parataxis   computer: define
putting things side by side

It is Friday evening, and for the first time this week I am watching The News Hour and a story about Walter Isaacson and his new biography of Steve Jobs. Listening to him talk, I understand that Jobs’  “insanely bright machine” is most certainly why I can even login, on, or out today, much less be a participant in this seminar And, thinking about Marshall McLuhan, I want to jump around and twist and shout and yell “these are my people,” except I am much too cool. Well, I am twisting and shouting. If I get a bit more nervy in this seminar, I just might video myself (I was about to say “shoot myself.)”

Anyhoo ………………..  the biographer is talking about genius and artistry and how Jobs had both. Isaacson says that “he was able to imagine things that others couldn’t.” And McLuhan says, in that lovely passage we looked at Wednesday, that “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.”

Okay, what is the ‘serious’ part and who is the ‘artist’ In these speculations and in ours? “Impunity?” I wish I had more of that.

Apparently for McLuhan, Joyce is serious, jazz is serious, Rimbaud is serious, Blake is serious serious, and poor Toynbee is “ignoring the effect of these forms upon the responses of our senses.” He “acquires the illusion of the third dimension and the ‘private point of view’ as part of his Narcissus fixation, and is quite shut off from Blake’s awareness or that of the Psalmist, that we become what we behold.”

and then McL says:

“For the man in a literate and homogenized society ceases to be sensitized to the diverse and discontinuous life of forms.”

Am I hearing Darwin again?

Is artistry most manifest in discontinuity and the ability to work inside simultaneous multiple frames? I think so, whether discontinuity is catastrophic, a Cambrian explosion, or the side by side images of actor’s face and bowl of soup to denote hunger in Kuleshov’s experiments. Perfectly analytical and perfectly not. The content of the separate images remains but recedes in importance as the edges meet, collide, and exude a new association. Form is less a container but rather a producer of meaning. Advertisement does not mirror the desires of the public for a product – it creates them.


This is old news, I know, but we are often so seduced by content that we can’t see the container that surrounds our discourse.

There is a great photo of McLuhan wearing what looks like a ‘Nehru’ collar.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *