Have Curge -Just Meme It!
Dear August Friends,
I’ve been steering toward weekly Sunday postings, but this week spilled over to Tuesday. It was a sunny long weekend, she said. I was busy, she said. Hey, wasn’t it Tuesday last week, too? she recalled. No matter, here are some ruminations for the week, tapped out to you as I sit at my laptop today.
Before we begin, perhaps you’d enjoy a spot of tea from this menu at the Palliser Hotel in Calgary, back in 1937.
Our complexity of thought and meaning is now being reduced to the quotes, slogans, mottos, affirmations and admonitions that are the grandchildren of those office motivational posters. Let’s achieve! Oh, the posters are still around, like these -
Way before the internet, I first encountered the McLuhan way of thinking in person when Barry Nevitt was giving a talk to an association of engineers. He referred to the two-bit wit of the computer in opposition to the meaning making of the icon or the ideographic writing system. He referenced David Orcutt’s Worldsign language as an example of a new visual language. Well, that experiment has been surpassed and dumbed down by emojis.
That contact was long ago, back in the 20th century, and even then McLuhan thinkers were predicting what had already happened, what had already been established as a line of direction, a communication style so radically transformative it would wash away all that had been established in literate thought. Then after this flood comes the opposite extreme. Left high and dry in a drought, we forget that this Sahara had once been a garden.
As we use this quick visual language every day in social, it has become two-bit wit. Passing information along so rapidly we lose the meaning as we gain a chuckle. The conversion from one-thing-at-a-time literacy to simultaneity of image/word drained our brains of the slow alphabetic thought processes that for centuries nurtured the Western world. In the drought, these memes fly around like wildfire.
This is happening: we have to get used to it, and start again. This language is more telepathic, symbolic, intuitive, geometric, physical. Its speed encourages rapid reassessment and poetic connections. The Vorticists were on to this - Wyndham Lewis got it way back when.
Poetic resonance: Wyndham Lewis’ Blast from the past is in full simultaneity with today’s Barbenheimer meme - where the pink of Barbie is background to the BLAST of Oppenheimer.
This language can be a new articulation of a much wider field that is also more ancient. It can work in harmony with the written word, with activated poetic resonances, digressive interchanges, multidimensional inferences. It’s time to learn the syntax of symbols and icons, as defence to slogans and propaganda. Since Lewis’ Blast, we’ve had a century of this language and still have yet to develop its full use. And as a result, we can be swayed and influenced into mass thought in the twinkling of a pixel.
It appears that without full “literacy” on our part, the owners of the language call the tune, and we can’t help but dance. And keep dancing. It’s exhausting.
We know all this, right? But it seems like knowing isn’t enough right now. Learning the mechanism is the first part. The next, to paraphrase McLuhan, is to find that off switch!
Thanks so much for all your kind attention to the world inside my head!
If you write on Substack, please add Personal Papers to your recommendations - I’ll do the same for you. I haven’t really got into the recommendations side of this platform yet, so if by chance you receive any emails they might automatically send as I recommend, please let me know and I’ll look for the off switch on that, too!
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Till next week!
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