The Fall is into Technology: Notes with Index and Keywords for “Other Paradises,” Essays by Jessica Sequeira

“How to be silent….The fall is into language” (Love’s Body, Norman O. Brown, 256:257).

Is language a technology?

“Henri Bergson, the French Philosopher, lived and wrote in a tradition of thought in which it was and is considered that language is a human technology that has impaired and diminished the values of the collective unconscious. It is the extension of man in speech that enables the intellect to detach itself from the vastly wider reality. Without language, Bergson suggests, human intelligence would have remained totally involved in the objects of its attention. Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the feet and body. It enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement. Language extends and amplifies man but it also divides his faculties. His collective consciousness or intuitive awareness is diminished by this technical extension of consciousness that is speech” (Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 83).

The fall is into technology.

Jessica Sequeira understands silence, and silence, the language of the ghost, is a necessary part of conversations and connections. “Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age” (Zero Books, 2018) collects essays Sequeira previously placed in various online venues, including Berfrois, Drunken Boat, Entropy, Gauss PDF, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Missing Slate, and 3:AM. The collected essays in hardcopy creates a reading emergence opportunity, where the whole is unpredicted by any one of the individual parts. Fragments are conjoined, scholastic and playful, connections clarified and augmented, and an original style, a way of being within the writing, emerges.

When I think of technology, of thinking about technology, I recall Norman O. Brown, Marshall McLuhan, R. Buckminster Fuller, and John Cage. In “Other Paradises,” Jessica mentions none of them. Yet she asks, “Why do people deliberately choose to play with ideas considered antiquated?” (Other Paradises, 1). Both O. Brown and McLuhan made startling discoveries rereading old texts and discovering or inventing new interpretations applicable to contemporary concerns.

Jessica begins with the fax machine (from a far different generation, I might have begun with the mimeograph machine). The fax machine requires sender and receiver, at odd ends. The confirmation “fax received” in no way implies fax read. So much for inference.

Melville’s Bartleby was a scrivener. Prior to that, he had worked at the dead letter office. A scrivener was a human copy machine. Bartleby works (and lives, as it turns out) in a law office, where his job is to handwrite copies of documents and proofread them aloud with the other scriveners. Bartleby winds up in the yard at the New York Tombs, where he “prefers not” to go on living, let alone copying. Bartleby’s ghost haunts today’s every copy and paste. Unlike the Sacramento writer William T. Vollman (who wrote his first book nights hunkered under an office desk in the insurance firm he worked at), Bartleby has nothing original to say, or maybe he does, but he “prefers not” to say it. Enter Kinko, University of Santa Barbara, I’ll bring the technology to ya, on the sidewalk, a copy food cart.

Inherited technology. Ibsen’s Ghosts. Oswald has inherited syphilis from his promiscuous father, now dead, the technology of euthanasia now Oswald’s only hope.

“Every technology contrived and ‘outered’ by man has the power to numb human awareness during the period of its first interiorization” (McLuhan, Guttenberg Galaxy, 187). McLuhan quotes from Curt Buhler’s “The Fifteenth Century Book: the Scribes; the Printers; the Decorators”: “What, then, became of the book-scribes? What happened to the various categories of writers of literary works, who practiced their trade prior to 1450, once the printing press was established?” (187).

Every technology absorbed and relied upon without adequate disaster plans creates potential detrimental reliance. We rely on the technology to our detriment once we abandon what we now perceive to be an antiquated technology. McLuhan considered technologies extensions of one of the five senses: eyeglasses extensions of the eyes, clothes extensions of the skin, etc. The computer was an extension of the central nervous system. Sequeira proposes that the abandoned technologies inhabit as ghosts the new machines.

The fall is into detrimental reliance. We want to get back to Paradise, any paradise will do, but we’ve lost the instructions, the skills, the magic prescriptions.

The Paradise, the one we apparently lost a long time ago, was probably a mosaic. It was not linear; it was not lineal; it was not literary. It was not sequential. It did not follow MLA, APA, or any other prescriptive styles. It was not an argument. There were no statements about which there would certainly be some disagreement. It was, in short, a paradise. But that’s not to say nights in paradise were not separate from days, not to say there were not ghosts (of angels, of devils), or that we were not part of a great food chain on land and at sea. I wrote a poem awhile back, which illustrates:

Cadmean Victory

They do not want for something to say
They run around and play all day
Syllabicating back and forth
No one asks what another is worth

At night they climb trees to sleep
They dream of mouths of lips and teeth
And breath of a land where speech
Is silly and fluid and free

Having no bowels they don’t see
The lithe ape thinking in a tree
Who would trap them in a man
And call himself can

So what and where are these “Other Paradises” Jessica Sequeira takes us to? How do we get there? I wasn’t long into her book when I wished for an index of some kind. An index would collect the extensive reading list now scattered throughout the text. “Other Paradises” is a mosaic, another reason McLuhan and O. Brown come to mind, and full of anecdotes and stories, and packed with references, but each essay contains a structure and harmony that informs the whole work (as does the work of Fuller). And all of that reminded me of John Cage, whose work is littered with anecdote, references, and playful asides. And an index would give some insight into the breadth of Sequeira’s reading, research, and interview experience, and it would illustrate how “Other Paradises” is a rich resource work. And, well, I wanted an index. Here following then, as introduction and review of Jessica’s new book, is a kind of index (a page number follows each entry, usually just the first reference, though many appear only once, and I’ve not listed them all):

Annotated Index to Jessica Sequeira’s “Other Paradises”

  1. David Hockney: 1. Foreshadows California. With Pacific Ocean beaches easy drives away, still, backyard swimming pools are popular, or a Hockney print of a swimming pool, which is almost the same thing, since the pools are usually empty, anyway.

 

  1. Lafcadio Hearn: 5, 9. “Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan.” The ghost, or the idea of ghosts, is a keyword throughout “Other Paradises.” Says Sequeira, “Ghosts are everywhere, busy laughing, crying, loving, plotting, dancing and sleeping just like humans….Technology left behind takes on a phantom presence” 6.

 

  1. Bancho Sarayashiki: 6. Some spirits are restless, for one reason or another.

 

  1. Fukagawa Hidetoshi and Tony Rothman: 7. “Sacred Mathematics: Japanese Temple Geometry.” Sequeira is interested in forms, shapes, lines that intersect, cross. Her essays assume geometrical shapes that can be described as poetic.

 

  1. “Japanese temple geometry problems: Sangaku” (Charles Babbage Research Centre), 7.

 

  1. Charles Babbage: 7-10. “Passages in the Life of a Philosopher.”

 

  1. Ada Lovelace: 8, 12.

 

  1. Commodore Matthew Perry: 10.

 

  1. Hank Mobley: 11. “Soul Station.”

 

  1. Banana Yoshimoto: 12. I read Banana’s novel “Kitchen” some years ago. Though it takes place in Japan, it contains a wonderful reference to Disneyland. I don’t know why I remember this. I’m not sure I do, accurately. I can’t remember if Banana had been to Disneyland, and it had made an impression upon her, or if one of her characters had gone there, or wanted to go there. I browsed quickly through “Kitchen” just now looking for Disneyland. I found only one small reference, to the Jungle Cruise.

