Capella, Alan of Lille, Chaucer, Erasmus, Rabelais, Cervantes, Thomas Nashe, Burton, Swift, Sterne, Mark Twain, Byron, Flaubert, and Ezra Pound, and onward through Flann O’Brien, John Fowles, Don DeLillo, and Italo Calvino, to mention but a few.” – Eric McLuhan, THE ROLE OF THUNDER IN *FINNEGANS WAKE*. Toronto, Ontario: University of Toronto Press, 1997, pp.ix-x.

“Let Arachne, then, serve as patroness and guide to those nomadic hunters who wander or surf the webs and nets. She spins tales and casts eloquent images to seize the gaze and stun her prey. She is the huntress and the patroness of those who would seek to exploit the net for a goal, profit. She is the left side of the brain on the net; Penelope is the right side. Let Penelope reign as patroness of this new state itself, not a city-state but a global state with the gossipaceous character of a small village, even as the kingdom of Ithaka was small, but no less royal. Urban and orbal.

Finally, what is the significance of what Penelope was doing – weaving a shroud? In the Odyssey, she is weaving it for Laertes, son of Arkesios and father of her husband, Odysseus. Laertes, brought back to life by Athena, fought in the last battle in the story (XXIV, 513-525). Fighting alongside his son, he throws the last spear with deadly accuracy and force.

Today, once again, Penelope weaves her shroud, a shroud for the growing millions of disembodied users of the net. This shroud enfolds the world, the World Wide Shroud. And it is never finished, just like the essay thrown out on the net which the author and readers can tinker with, and elaborate on, and comment on, and undo and redo endlessly. And it resembles the net itself, which also shrinks by night and expands by day. The net and the web are themselves encyclopedias, culture-poems of corporate – anonymous, unanimous – authorship.

So today we find ourselves in just such a mythic world of encyclopedic simultaneity: the net and web yield at every moment the living circle of cliche human knowledge, not the shop-worn one-thing-at-a-time narrative laden with archetypes. Our mode now has to be epic, not lyric or dramatic. Not tragic (for finding a private identity), but instead decidedly comic, for the job facing us is that of the beachhead, that of founding a community.” – Eric McLuhan, ELECTRIC LANGUAGE: Understanding the Message. Toronto, Ontario: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1998, p.12.

“Because haptic space is space made by the user from moment to moment, wherever you are at any time is the center and the whole focus of the space. So there is no vanishing point, no perspective, no chiaroscuro or foreshortening. The user is the focus: it isn’t so much that the user employs all points of view at once as that the user is *looked at* in this haptic space from all points of view at once. In this space, everything is related to everything and to the user and the user’s responses – a condition most cultures label paranoia.

What exactly does VR do with the senses? There are several main considerations. First, the helmet cuts off outer vision, so the play in this theater is inside, on the interior landscape. Next, the eyes are separated. This is enormously significant in terms of evolution: each eye is given its own screen to look at, and the two are not allowed to converge. Each eye examines its own world. In evolutionary terms, this gives the user the kind of vision used by fish: each eye ‘does its own thing’ and they never converge on the same thing at the same time, stereoscopically. Actually, although the images presented do simulate binocular 3D, the effect of separating the eyes is really to make the user double-monocular. Because the eyes never converge on an object, as they would in the outer world, the effect is to keep the visual sense in low definition, subordinate to the other senses. The one-eyed man is the hunter: VR parodies that hunter sensibility: it does not extend the visual, bureaucratic mentality. VR is for hunting and discovery. It is not a visual medium but a proprioceptive one….

Under conditions of such profound involvement as the Internet and VR afford, private, individual identity is irrelevant as well as being impossible to sustain. Private individualism calls for great intellectual detachment of knower from known, and abstraction in the very process of knowing. Participation is incommensurate with private identity. It is no coincidence that the surge of interest in VR accompanies the new fad of printed stereographic images. They now adorn newspapers, desk calendars, book covers, even postcards. To see one, you have to stare cross-eyed at an apparently pointless pattern: after a few moments, a 3D shape swims out of the page at you….

You have to move about to navigate in the ‘Virtual World’: you don’t sit there with a channel changer or tap at a keypad. Mime, the art most closely associated with VR and body movement, holds the key to the new virtual worlds: you mime your way around in the virtual space, a space either generated by or responsive to the user’s postures and gestures. If this new toy soon takes a serious place in the world of science or of art, it will be because the disciplines developed in mime have already mapped all of the virtual spaces imaginable. Corporal mime, which reaches back to preliteracy, will provide the avant-garde cyberpunk’s bodily discipline and asceticism.” – Ibid., pp.19-24 in the chapter entitled “Virtual Reality: Mime without Walls”.

“The *ground* of effects always paves the way for the causes to arrive, so the ‘coming events cast their shadows before them’. With elevators, airplanes, helicopters, space shuttles, satellites, we have all the effects: anti-gravity will not be long in coming. Radio, telephone, TV, and the rest mean that ESP technology will soon arrive. The only question is who will get to the patent office first.” – Ibid., p.57.

“The four ‘parts’ of a tetrad are like the lines in a stanza of a poem. Here, however, situations and things, rather than words, provide the rhymes.

In a poem, the words’ ends echo each other to produce the rhymes. *Late*, *grate*, *spate*, and *fate* rhyme and also look alike, as they all end *-ate*. But then *goat* and *rote* rhyme without looking alike, and so do *too*, *two*, *to*, *shoe*, *blue*, and *flew*.

In a tetrad, with the components arranged as above, each ‘part’ or cluster of ideas displays an ongoing process or situation. Instead of similar sounds, then, you look for other kinds of similarities. Similar forms. Formal relations, formal resonance.” – Ibid., p.36.

“I have occasionally, in the years since his death, heard my father’s methods and insights dismissed as ‘applied Catholicism’, the contention being that he was simply a tool of the Catholic Church. Or that his media work is just ages-old Catholic doctrine in new clothes and that he is merely spouting some Catholic party line. (The people who make such assertions clearly must not be Catholics: the Catholics were themselves as irritated by his insights as everyone else and never detected the slightest relation to doctrine in his observations.) At a recent (1997) conference at York University in Toronto at which Neil Postman and Arthur Kroker were featured speakers, the new conventional line was revealed: it runs, ‘McLuhan’s work is basically age-old Christian Humanism in modern dress’. (One might as well charge that Northrop Frye was simply a tool of the Masons, or that his literary theories were merely age-old Masonic philosophy dressed up and regurgitated as literary criticism.) There’s evidence aplenty in the chapters that follow to discourage or disprove any such imputation. But it is true that he used to drive ossified conservatives and the slow-witted to distraction. Himself neither a raving liberal nor a tight-lipped
conservative, he was rather a learned man on a constant quest for understanding.” – From the Introduction by Eric McLuhan, THE MEDIUM AND THE LIGHT: Reflections on Religion [by Marshall McLuhan]. Toronto, Ontario: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1999, edited by Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek, p.xix.

“After McLuhan, my own work has unavoidably led me to study the dynamic and simultaneous relations between simplicity and complexity that result from examining the medium and the message in the context of *virtuality*. This set of relations creates an infinitely vast interactive process pattern. (A process pattern reveals an underlying structure of meaning, as in Eliot’s The Waste Land, where the surface seems chaotic and meaningless.) Deep structure is at the same time part content and part medium, that is, symplectic. The computer, operating by binary logic, exposes the lack of deep structure in post-modern communication: what is, simply is, and means only in terms of itself.

The view implied by the statement ‘the medium is the message’, if taken to suggest that content is of no real importance at all, was less of an exaggeration in 1964 than it is now with virtuality massively affecting contents. The old view clearly lacks balance. The hyperbolic bias of McLuhan’s statement is meant to bring home an important point: *It is only through an understanding of the structure of a medium that one can gain real access to its message*. In the end, however, it is the message that we want and need.

Media tend to simplify complex human events for easy consumption. At the same time, they complexify events through exhaustive – even obsessive – coverage, but only at the level of low-cost entertainment. In television, redundancy serves as a replacement for complexity. Care must be taken to keep it simple and avoid alienating sponsors or consumers through real controversy, real introspection. The truth could put you out of business.” – Frank Zingrone, THE MEDIA SYMPLEX: At the Edge of Meaning in the Age of Chaos. Toronto, Ontario: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 2001, pp.3-4.

“Interpretations of the relation between form and content appear to be inexhaustible. In fact, every philosopher has a way of approaching this thorny problem – though each, in the end, becomes only a revelation of the biases implicit in that particular philosophical view. The view that form proceeds from content, for example, or is an ‘extension of content’ (see Olson [the poet Charles – ed.] and others, for instance) is naive; it presupposes that the problem is dualistic enough to allow for such a simple manipulation of the terms.

To have a useful knowledge of forms, one must at least consider both *the form of the medium* as well as *the form of the content*, since every medium has as its content another medium. Every filmgoer, while familiar with the demands of film form, often lacks knowledge of the literary forms on which film content is based. The problem of form and content is one of multiple regress, as in a system of self-reflecting mirrors. The medium, even without a content, is the meaning.

This ignorance of the out-of-awareness aspects of any medium of communication is where action and change occur, particularly as one moves from one medium to another. We want to know whether there is a form/content relationship that holds true for all media of communication. An affirmative answer to this question is possible: *content consumes form*. How could The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, or La Dolce Vita be imagined apart from their medium’s form, which has entered and become fused with content? No matter how spectacular the production values of a film, the contents of that film consume it.

Forms tend to formalize, of course, though at some point they came from pure invention: someone wrote the first sestina or the first ode. But who was the first person to use alphabetized language? (It probably wasn’t the mythic Cadmus, who likely was illiterate.)

Clearly, the form of the medium is of primary importance to meaning; the form of the content, which is part medium and part literary genre, proceeds from it secondarily. Other parts of the form of the content are style, structure, voice, and the self-conscious part that assimilates aspects of the medium’s form.” – Ibid., p.246.

“One of the disconcerting powers of electronic information systems is the elimination of personal privacy. Special interest groups and business agencies mine uncontrolled amounts of personal data all the time. We live completely out in the informational open. There is nowhere to hide. The owners of the controlling knowledge secretly use data about each of us to make us more susceptible to their management of our lives.

Politics and economics have always operated in secrecy. In information circles, media gatekeepers are the functionaries of the new gnostics. Cyberspace bandits, information high priests, chaos investors, hacker terrorists, bank presidents and IMF globalists, drug and biotech researchers, communications moguls, and sundry other infocrats cross the data desert of the Internet in one-person caravans.

There is something fundamentally mysterious about the operations of electric process. Every square centimetre of earth has become a holographic point containing all of the transmissions over the face of the globe. The elimination of time and space in human interchange is a big enough revolution to completely change all social values – virtualized, bodiless people can make no real society. The discarnate realities of electric process and their great economic power may be the problem, not the solution to our futures.” – Ibid., pp.259-260.

