Depart From Zero

Can code create a true mirror of the world? Written and performed by Steve Rushton with the visual aid of Ray & Charles Eames’ ‘A Communications Primer’ (1953).

The notion of ‘feedback’ is all pervasive in contemporary culture — a technical and behavioral mechanism which today works in all levels of the media, from reality TV shows, to the construction and broadcast of a news event, to everyday e-mail exchanges and social networking activity. The term was popularized via the Macy conferences on Cybernetics (1946-1953). It was at these conferences where the application of the paradigm of cybernetics (the science of feedback) was first instituted across a number of scientific disciplines (behavioral psychology, evolutionary theory, anthropology, communications theory, modern [war] games theory to name a few).

The Medium is the Massage

The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects is a book co-created by media analyst Marshall McLuhan and graphic designer Quentin Fiore, and coördinated by Jerome Agel. It was published by Bantam books in 1967 and became a bestseller and a cult classic.

The book itself is 160 pages in length and composed in an experimental, collage style with text superimposed on visual elements and vice versa. Some pages are printed backwards and are meant to be read in a mirror (see mirror writing). Some are intentionally left blank. Most contain photographs and images both modern and historic, juxtaposed in startling ways.

The book was intended to make McLuhan’s philosophy of media, considered by some incomprehensible and esoteric, more accessible to a wider readership through the use of visual metaphor and sparse text. In its artistic approach it is considered cutting edge, even by today’s standards.

The book’s title is actually a mistake according to McLuhans’ son, Eric. The actual title was ‘The Medium is the Message’ but it came back from the printer with the first ‘e’ in message misprinted as an ‘a.’ McLuhan is said to have thought the mistake to be supportive of the point he was trying to make in the book and decided to leave it be. Later readings have interpreted the word in the title as a pun meaning alternately massage: ‘message,’ and ‘mass age.’ Its message, broadly speaking, is that historical changes in communications and craft media change human consciousness, and that modern electronics are bringing humanity full circle to an industrial analogue of tribal mentality, what he termed ‘the global village.’ By erasing borders and dissolving information boundaries, electronic telecommunications are fated to render traditional social structures like the Nation state and the University irrelevant. Prejudice and oppression are also doomed by the unstoppable pressure of instant, global communication.

While today it looks like a black and white copy of Wired magazine, and its prose reads more or less like boilerplate for any of the heady techno-utopian pronouncements of the 1990′s, it should be noted that it presaged the development of the original Arpanet by two years, and preceded the widespread civilian use of the Internet by almost twenty. For this and other reasons McLuhan is often given the moniker ‘prophet.’

There is also an LP based on this book (see below), put out by Columbia Records in the late 60′s and produced by John Simon, but otherwise keeping the same credits as the book.

Side A
Side B

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

The Diaeresis

The curse of the diaeresis.

The Semicolon

Semicolons; so tricky.

Unpacking My Library

I have made my most memorable purchases on trips, as a transient. Property and possession belong to the tactical sphere. Collectors are people with a tactical instinct; their experience teaches them that when they capture a strange city, the smallest antique shop can be a fortress, the most remote stationery store a key position. How many cities have revealed themselves to me in the marches I undertook in the pursuit of books!

I am unpacking my library. Yes, I am. The books are not yet on the shelves, not yet touched by the mild boredom of order. I cannot march up and down their ranks to pass them in review before a friendly audience. You need not fear any of that. Instead, I must ask you to join me in the disorder of crates that have been wrenched open, the air saturated with the dust of wood, the floor covered with torn paper, to join me among piles of volumes that are seeing davlight again after two years of darkness, so that you may be ready to share with me a bit of the mood – it is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation – which these books arouse in a genuine collector. For such a man is speaking to you, and on closer scrutiny he proves to be speaking only about himself. Would it not be presumptuous of me if, in order to appear convincingly objective and down-to-earth, I enumerated for you the main sections or prize pieces of a library, if I presented you with their history or even their usefulness to a writer? I, for one, have in mind something less obscure, something more palpable than that; what I am really concerned with is giving you some insight into the relationship of a book collector to his possessions, into collecting rather than a collection. If I do this by elaborating on the various ways of acquiring books, this is something entirely arbitrary. This or any other procedure is merely a dam against the spring tide of memories which surges toward any collector as he contemplates his possessions. Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector’s passion borders on the chaos of memories. More than that: the chance, the fate, that suffuse the past before my eyes are conspicuously present in the accustomed confusion of these books. For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order? You have all heard of people whom the loss of their books has turned into invalids, or of those who in order to acquire them became criminals. These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness. “The only exact knowledge there is,” said Anatole France, “is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books.” And indeed, if there is a counterpart to the confusion of a library, it is the order of its catalogue.


ActualIy, inheritance is the soundest way of acquiring a collection. For a collector’s attitude toward his possessions stems from an owner’s feeling of responsibility toward his property. Thus it is, in the highest sense, the attitude of an heir, and the most distinguished trait of a collection will always be its transmissibility. You should know that in saying this I fully realize that my discussion of the mental climate of collecting will confirm many of you in your conviction that this passion is behind the times, in your distrust of the collector type. Nothing is further from my mind than to shake either your conviction or your distrust. But one thing should be noted: the phenomenon of collecting loses its meaning as it loses its personal owner. Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter. I do know that time is running out for the type that I am discussing here and have been representing before you a bit ex officio. But, as Hegel put it, only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight. Only in extinction is the collector comprehended.


O bliss of the collector, bliss of the man of leisure! Of no one has less been expected, and no one has had a greater sense of well-being than the man who has been able to carry on his disreputable existence in the mask of Spitzweg,’s “Bookworm.” For inside him there are spirits, or at least little genii, which have seen to it that for a collector – and I mean a real collector, a collector as he ought to be – ownersliip is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects. Not that they come alive in him; it is he who lives in them. So I have erected one of his dwellings, with books as the building stones, before you, and now he is going to disappear inside, as is only fitting.

Walter Benjamin

From Walter Benjamin: “Unpacking my Library: A Talk about Book Collecting,” in Illuminations, Engl. trans. (London: Fontana, 1982), pp. 59-60, 63, and 66-67.

Ways of Seeing

Episode 1: Psychological Aspects (1972)

Episode 2: Women in Art (1972)

Episode 3: Collectors and Collecting (1972)

Episode 4: Commercial Art (1972)

Ways of Seeing was a BBC television series consisting of visual essays that raise questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. The series gave rise to a later book of the same name written by John Berger.

The Creative Act

Marcel Duchamp


Samuel Beckett, Film, 1965

Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Go)

Fischli/Weiss, Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Go), 1987

In search of Barney Bubbles

Screenshot, BBC Radio 4 homepage

In search of Barney Bubbles is a BBC Radio 4 documentary about the influential British graphic designer Barney Bubbles.