 

  1. Musil: 13, 21.

 

  1. J. Gordon Faylor: 13, 20. “Registration Caspar.” I’m not sure about so-called “conceptual writing.” Words are like the seven daughters of Eve, each containing a mitochondrial genome.

 

  1. Kathy Acker and Tan Lin: 15.

 

  1. Beckett: 15, 17.

 

  1. Dante, Beatrice: 15.

 

  1. Wittgenstein: 15.

 

  1. Franco Moretti: 16.

 

  1. Proust: 17, 88. Must one go out?

 

  1. Martin Ramirez: 19.

 

  1. Jess Collins: 19. “Narkissos” (a large drawing). I was happy to see this section on Collins, references to the Beats and San Francisco. The Beats brought poetry back to earth (after which Bukowski ran it into the ground).

 

  1. George MacDonald, Pythagoras, Goethe, Joyce, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Jack Spicer, James Broughton: 19-20.

 

  1. King Ubu Gallery: 19.

 

  1. Manhattan Project: 19. Where Jess Collins had worked for a time. He apparently exchanged plutonium for poetry.

 

  1. Robert Duncan: 22. Poem, “Just Seeing.” Duncan lived with Collins. Missing from the conversation is Charles Olson.

 

  1. “The Macabre Trunk”: 1936 Mexican film, 24.

 

  1. Richard Lower: 26. “Tractatus de code item de motu et colore sanguinis.” Title apparently does not tell all.

 

  1. Mark Zuckerberg: 26.

 

  1. “Teche” (dance song): 27. An original song by Jessica: “Bad-a-bing-be-boom-ba!”.

 

  1. Schrodinger’s Cat: 28.

 

  1. Pascal: 29.

 

  1. Liliana Colanzi: 34. “Our Dead World.”

 

  1. Edmundo Paz Soldan: 35.

 

  1. Roberto Bolano, Joao Guimaraes Rosa, Philip K. Dick: 35.

 

  1. Juan Terranova: 35. “The Flesh.”

 

  1. Alison Spedding: 36-38. “Wachu Wachu”; “Cultivation of coca and identity in the Yungas of La Paz”; “Kausachun-Coca”; “Manuel and Fortunato”; “The Wind in the Mountain Range”; “Saturnia from time to time.”

 

  1. King’s College: 37. A lovely, lyrical description on page 41. Sir John Wastell, 43.

 

  1. “Downtown Abbey”: 37.

 

  1. Alexander the Great: 37. And introducing Alexandra the Great.

 

  1. Gaganendranath Tagore: 48.

 

  1. Partha Matter: 48.

 

  1. Henri Bergson: 49. Book on Laughter.

 

  1. Whistler: 50.

 

  1. “Resurrection”: 50. Painting.

 

  1. George Meredith: 52.

 

  1. Gonul Akkar: 54. “Silemezler Gonlumden,” pop song.

 

  1. Zeynep Karagoz: 54. (Maker).

 

  1. Zbigniew Herbert: 58. “The Bitter Smell of Tulips” in “Still Life with a Bridle.”

 

  1. The Flying Pigeon: 61.

 

  1. Chloe Aridjis: 61-63. “Topographia de lo insolito” (Robert-Houdin); “The Child Poet,” “Book of Clouds,” “Assunder.”

 

  1. Mary Richardson: 69. “Rokeby Venus.”

 

  1. Leonora Carrington: 70. “The Oral Lady,” “The Hearing Trumpet.”

 

  1. Arthur Eddington: 75. “Science and the Unseen World.”

 

  1. Richard Pearse: 75.

 

  1. Talleyrand: 78.

 

  1. Olivia Caramello: 80.

 

  1. Louis-Eustache Audot: 84. “La Cuisiniere de la Campagne et de la Ville, ou nouvelle cuisine economique” (recipes).

 

  1. Jean Lorrain: 85. “Monsieur de Bougrelon.”

 

  1. Willem Claeszoon Heda: 87. “Breakfast Table with Blackberry Pie” (painting, 1631).

 

  1. Svetlana Alpers: 90. “The Art of Describing.”

 

  1. Eva Richter: 90.

 

  1. Barbara Payton: 91. “I Am Not Ashamed.”

 

  1. Henri Roorda: 91. “My Suicide.”

 

  1. “Spontaneity: A History in 12 Volumes”: 92.

 

  1. Billy Caryll and Hilda Mundy: 94. “Scenes of Domestic Bliss” (radio sketch, 1934). The Hilda Mundy here is the performer, not the Bolivian poet. This section of “Other Paradises” is laugh out loud funny.

 

  1. Laura Villanueva Rocabado: 96. The Bolivian writer whose best known pen name is “Hilda Mundy” (see note 64, above). Jessica unravels the connection between the performer and the poet. Mundy’s “Pirotecnia,” page 98.

 

  1. “Bambolla bambolla”: Hilda Mundy’s journalism, 96. Phrase < Gongora, 97. Sequeira translates “Bambolla bambolla” as “look at me look at me,” a kind of ostentatious selfie.

 

  1. “Dum Dum”: 96.

 

  1. Brenda Lee: 97.

 

  1. La Mariposa Mundial: 96. Mano maravillosas: 97. Pagina Siete: 97 (Rocio Zavala Virreira). Jessica quotes Virreira who says that, “to speak of Hilda Mundy is to leave the path, change direction, try out new things. It is to think not in terms of books, but magazines. Not complete sets, but clippings or incomplete collections” 97. Something like that might be said of Jessica Sequeira’s work.

 

  1. “Impresiones de la Guerra del Chaco”: 98. Hilda Mundy text (“journalistic poetry”).

 

  1. “Decision”: 103. Poem by Jessica Sequeira.

 

  1. Srini Vasa Ramanujan: 104.

 

  1. Duchamp: 104.

 

  1. Carlos Fonseca, “Colonel Lagrimas,” 104. Sequeira quotes an interesting section from Fonseca’s text: “At one point, the colonel writes a postcard to his character Maximiliano: You know, Maximiliano, that this Ronald Reagan, man of a thousand facets and a dapper walk, illustrious president of the United States, had the most interesting job before he found success as an actor: he was an announcer for American football games. The strange thing, the magnificent thing, Maximilian – and here is the point of this anecdote – is that this future president didn’t watch what he was narrating: he simply received bits of information, strung like rosary beads, whose whole he never saw, loose bits of information about a spectacle he didn’t see, but whose tone he imagined in a kind of blind broadcasting. Our project is a bit like that. Broadcasting for an age without witnesses, a kind of blind narration of this dance of crazies. So, learn to tell without seeing, ”107. I wondered what McLuhan might have made of “learn to tell without seeing.” McLuhan thought with the advent of text we exchanged an ear for an eye. Hearing would have been the paramount sense in paradise, not seeing. Sight has come to dominate the senses, according to McLuhan, because of print, another example of detrimental reliance. But for Sequeria, the interest in the quote has to do with connections. She writes: “An obvious displacement exists everywhere, between mind and behavior, event and interpretation, fact and memory.” Just so, McLuhan said football was a more intuitive sport for television than baseball, more mosaic, less specialized. Television, it’s mosaic screen full of dots of which we only see a few and fill in for the rest, can not cover the specialized positions of baseball all at once. That all-at-once-ness becomes the value (what we want, even if what we want is not good for us) of social media programs. Baseball is a game of continuous lines, football of fragments. And learning without seeing is having the text before us, the illuminated manuscript – what is it that is illumined? The reader of “Other Paradises” may feel a bit like the narrator of a blind broadcast.