“An anti-environment in the form of an immanent, new technology is always there, somewhat invisible, but ready to take over at a moment’s notice whenever a new age demands. No matter how adept we become at our inhibiting tactics, we remain completely vulnerable to technological change. As long as we have artists, however, we should have some awareness of a changeable reality. Art is still a fairly dependable early warning system of cultural change.

Difficult art reconnects people to the powerful stuff stored below the threshold of consciousness. Few of us want to face this. It seems dangerous to mental stability.

Our contemporary art is more symptomatic than vatic. The great artists of classical times seemed to have prophetic vision; they appeared possessed of the knowledge of what is eternally true. Today, that vatic posture is gone. Our artists seem more egocentric and speculative. Between good art and bad art lies the domain of advertising. These worlds interpenetrate. Consumerism confuses the real world with advertising, and advertising with art.

We can see only the giant, undeflectable motion of global culture toward the fiscal embrace of electric process. It didn’t happen all at once. The deep pull on our sense of reality is the effect of an underlying drift in the tidal suctions of our ebbing and flowing awareness of global conditions.” – Ibid., p.264.

B. The New York school’s tactic was a little more appropriate as it embraced printed post-postmodern, personalized “fiction” as an ironic affront to the Android Meme. It’s agenda is stated in the following excerpt from a recent interview:

“Chris Kraus: French theory was usurped by academics by 1990; big presses were taking care of it. It seemed best to publish American first-person fiction. I had been living in the East Village for years, and all of my friends were writers. We published Cookie Mueller, Eileen Myles, Ann Rower and Lynne Tillman. Their work all expanded upon French theory – which, by the way, had been a very sexist intellectual universe.

Sylvere Lotringer: If you compared theorists like Gilles Deleuze and Michel Foucault to John Cage and William Burroughs, you could see a connection between what the French were doing with concepts and what the Americans were doing with perception. But Chris pointed out that I was publishing all these old French men! So we looked at the downtown New York writers who were too rough to be distributed in middle America. They were smart, and they were aware. And they didn’t try to write in the third person to talk about themselves.

Kraus: All of these books were written in the first person – a first person that is adventurous, completely public and anti-introspective, not confessional. There was Deran Ludd, who was a punk-Goth comic-book novelist. And Bob Flanagan, who wrote The Pain Journal, a diary that he kept while he was dying of cystic fibrosis that meditated on pain-as-disease versus pain-as-S&M.

Lotringer: So the idea was to not be narcissistic and hide behind the writing. Deal with the world! To create another pseudo-individual through literature is interesting, but to look at the world and try to anticipate what is happening there is very important.” – Time Out New York magazine, March 7-14, 2002, p.73.

C. The Montreal school, through New World Perspectives, trumped the first two schools by celebrating the death of “media studies” and exploiting the potential for a new spontaneously-adapting nomenclature. It also recognized that “media” did not massage and affect humanity any longer. Some samplings are:

SEDUCTION, Jean Baudrillard, 1990.

“The Gulf War, therefore, as a grisly replay of the medieval crusades. A final war in which, as the French theorist Paul Virilio states in Pure War, there is a conjunction of the Holy War (of religious fundamentalists) and of the Just War (of the nuclear technicians).

A war which can be fought at the geographical meeting-point of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers as if to emphasize that this is an epochal drama: the imminent reversal of the always projective logic of the West back to its primal origins in Mesopotamia. A religious war between Virilio’s ‘dromocratic’ war machine, the most intensive expression possible of the dream of the rationalist eschatology, and, in distorted form, the new ‘Other’ of Arab nationalism. The world’s first purely *designer* war: a promotional war machine which scripts in advance the whole metastasis of violence as an advertising campaign for the technological invincibility, and thus political necessity, of the ‘new world order’.

The scene of a fatal decomposition in which all of the political tendencies from the past – ideology, power and sacrifice – rush towards their violent climax in purely inverted form: cynical ideology, cynical power, and cynical sacrifice. Consequently, the debates in Ideology and Power in the Age of Lenin in Ruins have, beyond their theoretical divisions, a broader literary significance as harbingers of the main contours of the nihilistic politics of the twenty first century. Third millenium politics, therefore, not as a time of cold seduction versus command socialism, but of a new world order which can be so deeply sacrificial because it is all about the harvesting of the energies of the social and the non-social universes by the ‘dromocratic’ war machine. A time of the unmasking of ideology as domination, of power as a *trompe-l’oeil’ of the cynical sign, and of sacrifice as mimetic violence against an ‘Other’ which has only the *irreal and projected* existence of a frenzied political fantasy.” – From the Introduction by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, IDEOLOGY AND POWER IN THE AGE OF LENIN IN RUINS, 1991, edited and introduced by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, pp.xiv-xv.

“Or maybe it is something more. Not just male hysteria in relation to sexual lack, but as the emblematic sign of a more primordial lack in postmodern society. Maybe male hysteria – the hysteria of the mutant sex – expresses a more fundamental inversion: the inversion of space over memory, of the ideological order of the phallus over embodied history. Male sex, then, as the sovereignty of desire as lack over libidinal history, which is to say, of spatialization over the body. An endless revenge-taking by the mutant sex against the body, against the pleasures of the clitoris. Indeed, if Virilio can write so eloquently now about the postmodern body as a ‘war machine’, about, that is, the indefinite combination of speed and politics into a new form of ‘dromocracy’, maybe that’s because as a privileged participant in the mutant sex he can understand so well the dialectic of lack and deterrence. Male sexual discharge as also a kind of deferral of knowledge of absence which, first having its basis in the penis as a mutant clitoris, expands rapidly into a universal political logic of revenge-taking.

Why is the image of the erect penis now privileged as a cathected object for political prohibition?

A new drive towards male puritanism in which the Madonna image does a gender flip? No longer woman as ‘sacred vessel’, but the erect penis as a prohibited object of the gaze. A sacramentalized penis which can fall under a great visual prohibition because it is now *the* sacred object. Perhaps a last domain of innocence for anxious men, desperate about all of the gains made by movements for sexual liberation. And so, the erect penis is encoded with all the liturgical trappings of a sacred vessel: the ideological prohibition of the gaze, an unseen object of veneration, an erectile domain of semiotic innocence. The erect penis, therefore, as a key agent in a new discourse of semio-sex which can be so fundamentalist in its cultural prohibitions because it screens out the reality of a culture which is all about a ruthless patriarchal politics of back to the penis. Political injunctions against images of the erect penis, therefore, as also about the repression of denial.

But, of course, the question remains: You can cover it up, but will it go away? If the erect penis can be so semiotically innocent, that is because a great political reversal is now taking place. The erect penis can acquire a cultural discourse of innocence in direct and intense relation to the new material reality of a penile power which, under the impact of a decaying neo-conservatism moving from the political to the cultural sphere, is all about predatory power against women and children. Is the new penis censorship just a camouflage, then, for a new fundamentalist cultural politics based on a new order of phallocentric domination: violence against women, the sexual abuse of children, a whole sexual politics based on the libidinal economy of abuse value? The new sexual censorship, therefore, recapitulates the historical traditions of puritanical movements: the cultural reality of a sacred object as a displaced sign for a material reality based on sexual abuse. Consequently, the discourse of the erect penis as a sacred object is central to the newly resurgent ideology of the hysterical male.” – From the Introduction by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, THE HYSTERICAL MALE: new feminist theory, 1991, edited and introduced by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, pp.xi-xiii.

“The French discourse on technology explores terminal culture with such violent intensity that it is replete with significant images: Baudrillard’s simulacrum, Barthes’s empire of the sign, Lyotard’s driftworks, Virilio’s war machine, and Deleuze and Guattari’s ‘rhizomes’ as a scene of the sado-masochism of cynical power. If these thinkers have none of the historical agency of Sartre nor the tragic remembrance of Camus, that is not to diminish their understanding of technological society. For in their writings are to be discovered uncensored reports on the aftermath of historical decay. Thus, Baudrillard shows how the logic of seduction undermines all established systems of meaning; Foucault writes of the constitution of the fictious bourgeois ego by a cynical power; Barthes demonstrates the sovereignty of power which functions as a rhetoric machine, where myth implodes into the dark logic of the cynical sign. While contemporary French discourse may not provide visions of human emancipation, it does have the merit of describing the evolution of technological nihilism up to its stage of simulation, and, thereupon to the age of sacrificial culture, in addition to theorizing the internal dynamics of technology under the sign of cynical power. These are theorists of possessed individualism in whose respective writings are to be discovered the psychology, ethics, media strategies, and ontology of postmodern subjectivity; i.e., the possessed individual. Here, the dynamic language of mastery of social and non-social nature finally comes inside, and takes possession of (our) bodies and minds which welcome it as a form of freedom.” – Arthur Kroker, THE POSSESSED INDIVIDUAL: technology and the french postmodern, 1992, p.19.

“For Virilio, power now begins on the other side of the Foucauldian error and of what might be called the mercantilist distortion. Refusing both ‘knowledge-power’ and ‘commodity-power’, rejecting, that is, both the reduction of power to the monisms of epistemology or economy, Virilio theorizes the disappearance of power into a vector of speed. Here, power is only knowable, not as a form of coercion, nor as a knowledge-vector, nor as a strategy of accumulation, but as a certain form of violent mobility, a logistics of fractals in which the hologram of the whole can be seen only in the indefinite miniaturization of the dispersed subject.” – Ibid., p.27.

“A perfect reversibility, then, between all the old polarities of power, sex, economy, consciousness, and sacrifice. No longer production versus consumption, use-value versus exchange-value, sign versus commodity, victim versus executioner, but a fantastically accelerated, because so depthless, alterity among all the cynical signs. Not really a human world, but a hyper-human one: that point where subjectivity inscribes itself in the commodity first, then in the sign, and finally in the sacrificial violence immanent to seduction. And where technology also finally fulfills the ancient fable by acquiring organicity: first in the reified but dull form of the commodity, then as the object (of the consumption machine) which speaks, and lastly as the spectre of evil – the fear of bodily and social contamination – which haunts the sterile perfectibility of a will to technique which knows only the maximalism of ‘bad infinity’.” – Ibid., pp.79-80.

DEATH AT THE PARASITE CAFE: social science (fictions) and the postmodern, Stephen Pfohl, 1992.

“Intersex states, then, as the third sex. Neither male (physically) nor female (genetically) nor their simple reversal, but something else: a virtual sex floating in an elliptical orbit around the planet of gender that it has left behind, finally free of the powerful gravitational pull of the binary signs of the male/female antinomies in the crowded earth scene of gender. A virtual sex that is not limited to gays and lesbians but which is open to members of the heterosexual club as well and one that privileges sexual reconciliation rather than sexual victimization. Intersex states, therefore, as a virtual sex that finally is liberated from sacrificial violence.

