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  • Magnetic City Alchemy
  • B. W. Powe (bio)

To McLuhan, conditions of mixing inform the electric ground of the global Magnetic City. In Take Today, McLuhan says we live in

the processes of eco-land, all gaps become prime sources of discovery … Nothing has its meaning alone.… A note alone is not music.… The “meaning of meaning” is relationship. When young activists harp on “relevance,” they are asking for interface or the abrasion of dialogue; they are Eco-sounding to discover where it’s at.… Truth is not matching. It is neither label nor a “mental reflection.” It is something we make in the encounter with a world that is making us.


In the electric ground no combination or juncture is stable. Verum factum exists in our day-to-day reality through the power of technology to place us everywhere at once. We can recast our identities at high speeds, in every angelic and (or) demonic instant, and we sit entranced in front of pc-tv screens, suddenly transported into euphoric and depressive responses. News of the world-soul is unavoidable. Satellites crisscross the global surface, shooting signals back and forth in an unstoppable array, and no psychic barriers will block the global present out. Thus the electronic media ground becomes the entire message. [End Page 10]

In its ideal state the electric condition is one where hybrids and interfaces occur in swift epiphanies. McLuhan says in The Book of Probes, “Interface refers to the interaction of substances in a kind of mutual irritation. In art and poetry this is precisely the technique of symbolism” (482). These processes converge on everyone as he says in these aphorisms: “In television, images are projected at you. You are the screen. The images wrap around you. You are the vanishing point” (195). An interface is the moment when two seemingly disparate strands interweave, providing enough friction to create the new. The possibility of interface finds an analogue in alchemy, where the chemical stirring of contrary energies yields up another compound entirely. Alchemy is a metaphor for the metamorphosis of being through the combining of apparently unmixable opposites. Synchronicity suggests seeing what happens when two energies meet, suddenly becoming a common ground for one another. It is the moment when texts or narratives do more than meet: they operate in coinciding pattern, reflecting and refracting one another, playing in concord, before splitting off into discrete forms. Differences can never be completely transcended on this plane. Synergies do not synthesize patterns into stasis. But alchemy and synergy may offer a vista opening before morphing into something else.

McLuhan gives us media ecology—“every-where is now here in eco-land” (297), he says in Take Today—essential metaphors for understanding our electronic surround. The source-energy never freezes. But Nature has been obsolesced, and we live in an artificial communications’ envelope. Its influence is subliminal but pervasive. Inside our vibrating neon-lit envelope we carom like astonished tribal members obeying the signs and signals, without knowing that an automatic auguring is underway. In three aphorisms McLuhan illuminates, and hyperbolizes, the environmental stunning and processing. In The Book of Probes, McLuhan’s rhetoric moves into spheres of deliberate shock:

We are as numb in our electric world as the native involved in our literate and mechanical culture.… The age of writing has passed. We must invent a new metaphor, restructure our thoughts and feelings.… Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which humans communicate than by the content of the communication.


These aphorisms appear at the beginning of The Book of Probes, pages before the author’s name, the title page, the publishing information, and the table of contents. The book was edited and arranged by David Carson [End Page 11] with help from Eric McLuhan and Terrence Gordon. So important are these probes, the editors elected to place them before the author and book information. The aphorisms accentuate McLuhan’s concern for our numbing down in the wake of change and his perception of how the avatars of book culture prefer to judge rather than probe: the forms of media, of super-Nature, are more influential than...


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pp. 10-13
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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