 

  1. Ricardo Piglia: 110.

 

  1. Horizontal: 110.

 

  1. Borges. His ghost is everywhere.

 

  1. Gabriel Josipovici: 112.

 

  1. J. L. Austin: 113.

 

  1. Christopher Priest: 114. “The Inverted World.”

 

  1. Rion Amilcar Scott, “Insurrections,” 116. “Satire doesn’t just mean ‘being funny’; it’s an existential mode that allows one to take on both joyful and painful subjects from inventive, oblique angles, allowing one to make almost anything one’s subject with good humor, precision and grace” says Sequeira, page 116. Scott is the satire editor at Queen Mob’s Tea House. When I was an English teacher, I was struck by how often my adult learners were slow to pick up on or were offended by satire. Swift’s “A Modest Proposal” was occasionally even taken literally. That is the power of the authority of text, as McLuhan explained, and it’s why “fake news” is so prevalent today. “Oh. Irony. See, we don’t get that here. We haven’t had any irony up here since ’83, when I was the only practitioner of it. I stopped doing it because I was tired of being stared at” (Steve Martin’s character, C. D., in the film “Roxanne”).

 

  1. Maggie Nelson, “Bluets,” 122.

 

  1. Janice Lee, “essays,” 122. Lee, the founder of the on-line “Entropy.” Says Sequeira of Lee’s essays: “…it’s the accumulated effect of phrases that’s of value here, not any individual quote.” The same might be said of the accumulated effect of my footnotes to “Other Paradises.”

 

  1. Fernando Diez Medina, 127.

 

  1. Roberto Prudencio Romecin, 127; “On books and authors,” 128.

 

  1. Jaime Saenz, 128. (Yes, I know, my format has changed. I got tired of the extra effort required of typing a colon where a comma will do. Consistency is another detrimental reliance phenom resulting from the printing press.)

 

  1. Sequeira is a reader and advocate for Bolivian poetry: Monica Velasquez Guzman; Oscar Cerruto; Edmundo Camargo; Raul Otero Reiche; Blanca Wiethuchter; Humberto Quino; Emma Villazon; Julio Barriga; Hilda Mundy; Edmundo Paz Soldan; Liliana Colanzi; Paola Senseve; Sergio Gareca; Pedro Shimose: 129-131. Says Sequeira: “Bolivia is an increasingly prosperous country with a growing middle class, widespread Internet connection even in the tiniest pueblos, and a population of educated and mobile young people with academic scholarships and international travel experiences. Traditional geographical and ethnic distinctions have begun to blur. A writer may fill page after page alone in her room, then take that notebook to a bar for a reading, one she will perhaps repeat later on in New York, Santiago, or Moscow. Perhaps – is this just a fantasy? – the poets of Bolivia form one small part of a world wide movement in which nations as we know them disappear, along with progressive ‘developmentalist’ thinking, to leave only the pure flow of cash, art and ideas,” 134. McLuhan did not think it fantasy. According to McLuhan, the printing press was responsible for nationalism, boundaries, margins, and the marginal man. But we may have to let go of text to realize the “blur.” We must wander (essay, assay) outside the margins, off the page.

 

  1. Pierre Bonnard, 134.

 

  1. Walter Benjamin, 139.

 

  1. David Winters, “Infinite Fictions,” 139.

 

  1. Escher, “Belvedere,” 1958 print, 139.

 

  1. Goethe, 135.

 

I will now add a list of “keywords” or short phrases I noted as particularly relevant to “Other Paradises,” and end with a few quotes:

Keywords to “Other Paradises” (in no particular order, but arranged as a mosaic):

arcadia, disappearing, antiquated machines, ghosts, slowness, loss of use, machine, prose, lyrical, satire, UFO’s, damage, violence, fiction, narrator, suburb (132), language as technology (113), questions and questioning (throughout), reading list (113), Snakes and Ladders, theory, comedy (53), Los Angeles, disconnectednesses, poetry, past, social realism, symbol, pop, irony, whimsical, play, playful, invention, language, food, text as horizontal ladder, paintings, hand (54-55), style example (56), sentence structure (shadow play), joke (57), tulip (58), modesty (58), guild, basic needs (59), writing like a lathe (59), a good example of Sequeira’s overall writing process (60), transitions (as unit of composition), interstices, intersections, interruptions, parentheticals, technique (62), first robot (61), Chloe Aridjis interview (61-64), defamiliarization (64), notebook (65), French poets (67), “eyes darting back and forth” (68) – this reminded me of Vonnegut’s Bokononism, technology (72), fragmented, linear (79), Mulberry flag (82), cherry jam (84), preserve, preservation, save, value, paradise of decay (92-3), ostentation (102), observing, questions (104), impossible connections (105), “seemingly disparate concepts, link (108), intelligence (109), reading, utopian, political action (110), metafiction (111), emergence lit (112), reading list (113), non-linear (113), magic (114), theory of everything (115 – but no mention of Lisi), hills, goodness, Highway 1 (19), language as technology, change, literature, words (113).

And here is something Sequeira says on page 71 I made note of because I think it speaks to her writing as well as Carrington’s 92-year-old woman: “Curious and open-minded, with a sense of humor, she can get away with being a little bit crazy, connecting everyday things in odd ways, and discovering the weird links and hidden situational puns fusing different tectonic plates of experience.”

“At what point does a multiplication of anecdotes transform into the unified vision of a book?” (112). Or of a book review, for that matter?

Another quote where Jessica could be talking about her own work: “…a means of creating a fictional life for oneself that is whimsical yet self-interrogating, sustaining argument but with soul breathed into it through humor and a healthy does of silliness” (122).

“What it’s about is an attitude, the creation of an atmosphere” (125).

“But recurring to lines of narrative history to ‘explain’ a style often has little to do with the way actual poets write” (128).

“Thinking in lateral, non-positivist, indirect ways, one can begin to engage with the ghosts of an occasion, starting with its imagined resonances and effects. Even as one enjoys the present, one can remain attuned to traces and echoes, histories and premonitions” (139).

Sequeira, Jessica. Other Paradises: Poetic Approaches to Thinking in a Technological Age. Zero Books. 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Notes on the Art and Style of Whiskey Radish

To my odd ears, usquebaugh, from which whiskey derives, reminds me of the wedding party that year in Berkeley, and he…, and he couldn’t say…, or, he could not pronounce…, but that was nothing to the question of how he got the overstuffed hotel room chair through the bathroom door and up to the toilet, where he “addle liddle phifie Annie ugged the little craythur” (Joyce, FW), the toilet bowl, that is, speaking or repeating “usquebaugh” to us when we asked if he wasn’t good to go. Meanwhile, Beckett seemed always ready and able to pull a root fruit from one of his pockets, a turnip or a radish, and we went back into the sleeping space, where we had a lovely view of the hotel gardens and of the ocean in the distance. The night crashed like a wave in slow motion. In the morning there were a few stale beers and day old croissants for breakfast, and everything seemed fine, but we no longer hear from Usquebaugh, who over time seems to have grown uncomfortable with the dearth, in the belief, no doubt, that wealth is Thee all purpose cleaner, and it’s no doubt true that to get things really clean you must first grow so small.

