Thursday, November 15, 2012

They Became What They Beheld

Last year I put up a post after Ted Carpenter passed away,  Edmund Carpenter 1922-2011, and that was certainly not the first time that this innovative anthropologist and media ecology scholar has come up here on Blog Time Passing.

Carpenter, as you no doubt know, was a colleague of and collaborator with Marshall McLuhan, at the University of Toronto during the 1950s, where they worked together as part of an interdisciplinary group, and put out 9 issues of the groundbreaking journal, Explorations, and here at Fordham University where Carpenter joined McLuhan for his year as the Albert Schweitzer Chair in the Humanities. And in case you missed this last year, click here to see a page on the Fordham website where you can listen to a class that was taught by Carpenter, and one taught by McLuhan.

So, just before McLuhan came to Fordham, his bestselling book, The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects, was published, illustrated by Quentin Fiore, and produced by Jerome Agel. That was in 1967, it was entirely experimental and innovative, and opened the door to a number of other books of a similar nature, as I discussed in a post last month, Dancing the Book.

And one of the books to follow in the footsteps of that awesome Agel production was created by Carpenter, together with the photographer Ken Heyman, and entitled They Became What They Beheld.  The title is an allusion to Psalm 115, which McLuhan also quotes in Understanding Media. Here it is in its entirety, in the King James Version:

115 Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth's sake.
Wherefore should the heathen say, Where is now their God?
But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.
Their idols are silver and gold, the work of men's hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not: eyes have they, but they see not:
They have ears, but they hear not: noses have they, but they smell not:
They have hands, but they handle not: feet have they, but they walk not: neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them are like unto them; so is every one that trusteth in them.
O Israel, trust thou in the Lord: he is their help and their shield.
10 O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield.
11 Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield.
12 The Lord hath been mindful of us: he will bless us; he will bless the house of Israel; he will bless the house of Aaron.
13 He will bless them that fear the Lord, both small and great.
14 The Lord shall increase you more and more, you and your children.
15 Ye are blessed of the Lord which made heaven and earth.
16 The heaven, even the heavens, are the Lord's: but the earth hath he given to the children of men.
17 The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.
18 But we will bless the Lord from this time forth and for evermore. Praise the Lord.

This Psalm stands as an early expression of a media ecological sensibility, the idea being that the technologies we create in turn recreate us, or as McLuhan's associate and former Fordham professor John Culkin put it, we shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.  It also expresses the polemic against imagery that reshaped the media environment and hence the culture of ancient Israel and the Jewish people.

So anyway, I was delighted to come across this video recently by Vi Hart, who has produced some amazing pieces over on YouTube, this one being called They Became What They Beheld: Medium, Message, Youtubery.  Here it is:

Note that her discussion of the relationship between artists and audiences relates directly to the concept of formal causality, as discussed in the recently published Media and Formal Cause by Marshall and Eric McLuhan.  It also brings to mind Walter Ong's wonderful point, that "the writer's audience is always a fiction." And her argument in favor of content connects to Neil Postman's well known critique of television in Amusing Ourselves to Death, and while he'd probably differ on the extent to which content leads the way on YouTube, I know he'd enjoy and appreciate this video. 

As for myself, I am content makes for an interesting pun, don't you think? Me content, you audience? And happiness is a warm medium? Or maybe a cool one...

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