In the artistic practice of medieval times, the privileged aesthetic space was that of anamorphosis. The aesthetics, that is, of perspectival impossibility where the hint of the presence of a vanishing whole could only be captured by a glance at the reflecting surface of one of its designed fragments. A floating perspective where the part exists only to intimate the presence of a larger perspectival unity, and where the whole exists only as a momentary mirage captured for an instant by a mirrored spinning top. Now, anamorphosis returns as the privileged perspective of virtual sex, of intersex states. Virtual sex occupies the aesthetic space of anamorphosis: never fully captured in its full seductiveness by its fractal fragments, and always dispersed and exaggerated by its mirrored counter-images. And just as the impossible space of anamorphosis can only be illuminated by the shiny surface of perfectly calibrated objects (spinning mirrors, musical instruments, silver pipes on glittering surfaces), so too are the outward signs of anamorphic sex found everywhere. Heterosexuals fleeing the violence accompanying the decline of the empire of the hysterical male, drag queens rubbing shoulders with sorority sisters at Club Park Avenue in Tallahassee, Florida, top dykes who flip easily between being Philosopher Queen for a day and practitioners of the pleasures of SM, women survivors in Stories from the Bloodhut who present a litany of war stories about male violence in voices and gestures that speak of human love. The outward signs are different: different genders, different sexual preferences, but the anamorphic space revealed by the stories told or the lives lived is always the same. And it is that new sexual horizon, post-male and post-female, that we now call the perspectival world of the last sex.” – From the Introduction by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, THE LAST SEX: feminism and outlaw bodies, 1993, edited and introduced by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, pp.18-19.

“Maybe we are already living in another dimension of space travel: in a sub-space warp jump, a virtual reality where we can finally recognize that we are destined to leave this planet because we have already exited this body. Not simply the violent expulsion of the body from the weight of earthly gravity into galactic space, but the development of microscopic gene astronauts. Colonies of genes, which once might have fled the primeval soup of the ocean and taken refuge in the geological structure of crystals, the chemistry of plants, then animals, and finally humans, but which now warp jump from the human body into the galaxy of virtual reality. This is a time of primordial genetic rocketry in which genes suddenly are accelerated into orbit around their previous liquid station in plodding human bodies. A new stellar history of TV genes, recombinant shopping, war meiosis, gene nostalgia (what molecular biologists call *inversion*), and advertising mimesis is at hand.

And why shouldn’t genes go cybernetic? They have always existed at the forefront of virtual reality: mutants, replicators, cloning, viral genes. Perhaps we have already moved beyond the first stage of the exteriorization of the human sensorium – the externalization of the human nervous system – and are now entering the second, and more decisive, phase which consists of actually flipping the body inside out: the exteriorization of human genetic history. In this case, technologies of communication would be the means by which genes escape their long evolutionary imprisonment in the body, and inscribe themselves in the labyrinthian electronic highways of recombinant culture. The primal gene, therefore, finally prepared to abandon its evolutionary home in bodily chemistry, to fulfill its destiny by going virtual.” – Arthur Kroker, SPASM: virtual reality, android music and electric flesh. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993 [with accompanying CD by Steve Gibson], pp.38-39.

“What is the fate of the tongue in virtual reality? No longer the old sentient tongue trapped in the mouth’s cavity, but now an improved digital tongue. A nomadic tongue that suddenly exits the dark cavity of oral secretions, to finally make its appearance in the daylight. Like Spasm, the new computer programme for NEXT, where the digital tongue is exteriorized from its evolutionary location in the body’s biology, actually severed from the mouth. Here, the tongue might begin by curling back in the mouth with all the accompanying nasal sounds, but then it migrates out of the mouth, travelling down the chest, out of the toes, and even taking libidinal root in the talking penis. Not a surrealistic penis where objects lose their originary sign-referent, and float in an endless sign-slide, but a tongue referent that has actually lost its sound object. Spasm is, then, surrealism that is inscribed in the flesh.

With this difference. The digital tongue has finally come alive, acquiring sounds from its different bodily referents. The tongue plops onto the chest with a gargled scream; it twins the hyperreal penis to the mutant sounds of sex without secretions; it becomes a toe sound, a knee sound, an anal sound. No longer a tongue mediating breath, lips and jaw movement, but a digital tongue in a universe of floating lips, chattering eyes, screaming hairs, gossipy genitals, whining feet.

The digital tongue samples the body. Working according to the logic of spatial association, it changes sound according to its location on the body’s surfaces. Here, the text of the body is licked and consumed by the nomadic tongue: sometimes an arm, a vein, an intestine, a hip. No longer localized sound, but the speech rhythms of violent disassociation; not contextualized noise, but a floating tongue that can be endlessly reconfigured according to its geographical location in the simulacrum of the body. The digital tongue, then, for nomadic sound in the age of the floating body. Or maybe it is something very different. Perhaps Spasm does not refer at all to the digital tongue, but to the recombinant tongue. This algorithmic tongue comes alive as a gene-splicer – half-gene/half-code: displaying that point where the reconfigured tongue fuses with the cold flesh of the recombinant body, and begins to speak. Perhaps Spasm has a broader anthropological importance: an evolutionary breakthrough in the guise of a computer programme that begins to materialize the sounds of the digital body. What we hear in Spasm, therefore, are the first tentative sounds of ourselves as androids. All of this results less in a vision of the future than an already nostalgic vision of a telematic history that has already been experienced.

Spasm is nostalgia for distortion.” – Ibid., pp.23-24.

Kroker, as McLuhan did with the cliche “media”, takes the cliche “virtual reality” and archetypalizes it to include the whole history of Western technology from St. Augustine forwards.

“Anyway, we are already living beyond simulation (where the model generates reality) in a more spastic experience: the society of the waveform (where the model vanishes into the recombinant language data genomes). Sampling, therefore, beyond alienation (which seeks to preserve the order of the real), beyond reification (which privileges the stability of the ruling concepts), and beyond simulation (where the concept is the real itself). 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.

The pre-digital ear is the first victim of sound trompe l’oeils: from the virtual sound of Madonna Mutant to the virtual body of Michael Jackson. So then, an urgent requirement emerges to speed up the ear to match the aural velocity of digital reality, to pump up the genetics of hearing to equal the sounds of the datascape. Sampling technology, therefore, as a filter for mutant eardrums: looped ears, partitioned hearing, panned sound, accelerated eardrums, time-stretched sound, digit design ears. In the materiality of sampling we can discover anew a language for rethinking a universe that has been blasted apart by digital technology. Consequently, the education of the cynical ear can be an aesthetic strategy for learning how to cohabit the planet with android processors.” – Ibid., p.53.

“We now live in the age of dead information, dead (electronic) space, and dead (cybernetic) rhetoric. *Dead information*? That’s our cooptation as servomechanisms of the cybernetic grid (the digital superhighway) that swallows bodies, and even whole societies, into the dynamic momentum of its telematic logic. Always working on the basis of the illusion of enhanced interactivity, the digital superhighway is really about the full immersion of the flesh into its virtual double. As *dead (electronic) space*, the digital superhighway is a big real estate venture in cybernetic form, where competing claims to intellectual property rights in an array of multi-media technologies of communication are at stake. No longer capitalism under the doubled sign of consumer and production models, the digital superhighway represents the disappearance of capitalism into colonized virtual space. And *dead (cybernetic) rhetoric*? That’s the Internet’s subordination to the predatory business interests of a virtual class, which might pay virtual lip service to the growth of electronic communities on a global basis, but which is devoted in actuality to shutting down the anarchy of the Net in favor of virtualized (commercial) exchange. Like a mirror image, the digital superhighway always means its opposite: not an open telematic autoroute for fast circulation across the electronic galaxy, but an immensely seductive harvesting machine for delivering bodies, culture, and labor to virtualization. The information highway is paved with (our) flesh. So consequently, *the theory of the virtual class*: cultural accomodation to technotopia is its goal, political consolidation (around the aims of the virtual class) its method, multi-media nervous systems its relay, and (our) disappearance into pure virtualities its ecstatic destiny.” – Arthur Kroker and Michael A. Weinstein, DATA TRASH: the theory of the virtual class. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994, p.7.

“In the twilight days of the twentieth century, the occult science of anamorphosis returns as the seductive principle of distortion at the disappearing centre of virtual reality. Long consigned to the suppressed terrain of prohibited optics, anamorphosis now claims its place as *the* perspectival illusion central to the ruling technologies of digital reality. No longer is anamorphosis a perversion of power, but the aesthetic language of a power which perverts the representational logic of social reality. Anamorphosis is not simply a distortion of the real, but the disappearance of reality into a virtual world of technological automata and non-space. Like cynical reason and cynical power before, the illusional perspective of anamorphosis can return in a perfectly inverted form: *cynical anamorphosis* as the perverted image of virtual reality. There has never been a great difference between the spinning tops, glittering conical spaces, fantastically distorted cathedral murals of medieval times, and the automata of virtual reality today. What, after all, are VR suits, data gloves, and cyber-helmets but the fabulous automata of the aesthetic game of anamorphosis: a machinal assemblage that introduces the body to a fantastic galaxy of the perverted image?

In the visual world of anamorphosis there are no sight lines, no solitary (sovereign) subject as the privileged locus of accelerated and decelerated perspective, and no geometric grid for policing the perspectival simulacrum. What appears, instead, is a liquid world of fantastically distorted perspective: the space of illusion as non-space. Virtuality offers a third zone of liquid vision between distorted reality and its fractal distillate. It seduces us with the hint of our disappearance into the non-space of liquid vision that shadows its optical aesthetic of anamorphosis. Beyond the sovereign subject as the always fictitious locus of Renaissance perspective, to the non-space of the perverted image. This is what the technological imagination drives on, making our vanishing into the liquid inter-zone of the third eye so seductive. The third body, the non-space of the anamorphic nervous system: the dream world of virtualand.

The technologies of VR, therefore, are post-medieval surfaces where we merge with the aesthetic trompe l’oeil of anamorphosis, go liquid and become spinning tops, silver cones on glittering surfaces, a liquid array matrix. This is a way of breaking through to the non-space of the third body: that virtual space where the reality-function dissolves into a perverted image, and where reflecting surfaces are signs of that which never was. In the anamorphic space of virtual reality, we become the non-space of the perverted image.” – Ibid., pp.49-50.

“The recombinant commodity has no (earthly) home, only an electronic sim/porium. A rootless nomad, it wanders restlessly through the liquid circuitry of wired culture. Renouncing its interest in property-relations, it yields fealty only to the empire of speed: the new polity of pure process (economy). Abandoning the tired dialectic of use-value and exchange-value, the recombinant commodity finally discloses itself as a fatal doubling of abuse value: process-abuse for the organic body, and a fatal register of the coming abuse of the standing-reserve of surplus flesh, surplus labor, surplus populations, and surplus states. The recombinant commodity must abandon use-value because the rest position of the referential signifier is death. It must renounce the (alienated) pleasures of exchange-value because recombinant culture occupies the mirrored world of recursive space. Refusing both the alienation of the laboring body in capitalist market exchange and the reification of the fungible body in the promotional phase of the high-intensity market setting, the recombinant commodity works the (fibre optic) vein of the ecstasy of disappearance.

Politically fascistic, culturally a cynic, relationally a sociopath, and psychologically an exponent of object-relations theory, the recombinant commodity is the operating system at the (algorithmic) centre of virtual economy. All the rest is a (computer) *application*: TV channels as abstract vectors of data entry-points into the electronic body; designer fashion as digitally coded applications of technology outreach by promotional culture; model body types (the ‘waif look’ so fashionably cachet in the 1990s) as bionic constructs straight off the shelf of wired culture; and sudden audience mood shifts as psychological registers of the channeled flows of the media sensorium.

As the operating system of virtual economy, the recombinant commodity functions as a *circulating medium of virtual exchange*. Think of Marx’s (virtual) theory of the fetishism of the commodity-form in (re)combination with Talcott Parsons’ perceptive, but as yet theoretically unappreciated, analysis of a full-fledged cybernetic system (Virtual America as the world hologram) consisting of dynamic homeostatic exchanges among ‘symbolic media of exchange’. Here, the organic body vanishes into its electronic Other as the recombinant commodity works to impose a virtual system of *moral economy* as the new world cybernetic grid. Driven by the dynamic language of the will to virtuality, the cybernetic grid has as its underlying logic the enhancement of (its own) adaptive capacity by the continual redefinition and resequencing of virtual (value) patterns. Virtual debt, virtual populations, virtual labor, virtual money, virtual resources, and virtual wars result. The conquest anew of the disappearing zone of the organic is processed through the violent circulatory system of virtual exchange. Certainly not static, the medium of virtual exchange undergoes accelerated phases of radical expansion and contraction. Its *expansionary* phase comprises the will to virtuality; and its *deflationary* phase is marked by neo-fascist forms of direct action. Neither purely virtual nor essentially fascistic, the circulating medium of virtual exchange *is both, and simultaneously so.*” – Ibid., pp.72-73.

“In the bondage rituals of pan-capitalism, culture is not a reflex of the recombinant commodity (energy), but the recombinant sign (bio-signification) coordinates the cybernetic chain of hierarchical control. No longer a materialist culture (that vanished long ago into the imaging-system), nor culture as a simple chain of signification (language is now only a fading metaphor for organic technology that has not yet learned how to speak), but culture as a cybernetic system: recombinant, semiurgical, and immensely vital because it long ago ceased to have a real, material body. In recombinant culture, dead signs trump material energy because this is a culture of disappearances, populated by screenal bodies.” – Ibid., p.32.

“Virtual Evil? That is cybernauts as the sign of the beast with two easily identifiable marks burnt on their electronic flesh. First, the mark of *forgetfulness*, as cybernauts systematically expunge from their world-view any account of the human costs associated with the coming to be of the technological dynamo. And secondly, the mark of *techno-fetishism*, as cybernauts transform their cyber-bodies and cyber-consciousness into living registers of emergent technologies. Total repression and total valorization, then, as the twin signs of virtual evil.” – Ibid., p.109.

“Advertising never cared for any rules. As pure recombinance it never paid fealty to any genre conventions, either Philistine or avant-garde. It would be earnest, kitschy, high-brow, middle-brow, low-brow, reassuring, shocking, challenging, narcotizing, transgressive, and any combination of the above at once: pure recombinance.” – Ibid., p.113.

“Advertisements are sunshine reports for reclining flesh. The body electronic finds its mirrored double in their panoramic, but frenzied, scans of the crash body as it moves from flesh to virtuality. Not scenes of a future yet to unfold, but of a semiurgical, virtual past that the electronic body has already experienced. Certainly not a machinery of solicitation for manipulable masses, but a bio-apparatus of dissuasion for virtualized flesh. A ‘strange attractor’, advertising is a massive defensive armature created by the mediascape to win back virtualized flesh to the logistics of desire. However, the bio-net of advertising must fail because the body electronic has already vectored along the vapor trail of virtual reality, leaving behind only a brilliant, because ghostly, halo-effect marking its disappearance from earthly space….

Not the ancient fable of the hare and the tortoise, but the virtual enigma of the circuit-breaker (of pan-capitalism) and the crash body. Always a struggle between the debt liquidation cycle of reclining flesh (the fall into the heavy weight of advertising) and the over-heated, hyper-inflated virtual economy of Crash. In an age infected by the will to purity, advertising is a fall into sin from the virtual state of grace.” – Ibid., pp.36-37.

“The contradiction in Perot is the contradiction in virtual political economy. One hand renders the flesh superfluous and the other leads the flesh in a revolt against its superfluity, but always cynically, transacted through the mediascape… until and unless it turns to carnage. Virtualization or carnage. That is the present horizon of political possibilities.

Where does capitalism fit? Capitalist and technocratic elites play both sides of the street. Sure they would prefer the interminable speed of virtualization to death camps. But they will take death camps. They are instruments of the fluctuations of the flesh as it virtualizes and rebels, moves back and forth between ‘liberal’ and retro fascism: the politics of the bi-modern. The bi-modern reveals its structure in times of economic austerity when recline becomes uncomfortable. Liberal-retro fascism is irritable recline.” – Ibid., pp.92-93.

“In recombinant history, archiving is always on its way to recombination into a new configuration. Electronic bodies merge: the consumer body is a war machine; the medicalized body has its financial history stored in the spooling gateways of hospital computers, waiting to be leeched (recombined) of the weight of its earthly possessions; and the celebrity body is a dead star, which, like the luminous brilliance of a ‘red dwarf’, is understandable only by the rules of deep space astronomy. Just when we thought that history as a *grand recit* had finally died as the last victim of the modernist illusion of misplaced virtuality, suddenly it returns in full recombinant force: that point where history merges with digital technology, becoming the world-historical process animating the will to virtuality.” – Ibid., p.133.

“Cross McLuhan’s nervous system outerized by the media, with Nietzsche’s ‘last man’ (the first unequivocal sighting of the recliner) and you get crash theory. This is how it happens: Crash theory is the post-humanist (not anti-humanist – what is there to be against if the ‘human’ is dead and now a subject of endless resurrection effects?) continuation of emergentism. It follows McLuhan’s outerization thesis, and extends and elaborates it by calling attention to how the media-net is constituted by technologies that were not in McLuhan’s ken. Crash theory, however, abandons the notion that media are ‘extensions of man’. Far from it. They are humiliations of the flesh, which remains as an embarrassment after ‘man’ dies.

The crash has happened. The emergence of the media-net is accompanied by the onset of reclining life. Rather than McLuhan’s Hegelian vision of a common sense *restored* by and through the media, a media-net scans, sucks and probes the body for more images and bytes to be archived, called up, recombined, run, and archived in cyclical processes leading nowhere: that is non-history.

History is an irrelevancy because its subject ‘man’ is no longer the protagonist of anything but cynical dramas on the media-net, and dead ideologies. There is no protagonist, but there is a mode of being emergent from the flesh that displaces all protagonists. Telematic being has no history because its only principle is the endless exchange of data, combined in every possible form. Any of the directions that it seems to take are determined by the vicissitudes of the reclining flesh, which provides it with a (rotting) biological infrastructure (a resource base and an incitement for resource organization).

Telematic being, indeed, can never free itself from some form of the flesh any more than the flesh can free itself from the mineral kingdom. Androids synthesized especially for the process of providing images (data) and registering them consciously (bringing them into ‘appearance’) are the ultimate answer to the media-net’s requirement for a biological infrastructure. It hardly need be mentioned that these ‘androids’ would not require any structural resemblance to the human body. As we are told ad nauseum by technotopians, silicon dryware will probably be far more effective in producing consciousness than the wetware that *homo sapiens* has become.

That is all in the ‘future’, however. Right now the media-net would cease to be without activation through the flesh.” – Ibid., pp.143-144.

“The real fascination of communication lies in the possibility of the *end* of communication, just as the seduction of information is to be found in its disappearance. Communication always wants to shed the heavy responsibility of having to maintain a gravitational field to stabilize the orbiting trajectory of information; and information desperately wants to go to ground in the referent of meaning. Information desires its own liquidation in the polar flare-outs of pure data or pure meaning; as does communication demand to be physically separated from the historical burden of the grand signifier of information. Condemned to be eternally entangled, the orbiting planets of communication and information approach and recede from one another. Never attaining the escape trajectories of pure data or pure meaning, the doubled poles of communication and information stabilize in the violent metastasis that is cyber-culture. A closed world, ritualistically inscribed, and almost autistic, cyber-culture is the non-time in which human history is harvested of its surplus-energy by the will to virtuality. In the beginning was the Word, but in the end there is only the data byte: the virtual history file.” – Ibid., p.154.

“We Are Data Trash. And It’s Good.

Data trash crawls out of the burned-out wreckage of the body splattered on the information superhighway, and begins the hard task of putting the pieces of the (electronic) body back together again. Not a machine, not nostalgia for vinyl, and most certainly not a happy digital camper, data trash is the critical (e-mail) mind of the twenty-first century. Data trash loves living at that violent edge where total human body scanning meets an inner mind that says no, and means it. When surf’s up on the Net, data trash puts on its electronic body and goes for a spin on the cyber-grid.” – Ibid., p.158.

Kroker completed the nineties with his “pulp theory”:


Merry Christmas

You can’t go home again?
That’s definitely not true
because at Christmas you can always only go home
And sometimes it’s real grisly:
stories of arthritic eyes and black spots
and tumors and cancers and angina
and heart attacks
for the twelve very merry days of Christmas
or stories of my best friend Doug
who stabbed his Daddy to death
and left his body under the Christmas tree until March
with Rex, the good ole’ family dog
Now Doug was schizoid, but so was his Daddy
so I guess it was only just a matter of time,
or circumstance,
to see which delusion won out:
Oedipus revenged
or Merry Christmas Dad From Hell.
Or I’m out shopping with my Mother,
buying her a spanking new Toshiba TV
with close-captioning and digital ports galore
for a happy multi-media future,
and she suddenly says:
‘Did you see the manager of the store?
Well, a few weeks ago,
his wife went down to the highway
and threw herself in front of a transport truck.
Left three children. Sort of sad… I guess.’
This was just after we drove by the house
of the family doctor,
the one who had acid thrown on his face
during a happy yuletide season past
by an unhappy patient hiding in the back of his car after
a housecall.
And it was just after our next door neighbour
of many years
said goodnight to his wife, had a last drink
with the boys down at the Legion
turned on all the lights in the house,
went into the basement
and blew his head off with a .410 double-barrelled
Three months later his oldest son,
with whom he never had good relations anyway
did the very same thing.
Drove his girlfriend to work,
getting out of the car
she said: ‘See you later’.
He said: ‘Maybe’
And he was right
Because on the same day
he killed himself over his father’s grave
Same gun, Different shells.”

– Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, HACKING THE FUTURE: stories for the flesh-eating 90s. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996 [with accompanying CD by Steve Gibson], pp.66-67.

“Everybody who lives in the late 20th century is a potential hacker of the future. And why not? Everything has already been blown to (digital) bits by the power of virtuality. Life at the end of the second millenium is about living in the aftermath of a violent implosion of culture, politics, and society. In the short space of a single century, human experience has suffered a double technological blow. First, it has been fast-processed by the invisible media of electronic technology. What McLuhan could only prophetically talk about in the 50s and 60s is already an electronic reality that is in our past. Just when we understand the grim implications of McLuhan’s warning that the invisible media of electronic communication have outered the central nervous system, that is, when McLuhan really does make common (electronic) sense, technology does a quick flip, and we suddenly find ourselves living at the end of technology (in the form of an external mediascape) and at the primal beginning of the age of virtual reality. And this is the blast that hurts. Because now it’s no longer the central nervous system that is being externalized or ablated, but technology gets a life, detaches itself from the human species, and begins to grow a new telematic body just in time for the 21st century. Two blasts, then: one *electronic* (that has ejected the nervous system from the privacy of the body), and the other *virtual* (that has rubbed together the externalized central nervous system with the soft language of algorithmic codes and begun to grow a new ‘distributive species’: distributive intelligence, distributive sex, distributive feelings, and distributive sight). After this double implosion, life as we know it is like one of those immense stellar meltdowns where we’re in a spacecraft riding at the edge of the known universe, experiencing all the while the shock-waves and spatial perturbations of this violent decompression of society and seeing all around us the zooming debris of the human wreckage.

Ironically, the privileged media of electronic technology provide us with perfect viewing-screens on the virtualization of human flesh. TV is a great portal on cultural implosion: a just-to-the-minute visual simulator of how (our) bodies are virtualized by gigantic image-based processors, freely resampled, and then played back to us for humiliated applause. Music is a favorite listening port for our disappearance into cyber-ears. Cinema has now been reconfigured into special effects to give us the actual feel of human flesh as it is coded into blurs of sight and sound and image-matrices, and then speed-forwarded into digital life. Think of Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Apollo 13, and Waterworld: monuments to the disappearance of cinema into special effects.

The media of the electronic age are the future museums of the body virtual.” – Ibid., pp.132-133.

“Exiting The 20th Century: Beyond Nietzsche, Marx, and McLuhan, Hacking the Future is pulp theory. That’s pulp for the end of the millennium, when all the bodies are piled up one mile high. Not virtual or heavenly bodies, but bodies that are trying to cope with life lived in the twilight hours of the 20th century.

A schizoid culture that divides sharply now between the technological dynamo of the will to virtuality and its attendant virtual class on the one hand, and a spreading detritus of human remainder that can’t be absorbed by digital reality on the other: surplus bodies, surplus labor, surplus nations, surplus flesh.

Pulp Theory is the story of human remainder told through the medium of 90s culture. It’s our thesis that the language of digital reality has now fled the high tech labs of Silicon Valley, MIT’s Media Lab, and the cyber-grids running from Tokyo to Grenoble and Munich, taking up residence in the violent force-fields of everyday cultural experience: shopping the GAP, visiting Las Vegas, Daytime TV, Arcade Cowboys and Suicide Drive, or the transgressive aesthetics of ‘Slash and Burn’ as young bodies in California try to ‘feel’ in a culture that is numbed and purified.” – Ibid., pp.139-140.

“Retro-Techno: The Politics Of Fear.

The political tendency today is to the right.

The 90s began with a decisive split between two opposing political tendencies: the triumphant technotopia of the virtual class, and diverse forms of retro-fascism. Like a rapidly mutating cellular mass, this split was of an extremely short duration, lasting only four years from start to finish before it evolved into something very different. Under the impact of a *managed* worldwide economic depression (that drove working- and middle class adherents of welfare state liberalism towards right-wing populism), and the failure of the so-called ‘information superhighway’ to live up to its utopian billing (that drove members of the technological class into the waiting game of bunker individualism – the psychological breeding ground of conservative fundamentalism), these two previously divided, and bitterly opposed, movements suddenly merged. Their combination in the ideological form of retro-techno, which is to say the merger of the fiscally conservative, morally puritanical, and anti-government populist energies of the right with the technocratic know-how of the virtual class, this merger of reactionary politics and techno-knowledge, produces the dominant ideology of the 90s. An example of this is a recently convened conference entitled ‘The Aspen Summit: Cyberspace and the American Dream 11’ where, as The New York Times reported, conservative venture capitalists, self-proclaimed former hippies and anarchists, and ‘cyberspace prophets’ came together to discuss the role of government, law, and communication in the ‘knowledge society’ of electronic networking. It was perfectly retro-techno, beyond the traditional labels of Republican and Democrat or conservative or liberal.” – Ibid., pp.140-141.

“Hacking the Future continues McLuhan’s concept of artists as probes – with this key difference. For McLuhan, artists were early radar systems for detecting major transformations in technology, probes that went ahead of the general population much like the earlier tradition of the artistic avant-garde. Hacking the Future is about going faster, deeper, and with greater intensity into the interface between being digital and being human. Privileging human ‘wetware’ rather than hardware or software, Hacking the Future is about creating cuts, disturbances, and transgressions, like a space or an interzone, between digital reality and human subjectivity. Certainly not a theory of ‘understanding media’, Hacking the Future begins with the assumption that traditional media have been superceded by hypertext flesh, 7-second brains, and wetware minds. Human beings always go faster than technology because people have always been hypertext: fully linked, netted, downloaded, parallel processed, and interfaced. Virtual flesh is always ahead of technology, and that’s the terrain explored by Hacking the Future. Thinking ourselves as wetware to the hardware of technology and the software of the coding labs finally opens our minds to the doors of misperception.” – Ibid., p.137.

“Memetic flesh? That’s the street scene in cyber-city: San Francisco, CA. Not so much an ars electronica, but an Ars California: an art of digital living. Certainly not a sociological rhetoric of evolution or devolution, but something radically different. Memetic flesh as a floating outlaw zone where memes fold into genes, where the delirious spectacle of cyber-culture reconfigures the future of the molecular body. In Ars California, memetic flesh is neither future nor history, but the molecular present. Pure California Gening.

Now we just got off the Net where we experienced data delirium with the Ars Electronica manifesto for memetic flesh, the one which speculates about future memes: stochastic minds, recombinant bodies, infoskin, molecular daydreams. When we read this meme manifesto, our bodies of flesh, bone and blood sagged under the terminal evolutionary weight of it all, but the electronic sensors embedded in our nanoskin just went crazy. Like Alien 3, the electronic worms cruising the blood lanes just below skin surface heard this call of a future technotopia, flipped on their sensor matrix to red alert, whomped through the epidermal bunker, zoomed out into fresh air, and were last seen heading straight for the California coast….

Memetic flesh as daily life in cyber-city, the kind of place where the virus of the tech future digs its way under the skin, like an itch or a sore or a viral meme that just won’t go away.

No one knows this better than the memetic artists of SF. Not the corporate art of Silicon Valley, the ‘house’ art of Interval, Xerox, and Oracle with their New Age visions of wetware products for the digital generation nor the subordinated aesthetics of the fine art emporiums in official culture, but unofficial outlaw art that’s practiced in hidden warehouses and storefront galleries and ghetto schools and other side of the tracks digital machine shops: an art of dirty memes.

Dirty memes? That’s what happens when memetic engineering escapes into the streets of cyber-city, and its scent is picked up by viral artists. Like Elliot Anderson’s multimedia algorithm, ‘The Temptation of St. Anthony’, with its brilliant psychopathology of obsessive-compulsive behavior, complete with 3-D ghostly images of emotional discomfort and stuttering gestures, as the key psychic sign of digital culture. Or Matt Hackert’s dead horse flesh machines complete with belching flame-throwers and whirring chain saws and rip-snorting drills, and all of this accompanied by the robotic sounds of the mechanical orchestra. Or Lynn Hershman Leeson’s memetic cinema with its application of object-relations programming to the universe of Hollywood imagery. Or the viral robotics of Chico MacMurtie’s ‘Amorphic Robot Works’ that encode in robo-genetics all the ecstasy and catastrophe of the ruling cultural memetics. Neither technotopian nor technophobic, memetic art in the streets of SF is always dirty, always rubbing memes against genes, always clicking into (our) memetic flesh.” – Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, ‘Memetic Flesh in Cyber-City’ in DIGITAL DELIRIUM. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997, edited and introduced by Arthur and Marilouise Kroker, pp.166-167.

D. The Diasporic school mistook the Android Meme as new media and actually reinforced the corporate icon of McLuhan. It did, however, add to the McLuhan stereotype the unrecognized emphasis by McLuhan on studying the largely ignored effects of technological environments. However, alas, it was irrelevant in a post-media world. Examples are:

a) “I’ve juxtaposed the Fathers of Confederation with Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Watson and Guglielmo Marconi to show how Canada is an experiment in an alternative current. I call it a communication state: this is the condition of receptivity, the pattern of listening and dialogue and misunderstanding, of broken messages and missed connections, of perpetual mediation and trial through technology, of reading the signs and scanning for signals.

The only way we can live in this country is through advanced technologies of communication. We need the telephone, the telegraph, the radio, the satellite dish, TV and the computer, air travel and trains. The paradox is that these technologies do not solidify individual identity; they do not focus a singular identity for any one person. Electricity scatters individual memory, conjuring ghosts and simulations. It transmits static, shards of disconnected data, pieces of a riddle that may be in itself part of a greater enigma. Tribes, corporations and cults can arise from the powerflow of TV sets, radios, telephones, computer networks: the isolated individual’s need for meaning can translate into the handing of power over to a larger group. Yet electronic technologies spur and excite questions, allow for multiple points of view, add to the strange feeling of fusion with world events and confusion about significance and intent. Communications technologies threaten us, summon us, immerse us: they appear to be capable of dehumanizing our lives and of enhancing our awareness, sending out images and reflections of ourselves everywhere.

In electric city, we are haunted by a sense of presence, the trace of something close, almost there. Is that presence otherworldly, or is it our human world amplified, echoing, crying out? Could it be both? The electroscape is a realm of emanations and radiance, music and mystery.

Debate and energy, a country established over a bargaining table, a myth made out of vibrations in the air.” – Bruce W. Powe, A TREMENDOUS CANADA OF LIGHT. Toronto, Ontario: Coach House Press, 1993, pp.67-68.