I suppose I could give Beckett a call even now and we might go off for 9 holes of pique or a day of thought at the beach or river. He was, after all, a man of action, someone who made something. But what he made had to have a use. It wasn’t enough to be a man of action; you had to be a man of practical action. What would be the point of wedding dearth?

All of which may serve as an introduction to Whiskey Radish – in as much as I actually don’t know much about whiskey, how to speak Usquebaugh, or the comics artist Whiskey Radish. So I looked it up, as James Thurber, nearly blind and with no idea “You could look it up” would evolve into “You could Google it,” suggested. Thurber was a comic who wrote and made drawings. So that’s the angle and the segue I’m going with here, as these things go, if they go at all. Segue does not at all mean uninterrupted. It simply means follows, even if what follows does not follow. You follow? What does not follow is not necessarily non sequitur. What follows is only non sequitur if your expectation was somehow otherwise. What else could he have said sitting in the big chair pulled magically into the tiny bathroom and conveniently and suitably up to the commode over which his head dangled, whispering “usquebaugh”? In any case, we were unable to repeat the magic the next morning before checking out and had to leave the chair abandoned in the bathroom. I suspect they must have had to remove the bathroom door to get the chair back out into the hotel room. There’s a cartoon there, Beckett in the plush chair pulled up to the awful all full bowl, but I’ve no caption for it, no text. “This seat taken,” maybe.

Whiskey Radish makes drawings, comic style, but with the telling swipe of a Picasso line, pen brush and ink, which include handwritten text. Comics. The narratives are characterized by obscure and everyday references, personal or learned, street lingo punctuated with French phrase suggestion. The characters are sometimes identifiable but always original, as is the case with the banjo playing “Sam Cat,” a bartender’s assistant, the lines and text sometimes sparse, laconic, suggestive, but often detailed, loquacious.

Satire and romantic themes, unrequited lines, drawings, jobs, entertainments. The life of the artist thematically underscored. There’s a “whozwho” of Whiskey Radish characters on the Whiskey Radish website. The text includes what is left out.

In the drawing enclosed, “une joile pose abandownee” (a pretty pose abandoned), we see, in black India ink over a thin acrylic base on rice paper, simple Picasso-like lines fulfill a statement that is an argument. There is a sleepiness in the eyes, a sadness, a triest, a torpor, a disappointment perhaps, or maybe that is the sense or touch or expression of abandonment, not of abandon, but of the abandonment that follows abandon, when one is not sure about one’s body, after all. And about the mouth, the lips, there is the indecisive shape of a pout that becomes a grimace that settles into a disregard, also after all. After all is said and done, whether we are finished or not, it’s over. Certain lines are crossed, crossed out, a kind of permanent erasure.

Technique is not style. Technique is something that has a beginning and an end, a procedure, a program, a convention. Technique can’t be abandoned. It can be unfinished, but that’s not the same as abandoning a work. Look at Kafka. Abandoned cartoons. Joseph K is Buster Keaton. Style is usage. Cartooning is vaudeville. You can only abandon style, because style can’t be finished. “A pretty pose abandoned” (the Whiskey Radish version) is graffiti over the 1897 “Baigneuse,” bather, by Jules Scalbert. It’s a study of a study. Do bathers pose? Is there a technique to bathing? Water paints. And the Whiskey Radish version is abandoned. Only abandonment can create style. Technique is inherited. The slow bath becomes the quick shower.

McLuhan explains: “The structural qualities of the print and woodcut obtain, also, in the cartoon, all of which share a participational and do-it-yourself character that provides a wide variety of media experiences today. The print is clue to the comic cartoon, just as the cartoon is clue to understanding the TV image” (McLuhan, 1964, “Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man,” Chapter 17, “Comics: Mad Vestibule to TV,” p. 151). Touch, McLuhan says, is the most involving of all the senses. And television, like the cartoon, is tactile; the cartoon requires audience participation. This is why we are drawn to drawings; we can participate. We must participate. We have to fill in what’s missing to get what was abandoned. We can listen to the radio while doing chores around the house, but if we turn on the television, we have to sit and watch and listen and participate, and the chores have to wait. That, for McLuhan, is the difference between hot and cool. We must get involved in a mosaic, the opposite experience from the detachment we might enjoy reading a book. “…the hot form excludes, and the cool one includes” (p. 37). Hot is technique; cool is style. The old newspaper cartoon pages were mosaics.

Considering the art and style of Whiskey Radish, we sense the abandon, the abandonment. The artist tries to bring something under control, only to give in to that control. The artist gives technique the deep-six. The cartoon disclaims and disavows, disses.

“Une joile pose abandownee” (abandonné?) is somewhere between cartoon and drawing. It’s Warhol technique; Andy was able to take a style and turn it into a technique easily reproduced. You walk away from the academic and the analysis and enter the real world, the world of cartoon and abandonment. Youth culture results from abandon and abandonment. One of the first oppressions to rebel against is the monotony of the anxiety of adultism, the balloon of the body now fully taut and now can only lose air and wither and wrinkle, lose static and fall to the floor where not even the cat will play with it anymore. The body is abandoned in cartooning. A new school of antic frantic fish frolicking in the warm water around the whale. Youth dreams are old dreams, just the same.

The copy abandoned, the idea of realism given up on, realism a losing argument, translation never finished, what’s abandoned is the drawing, a pretty drawing abandoned, that the viewer may be free.

whiskey-radish-drawing

Breaking Bad in Stromboli

Breaking Bad in StromboliI walked down to meet Susan on Hawthorne late afternoon but arrived early and when I passed Nick’s and noticed baseball on the screen I ducked in to wait at the bar for a text asking my whereabouts. I ordered a glass of milk and a coffee chaser and the bartender asked me if this was my first visit to Nick’s. The game was in the 8th inning, a 3 to 3 tie, the Dodgers against the Cubs out spring training in sunny Arizona. A group of young folk occupied the north end of the bar, but I alone watched the game. The tables were all empty. The balls were breaking late, bad, away. The Cubs scored in the bottom of the 8th on a sacrifice fly to take the lead 4 to 3, and the Dodgers in the top of the 9th could not break away. My first taste this year of spring training TV was bad for a Dodger fan. I like the Cubs, too, and hope they do better than last year’s cellar close. Edging the Dodgers 4 to 3 yesterday marked the Cubs first win in seven games this spring training season. It’s still early, but the Cubs are off to a bad start. Cub fans are a forgiving bunch. Dodger fans live in baseball paradise at Elysian Park. But baseball and paradise broke bad some time ago, came the summers of our discontent, baseball breaking away.

