While I’ve read the first half of Lance Strate‘s Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study in Communication Research Trends, I wanted to skim the whole book to think about it as a possible text if I decide to go with a media ecology theme for the special topics course. I like Lance’s various definitions of media ecology, and this passage from the book’s introduction stood out as something I wanted to blog:

From the standpoint of the trivium, Echoes and Reflections may be regarded as a grammar book, in that media ecology is concerned with the structures, rules, and biases governing languages, media, and technologies–governing the world as well as the word. (3)

It’s this notion of trying to understand how languages, media, and technologies function within that explains what I find so intellectually interesting about media ecology and its sub-field orality-literacy studies.

But I also like this passage for its positing Echoes and Reflections as a grammar book in the medieval sense of the term, in large part because I can’t think about grammar any more without thinking about Shippey’s discussion of grammar, grammarye, and glamour in both The Road to Middle Earth and J.R.R. Tolkien: Author of the Century. This discussion is, in large part, a gloss on the curious passage in “Farmer Giles of Ham” in which the parson suggests that Giles take some rope with him as he goes looking for the dragon a second time. The passage from “Farmer Giles of Ham” reads:

at least the parson with his booklearning might have guessed it. Maybe he did. He was a grammarian, and could doubtless see further into the future than others.

This is one of Tolkien’s philological jokes, Shippey tells us. Well, joke isn’t the right word, but it’s Tolkien having some philological fun. Glamour is a corruption of grammar and is “paralleled in sense” by grammarye. Glamour is the ability to change shape for the purposes of deception, and grammarye is “occult learning, magic, necromancy.” To better make sense of this, I want to posit the notion of “natural” magic, the magic of faerie (to use a Tolkienian term), and formulaic, ritualistic, rule-bound magic one studies and may even learn from books. Grammarye would be of the later sort.

So, how does this all connect to Strate’s discussion of media ecology? Well, a grammar, in the medieval sense, is concerned with structures, rules, and biases. Its function is to make visible the invisible or hidden by providing the formulas and rules that govern a subject. (Consider, for instance, Innis’ study of biases, McLuhan’s laws of media, and Ong’s discussions of the interiorization of technologies.) In other words, as a field of study, media ecology is a grammar that explores the unrecognized function of language, media, and technology (the glamour) as systems (grammarye).

It’s an idea we shouldn’t take too seriously, but it is a bit of Sunday morning fun.