CCTP-748: Seminar Discussion: Week 2

Brittany Coombs

This week I was most intrigued by the discussion of the legacy of interdisciplinarity and the difference between oral and literate culture in Morrison’s piece. Last semester, in “CCTP 505: Introduction to CCT”, it was hammered home how not-new a concept interdisciplinarity is. Here the notion is again, though fleshed out with a much more cogent example than any I can remember from our intro class. I really took to the exploration of Homer’s work and how Morrison relates this to what McLuhan viewed as the pressing emergent problem of Western culture: the confused, fragmentary dialogue caused by competing oral/literate cultures. What is a cliche? Even this has multiple answers depending on the culture from which it’s asked. In oral culture, “triteness is inconceivable,” says Morrison, because anything worth remembering is going to feel universal and familiar, become a proverb or aphorism. In literate culture, a new emphasis has been placed on “original” or “idiosyncratic” material that previously was not memorized and transmitted because it would hard to do so and would not have benefited most of society. external image CRI_151377.jpgHere is a famous Modernist painting by Picasso, "Three Musicians." According to Morrison, McLuhan liked Modernist and Symbolist work because they depicted fragmentation and thus forced consumers to create meaning for themselves. "Three Musicians" is certainly visually fragmented, and though even without the title most people could easily discern three people playing music (or well, two playing and one holding the sheet music), the work is abstract. We are indeed forced to piece it together, which makes viewing the painting more meaningful to us. But a question: Remember how McLuhan does not like the fragmentation of knowledge in academia? Why does enjoy fragmentation in works of art? It seems the two ideas are mutually exclusive. It’s funny though, because while Morrison (via McLuhan) makes the point that print has fostered the great divide between disciplines as it allows us to more easily than ever record lots of idiosyncratic knowledge, print can still easily be argued as the thing that brings knowledge bases together for this same reason, for its ability to record disparate facts. When Christian missionaries first brought the Bible to native peoples in non-Western societies, these people -- of a strictly oral culture -- were amazed not by the Bible’s words, but by the connotation of print. Print meant/means that ideas can live without people -- without caretakers to constantly groom and transmit them through time and space. I think the main problem Morrison and McLuhan have with print is that it’s “continuous, linear” an “unbroken line of thought”, whereas orality is more flexible. The big question then, I suppose, is what is more important in a language? Strength of logic, or flexibility of application? Also, I’m not sure if McLuhan wants oral culture to overtake literate culture in the West or if he wants the two to combine, but it seems that electronic media fits the oral culture mold. Did anybody else notice on the Wiki page about "Understanding Media" that McLuhan said the vital difference between a movie and a book is that a passage of a book and be extracted with ease while a scene of a movie is only obtainable by rewatching the whole movie? Obviously this isn't true anymore thanks to YouTube and DVR, etc., which makes it seem like oral (electronic) and literate (print) culture may be intertwining.

Zachary Allard

.Technological determinism is rife with problems. Raymond Williams captures the spirit of the idea perfectly when he says, “The steam engine, the automobile, television, the atomic bomb, have made modern man [sic] and the modern condition.” As accepted as this idea might be, it belies an ugly core and a fundamental misunderstanding of the basics of logic. First of all, this belief essentially lifts all blame for people’s actions. At this point in human history, there is not a facet of people’s lives untouched by technology (because technology includes everything from the written word to the sticks our ancestors used to eat termites). Therefore, if technology creates the modern man, he is not responsible for his atrocities. This is at best, ignorant, at worst, incredibly dangerous. More fundamentally, technological determinism makes no logical sense. If technology makes the, “modern man” then where does it stop? Considering the breadth of things that are “technology,” this can not only be true of the modern man. That same stick our ancestors used to scrape termites out of a hole had just as much claim to the idea of technology as the atomic bomb or Iphone. So, if technological determinism is true, then it has been true since humankind’s very beginning. If people are also the ones who create technology, but they do so within a technologically determined world, then the technology they create (that determines them) has already been technologically determined by the prior technology. This would mean (were technological determinism true) that humankind has been shaped, made, determined since the very moment that stick was used and technology has been in a self-determining cycle since its very inception, just taking humanity along for the ride.

Ariel Leath

The fact that most models of communication have been critiqued, modified and updated ceaselessly is not surprising – it seems impossible, from the start, to create a visual map of transmission that includes all aspects of communication. Each model attempts to capture the essence of communication, either specifically (the new “Ecological Model”) or generally (Shannon’s Model of Communication or Laswell’s model) and succeeds at a description of transmission. What became clear, through reading many viewpoints about the transformation of communication, is that so many indescribable and intangible stimuli affect the process of communication – stimuli are impossible to fully capture on a model.
On one side, it almost seems pointless and overly idealistic to map out the transmission of a message. One could easily argue that the transmission of a message is either entirely up to the source, or entirely up to the destination. If the message is not constructed successfully, the potential of an interruption no longer matters. If the message is not listened to/seen by the desired audience, the message might as well have not been spoken. The models discussed are much more a pictorial representation of a successful communication, not every communication. If one is to put stock in McLuhan’s theory that the medium (the television, the radio, the telephone) is the message, one would find it hard to explain this in a model as well. To report a message via telephone depends fairly heavily on the construct “telephone,” and what that means to the receiver.

Barthes, in the reverse direction of our current context, describes communication in terms of its part in the construction of a myth (Barthes, 1957). Myth, the communication of a message, is explained by Barthes as a construction of social usage (how the message or the medium is currently appropriated in society) added to pure matter (language, vocalization). The depth at which he explores the transmission of knowledge is fascinating, confusing, and intricate. As mentioned before, the mapping out of communication lends itself to failure due to the formality and de-structuring nature of a model. Barthes believed that to fully understand the “myth” of communication was to destroy it, but to “acknowledge its full weight” was to leave it in a mystifying state. It may be a stretch to compare the models of philosophers of communication to these intensely scientific ramblings, but it does seem to capture the immense and somewhat pointless (in the opinion of Barthes) pressure to understand that the previously mentioned philosophers are creating.

