Our students, products of the no-child-left-behind era of “accountability” and quantifiable results, expect a full reckoning of everything they will ever be expected to do in a semester. In the years I’ve been teaching, the typical syllabus has grown in size from a simple 1-3 page statement of aims and procedures to a swollen pseudo-legal document that assumes the character of a contract. The more suspicious or legalistic of our students come to treat every class like a drawn-out game of Simon Says and act like the prof can’t legitimately ask them to do anything that isn’t explicitly laid out in the syllabus. The syllabus-as-legal-contract suits the administrators, politicians, and parents who don’t trust the professors any more than the students do. And professors, including myself, go along with it, even if they don’t really like it.
Testify, brother! The biggest problem in this age of lawyers and helicopter parenting is that everything has to be *fail safe*. (I’m pretty sure it was Phil himself who hipped me to the wonderful term Nerf Education; he may have invented it.) In my risk-averse neck of the woods (Canada’s capital) I’ve been told on good authority that there’s little point in applying for government funding for academic projects unless you can demonstrate positive results in advance. Evidently the Age of Exploration is over. Continue reading →
Over on YouTube (scroll down for link menu) I’ve just posted a VHS-quality vid of myself standing up in Berlin on a Friday afternoon in late November 2011. It’s the only visible evidence of a few such talks that I gave in his centenary year, based on my researches into the McLuhan fonds here in Ottawa. Here’s the official announcement:
In a 1959 talk and a 1964 book Marshall McLuhan famously declares that “the medium is the message.” By 1967 the title of a typographically adventuresome book turns “message” into “massage.” In each case McLuhan is urging his audience to care less about the apparent content of communication (what happens to be “on” TV or “in” a book) and more about the psychodynamics of the particular medium (the effects of television or the book per se).
Although later interpreters have viewed the medium=message/massage tenet as central to McLuhan’s thinking, there has been little sustained attention to the practical role of inscription, publication and broadcast in his work. In short, it is time to pay closer attention to the media practice behind McLuhan’s media theory. This talk, based on extensive researches in the McLuhan fonds at Library & Archives Canada, surveys the evidence for McLuhan’s quotidian encounters with the very media that he investigates.
I arrived at the Pressed Cafe in Ottawa as the summer sun descended at the far end of Gladstone St. As I neared my destination so did a compact, long-haired man pulling a silver rolling suitcase. Emerging out of a side street as if at random, the man crossed the street, smiled and nodded at the small gathering of people smoking and chatting, and went straight inside. This is the place.
For the next half hour I stood outside the door, watching the crowd file in. By the time my friend arrived with the tickets the music was underway, and the house was packed with about eighty people ranging in age from 20ish to 60ish. We had all come to see the man with the silver suitcase–the inimitable krautrock legend Damo Suzuki–in his second-ever jam with local psych rockers The Band Whose Name is a Symbol. The former Can frontman earns his living playing hundreds of gigs a year with members of the global consortium of “sound carriers” comprising The Damo Suzuki Network.