Monday, March 06, 2006

Labeling McLuhan

McLuhan is often labeled "postmodern" or "proto-postmodern," or more accurately, I suspect, a modernist in reverse, but I think I want to label him "anti-modernists," not because the label is important but because working through and with McLuhan means working on or through a particular kind of response to "the modern," which also needs to be clearly defined as the mechanical, the objective, the fragmented. McLuhan preferred the organic, and saw organicisim in the electronic, although didn't celebrate the electronic just because he saw echoes of the organic. McLuhan never took the distanced, objective, scientific stance, until he adopted Popper's definition of science as that which can be disproved. His science was the Science of Bacon and the Science of Vico: a human science. Pomo is often used a label to describe someone or some movement that celebrates the fragmentation of modernism (although Modernism is often wrongly associated with wholeness and integration, it seems to me), but McLuhan understood that in the electric age, people seem primarily interested in seeking integration.

This labeling of McLuhan, explaining where he is coming from, will likely come early in the book.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Natural Language Theories; retrieving cliches.

All ideas this morning.

Just helping MV with her facebook paper, and I was sketching some "ideal" scenarios. Even as I sketched them, however, I seriously doubted them, and kept thinking: Bad money drives out good. I think this law applies quite frequently in the high tech communication world: the early promise of a democratic web (good money) has largely been driven out by bad (commercial / pornographic / non-democratic bad--a value judgement, I realize); the early promise of intellectually rich blogging driven out by daily blabbing (again, I see my own biases her); Facebook seems to have great potential for creating community among students and faculty, retrieve the small college feel, but instead becomes "StalkerBook" and popularity contests.

McLuhan's laws of media try to remain value-neutral, but Gresham's law seems like a value-laden version of reversal.

Oh, and NLT: McLuhan was the master at using the vernacular to theorize: hot and cool mediums, the medium is the message / massage / mass age. I find myself increasingly drawn to aphorism like Gresham's law, and it seems like a retrieval of these cliches--retrieval is enhancements, as new application, as remediation--is one, potentially interesting, way to go about theorizing the world of media ecology (another NLT). I see in this one more way in which Derrida distinguished himself from McLuhan, one more way in which I distinguish myself from Ulmer.

School of Rock

This article got me thinking about a project that came to me this summer. The articles says students who can read complex texts are likely to succeed in college, and those who cannot, are not.

This summer, as I was reading CK's FRC, I was seeing in this text some pretty amazing levels of complexity. Okay, maybe not amazing in the big picture, but much more complex than the cover, the subtitle, the subject matter would suggest. When my student read the text and attempted a rhetorical analysis, the most common complaint was "he is all over the place, it doesn't make sense." While of course I would prefer that they love it and see its beauty, this complaint also confirmed for me that the text is college level worthy--this is the kind of complex reading text that will, hopefully, challenge students and prove to be a good lesson in reading complex texts.

I also imagined a paper this summer, about CK, about FRC, about CK as the "affective scholar," and more generally, after reading this particular article, about the value of using other complex texts about rock. But complex in the CK, affective way, not the middlebrow way that Sirc rightly complains about in "Box Logic." Greil Marcus comes to mind. Some of the documentaries. Interestingly our students who listen only to Xian rock don't find this writing about popular music to be valuable--for so many reasons. I wonder if there is good writing about X'ian rock? I am sure many people use readings about rock, rap, etc., but I haven't seen a fully articulated argument about the right combination of things: subject matter, complexity, relevance. Reading Don't Fix No Chevys seems relevant here too. Gotta bring Amy into the picture.