“The headlong ups and downs of the market created a one-day world where people were expendable. But the market also promoted networks of association. I realized that these volatile datafields could shrink time and present the human figure writ large – what William Blake might have called an electronic Albion. Through this multimedia engagement we could hear and see ourselves on a scale that we’d never encountered before. And encoded in the bits and bytes there may be that straining spirit. The machines were fired up, amplifying our every murmur and shout. And all that we are – good and terrible – raged, racing and hustling across continents and oceans.

I recognized that each crisis, or crash, was like a seed, a cell, that contained another larger or similar event and crisis. Complex communication chains of cause and effect provoked greater opportunities for miscommunication. The stock crashes resembled wars, apocalyptic moments where terror and upheaval, recklessness and pride, dreams and revelations mixed. But in the midst of this, you could begin to sense that the seeds, scraps, and guesses, the bedlam and blare, implied variations, extensions, passages, reshaped meanings, a voice that seemed to be calling to us, a new unfolding shade in this blend of imagination, technology, and perpetual emergency.” – Bruce W. Powe, OUTAGE: A Journey into Electric City. Toronto, Ontario: Random House of Canada, 1995, pp.17-18.

b) “Imagination is the phase-space of perception. Each of the senses provides one dimension of meaning, but the dynamic that integrates the meanings and brings forth a coherent world is the faculty of the imagination. The mystics are probably right when they claim that there are more dimensions than meet the eye, but what brings forth a world is the human body as a field of metaphoric extension of the known into the unknown. The universe is mind-bogglingly full of multiple possibilities, with billions of impulses per square micron, so what we attend to tells us in what particular cognitive world we choose to embody our knowing. What enables us to integrate sound and light, bit and gestalt, data and divination is the imagination, and its ability to stabilize a world derives from a set of infantile, preverbal geometries of behavior we have come to cognize as the way things happen. If we have a culturally inappropriate geometry in our minds for the thing that is happening before us, we will form our social life into problems that seem to cry out for pressing solutions. If we have an unconscious anxiety of losing our basic sense of self, we will hold onto things and flatten out the complex geometries of behavior to show lines connecting everything to everything. This is the condition of the paranoid who collapses polycentric behaviors that can be marvelously self-organizing through noise into a tightly controlled centralized system that is the work of his favored conspiracy. Since the paranoid has trouble holding onto a sense of self amid noise, he relates everything to his constructed self with its *idee fixe* and projects a geometry of behavior, a phase-portrait, onto the world that is wholly inappropriate for the novel historic dynamic that is in front of him. The difficulty of our disorienting time of cultural transition is that we are all paranoids in a way, for we are struggling to hold onto a sense of self in the world precisely at a time when all traditional human cultures are coming apart, probably because they are not truly viable in the situation in which our electronic technologies seem to be expressing self-organization through noise on their own and are bringing forth a new world we do not yet know how to interpret, much less live in.” – William Irwin Thompson, ‘Politics Becoming A Planet’ in GAIA 2: EMERGENCE: The New Science of Becoming [edited by William Irwin Thompson]. Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Press, 1991, pp.252-253.

“Now, there is no question that the homicide rates in North American cities such as New York, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Washington, can be directly related to the drug economy and the wars between drug lords, so the evil of this situation is clear and straightforward. But the Republican-Democrat approach is to pontificate about the horrors of this drug traffic and seek to stop it in a ‘Miami Vice’ game that only energizes both cops and robbers to sustain the game and not to eliminate the economy. Those who profit from the interdiction are the police-military powers who receive funding, and the criminals whose commodity is sustained in an unconscious system of price supports. Yuppie materialism plays both sides of the game, for cocaine sustains the frenetic trading, junk-bonding, and corporate raiding of the managerial class, but the drug also sustains the shadow economy and cash flow of the structurally unemployed. The banks that receive the laundered money recirculate the funds as loans to the Latin countries so that Latin American indebtedness becomes a new kind of national junk-bond which allows the banks to effect a leveraged buy-out of the nation-state with a subsequent breakup and selling off of its resources. The only protection a Latin country has against this hostile takeover is the shadow economy of drugs which returns hard currency to itself and allows it to buy up American resources and real estate. By reinvesting the laundered funds in the U.S.A., the Latin Americans, much like the Japanese who buy U.S. Treasury bonds, are purchasing United States ‘nation-state futures’ instead of specific commodities or unharvested crops. Indebtedness is, therefore, like pollution, an unconscious polity, a form of replacement of representation by participation in the global game. In the future, when it is to be hoped we are more enlightened about global systems dynamics, these unconscious polities and shadow economies will be understood as the phase-spaces of noetic polities.” – Ibid., pp.260-261.

“… The red man had been turned into a figure of shamanic wisdom and magical power by popular culture, and the black man had been transformed into the musical hero of the world; but the poor Arab was the real primitive of our global electronic society, and he was reduced to attacking the airlines as once the Plains Indians attacked the railroads.

Having no place in the scheme of things, the Arab was displaced from the geopolitics of the visible world to the Gaian politics of the invisible elemental world. The paranoid insanity of Saddam Hussein created an opening to a state of elemental possession. The hundreds of burning oil wells in Kuwait are an outward sign of an inward state: a visible transformation in which the elemental underworld is released into the upper world through fire and smoke. The blue sky created so long ago by the photosynthetic activity of the cyanobacteria, the elves, is now threatened with the revenge of the elementals, who were thrust down into the underworld to prepare the world for the coming of humanity. To prepare the world for the coming of posthumanity, the elemental is being released in a fury of rage and revenge. The transformation of the atmosphere has been accelerated by decades.

In Grimm’s fairy tales, such as Rumpelstiltskin, the revenge of the first against the last is often expressed in the form of a dwarf that demands the sacrifice of the firstborn. Since the elementals were the firstborn of Earth who were sacrificed to make room for humanity, it only seems fair to them that humans should be asked to sacrifice their firstborn. In the parable of the vineyard in the New Testament, the workers of the first hour wonder why the workers of the last hour should receive the same wage. They are not comforted when Jesus says that ‘the last shall be first, and the first shall be last.’ In the fires of the oil wells in Kuwait, the insanity of Saddam has provided the elementals with a form of incarnation. And what these bodies are demanding is the sacrifice of the firstborn children of the modern world economy, the world cities of Venice, Amsterdam, London, and New York. It is precisely these cities that will be the first to be flooded and destroyed by an atmospheric Greenhouse Effect that can raise the water level of the oceans. In the exoteric hatred and revenge of the poor against the rich, an older and more esoteric hatred has been bodied forth.” – William Irwin Thompson [with David Spangler], REIMAGINATION OF THE WORLD: A Critique of the New Age, Science, and Popular Culture. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Bear & Company Publishing, 1991, pp.209-210.

“In the sixties, LSD externalized the collective unconscious, the astral plane, albeit in a kitsch and degraded form. This appropriation of the astral plane into the public space is now being followed up by the appropriation of the etheric plane. As cyberdelic drugs combine with the effects of the invisible environment of drugs in food and the polluted biosphere, the cumulative effect will be to erode organic autonomy and lower fertility rates (this has already begun to happen); and this will stimulate medibusiness to compete with agribusiness. Just as America appropriated the family farm into feedlots and factories, so will it appropriate the family into the laboratory. Thus the appropriation of the astral body in the sixties through LSD, and the appropriation of the etheric body in the nineties, will pave the way for the final act of the appropriation of the physical body around the turn of the century. Thus America, the land of rugged individualism will become the land of ragged individuals, first economically, and then physiologically. Through genetic engineering, in vitro insemination, and reproductive technologies yet to come, the individual will be so contained that incarnation will be captured in engines of procreation. Technologies will become ensouled, just as souls become denatured and shifted into collective lattices rather than into the animal-hominid bodies of old evolutionary times. ‘Demons’ will be able to take human form, and souls will be able to dwell in cognitive lattices, so it is small wonder that today’s science-fiction landscape of novels and computer games is filled with mythologies of dungeons and dragons, monsters and devils. This *para*noia is crazy, but the caricatured sketch reveals an isomorphism to an evolutionary *meta*noia that is beyond anything we could call normal. One can clue into this phenomenon of cultural evolution through the paranoid caricatures of the fundamentalists – who curiously seem to object to the Luciferic New Agers more than the Ahrimanic technologists in computer science – or one can clue into it through cyberpunk fiction, or one can get more than a clue if one reads Steiner and realizes that what one is looking at in the new electronic America so celebrated and hyped by Stewart Brand and Howard Rheingold is a collectivization that can be mythologically identified as the incarnation of the demon Ahriman.” – William Irwin Thompson, THE AMERICAN REPLACEMENT OF NATURE: The Everyday Acts and Outrageous Evolution of Economic Life. New York: Doubleday Currency, 1991, pp.43-44.

“If McLuhan was right when he said that ‘the sloughed-off environment becomes a work of art in the new and invisible environment’, and I think he was, then the electronic and nanotechnological transformation of human biology means that for the many, traditional sexuality is ending, but for the few, it is being retrieved as a new Tantric mystery school. Looking back over all my books, and this study of literature and the evolution of consciousness, my life’s work seems to me to express the sunset effect of romanticism as well as the dawn of a new Tantric mystery school of heterosexuality. The uniqueness of our time is that in the writer’s imagination he or she now seems to enjoy the position of an astronaut for whom dusk and dawn are a single horizon.” – William Irwin Thompson, COMING INTO BEING: Artifacts and Texts in the Evolution of Consciousness. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996, p.196.


What are you doing here
beneath the shadow
of your own monument?
But then what am I?
Your statue looks
just like my father,
but I suppose you are,
in exile and cunning,
father to us all.
I wouldn’t want to be
in your place now.
Better to burn
than to bury.
Exiled by the wind
in uncontaining fire,
let others settle
for tenure in the dust.”

– William Irwin Thompson, WORLDS INTERPENETRATING AND APART: Collected Poems, 1959-1996. Hudson, New York: Lindisfarne Books, 1997, p.122.


Three Principles:

1. Match the stages of the child’s cognitive evolution to the stages of cultural evolution (Haeckel’s ‘ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny’).

2. Growth is not linear, but pulses in organic stages of *Formative* > *Dominant* > *Climactic* (compare Steiner’s Waldorf process of will, feeling, understanding).

3. Present artistic, religious, technological, or scientific innovation in the actual historical context in which it emerged.” – William Irwin Thompson, TRANSFORMING HISTORY: A Curriculum for Cultural Evolution. Great Barrington, Massachusetts: Lindisfarne Books, 2001, p.96.