One of modern baseball’s design problems, as McLuhan explained, is that it’s a poor fit for television. Baseball is not pixel friendly. McLuhan saw how vaudeville moved to radio and radio to television, where there will never be enough channels, the need for distraction being what it is, even though all channels do the same thing and distract in the same way. But he did not foresee vaudeville being rekindled by Lady Gaga and Madonna in the Super Bowl arena where the camera is now a drone following the collective unconscious eye of the audience. Meantime, the living room remains the electronic middle class mosh pit. The form of television is its art; the channel hardly matters.

Yet some said that “Breaking Bad” was television finally or finely elevated to art. The art of the installment, the fix, waiting for the next episode, the episodic adventure induced by Walter who like Fagin in Dickens’s “Oliver Twist” lives and thrives in a world of children. Is breaking bad an occupational hazard of teaching resulting from classroom isolation from the real world? Or “Breaking Bad” might have been titled “Death of a Teacher,” Walter White the Willy Loman who lives on TV fantasy to avoid the existential question imposed by being crushed beneath the wheels of contemporary financial, job, metaphysical, and medical malaise. We interrupt this post to bring you a full disclosure: I never saw a single “Breaking Bad” episode when the series was running. I did read a few reviews. I recently watched the first three episodes, borrowed from the library. I was thinking I might try to see the whole thing through, to its conclusion, and angle a post off it. But I don’t want to watch any more “Breaking Bad” episodes. Predicament may harden the romantic heart in all of us.

For one thing, the premise of “Breaking Bad” seems algorithmic. A high school Chemistry teacher with experience and talent gets an existential kick in the butt when he discovers he has terminal cancer. He sees an opportunity in the two years he has left to make some quick money as a meth chef and improbably takes to a life of violent drug associated street crime. Various critical reviews suggest something philosophical going on. His street name is Heisenberg, and it’s probably true that nowhere in contemporary life are things more uncertain than out on the street, certainly not in the living room, watching television. So the existential predicament is the close proximity to death, not to be confused with the close proximity of television. But everyone dies and knows they will; why wait any time at all to break bad and kill the TV? Most people break indifferent. No life is longer than the one spent in moiling drudgery.

Then I watched Roberto Rossellini’s “Stromboli” (1950). Essentially, Ingrid Bergman’s Karin’s existential predicament is similar to Walter White’s, though even more absurd, because she’s saved but ironically condemned to live in a place and with a man she believes she’s entirely unsuited for, which comes with the surprise of the epiphany. The island of Stromboli is a Mediterranean volcano. Life is harsh. Karin was expecting something a bit more pleasant, romantic, colorful. Life on Stromboli is inescapable sun or impervious shadow. The people on Stromboli live under the constant threat of volcanic eruption. Their values are kept immutable by the impossibility of change. Unlike the Mario by the end of “Il Postino,” Karin can’t see any beauty on her island or in the fishing life. It doesn’t take her long to realize she must break bad. But Karin breaks bad differently from Walter. She frantically climbs the volcano that Walter pedantically runs from.

Note: No commas were mistreated in the writing of this post.

Memories and Hallucinations, Real Nostalgia: Bill Bryson’s “The Life and Times of The Thunderbolt Kid”

Electric WaterfallThe notion things change fast doubles in intensity roughly every two days. It takes a couple of days for most changes to sink in. “Who moved the cat dish?” I ask, combing out dry crumbs from between my toes. “Oh, I changed that the other day,” Susan says. Moore’s law observed amplifying speeds doubling every two years. Too bad the Market hasn’t managed as well. If we understand the laws influencing changes, we’re able to merge smoothly into the new wave. Joe’s law says internal speeds slow inversely to external speeds. As the speed of life increases, what we’re feeling inside slows to a crawl. I can feel the cornstarch thickening in my spinning stomach. The waves keep coming. We can roll under, ride up and over, dive through, or turn around and catch one. We get out of the water and consider our memoir, what just happened, what just changed. The waves look different from the beach, not what we remember at all. We get our breath back. We consider the last wipeout.

What is change? Do things actually change, or do we simply wake up one morning and remember things differently? Oliver Sacks, in “Speak, Memory” (New York Review of Books), his title borrowed from Nabokov’s memoir, said, “There is no easy way of distinguishing a genuine memory or inspiration, felt as such, from those that have been borrowed or suggested.” Our experiences – real, imagined, vicarious, read, heard – become stories we retell. “Memory is dialogic,” Sacks says (made from communication with others), “and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.” I’ve only read a portion of Sacks’s latest book, “Hallucinations,” an excerpt, “Altered States: Self-experiments in chemistry,” in the 27 Aug 2012 New Yorker. How does Sacks remember anything? Stories like Sacks’s always remind me of a Salvador Dali interview. When asked if he took drugs to produce his surreal art, Dali responded: “Why should I take the drug? I am the drug.” But Sacks obviously has a good memory, or memories. What’s a good memory?

Speaking of hallucinations and memories, I’ve just finished a Bill Bryson book, recommended by Susan, “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir” (Random House, 2006). Bryson was born in 1951, and the book is about him growing up in Des Moines, Iowa, in the 1950’s. We see his memory at work, his memory assisted by a bibliography of books about the world he was born into. That world is given particular focus through his witty anecdotes of home, neighborhood, school, and town, personal reflections mixed in with the historical, researched view. It’s an easy to read, enjoyable book, almost subversive the way he works into the telling what might otherwise be a dry history book. We learn, or are reminded, of much of 1950’s culture, politics, family and societal values. Most of the telling, while written for an adult audience, sounds like it’s coming from a kid’s attitude. The kid reports what’s happening to him, but he doesn’t always understand why it’s happening – several levels of irony at work. Susan set me up. “Read this page,” she said, handing me the book one day, “out loud.” I did, and when I got to the bottom I laughed out loud. I didn’t see the joke coming. Bryson figures things out, like the rest of us, a kid on the go. It helps to remember some things. Other things, it helps to forget. “Grape was the one flavor that could actually make you hallucinate; I once saw to the edge of the universe while drinking grape Nehi” (278) Bryson says, blending Dali with Sacks.

Bryson is a prolific writer with an encyclopedic style. It’s sometimes hard to keep track of all the details, facts, numbers, all startling, though you might have been there, too. The chapter on the Bomb brought back memories of the classic classroom aid raid drills where kids practiced scrunching under their school desks in preparation for atomic attack. No wonder the generation grew cynical. Really, these desks were going to protect us? From what? Not from our memories. Here’s an example of how Bryson blends the personal with the researched: “I watched a lot of television in those days. We all did. By 1955, the average American child had watched five thousand hours of television, up from zero hours five years earlier” (279). And then he lists his favorite shows, a bunch of them. His favorite show was the “George Burns and Gracie Allen Show,” which pretty much spanned the 50’s. The key word back there is average, which Bryson was not, but no one is average. Individuals are too unique for any kind of averaging that makes sense (“People are Strange,” sang The Doors, a decade later). For one thing, it doesn’t sound like Bryson watched much TV with his family, but alone, in his bedroom, after he had collected enough cash on a paper route to buy his own TV. Most families I knew had but one television set, and it occupied the living room, an electronic shrine. In our house, it was a shrine, a statue of Mary on top standing on a doily and leaning against the antennae – its tips wrapped in tin foil to improve reception. For a time, it’s where we prayed the rosary together, for which the TV had to be off, though. But the concept of average is a Madison Avenue marketing ploy, and in school, average was a way of keeping kids in line. Anyway, remember the end of the broadcast day, the eerie signal that accompanied the black and white lined diagram on a field of gray, the tubes glowing red-orange like stationary fireflies? Or did I hallucinate that? Then came the teen years and kids grew subversive by not watching TV, while their parents watched the war every night around 6, just before prime time.

