"A Little Graffiti and A Birthday Punt" by Paul Guzzardo was posted on January 5, 2013 · by Laureano Ralon · in Academia, CMNS, Media studies. It can also be found at Figure/Ground. It is an interdisciplinary research website investigating central problems across the university environment today through a myriad of approaches in the fields of education, technology and media studies, and the arts, humanities and social sciences.
A Little Graffiti and A Birthday Punt
Reflection on the condition of the new media and the changes they are effecting in human life will probably produce no pat formulae either to describe the totality of the present situation or to prescribe highly simplified lines of action. But it should enable us to live.
“The Barbarian Within”, “Wired For Sound” Father Walter Ong (1962)
November 30th 2012 was the centennial of the birth of the Jesuit scholar Walter J. Ong. Father Ong’s work on media, culture, and consciousness have accorded him guru status among technophiles. Another guru on the shelf is Marshall Mcluhan. But unlike Ong, Mcluhan is a Brand. Walter Ong and Marshall Mcluhan were at Saint Louis University together. It was the early 1940s. Ong was a young Jesuit at the school. Mcluhan was the professor. It started out as teacher - student. But it evolved into colleagues. It was Ong’s work on Peter Ramus _ “the ever meme” _ that propelled “McLuhanism”. Ong and McLuhan were nearly the same age. McLuhan was born in 1911, Ong 1912. McLuhan’s 2011 centennial was marked by celebrations world wide. As a Fellow of the Patrick Geddes Institute for Urban Research at the University of Dundee, I presented a series of McLuhan lectures in the United Kingdom, United States and Argentina. They were part of that centennial viral McLuhan wave. In addition to the lectures, my installation “A Walk on the Digital Sublime” marked in part McLuhan’s 100th. “A Walk” was a traveling mixed-multimedia exhibition. It showed in the UK and US.
I’m currently working on a manuscript. It is “A Hackerspace for Myth Building - The Manual”. The Manual is an urban design brief. Endgame is a design protocol. A protocol is a recipe. This recipe is for a street in a "city that thinks". I’m writing this in Buenos Aires, using graphic designers here to assist in organizing and visualizing a large and somewhat unwieldy archive.* The archive includes legal pleadings, stage and night club designs, equipment specs, a little code, and a parade of graphics from a street media lab. I ran the lab. The text that follows is from the Manual precis.
Hackerspace for Myth Building lays out a line of case studies. They were R + D. And they were up-running as 3D private-public culture made the switch over to full-body digital apparel. The case studies include a nightclub, media labs, theatrical plays, gallery shows, documentary films, street projections, and a loop of public installations. But this is more than an artsy audit. It’s also a Dispatch, a Dispatch from a Front. The Front was St. Louis Missouri. The Manual chronicles a messy cognitive arms race. It traces resistance to the St. Louis street as a platform to peer, the street as knowledge-generator.
The last hundred years in St. Louis might be summed up like this; who came and left, who left something that fell down, who launched something that’s everywhere. Marshall McLuhan came. He left a rough map into a net-wandered world. The next one to show was Minoru Yamasaki. He built something big. But his Pruitt-Igoe didn’t stand up. It came down thirty years before his Twin Towers fell. And then there was Monsanto. It was there all the time. St. Louis is where Monsanto flung a mongrel seed into a global village. The home to McLuhan, Monsanto and where Modernism went bust offers a stage to grapple with the digitization of everything. And it might just set the stage for myth.
McLuhan and Ong started work on that knowledge-generator decades ago. Walter Ong in his 1962 review of Marshall McLuhan’s Gutenberg Galaxy wrote:
“If the human community is to retain meaningful possession of the knowledge it is accumulating, breakthroughs to syntheses of new order are absolutely essential.”
As an urbanist I’m interested in the city, the street and synthesis. Both Mcluhan and Ong scratched out a tool-set for navigators and street hackers. Early on they recognized that poets and artists are the players here. But much of what they said about poets and artists seems lost in the maelstrom. And this despite a world wide legion of media and communication scholars parsing the scholars' writings. I think it is important to focus on this aspect of their work. McLuhan and Ong quotes follow. I believe they help to frame two protocols. The protocols are oppositional. One would use the street as an evolving search engine, a tableau you drift through, synthesizing as you move. The other protocol uses it as a beautiful girl or guy uses a conversation; keep turning the conversation back on themselves.
Walter Ong - The Barbarian Within, Evolution, Myth, and Poetic Vision
One of the great evolutionary philosophers of our day, Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, has been accused of writing often as a poet. But we are hard put to find poets who make creative use of evolutionary insights comparable to Teilhard's. Teilhard faces forward, into the future, as, in its brighter moments, does the rest of our world, permeated as it is with evolutionary thinking. But the poets and artists tend to exalt the present moment, when they are not facing the past. There is here certainly some kind of crisis concerning the relationship of the poet or artist to time. p 99
The poet has always been ill at ease, to some degree, in the world of actuality. p 118
The plight of the modern poet and artist is truly extreme. The poet or artist is acutely ill at ease in our present life-world. The earlier life-world belonged to the poets in great part because it was so largely constructed out of the archetypal images which poetry and art tend to favor. If to a degree the modern world has rejected the poet, the poet also often has rejected the modern world because it demands a reorganization of his sensibility which is utterly terrifying. If the poet speaks for his age, he tends to speak for those who turn away from the characteristic awarenesses of modern man concerned with history and time. With some exceptions, in his sense of time and history and of the succession of events the poet thus has tended to be an aborigine, a primitive. Some maintain that the poet or artist must continue always to be such. I do not believe that he can afford to do so. Of course, no one can prescribe how a poet must speak. If, however, the poet is going to speak for modern man, he is going to have to take into account somehow man's total consciousness, even though this entails a reorganization of his own psyche and of the entire tradition of poetry so drastic as to fill us with utter terror. Very possibly, the archetypes in the psyche are themselves in process of being reorganized under pressure of present discoveries. How subconsciously archetypal can archetypes be when they are the objects of knowledge as conscious as that which we bring to them today? Let us be honest in facing the future of poetry and art and man. What will poetry be like ten thousand or one hundred thousand years from now? Will man be able still to live with his once fascinating little dreams of recurrence? pp 124-5
Marshall McLuhan- UNDERSTANDING MEDIA - The Extensions of Man
Art as a radar environment takes on the function of indispensable perceptual training rather than the role of a privileged diet for the elite.Introduction to the Second Edition/ xi
The power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more, has long been recognized. introduction to the Second Edition/ ix
The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception. p 33
The artist picks up the message of cultural and technological challenge decades before its transforming impact occurs. He, then builds models or Noah's arks far facing the change that is at hand. p 70
For in the electric age there is no longer any sense in talking about the artist's being ahead of his time. Our technology is also, ahead of its time, if we reckon by the ability to recognize it for what it is. To prevent undue wreckage in society. the artist tends now to move from the ivory tower to the control tower of society. p 70
But in the past century it has come to be generally acknowledged that, in the words of Wyndham Lewis, “The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present.” p 70
Artists in various fields are always the first to discover how to enable one medium to use or to release the power of another. p 62
....for the artist makes model of problems and situations that have not yet emerged in the larger matrix of society, p 215
In their artistic play, they discover what is actually happening, and thus they appear to be "ahead of their time." Non - artists always look at the present through the spectacles of the preceding age. General staffs are alway magnificently prepared to fight the previous war. p 215
It is the artist's job to try to dislocate older media into postures that permit attention to the new. To this end, the artist must ever play and experiment with new means of arranging experience, even though the majority of his audience may prefer to remain fixed in their old perceptual attitudes.p 224
Artistic rule-of-thumb usually anticipates the science and technology in these matters by a full generation or more. p 282
Interview by Frank Kermode of the BBC
Frank Kermode: In your other book the more recent one Understanding Media where you you go into all of this. You use a kind of slogan I guess. “The Medium is the Message”. Would you like to illuminate that?
Marshall McLuhan: Well I think it is more satisfactory to say that any medium be it radio or be it the wheel tends to create a completely new human environment. The human environment as such tends to have an invisible character about it. The unawareness of the environmental is compensated for by some attention to the content of the environment. The environments merely as a set of ground rules as a kind of overall enveloping force gets very little recognition as a form except from the artist. I think our arts if you look at them in this connection do throw quite a lot of light on environments. The artists is usually engaged in somewhat excitedly explaining to people the character of new environments, and new strategies of culture necessary to cope with them.
There is a small park two blocks from where I’m assembling the hacker manual. It’s at the intersection of the Avenida de Mayo and Avenida 9 de Julio. In the park there’s a statue of Don Quixote. The park recently was “occupied”. The word occupy doesn’t mean the same here as it does further north. These lodgers were a mix of homeless and “cartoneros”. “Cartoneros” is the term for 'ragpickers - scavengers’. Shortly after the “cartoneros” arrived a line of graffiti showed up in the park.The markings were about seeds, food and Monsanto. The marks offered Don Quixote a tableau backdrop. Here are some of the marks.
por una agricultura de los pueblos y para los pueblos
agriculture by the people and for the people
no queremos que nos controlan las comida
si a la soberania alimentaria
we don’t want them to control the food
There’s no need to belabor this. No need for a pedantic McLuhan, Monsanto, Modernism dot-connect here. It should be obvious on a quick blink. And anyway the measured eye is for the Manual. But it might be good to keep in mind what those two Catholic boys said about the arts. It may prove to be their most important legacy.
Douglas Coupland _ the prolific pop “Generation X” author and more _ penned a biography of McLuhan. It was for the 2011 breakout. It was part of the Extraordinary Canadian Biography series. Coupland says McLuhan formed a posse in St. Louis.
