Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Medium Is the Massage

Last week I was walking past the outdoor book vendors in front of NYU, and I happened to quickly glance at a table, only to see a copy of Marshall McLuhan's The Medium Is the Massage staring back at me. I'd been wanting to get a copy of this book for awhile, and the $4 price tag made it even better. It would have been cooler to find the original Penguin UK cover (mine's an old Bantam edition) but I'm nonetheless pretty happy that I decided to give the tables a passing glance when I did. What most interests me in the book is its collage-style design, with strikingly juxtaposed black and white graphics and text. Some pages are printed backwards--I guess they're meant to be seen in a mirror but I was reading the book on a train, and let me tell you, while it's possible to do, the process is so slow that I had no comprehension of what I was actually reading on those particular pages. The book was written in 1967, yet many of the statements in the book seem to predict the Internet--for instance, "The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village." In fact, in that sentence he probably coined the phrase "global village." Don't mind my hands being in every picture, by the way. I couldn't get the book to lie flat otherwise. And anyway, it almost seems appropriate considering the number of pages in the book containing images of hands and fingers. Legend has it that the book was supposed to be titled The Medium Is the Message, but it came back from the typesetter with a typo on the cover. But when McLuhan saw it, "he exclaimed, 'Leave it alone! It's great, and right on target!' Now there are four possible readings for the last word of the title, all of them accurate: 'Message' and 'Mess Age,' 'Massage' and 'Mass Age.'" (from Penguin By Design)
A picture of a live performance by the inimitable Velvet Underground. The book is filled with great quotations, such as this page of lines by John Cage--"Theatre takes place all the time, wherever one is. And art simply facilitates persuading one this is the case."
I love the numbered blank faced people on this page.

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