The notion that decades of years fix boundaries of anything is silly, but as we leave Bryson’s book on the 1950’s, we are reminded that everything the decade is remembered for is all gone. There is nothing left of the 1950’s. Everything has changed, and while the 1950’s certainly rang up a toll of bad stuff, all dutifully set down by Bryson, the fact that everything changed is not necessarily a good thing. Gone is the closeness, the walks downtown to the grand theatres, the churchyard dinners, the thousands of family owned farms, the tiny farmhouses under trees alongside two lane roads that passed through small towns. Bryson’s view of the 1950’s is a view of a kid growing up in the 50’s. His preference for something like the “Burns and Allen Show” points to something important: George and Gracie were not products of the 1950’s. They came from a different era, their TV show an example of McLuhan’s theory that every new technology takes its content from the content of a previous form: picaresque to vaudeville to radio to TV. It might have looked new, but it was already old. But today things move so fast that we can hardly calculate those changes. Certainly it doesn’t any longer take a decade. Already everything from two days ago is changed, if not two hours ago, if not from the beginning of this post. Dang! I just put my foot down into the kitty litter box. I would like to say I’m going for a swim, but someone moved the ocean.

Online # 2: Laptop Notes From Underground

Notes from an Underground LaptopImagine Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man with a laptop…

“‘Why you’re . . . just like a book,’ she said, and I thought I caught a sarcastic note in her voice again.” Dostoyevsky’s Underground Man is with Liza, a prostitute, but what he wants is to talk to her. He finds her ellipsis revealing. She pauses, and she’s caught the mouse in a trap, even if she didn’t mean to. He mistakes her uncertainty for sarcasm: “I didn’t understand that sarcasm is a screen – the last refuge of shy, pure persons against those who rudely and insistently try to break into their hearts” (174), he says. Four pages of rant follow, and he makes her cry. But she’s his perfect audience. Had he a laptop, he would have pulled something up to show her. But was she being sarcastic, or was she reading him literally? What she says is accurate; he is just like a book.

“It goes without saying that both these Notes and their author are fictitious,” Dostoyevsky says in a footnote to the first page of “Notes from Underground,” which begins with “Part One, The Mousehole” (90). If it goes without saying, why does he say it? Another paradox. The typographical man develops a voice, even if he has nothing to say. Online, we feel a part of something, but of what? It’s enough to feel connected. In any case, these men do exist, in spite of this one being fiction, Dostoyevsky wants to make clear, and he wants to mark the difference between narrator and author. But in trying to distance himself from his narrator, Dostoyevsky adds another note to the pile.

I’m online again, going with the flow, superslow though, gliding, electri-gliding in the cerulean world of blues. “I’m so lonesome I could cry,” Hank Williams sang. But does he cry? He doesn’t tell us that he cries, just that he feels like crying. If only Hank had a laptop. How high the moon? He could look it up.

“Suffering is the sole origin of consciousness” (118)*, the Underground Man says. Later, Jung takes up this theme, that consciousness is born in regret, in memory. But how does man express his regret, which is his suffering? “The fall is into language,” Norman O. Brown said (257). What do we think about if we can’t remember anything? After reason, the Underground Man explains, “All that’ll be left for us will be to block off our five senses and plunge into contemplation” (118).

We were talking about the possibility that online culture diminishes memory because the “onliner” (i.e. someone online, not necessarily a reader, since one can go online without reading – but what is reading?) is constantly looking things up, one thing leading to the next, seemingly random. Nothing is memorized; the bookmarks are endless. If the fall is into language, browsing is free falling. But why all the notetaking in book culture? Can’t the readers remember anything? Non-literate people, McLuhan explains in “The Gutenberg Galaxy,” have much better memories than those born to books. Is there suffering being online? “The most obvious character of print is repetition, just as the obvious effect of repetition is hypnosis or obsession,” McLuhan says (47).

“I was so used to imagining everything happening the way it does in books and visualizing things falling somehow into the shape of my old daydreams that at first I didn’t understand what was going on. What actually happened was that Liza, whom I had humiliated and crushed, understood much more than I had thought. Out of all I had said, she had understood what a sincerely loving woman would understand first – that I myself was unhappy” (197). The Underground Man is stuck in a literate view. McLuhan: “The new collective unconscious Pope saw as the accumulating backwash of private self-expression” (308). The Underground Man’s literacy has turned him into an individual, and he’s nowhere to go. This is another reason he appears when he does; his point of view is his own beacon.

The sufferer comments. This is why the Underground Man “has appeared, and could not help but appear” (90), to explain why he has appeared. The browser joins the Internet commute, changing lanes compulsively but leisurely. Summer is near, and in the distance one can hear the Internet Highway and superfast modems melting across asphalt desks backlit with electric candles. A commenter interrupts the flow, but for the Underground Man with a laptop, comments are closed. Go start your own blog. I’m in the slow lane here. Go around me, he signals out his laptop window. Go around.

“I knew that what I was saying was contrived, even ‘literary’ stuff, but then, that was the only way I knew how to speak – ‘like a book,’ as she had put it” (179). The Underground Man is literate; Liza is not. But Liza intuits what the Underground Man must read. McLuhan explains the difference: “The visual makes for the explicit, the uniform, and the sequential in painting, in poetry, in logic, history. The non-literate modes are implicit, simultaneous, and discontinuous, whether in the primitive past or the electronic present, which Joyce called ‘eins within a space'” (GG 73).

“Enough,” the Underground Man says, but the closing footnote says there are more notes. “But we are of the opinion that one might just as well stop here” (203), Dostoyevsky says.

* My text (Signet Classic CT300, 1961, Seventh Printing, translation by Andrew R. MacAndrew), reads, “Why, suffering is the only cause of consciousness.” But I exchanged just this line for the Constance Garnett version of the line, which I prefer for its sole (solo) and soul homonymy (not to mention the suggestion of the sole of a shoe).

Mosaic Writing

McLuhan suggested we pay a price for literacy. There’s a difference between illiteracy and non-literacy. An illiterate person can neither read nor write written texts in his native language, while a non-literate person’s language has no written text, no alphabet.

It’s moving from non-literacy to literacy where a price is paid: “The visual makes for the explicit,” McLuhan said, “the uniform, and the sequential in painting, in poetry, in logic, history. The non-literate modes are implicit, simultaneous, and discontinuous, whether in the primitive past or the electronic present, which Joyce called ‘eins within a space'” (GG, 73).

Thus the “World Wide Web” may be promoting a kind of non-literacy, where the mosaic form of presentation dominates the chronological, the linear, the literate, where the literate means a fixed point of view: “This visualizing of chronological sequences is unknown to oral societies, as it is now irrelevant in the electric age of information movement” (GG, 72).
Yet, McLuhan reminds us that “only a fraction of the history of literacy has been typographic” (GG, 93).