Forming a Posse:
“Marshall applied to the Catholic Saint Louis University, where the head of the literature department, William McCabe, was a Cambridge graduate and surprisingly up to date on developments in the field.St. Louis University was a good gig…Marshall quickly came to enjoy the city and the company of his fellow faculty members, many of whom became lifelong friends and collaborators. He had a posse of colleagues who could deal with him on a high intellectual level and on the same theological plane. Along with Farther William McCabe, there was Father Walter Ong, a young Jesuit whom Marshal tutored. There was Bernard Muller-Thym, a philosophy instructor completing his Ph.D. for the University of Toronto’s Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies. And there was Felix Giovanelli, a language instructor who would later collaborate with Marshall. These men, along with his old Manitoba friend Tom Easterbrook were the first members of Marshall’s personal proto-Warhol Factory, whose ideas helped to codify and articulate the genesis of Media Theory that would explode in 1962.” Extraordinary Canadians: Marshall McLuhan pp.78-80
McLuhan and his St. Louis posse wrote early code. It was to map this digital mesh-up, the network weʼre slapped hard against. Mcluhan ran with it. And that’s why all those McLuhan centennial balloons. But Fr. Ong got a short stick. His centennial was largely ignored in St. Louis. Stiffed on his 100th. Well that’s not quite right. There was a note on the Saint Louis University library web site announcing there would be a special table inside the library. And Fr. Ong’s publications would be displayed there. But the notice got posted a week after the centennial.
During the Ong centennial there was some serial hoopla outside the library. It was raucous. And it was about hermeneutics. But it wasn’t for Father Ong. The faculty and the students had turned against the President of Saint Louis University, a Father Biondi. They wanted their Jesuit President to go. Go anywhere, please just go. And they showed it with signs outside that library, and everywhere else on the campus. It was a hack to be heard, a hack to make it happen. Here’s a little press and a bill of particulars. It’s an interesting read about a place that was once home to two very great men.
Some of the Press
The St. Louis University Faculty Senate on Tuesday voted overwhelmingly against the leadership of the school’s president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi. The Senate room erupted in applause and cheers when the 51 - 4 no confidence vote was announced, following nearly two hours of debate. “This is a moment of courage,” said political science professor Timothy Lomperis, during debate on the vote, which also had two abstentions. “Do not be afraid of a world without Biondi.” October 31, 2012 - St. Louis Post Dispatch
The Student Government Association at St. Louis University joined the push to oust the university's president late Wednesday. The student group by a 38-0 vote passed a "no confidence" measure against the leadership of the school’s president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, and the school’s vice president of academic affairs, Manoj Patankar. There was one abstention.The vote came at the end of a six hour meeting, student leaders who attended the meeting said. November 1, 2012 - St. Louis Post Dispatch
The St. Louis University Board of Trustees is gathering Saturday for one of its usual quarterly meetings where it will confront a crisis unlike any in its recent history. The board is facing a faculty and student revolt — which seems to escalate with each passing week — against the school’s president, the Rev. Lawrence Biondi. Trustees will walk past protesting students as they make their way into DuBourg Hall for a private meeting of the more than 50 men and women charged with guiding the Jesuit university. Many will carry copies of a 16 page report sent to them by members of the SLU faculty, making a case for why they believe Biondi should be removed from the job he’s held for 25 years. December 14, 2012 - St. Louis Post Dispatch
Some of the Particulars
Resolved: The Faculty Senate has no confidence in Father Lawrence Biondi as President of Saint Louis University. In voting no confidence in President Biondi, the Senate is fully aware that it has taken an action that is rare in U.S. colleges and universities, and almost unheard of at a Jesuit institution. It gives us no pleasure to take such a grave step.
A primary concern is that the President's penchant for quick, decisive action, which may once have worked well in transforming the university, has now become counterproductive, his disregard for faculty expertise resulted in ill-conceived major initiatives. While President has been launching one major building and renovation project after another, attention to academics has suffered to such an extent that the core educational mission of the institution has been seriously compromised.
A ubiquitous climate of fear engendered by the President among the faculty of retribution for voicing grievances, which is antithetical to the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints intrinsic to any institution of higher learning.
The unexplained dismissal of highly respected deans and department chairs who publicly challenged the VPAA have left the faculty deeply distrustful of his judgment
In order to quell the steadily mounting unrest among faculty and students, keep large numbers of faculty from leaving the University, restore trust among alumni and donors, and enlist robust collaboration in setting the University on a new course, we are convinced that the proper step for the Board of Trustees is to remove Fr. Biondi from the office of President of Saint Louis University.
There’s more to this story than a brawl, and birthday slight. More here than just “copy” for a chain of anecdotes about an internecine free-for-all involving students, faculty, trustees and Jesuit University President. Something else is going on. It’s a bigger story. It’s about maps, creatives, and tools. It’s about what came after Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan. And maybe it offers a lens on a little graffiti and some street people a continent away.
*Paul Guzzardo is a Fellow of the Patrick Geddes Institute for Urban Research at the University of Dundee, a graduate of Saint Louis University School of Law, and a Honorary Trustee of the Saint Louis University DuBourg Society.
monsanto-quixote graffiti collage, paul guzzardo
fire biondi, facebook.com/firebiondi
hackerspace cover, jesse thomas codling
* jesse thomas codling is the "Hackerspace For Myth Building- The Manual" graphic design director.