My point is illustrated here as discussed in two terms: ritual and myth. The “ritual” view of communication, as expressed by Carey, sees the extension of a message as something to be attended, something that draws a crowd as if it were a dramatic event. His description calls to mind an image of the “receiver” as a group rather than an individual. This may seem counterintuitive based on the fact that some communication occurs between only two entities, but it rather makes sense based on the ritual or myth stance on communication. When a message is transferred, the reception can be attributed to a wealth of understanding based on the culture as a whole.

Thinking along these lines exposes many shortcomings of the linear models of communication. Foulger attempts to rectify some of the shortcomings in the Ecological Model. He writes, “we spend large portions of our introductory courses teaching students about the importance of perception, attribution, and relationships to our interpretation of messages; of the importance of communication to the perceptions that others have of us, the perceptions we have of ourselves, and the creation and maintenance of the relationships we have with others.” This loosely relates to the topics discussed above, in a more simplified rhetoric than that of Bartes or Carey.

As a student of communications, I enjoy thinking of the process as more inclusive than exclusive. To include all aspects of culture and society into the seemingly “simple” transmission of a message glorifies it to the level I believe is appropriate. Kellner, the author of “Communication vs. Culture…,” describes this all-inclusivity as integration into “critical social theory,” yet another appealing term when discussing the study of communications.

Main idea:

To successfully absorb a communicated message one must recognize the “signifying consciousness” (presumed by the materials inherent in the message, the myth, the ritual) shared by one’s culture and rules of one’s contemporary society.

Erin Coleman

While McLuhan’s idea of “medium is the message,” is groundbreaking in and of itself, his assertions about “the global village,” were even more shocking. In effect, he predicted both the triumphs and pitfalls of globalization that we experience today. His outline of the East vs. West dichotomy is, of course, universally familiar, but his framing of the clash in terms of literate and oral cultures was a fascinating spin on an old story.

Generally, I found McLuhan’s writing compelling because of his enormous repertoire of cultural, literary, and historical references. His references to theater of the absurd and Forster’s A Passage to India were particularly useful in understanding his assertions about “Western man in the electric age” (perhaps only because I have studied both, in depth, in multiple courses during my undergraduate education). His characterization of theater of the absurd as the dramatization of the dilemma of Western man, “the man of action who appears not to be involved in the action,” was especially interesting to me. Just as a quick introduction to this type of metatheater, I found a short clip advertising the production of Luigi Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of an Author by the National Theater of Scotland:

The literal blending of faces, identities, and realities portrayed in this clip is demonstrative of the whole theatrical movement, as well as McLuhan’s larger ideas about the conflict and ultimate blending of East and West.

Finally, I found the questions at the conclusion of Morrison’s Counterblast article worthy of further reflection and discussion. In particular, does his speculation that the relationship between orality and literacy might explain the decrease in literacy among college students make sense? Are college students truly “less literate” than their historical peers, or has a different sort of “literacy” replaced the old model? If so, is this a problem?

The above model is a kind of visual critique of the unidirectional/linear transmission models. It is in no way comprehensive of what signal-to-receiver models leave out and there are already amendments I would like to make to it, but it suffices for my purposes at hand – to critique the ‘process’ school’s idea of uninterrupted intentionality and substitute it with a “noisier” and more neuro-phenomenological approach.

The computational model is a renovated transmission model. It illustrates a unidirectional transmission (for the most part) from a sending agent to a receiving one. “I” indicates the self here, what is considered pure media (McLuhan's 'electric light'), i.e., that featureless subject that can only be imagined in terms of the content it receives - by becoming the objects sent from the hard disk.

I mentioned above that a more neuro-phenomenological approach is called for. I say this because too much has been discovered about the brain for us to leave it out of COM models. The brain receives input in the forms of light and impulses, translates those signals into kind of representation that the brain then computes in order to understand. The self will then say, “I understand!” or, “I don’t understand.” This is very basic, yet is left out of every COM model we looked at and begs that we pay notice to the ‘noise’ between every stage. Each stage acts as a kind of filter that sieves intentionality and perception (the interference of a passing train when meditating, or a ‘senders’ inability to adequately articulate [or ability to articulate ‘beyond’ the original idea - rhetoric], narcotics, or the incessancy of PTSD representation-computation phenomena).

Computation is informed by the retention of past transactions with ‘reality’ and the protention (to use Husserl’s terminology) of those transactions into future scenarios to spark intentionality. The ‘semiotic’ school is more concerned with the construction of meaning and the processes of encoding and decoding but any process of computation requires code. This is by far the ‘noisiest’ process of all because of the infinitude of cultural, linguistic, and personal codes available.

The appropriated Shannon’s model indicates even more compression of the original medium and intentionality when a medium is digitized. The ‘noisiness’ of each phase not only obscures the original intentionality, it often masks intentionality altogether. This is why I chose Baudrillard’s “simulacrum” for the reception of the digitized medium.

I think this kind of thinking fits well within Rorty’s epistemology, which is relevant to our present discussion. Rorty:
If we do not have the distinction between what is "given" and what is "added by the mind," or that between the "contingent" (because influenced by what is given) and the necessary (because entirely "within" the mind and under its control), then we will not know what would count as a "rational reconstruction" of our knowledge (Philosophy and The Mirror of Nature, 168-9).
These processes sometimes takes fractions of a second, yet the model points out just how far removed we are from knowing the world, and even further removed from knowing other selves.