So, what’s the price? For one thing, McLuhan said, “the divorce of poetry and music was first reflected by the printed page” (GG, 240).

And all the effort we’ve put into learning to read left to right, up to down, front to back – when presented with a mosaic, we don’t know where to begin reading. We may not know how to read mosaic writing. The Internet is a mosaic. And as we learn to read on the Internet, we may be losing our preference for, and the skills required to read, sequential writing.

Some excellent examples of Mosaic Writing include:
“Silence” and “A Year from Monday,” by John Cage
“Finnegans Wake,” by James Joyce
“Love’s Body,” by Norman O. Brown
“The Guttenberg Galaxy,” by Marshall McLuhan

Now Playing at Plato’s Cave: “The Reel World”

Plato opened the first movie theatre, the audience chained to seats, unable to see the projectionist, and there were no refreshments or intermissions. You really had to be a movie buff to enjoy a film at Plato’s Cave.

McLuhan (Understanding Media, 1964) explained that we must be trained to see movies, for “movies assume a high level of literacy in their users and prove baffling to the nonliterate [the unlit].” If a man disappears from the screen, the nonliterate wants to know where he went. “But the film audience, like the book reader, accepts mere sequence as rational.” And perspective is gravity, gravitas. The nonliterate will not sit still and be quiet in a movie theatre. They lack the requisite cultural-etiquette training, which requires the natural, balanced sensorium (the five senses tuned so that no one sense dominates another) to be dominated by the sense of sight. “For those who thus fix their eyes,” McLuhan explains, “perspective results.” This is why hot buttered popcorn is so popular in movie theatres – the nose is hard-pressed to go two hours with nothing to smell. The movie theatre is the new voting booth, where we learn both what we’re missing and what we want. “What the Orient saw in a Hollywood movie was a world in which all the ordinary people had cars and electric stoves and refrigerators…That is another way of getting a view of the film medium as monster ad for consumer goods,” McLuhan said.

There are things we don’t want to see, movies we’ve no interest in, TV shows we channel surf away from, books we self-remainder to the rummage sale. We avoid certain conversations, too, closing our ears now to the sacred, now to the profane; there are things we don’t want to hear. Yet touch is the most involving of the senses, and the sense of smell is stronger than the sense of sight, and is tied to taste. Thus we say of a bad movie that it stinks. We instinctually avert our eyes from the ghastly, but when we want to see what we don’t want to look at, we go to the movies. “It is a spectacle,” Wallace Stevens said (“Chaos in Motion and Not in Motion,” 1945), “Scene 10 becomes 11 / In Series X, Act IV, et cetera. / People fall out of windows, trees tumble down, / Summer is changed to winter, the young grow old, / The air is full of children, statues, roofs / And snow. The theatre is spinning round,….”

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John: 20-29). Blessed today might be those who have seen and yet still believe. Yet “a fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees,” Blake said in “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” (and which the neuroscientists are busy trying to explain). What should we see; what should we read? What are our choices? “It is not irritating to be where one is. It is only irritating to think one would like to be somewhere else,” John Cage said, in his “Lecture on Nothing” (Silence, 1973). Just so, Cage gives us 4’33” of silence, but not silence, for we hear what we hear, note what we note, for we have eyes to see, ears to hear. McLuhan predicted YouTube: “Soon everyone will be able to have a small, inexpensive film projector that plays an 8-mm sound cartridge as if on a TV screen. This type of development is part of our present technological implosion.”

The blogger gets McLuhan’s argument: “The typewriter…has caused an integration of functions and the creation of much private independence. G. K. Chesterton demurred about this new independence as a delusion, remarking that ‘women refused to be dictated to and went out and became stenographers.’” Just so, academics are beginning to refuse the traditional forms of sanctioned publishing, for the potential to blog brings about, as McLuhan said of the typewriter, “an entirely new attitude to the written and printed word.” Back inside Plato’s Cave and McLuhan’s (via Joyce) “reel world,” some critic tries to discern what we’re actually seeing and hearing, as if we don’t have eyes to see, ears to hear. Well, yes, but we can’t see the real thing. Behold, human beings living in an underground cave, blogging. This is a world of appearances, through a glass, lightly shuttering.

Can Business Rescue the Humanities?

While Plato ruefully proposed to banish the poet from his Republic, today’s Humanities aficionados may seek to bar businesspersons from their club. Yet the Humanities are in crisis, as usual, perhaps for lack of sound business sense, while the sound business sensors, often viewed as eschewing the Humanities, may be nipping in the basement of the human condition, where the good stuff ages.

Consider three writers whose business experience may have influenced their writing, and whose writings may calm sweating brows in the Humanities: Franz Kafka, Wallace Stevens, and Ted Kooser. Kafka worked for two insurance companies, Assicurazioni Generali, and the Worker’s Accident Insurance Institute for the Kingdom of Bohemia, where his reports contributed to improvements in workplace safety. One report, for example, commented on “the perils of excavating in quarries while drunk.” Wallace Stevens worked for the Hartford, and, having earned a law degree from New York Law School, eventually earned a position as VP in claims, a job he valued. Few of his peers at the Hartford knew or cared about his poems, but when one of his co-workers came into his office one day asking about one of his poems, Stevens told him not to worry about it, for his co-worker was too literal. And Ted Kooser, poet laureate of the Library of Congress from 2004 to 2006, spent a career at Lincoln Life, another insurance company. John Cage said that when we turn our attention to that music we do not intend, we find the sound a pleasure; just so, we must turn our attention to the Humanities we do not intend.

This benevolent blogger spent 25 years in the republic of an insurance corporation. After teaching for nearly a decade, he had taken a summer off to consider a career change, selected a national organization headquartered in his hometown of Los Angeles, and bought a new suit of clothes to prepare for the new enterprise. He had been reading Thoreau’s Walden, and was well aware of Henry’s advice, in the opening chapter, “Economy,” to “beware of all enterprises which require new clothes” (para. 15), but he nevertheless bought a new pair of wingtips, on the assumption that these were the shoes worn in the business world. He soon found he was the only one in the office in a pair of wingtips. Everyone else seemed to prefer penny loafers. Thus began his education into business. The office had bells, bells to signal the start of work, bells to signal breaks and lunches, and bells to signal the end of the workday. Indeed, the office had more bells than had any school he could remember, and he was reminded of Poe’s bells, “…Keeping time, time, time…to the throbbing…to the sobbing…to the moaning and the groaning of the bells,” though the office bells touched not the acoustic heart, being electric, and he thought too of McLuhan and Fuller – that old school prepared one to work in a factory, though he watched that factory change with locomotive speed: first the bells were freed, then the men from their ties, and more gradually the women from theirs. But these changes move not linearly, as a locomotive moves, but mosaically, and it’s often difficult to know if change in business is carrying one forward or backward. But the same is true in the Humanities, where bells and ties have also had their heydays, and specialization has now created a mosaic one can read neither “out far nor in deep.”