“The curriculum I am proposing does not think in terms of enculturating students within the patriotisms of nation-states or job-training programs for industrial economies, for that is the role of the public school. Nor does it think of covering the achievements of every culture on the face of the Earth in order to satisfy the identity politics of the culture wars now raging in the universities. That too is the karma of the public school. Instead an evolution of consciousness curriculum tracks emergent states and cultural transformations, and goes to the place of that emergence. As a ‘thought experiment’, imagine how you would report on the human cultural evolution of Earth to a scientific academy on another planet. How would you tell the story to creatures not concerned with the competitive *agons* of ethnic pride and nationalism? A curriculum for the evolution of consciousness curriculum does not think in terms of simplistic splits between culture and nature, but instead envisions cultural-ecologies that unfold as complex dynamical systems in which the traditional divisions of knowledge are inadequate. In what Jean Gebser calls the *Bewusstwerdungs Prozess* – a process of becoming in consciousness – these transformations of culture express a development in which we move through his structures of Archaic, Magical, Mythical, Mental, and Integral both in history and within the soul of the developing child. As I tried to show in my essay on Rapunzel in Imaginary Landscape, there is a reflexive nature to children’s knowledge, and the fairy tale listened to in rapture in kindergarten can also become the subject for a doctoral dissertation in graduate school.

Because growth does not unfold in simple linear and accretive sequences, this twelve-year curriculum is broken up into pulses of organic growth in three-year sequences. Each triad unfolds in a sequence of *formative*, *dominant*, and *climactic*. A *formative* movement introduces a new element of consciousness; a *dominant* movement establishes and develops it, and the *climactic* movement consolidates and finishes it. One can think of this dynamic as a simple botanical one of sprouting up, rooting down, and flowering, or visualize it in terms of the four triangular faces of the tetrahedron, the familiar pyramid. The *formative* movement is the base, the foundational platform; the second movement, the *dominant*, is one into a second dimension of the four lines moving vertically in upward growth; and the third movement is one of closure, the closure of the tetrahedron, the *climactic* movement in which one encloses and internalizes that period of growth with insight – symbolically represented by the eye at the top of the pyramid in the familiar emblem of Freemasonry that is on the American one-dollar bill….

Because mathematics and natural history are subsets of cultural history, I suggest that we overcome C. P. Snow’s split between ‘the two cultures’ of the sciences and the humanities by putting mathematics and science back into the cultural context that gave birth to them. Thus arithmetic and number theory should be studied in the context of the rise of the ancient civilizations. Geometry should be studied in the context of the classical civilizations; algebra should be studied in the context of the medieval civilizations; and calculus, chemistry, and physics should be learned in the context of modernization in a historical appreciation of the works of Galileo, Newton, Leibniz, and Boyle. Geology and chemistry should be studied in the context of Hutton and Lavoisier, and evolutionary biology and genetics should be learned in the context of Darwin and Mendel. Ideas about relativity and Cubism should be studied together in a joint consideration of Einstein and Picasso. Adolescents will see all the themes of the curriculum coming together in the hypersphere of the planetization of individual consciousness in the twenty-first century – a time in which the study of consciousness itself becomes the focus of cultural attention in contemporary philosophy and cognitive science.” – Ibid., pp.95-99.

“Both nineteenth-century Paris and twentieth-century New York are examples of the city evolving from the materialistic and capitalistic city into the informational noetic polity, one in which an overlapping moire of economic center, artistic center, and intellectual center creates a pattern in which no single institution is imperialistically in control. Thus an emergent state comes forth in which consciousness moves to a level above the traditional formations of an urban civilization. Since even this contemporary manifestation of megalopolitan growth now seems to be simply a node within the planetary informational lattice of the World Wide Web, it is hard to prophesy just where this contemporary noetic polity is taking us in cultural evolution.

My guess is that the coming etherealization of architecture through atomic nanotechnologies will enable one to turn buildings on and off like electric lights, but will continue to make cities like New York appealing nostalgic artifacts of previous states of cultural evolution, and like Haussmann’s Paris, historical camouflage to their true but more invisible structure. Los Angeles, in contrast to New York, is a single-industry city, that industry being entertainment – movies, television, and theme parks. (Both Disneyland and Las Vegas are basically theme park suburbs of L.A.) From my perspective, L.A. is isomorphic to the Vatican, and is the Vatican of our new State of Entertainment, in which politicians, sports figures, movie stars, and celebrities are all the potentates of the new willfully deluded polity. Cambridge, Massachusetts, is also a single-industry city, and that is what makes it less interesting than New York. Creative artists who earn their keep as professors at Harvard, MIT, Tufts, or Boston often get bored with their unimaginative academic colleagues and move to New York as soon as their income allows them to break loose from tenured servitude to the monocrop noetic polity of the university.

New York is not a single-industry city, and that is what makes it so much more interesting than commercial Zurich or even contemporary Paris. Contemporary Paris has more of a conformist and collective manner to its intellectual style of life, but New York is so vast that one can live and write here and never have to run into or conform to the styles of Susan Sontag or Norman Mailer. New York is a kind of mitochondrion of Archaean evolution that has moved into some gigantic Gaian planetary cell for the next stage in evolution. The moire pattern that emerges from the overlap of Wall Street, the United Nations, music and performing arts, publishing, and universities makes it as interesting now as Paris must have been in the time of Proust, Bergson, and Poincare.” – Ibid., pp.183-184.

c) HOW TO WATCH TV NEWS, Neil Postman, 1992.

“Unlike science, social research never discovers anything. It only rediscovers what people once were told and need to be told again. If, indeed, the price of civilization is repressed sexuality, it was not Sigmund Freud who discovered it. If the consciousness of people is formed by their material circumstances, it was not Marx who discovered it. If the medium is the message, it was not McLuhan who discovered it. They have merely retold ancient stories in a modern style. And these stories will be told anew decades and centuries from now, with, I imagine, less effect. For it would seem that Technopoly does not want these kinds of stories but facts – hard facts, scientific facts. We might even say that in Technopoly precise knowledge is preferred to truthful knowledge but that in any case Technopoly wishes to solve, once and for all, the dilemma of subjectivity. In a culture in which the machine, with its impersonal and endlessly repeatable operations, is a controlling metaphor and considered to be the instrument of progress, subjectivity becomes profoundly unacceptable. Diversity, complexity, and ambiguity of human judgment are enemies of technique. They mock statistics and polls and standardized tests and bureaucracies. In Technopoly, it is not enough for social research to rediscover ancient truths or to comment on and criticize the moral behavior of people. In Technopoly, it is an insult to call someone a ‘moralizer’. Nor is it sufficient for social research to put forward metaphors, images, and ideas that can help people live with some measure of understanding and dignity. Such a program lacks the aura of certain knowledge that only science can provide. It becomes necessary, then, to transform psychology, sociology, and anthropology into ‘sciences’, in which humanity itself becomes an object, much like plants, planets, or ice cubes.” – Neil Postman, TECHNOPOLY: The Surrender of Culture to Technology. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1992, pp.157-158.

“I will discuss later the evidence supporting the view that childhood is disappearing, but I want to note here that of all such evidence none is more suggestive than the fact that the history of childhood has now become a major industry among scholars. As if to confirm Marshall McLuhan’s observation that when a social artifact becomes obsolete, it is turned into an object of nostalgia and contemplation, historians and social critics have produced, within the past two decades, scores of major works on childhood’s history, whereas very few were written between, say, 1800 and 1960. Indeed, it is probably fair to say that Philippe Aries’s Centuries of Childhood, published in 1962, created the field and started the rush. Why now? At the very least we may say that the best histories of anything are produced when an event is completed, when a period is waning, when it is unlikely that a new and more robust phase will occur. Historians usually come not to praise but to bury. In any event, they find autopsies easier to do than progress reports.” – Neil Postman, THE DISAPPEARANCE OF CHILDHOOD. New York: Vintage Books, 1994, p.5.

“What we are after here is to tell the story of language as an act of creation. This is what Socrates meant when he said, ‘When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself’. Twenty-five hundred years later, the great German philologist Max Muller said the same: ‘… thought cannot exist without signs, and our most important signs are words’. In between, Hobbes, Locke, and Kant said the same thing. So did Bertrand Russell, Werner Heisenberg, Benjamin Lee Whorf, I. A. Richards, Alfred Korzybski, and everyone else who has thought about the matter, including Marshall McLuhan.

McLuhan comes up here because he is associated with the phrase ‘the extensions of man’. And my third and final suggestion has to do with inquiries into the ways in which humans have extended their capacities to ‘bind’ time and control space. I am referring to what may be called ‘technology education’. It is somewhat embarrassing that this needs to be proposed as an innovation in schools, since Americans never tire of telling themselves that they have created a technological society. They even seem to be delighted about this and many of them believe that the pathway to a fulfilling life is through continuous technological change. One would expect then that technology education would be a familiar subject in American schools. But it is not. Technology may have entered the schools but *not* technology education. Those who doubt my contention might ask themselves the following questions: Does the average high school or college graduate know where the alphabet comes from, something of its development, and *anything* about its psychic and social effects? Does he or she know anything about illuminated manuscripts, about the origin of the printing press and its role in reshaping Western culture, about the origins of newspapers and magazines? Do our students know where clocks, telescopes, microscopes, X rays, and computers come from? Do they have any idea about how such technologies have changed the economic, social, and political life of Western culture? Could they say who Morse, Daguerre, Bell, Edison, Marconi, De Forest, Zworykin, Pulitzer, Hearst, Eisenstein, and Von Neumann were? After all, we might say these men invented the technological society. Is it too much to expect that those who live in such a society will know about them and what they thought they were creating?

I realize I am beginning to sound like E. D. Hirsch, Jr., but I find it truly astonishing that the great story of humanity’s perilous and exciting romance with technology is not told in our schools. There is certainly no shortage of writers on the subject. McLuhan, while an important contributor, was neither the first nor necessarily the best who has addressed the issue of how we become what we make. One thinks, for example, of Martin Heidegger, Lewis Mumford, Jacques Ellul, Paul Goodman, Walter Ong, Walter Benjamin, Elizabeth Eisenstein, Alvin Toffler, Theodore Roszak, Norbert Wiener, Sherry Turkle, Joseph Weizenbaum, Seymour Papert, and Herbert Schiller. One may also find ideas about the subject in the ‘science fiction’ writers I have previously alluded to – Huxley, Orwell, and Bradbury, for example. It would seem that everywhere one turns these days, there are books, articles, films, and television shows on the subject of how our technology has remade the world, and continues to remake it. It is among the leading topics of everyday conversation, especially among academics. There is, for example, hardly a school superintendent anywhere, or a college dean, who cannot give us a ready-made sermon on how we now live in an ‘information age’. Then why do we not have a subject in which students address such questions as these: How does information differ in symbolic form? How are ideographs different from letters? How are images different from words? Paintings from photographs? Speech from writing? Television from books? Radio from television? Information comes in many forms, and at different velocities and in different quantities. Do the differences matter? Do the differences have varying psychic and social effects? The questions are almost endless. This is a serious subject.” – Neil Postman, THE END OF EDUCATION: Redefining the Value of School. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1996, pp.188-190.


“Starting approximately at the beginning of the twentieth century, almost every field of scholarship – including psychology, linguistics, sociology, and medicine – was infused with an understanding of the problematic relationship of language to reality. I most likely earned the title of ‘postmodernist’ by pointing out how those in ‘media studies’ took hold of the idea, especially Marshall McLuhan, whose famous slogan ‘the medium is the message’ is as concise a summary of the idea as we are likely to get. I went, perhaps, to extremes by referring to the matter as the ‘Einstein-Heisenberg-Korzybski-Dewey
-Sapir-Whorf-Wittgenstein-McLuhan-et al. hypothesis’
. For those readers who are especially interested in the ‘et al.’, I have included, in Appendix II, a set of quotations from those of the past who accepted ‘in one degree or another’ the view that language (as Wittgenstein put it) is not merely a vehicle of expression but also the driver. What it comes down to (or up to) is that we do not and cannot experience reality bare. We encounter it through a system of codes (language, mathematics, art). The codes themselves have a shape, a history, and a bias, all of which interpose themselves between what we see there and what is there to be seen. When McLuhan says, ‘the medium is the message’, or when Tollison says, ‘we see things not as they are but as *we* are’, or when Korzybski says, ‘whatever you say something is, it is not’, they mean to call our attention to the role our codes play in our interpretations of reality. They mean to disabuse us of linguistic naivete, to urge us to take into account *how* our codes do their work and enforce their authority.” – Neil Postman, BUILDING A BRIDGE TO THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY: How the Past Can Improve Our Future. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1999, p.71.

d) “McLuhan also saw that the electric speedup of information would neutralize the great ideological conflicts that were the basis of the cold war. ‘The electric changes associated with automation have nothing to do with ideologies or social programs’ (McLuhan 1964, 352). The end of communism and the restructuring of capitalism have had nothing to do with the years of military and propaganda posturing of the Eastern amd Western blocs led respectively by the former USSR and the United States. The transformation took place as a result of economic and social forces driven largely by information technology. There was a reason the Communists banned private ownership of the personal computer. They recognized that the electric flow of information was the one thing that their centralized hierarchical command-and-control system could not defend against and in the end it became impossible for them to do so. Their system was inundated by information and collapsed under its weight. The coup de grace, ironically, was actually due to Gorbachev’s introduction of *glasnost* (openness) and *perestroika* (restructuring), which finally brought down the whole system. A similar but less dramatic transformation has also changed the face of capitalism as old-style forms of command-and-control hierarchical corporate structures give way due to the Western form of *glasnost* and *perestroika*, namely, open non-hierarchical computer-based communications and flow of information, and business process reengineering. McLuhan’s predictions came to pass as Drucker proclaims in his latest book, The Post-Capitalist Society: ‘That the new society will be both a non-socialist and a post-capitalist society is practically certain. And it is certain also that its primary resource will be knowledge… Instead of capitalist and proletarians, the classes of the post-capitalist society are knowledge workers and service workers’ (Drucker 1993, 4, 6).” – Robert K. Logan, THE FIFTH LANGUAGE: Learning a Living in the Computer Age. Toronto, Ontario: Stoddart Publishing Co. Limited, 1995, pp.222-223.

“Computing also seems to be restructuring the way in which the existing classes relate to one another and changing the role that class structures play in the economics and politics of society as a whole. Computers allow the integration of many different functions and make each individual worker more self-sufficient. There is also a parallel merger of the three classes. Many of the odious and brute-force tasks of the working class are being performed by robots and other computer-controlled machinery. The percentage of jobs that are unskilled or strictly working-class continues to decrease, while the number of middle-class jobs requiring education, literacy, and computer skills increases. Another effect of computing on the breakdown of class structures is that senior and middle managers are less and less dependent upon support staff.

At the other end of the spectrum, it is easier for middle-class people to become masters of their destiny and enterprise. Information-age enterprises are much less capital-intensive than industrial-era ones. Often, all that is required is intellectual capital and a modest amount of cash capital to start a major business operation. There are a number of middle-class computer whizzes who have become multimillionnaires in a relatively short time. Another sector where the middle class is able to become self-employed and often self-realized is the service sector. While work in this sector does not often lead to a glamorous and aristocratic lifestyle, it has for a number of entertainers, fashion designers, and restaurateurs.

The computer age will continue to see a greater merging of the three traditional classes. The control of information, however, will become more and more the key to success and power. It is natural, therefore, that those who are computer literate will begin to realize tremendous advantages. As to whether or not this advantage will lead to the emergence of a distinct class just when class distinctions seem to be on the decrease is impossible to predict. There is no doubt, however, that computers will be where the action is and they will play an ever more important role in education and educational planning.” – Ibid., pp.293-294.

Logan wrote a follow-up book at the end of the nineties on the theme of THE SIXTH LANGUAGE: Learning a Living in the Internet Age, 2000.

Here is what he wrote on the “sixth language” in THE FIFTH LANGUAGE:

“This study was based on the idea that computing, or the fifth language, represents the current end point in the evolution of language. This notion gives rise naturally to the question of whether language will continue to evolve and if it does what form a sixth language will take. There is no question that language will continue to evolve, but as to the nature of the sixth language, I can only guess. And guessing would be equivalent to attempting to predict the existence and nature of science fifty years after the emergence of writing and mathematics. An impossible task. Nevertheless, let me close with a bit of speculation. If I was forced to guess, my conjecture would be that the jumping-off point for the emergence of a sixth language will entail some combination of general systems theory, business process reengineering, alignment, connectivity (the Internet, EDI, and more), and ubiquitous computing, that is, the increased role of computers in work, education, and everyday life.” – Ibid., pp.294-295.

e) “I have coined the term ‘psychotechnology’, patterned on the model of biotechnology, to define any technology that emulates, extends or amplifies the powers of our minds. For example, while television is generally perceived only as a one-way conduit for audio-visual material, it might be helpful to psychologists to see it as an extension of our eyes and ears into the places where the images originate. When you understand television in this way, it matters little whether programming is live or recorded. Indeed, telephone, radio, television, computers and other media combine to create environments that, together, establish intermediate realms of information-processing. These are the realms of psychotechnologies. Seen from this vantage, television becomes our collective imagination projected outside our bodies, combining in a consensual, electronic teledemocracy. TV is literally, as Bill Moyers called it, a ‘public mind’.

This public realm is most explicit during videoconferencing. With videoconferencing and videophones, television approaches the flexibility and instantaneous communication afforded by the telephone. Indeed, such technologies not only extend the sending and receiving properties of consciousness, they also penetrate and modify the consciousness of their users. Virtual reality is closer still. It adds touch to sight and sound and is as near to ‘mainlining’ the human nervous system as any technology has ever been. With virtual reality and telepresence robotics we literally project our consciousness outside our bodies and see it ‘objectively’. This is the first time that humans have been able to do this.

With television and computers we have moved information processing from within our brains to screens in front of, rather than behind, our eyes. Video technologies relate not only to our brain, but to our whole nervous system and our senses, creating conditions for a new psychology. We have yet to come to terms with our relationship to our screens. It may help to understand that TV does not compete with books, but suggests something entirely different. It proposes a collective imagination as something we can actually consume, although not yet directly participate in. That essential feature, interaction, a capability that guarantees our individual autonomy within the powerful trend of psychotechnological collectivization, is provided by computers and even more so by computer networks.” – Derrick de Kerckhove, THE SKIN OF CULTURE: Investigating the New Electronic Reality. Toronto, Ontario: Somerville House Publishing, 1995, edited by Christopher Dewdney, pp.5-6.

“While I was at work on these pages, from time to time I referred back to my previous book, The Skin of Culture, to measure my current thoughts against what I had written earlier. I found that my understanding had evolved in several areas. One of my biggest surprises was to read the following: ‘Not long ago, the world was dumb and we were clever. But the computer-assisted world is becoming very clever and faster than we are. Very soon our collective technological intelligence will outperform the individual organic ones both in speed and integration. It will be interesting to know how this unified cognitve organization will take care of the environment and poverty, and what criteria it will dictate for genetic engineering. For the time being, relax. We are not there yet.’

Since writing those lines I have revised my thinking in two important respects. The first is that our commonly shared technological intelligence is not really ‘collective’ but more precisely ‘connected’. The other is that we *are* in fact there, and while we should keep our cool, this is no time to relax.

Indeed, the present book is driven by a new sense of urgency. While The Skin of Culture was about electronic media seen separately, this book shows how they are converging and tries to discover what it is they are converging towards. While Skin is basically on the mark, what it lacks is a discussion of the implications of *networked* digital communications.

Whether we call it the Net, the Internet, or the Information Highway, the growing synergy of networked communications is, with the exception of language itself, the communication medium par excellence – the most comprehensive, the most innovative, and the most complex of them all. It is also the most interesting. In the mega-convergence of hypertext, multimedia, virtual reality, neural networks, digital agents, and even artificial life, each medium is changing different parts of our lives – our modes of communication, entertainment, and work – but the Net potentially changes all of that and more, all at once. The Internet gives us access to a live, quasi-organic environment of millions of human intelligences perpetually at work on anything and everything with potential relevance to anyone and everybody. It is a new cognitive condition I call ‘webness’….

The three main underlying conditions of the new ecology of networks, by which I mean both the economy of related industries and the new social and personal cognitive habits that support them, are:

1. Interactivity, the physical linking of people, or communication-based industries (the industries of the body)

2. Hypertextuality, the linking of contents or knowledge-based industries (the industries of memory)

3. Connectedness, or webness, the mental linking of people, or the industries of networks (the industries of intelligence)

Satellites figure importantly in the equation in that they give humanity the agency and the image of the new planetary scale of its reach; the new proportions of its collective body image. As individuals and as a species, we can begin to see the growing connections between our selves, our bodies, and our minds on the one hand and the planet on the other.

Together, interactivity, hypertextuality, and connectedness constitute the basis for the planetization of ordinary people as well as organizations, nations, and continents, by a permanent, self-updating synergy of local computers, global networks, and satellites.” – Derrick de Kerckhove, CONNECTED INTELLIGENCE: The Arrival of the Web Society. Toronto, Ontario: Somerville House Publishing, 1997, edited by Wade Rowland, pp.xxii-xxv.


[The reactions of the four schools in the nineties to the Pentadic School have an underlying pattern that can serve as a platform to launch The Marshall McLuhan Institute into a new vision that would honor them plus the fuller implications of McLuhan’s project as we confront and assess a world that finds much significance in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

But the genius of the Pentadic School was exemplified by its encouragement of publicity for all of the approaches of the four schools of media ecology as it sought to convince us that it still had a vigorous and viable existence.]

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