The Internet’s Own Boy

Two stills from a superb documentary about my pal Aaron Swartz, whose death started me blogging in January 2013. The photo shows Aaron celebrating the victory over the passage of SOPA legislation. Scroll down to watch the entire movie.

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Posted in academia, activism, agitprop, archives, civil disobedience, freedom, libraries, politics

Blueprint for Counter Education Redivivus

I just received word that Paul Cronin, Rob Giampietro, Adam Michaels and Jeffrey T. Schnapp received a generous Graham Foundation grant for an exhibition analyzing and completing the inimitable Blueprint for Counter Education by Maurice R. Stein and Larry Miller, from which I quoted in this recent post. At the time I was writing a last-minute letter of support for the grant proposal, which I reckon it’s now safe to share with a new image and a few links. The fact that it fits 18 of my 30 subject tags indicates the project’s richness and its closeness to my heart! The Chicago-based Graham Foundation Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts is a wonderful institution that supported my first and last translation effort in the late ’90s.

Maurice R. Stein, Larry Miller & Marshall Henrichs; Blueprint for Counter Education, 1970, New York. Photo: Project Projects.

Maurice R. Stein, Larry Miller & Marshall Henrichs; Blueprint for Counter Education, 1970, New York. Photo: Project Projects.

23 January 2014

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing in support of the project Blueprint for (a Media Archeology of) Counter Education, as presented to the Graham Foundation’s “Production and Presentation” grant category by Jeffrey Schnapp, Adam Michaels and Rob Giampietro. The proposed project as a natural successor to Schnapp and Michaels’ triumphant The Electric Information Age Book (TEAIB), an experiment intimately linked to the Blueprint project in form and subject matter.

The book TEAIB defines the parameters of a short-lived and largely forgotten type of publication, variously described as the kinetic paperback, the inventory book and the experimental paperback. Beginning with The Medium is the Massage—the groundbreaking 1967 book written by Marshall McLuhan, designed by Quentin Fiore and ‘produced’ by Jerome Agel—these revolutionary little books rewrite the rules of style, layout and distribution. They also declare the irrelevance of divisions between highbrow and lowbrow, art and advertising, word and image, and (most crucially) form and content. This complicated mix of moves perfectly embodies McLuhan’s observation that the medium is the message.

Adam Michaels &  Jeffrey T. Schnapp, "The Electric Information Age Book: McLuhan/Agel/Fiore and the Experimental Paperback"; Princeton Architectural Press, 2012.

Adam Michaels & Jeffrey T. Schnapp,
“The Electric Information Age Book: McLuhan/Agel/Fiore and the Experimental Paperback”; Princeton Architectural Press, 2012. Photo: Project Projects.

For all their careful excavation of the historical record in TEAIB, Schnapp and Michaels never murder to dissect. On the contrary, they revive the kinetic paperback genre by artfully adopting its format and style. As with any serious emulation or revival, the motivations are complex and the result is never a mere repetition. Schnapp and Michaels carry the Agel/McLuhan/Fiore formula into the new millennium by means of new techniques and technologies. For instance digital manipulation and printing permit next-level montage, as well as the easy addition of a third colour (blue) to the black-and-white original. Not to mention the companion LP. Like the Medium is the Massage TEAIB was a commercial success, selling out in remarkably short order. I have every confidence that the proposed Blueprint project will likewise result in a hit.

The proposal by Schnapp, Michaels and Giampietro to analyze Miller and Stein’s Blueprint for Counter Education is a natural extension of TEIAB, just as the original Blueprint aimed to put McLuhan’s thought experiments into pedagogical practice. In their day, McLuhan’s and Stein’s dreams of producing dynamic, reactive new learning environments seemed like dangerous and unrealizable fantasies. Who would have imagined that less than half a century later one would scarcely be able to go into a museum or learning establishment without running up against a “multimedia experience”? Sadly, these experiences are too often limited to click-through catalogs and games, or at best the manipulation of a screen containing a fancy 3D visualization. Is this really the best way to expand minds? How might we go beyond merely examining or repackaging old things and old ideas, and instead produce a truly participatory and environmental learning situation? Could a “sensor‐activated, visitor‐mixable fourth wall” complete and redeem a 1970 blueprint for a radically new kind of learning experience? How might it relate to rest of the proposed publication-cum-classroom? Would it be wonderful?

Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore and Jeronme Agel, Aspen Magazine, "The McLuhan Issue" (#4) New York City: Roaring Fork Press, 1967. Photo by Graham Larkin.

Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore and Jeronme Agel,
Aspen Magazine #4 (The McLuhan Issue) New York City: Roaring Fork Press, 1967. Photo: Graham Larkin.

Of course we can’t really know what the answer will be until the thing is built, and we experience it for ourselves. Most works of historical investigation follow the usual academic division of labor: the scholar produces a text, the book designer packages it, the publisher delivers it and the reader receives it. Or perhaps it’s an exhibition, generally involving a similar assembly-line approach with a few more steps. By contrast, the success of TEIAB, which bodes very well for the Blueprint installation, results from a merging of the roles of scholar and designer, and the recognition of the viewer/reader/listener as an active participant in the production of knowledge. Frankly the Graham Foundation seems like one of the few institutions that could support such a deeply interdisciplinary, installation-based iteration of a scholarly project. As a longtime McLuhan scholar, museum curator and university instructor I would love to know precisely how such a wraparound, interactive tool for media archaeology would work. I suspect that it will work very well indeed.




Posted in academia, activism, agitprop, archives, art, books, consciousness, design, environment, experience, freedom, history, McLuhan, media, music, politics, teaching, technology

And that Yopp . . .

And he climbed with the lad up the Eiffelberg Tower.

“This,” cried the Mayor, “is your town’s darkest hour!
The time for all Whos who have blood that is red
to come to the aid of their country!” he said.
“We’ve GOT to make noises in greater amounts!
So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”

Thus he spoke as he climbed. When they got to the top,
The lad cleared his throat and he shouted out, “YOPP!”

And that Yopp . . .

That one last small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From the speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean? . . .
They’ve proved they ARE persons, no matter how small.
And their whole world was saved by the Smallest of All!”

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Posted in activism, agitprop, freedom, literature, poetry, politics

Seizing Canada’s Scientists: A Dissenter’s View

To the Honourable James Moore, Greg Rickford, Stephen Harper, and Industry Canada:

I see that today is the last day to hand in a response to the Harper Government™‘s quietly-released “consultation paper” on Science, Technology and Innovation. Based on an eponymous Speech from the Throne, the paper is titled “Seizing Canada’s Moment: Moving Forward in Science, Technology and Innovation.” The only other responses I’ve been able to find online are the thorough and thoughtful ones by scientists here and here. The first is from an organization of concerned scientists that “advocates for the transparent use of science and evidence in public policy and government decision-making.” The second is from a scientist/editor who wistfully notes that “I’m not naive enough to believe that anyone at Industry Canada will actually read my note, nor do I think it’ll actually make any kind of a difference, but I thought I should at least make some effort to engage.” As a defender of pure and applied research based on good libraries and an open-access information network, the beleaguered editor has good reason to feel that her government will not heed her.

The Seizing paper in question aggressively declares the Harper Government™’s intention to steer research by our federal government and institutions of higher learning in the direction of short-term “business innovation” at the expense of public interest. As one might expect from the only nation in the world to have renounced the Kyoto Protocol, the message is couched entirely in macho, platitudinous bizspeak: it’s all about seizing, competing and leveraging, or winning an imagined “global race for excellence, talent and prosperity.” In  this my own modest effort to engage, I will question three bogus and dangerous assumptions underlying this latest effort to make all federally-funded workers succumb to the Harper ideology. Read more ›

Posted in academia, environment, freedom, politics, science, sustainability, technology

remember your life up to this point, then forget it

Marshall Henrichs, Poster #3 for the “Blueprint for Counter Education”: Modernism as Meditative Environment / Post-modernism as participatory environment …