And one also finds in the Humanities heavy doses of alienation, particularly in the bust phase of the current devaluing of the purpose of a liberal arts education as academic acculturation adulterates, through competitive forces at work in the market place, for schools are part of the commercial marketplace, as they are increasingly discovering, yet business and schools alike continue to lobby for bailouts, and neither seems to have found a purpose and audience that is sustainable in a self-contained strategy and structure. For all the criticism of the “profits” these days, the universities may have dissed their affections once invested so heavily in the public interest. What’s left is elitism, with no access for the underclass, or, increasingly, even the middle class, but can there be a balanced elitism fueled by the working class? There was in California before Reagan set about to dismantle the best university system in the world. Still, one finds no less alienation in the Humanities than one finds in capitalism. For Marx, “the worker finds work a torment, suffers poverty, overwork and lack of fulfillment and freedom. People do not relate to each other as humans should,” but does this not describe the plight of today’s average Humanities adjunct? Why can’t schools run more like businesses? Perhaps they already do, as reflected in the competitive nature of grades, even as inflation has rendered the currency valueless.

For businesses have for some time been operating more and more like schools, creating campus atmospheres, valuing continuing education for employees, including executive training that exceeds anything available in the Humanities (Wharton is a good example), inculcating team atmospheres, and creating and running corporate universities that encourage personal, purposeful growth. But schools lack the sense of urgency that permeates the business world. Tenured professors don’t work full time, think alike (the competition is not for ideas, but to maintain the status quo), too much research is funded at the public trough yet is insulated from public view. The separation of business from the Humanities creates a false dichotomy that nevertheless suggests its own solution. The Humanities should embrace business with a sense of urgency, for their Titanic has hit its iceberg, and that the ship will sink stinks with mathematical certainty.

Where The Gutenberg Galaxy Wanes While the Zuckerberg Zone Waxes: How the Founder of Facebook is Destroying the Printing Press

At 18, a grunt at Fort Bliss, in El Paso, sitting knee to knee and cheek to cheek with my peers in a latrine of 12 stools, I learned that going to the bathroom is a business, and privacy does not work for us, we work for her. We had, in 1969, at Fort Bliss, neither laptops nor cell phones, though we were allowed books, periodicals, and letters, and if someone wanted to know the status of a constipated grunt in Fort Bliss, they would be updated in a few days via an APO address, not instantly in a Facebook post.

In The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), a mosaic of blog-like posts illustrating the effects of print technology on the human environment, Marshall McLuhan explains that the printing press is responsible for the creation of the public. The printing press, McLuhan argues, created nationalism and the divorce of science from art, made the “marginal man,” the alienated individual, one who lives outside the margins (text boundaries) of society, and print is responsible for linear thinking. McCluhan’s 310 chapters each comprise a complex claim full of what today we would call “links” to other sources. Here’s one of my favorite chapters: “254 The typographic logic created ‘the outsider,’ the alienated man, as the type of integral, that is, intuitive and irrational, man.” And another: “258 Typographic man can express but is helpless to read the configurations of print technology.”

Can we read the configurations of  Internet technology? If McLuhan was right, and print technology traded an ear for an eye in its focus on the page, rearranging our sensorium, the eye now the dominant sense, and if the book, printed in one’s vernacular, killed Latin and created privacy, then will the global village created by the Internet reverse these sensory changes and take us back to primitivism? “187 Every technology contrived and ‘outered’ by man has the power to numb human awareness during the period of its first interiorization.” And when and how will we know?

A flurry of comments on these new directions, new configurations, filled the air this week. This week’s New Yorker (September 20) contains “The Face of Facebook: Mark Zuckerberg [founder of Facebook] opens up,” while CQ Researcher has just published a major report, “Social Networking: Are online social networks eroding privacy?” (Sept. 17): Marcia Clemmitt summarizes in her introduction, “For some the new world of ‘radical transparency’ will increase human understanding and encourage honesty and accountability. But some lawmakers and scholars [are] concerned about losing older notions of privacy.” Zuckerberg is also the subject of a new movie, The Social Network, which contains a largely unflattering view of him, but of the rest of us as well, according to a Newsweek on-line review (Sept. 20), “With Friends Like These.”

These new direction discussions follow [in my reading on the subject] a November, 2009 scholarly article in The Australian Humanities Review, notable for its overall positive viewpoint [as well as for the review taking the social networking phenomenon seriously) of the Facebook experience. In “Grizzling About Facebook,” Meaghan Morris, (Chair Professor of Cultural Studies at Lingnan University, Hong Kong, and Professor in the Department of Gender and Cultural Studies at the University of Sydney) makes her position and thesis clear in her introductory remarks: “…anyone who thinks that social networking is a ‘superficial’ matter of clicking should explain to me (to begin with) in just what world the effort of making a photo album for friends and family does not involve emotional commitment; and in what kind of real world it counts as an evasion of contact to have an on-line party, or to send gifts, humour and words of comfort or affection to people across space and time. It would have to be a world without regard for writing and reading, obviously: no love of letters, no emotional responses to rock art and cathedrals; no crying over novels and poems, either. Come to think of it, it might be a world without great newspapers (a prospect which some pundits no doubt have uncomfortably in mind).” This was in response to a negative editorial in the South China Morning Post arguing that the virtual contact of Facebook is no substitute for “real” human contact.

But the mounting concern is not over how we spend our time, but whether or not we can spend it in private. To this question, Morris offers a number of questions, each of which might serve as the thesis for another paper: “I certainly do not mean to suggest that all criticism of Facebook is grizzling. Serious legal, ethical and political issues are arising from or being intensified by the ‘Facebook’ phenomenon (to use a typifying metonym myself), in the process sharpening some of the challenging debates of our time; free speech and its limits, censorship, the right to privacy, the negotiation of social protocols for a transnational economy that thrives on difference as well as inequality, the relations between semiotic and other modes of violence, tensions between legal, communal and performative models of identity, the foundations of community, the power of corporations in our personal lives, and the technological transformation of work are just a few of these.” Indeed, that’s enough to keep the Facebook scholars busy for a spell. In the CQ Researcher report, there’s a thread pulled out but not nearly unravelled to conclusion regarding the similarities and differences between Facebook and MySpace, a thread which suggests a social stratification, perhaps a tribal (in the McLuhan sense) response, ultimately, perhaps, a Marxist view of social networking.

But it’s those concerns about “older notions of privacy” that I find interesting. What is privacy? Where do these ideas of privacy come from? Is liberty synonymous with privacy? Are both the consequence of print technology, as McLuhan suggested, and as technology changes and changes us, will our notions of privacy also change? No doubt the development of self-consciousness in human evolution created some sense of privacy (when did we begin to sense a need to be alone with our thoughts?), but now, by privacy, do we mean secret, or do we mean control, or do we mean, as T. S. Eliot said in “Prufrock,” “To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet….” Or do we mean privilege, as in the private privy, the privy chamber, not a public place, hardly a Facebook page. Not for nothing is the stool called the throne. The king enjoys the privilege of privacy, and has the power to grant a private audience. Now with 500 million advertised members, control of the masses would seem but clicks away, but who shall be king? But if the king remains in his privy, who cares?