As regular readers will know, I’ve been working with The Medium is the Massage in a number of classes over the past year, and the more I work with the book, the more fruitful I’m finding it (and the more I’m finding students getting out of it). Depending upon the course, I students to approach the book in one or more of the following three ways:
- As an introduction to medium theory, orality-literacy studies, and or media ecology,
- As a theoretical model for understanding the effects of media, and/or
- McLuhan’s attempt to perform electronic writing in a print medium.
Very much a part of my focus on this book is in understanding McLuhan’s juxtaposition of text and image, especially as it pertains to composition in the digital age, Allan Paivio’s Dual-coding theory of cognition, and, of course, the mnemonic art of imagery.
One of the challenges in teaching the book has been in understanding the images within the book. (Of course, this is a challenge in reading the book as well, but students ask….) As Kevin Brooks recently reminded me, Glenn Willmot argues that the book is hard to often undecipherable while pointing to the juxtaposition of the Dance of the Dead on pages 94-5 with the image of the nude cellist on page 96.
Thanks to Kevin, I’ve learned that The woman on p. 96 is Charlotte Moorman, who regularly collaborated with Nam June Paik, who is himself considered to be the first video artist. Both are associated with the Fluxus movement, as is John Cage (p. 119). Kevin suggests that McLuhan’s juxtaposition of the Dance of the Dead (pp. 94-95) with the picture of Charlotte Moorman positions the Fluxus movement as another sign, along with the Theater of the Absurd, of the clash between print and electronic technologies, in much the same way McLuhan saw the Dance of the Dead was a sign of the anxieties over the rise of print. The Dance of the Dead scene on pages 94-5 are, I’m quite certain, from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal.
I’ll be posting a few more things I’ve figured out or collected for students, specifically information about photographer Peter Moore and context for pages 150-51. If you’ve got anything to share or know of sources I should be looking at to track more of this context down, I’d love to hear about it. I’m going to be modifying the McLuhan Annotation project for next semester, asking the students to do much more research so being able to point them in the right directions would be helpful.
Below the fold, I’ve included some YouTube videos I found to help contextualize Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Pak, and John Cage.
Nam June Paik: T.V. Bra Charlotte Moorman 1975 Swatch
Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik “The Originale”
Nam June Paik: #1 Video Artist
Processing the Signal – Part 2 – Nam June Paik
John Cage “4’33”
John Cage about Silence
Noise with John Cage
John Cage Water Walk