In honour of main man Phil Ford‘s latest spate of alt-pedagogical ramblings over at Dial M, here are some excerpts from a Norman Birnbaum review in Change, vol. 2, no. 5 (Sep. – Oct., 1970), pp. 69-74. Thanks Jeffrey Schnapp for alerting me to this. -GL

Before us is a Blueprint for Counter Education, described as “curriculum handbook, wall decoration, shooting script,” and prepared by Maurice Stein (age 44, formerly professor of sociology at Brandeis and now dean of humanities at the California Institute of the Arts) and Larry Miller (age 24, one of Stein’s students at Brandeis). Blueprint consists of a box with the following description:

Inside this box are three charts and a book, the tools for creating a new educational environment. This counter-university makes obsolete the traditional university process. Surrounded by charts, the participant will be confronted by ideas and issues that compel him to interact with everything going on around him—from movies, to riots, to political campaigns. There is no textbook, no syllabus, no final exam; and the “Faculty” includes Marcuse, McLuhan, Eldridge Cleaver and Jean-Luc Godard, The Revolution Starts Here. Read more ›

Posted in academia, agitprop, books, consciousness, design, experience, freedom, history, McLuhan, media, teaching

Reflections on My First Year of Blogging

My blogging career began exactly a year ago today on a hastily-assembled Tumblr page called Boring from Within. The unexpected catalyst was the tragic death of my friend Aaron Swartz, the great activist to whom I also dedicate the present post.

I ended post #1 by saying that “I feel compelled to grieve with this, my first really public pronouncement [in close to a decade]. I’m not sure what’s next, but under the circumstances being quietly bereft and outraged doesn’t feel like an adequate response.”

As it turned out I mainly used that site for agitprop that I made in an effort to learn Adobe Illustrator. The first and most popular of these quoted Philip K. Dick’s advice for surviving in a surveillance state. Most of the other posts were likewise centred around freedom of speech and consciousness.

After splitting in June between Tumblr and this WordPress site I made a lot of what I called “meta-posts” on both sites—i.e. posts pointing to content on the other site. This strategy of being in two places at once is not unrelated to the PKD quotation imploring us to evade the state by way of various ruses.

Read more ›

Posted in consciousness, design, experience, technology


Heading into the new year my web activity is all happening elsewhere.

Audiocasts (over at Slow Ottawa)

Audiocast #4: Living Lightly with David Chernushenko.  A talk with Ottawa city councilor David Chernushenko, a tireless local advocate for living lightly and  active transport.

Audiocast #3: Coming Home to Centretown. Graham Larkin chats for an hour with Elspeth McKay, Executive Director of the Operation Come Home youth centre in Ottawa.

Audiocast #2: Walking with Dan Rubinstein. Graham Larkin chats for an hour with award-winning journalist Dan Rubinstein about his Born to Walk project.

 Audiocast #1: The Future Isn’t what it Used to Be.  A six-minute teaser recorded on a bad microphone.

Adventures in Multimodal Design 2.0

And another season of the Adventures in Multimodal Design graduate seminar is underway at the Carleton University architecture school. Read more ›

Posted in design, media, sustainability, teaching
Howdy …

I'm a researcher, designer, advocate, and half-time parent living car-free in Ottawa. After completing a doctoral dissertation (Harvard '03) on the 18thC origins of the catalogue raisonné I pursude a postdoc at Stanford University until 2005. For six years after that I was Curator of European & American Art at the National Gallery of Canada, where I overhauled twenty galleries and spoke my mind.

That job was lost in a wave of 70 NGC abolitions, so I'm now doing the austerity thing, putting bread on the table with with occasional federal contract work plus some design teaching ( I'm the sole proprietor of Slow Ottawa ( / @slowottawa), and I'm working with some Berliners on a McLuhan archive project that also makes no money.

In May 2015 a friend and I will launch a line of traditional, sustainable cleaning products as part of an ambitious new enterprise ( offering goods and services to Canada's small museums and heritage sites. It is going to be good.

▲ LISTEN to my chat with these authors

▲ 2014 post on commercialization of CanGov science research.

▲ Video of my 2011 Berlin talk

▲ Mostly over here these days.

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"And that Yopp . . ." *CLICK*


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