Director of the Mc Luhan Program at the University Toronto speaking at an opening event of
Public Netbase t0 March 28. 1995 on


responding to questions raised by Peter Lamborn Wilson in THE INFORMATION WAR on his contribution to
SERIOUS CHILLER LOUNGE in Munich 94, where he delivered a speech on the relationship of language and objects.

This is part of a transcription from the 15th of July 1994.


What I am doing right now at the Mc Luhan program is putting together a team of people who observe the changes of culture and technology.
What is happening to us, what kind of world we are getting into? Right now the most interesting question to me is the relationship between language and objects. What's happening to language? - Language is a processor in a completely new way. Big revolution in linguistic forms, in linguistic use - big revolution in the relationship between language and objects.
An Example: Everybody here knows about Infobahn! - They are not there yet. They are there and they are not there yet. The Internet is the first example and its pretty important, but its one of those things people talk ahead of time. Virtual reality they talk about ahead of time - its not really there and yet everybody knows what it is. This is pretty well the first time in history that we know ahead of time the technologies. Most of the time we don't know at all about what technology has done to us. Now we are doing a metaphorical linguistic processing, ahead of technological processing. So that's an interesting question. What happens to us? What's happening to our language? What's happening to our mind?

I am paying attention to several thinkers who are interesting: Foucault‹s theory of discourse / Hans Magnus Enzensberger‹s theory of consciousness & industry - How are technology and media creating consciousness - not reflecting it. Heidegger‹s suggestions - the real is one aspect of the possible and not the possible one aspect of the real. / Extension of Hegel‹s vision of matter turning into spirit. - which is happening right now.
So these are important pointers of where we can think. They are not the only ones, but they are a good useful background for a new thinking in a very rapidly changing situation.
And so I am responding to a question, which was put to me yesterday by a journalist:
"Is the media still the message?" - I wasn't sure. In the course of our discussion he said something about language which upset me a bit. He said: "Language is lost because it can't verify itself." And I am entirely sure I don't agree with that. Language is in fact very reliable. Its the only medium that can handle complexity. There is no medium in the history that can handle a level of complexity that we have reached today. So we can trust it to certain degree.

But language is made of three basic components and they have three different functions all together.
- First of all it has a solid element which is grammar. Grammar is reliable, it changes slowly, it does change but it changes slowly.
- It has one liquid element which is vocabulary. Vocabulary changes all the time. It has a kind of artificial life of its own.
- And then it has a semiliquid [ ] system which is the media. The media takes language, gives it a substance or consistency reflected back on to the body and to the mind. Reshapes body and mind and establish their own system of order. And the media change the relationship between body and mind, but in a fairly reliable and observable way. So today because of media, because of the fluidity, flexibility and changing nature of media, but with some consistency, language relationship to object is reversing.

And so there is a history of relationship between language and object:
in the beginning - in the beginning was the word - Es wurde Licht - let there be light, and there was light. Language created light. And then Adam, (we are still in the Adamic time); Adam‹s job [was] to name creatures. The creatures are there and all the objects: the flowers and the trees and the birds and everything out there. And Adam and Eva were told: Go and have a good time and just keep in mind what you are seeing. ... the oral culture, which is the basis of human speech. Its job is to conserve objects and the relationship. Oral history is all based on memory and the memory of the relation between language and objects. to name things and how to keep the name of things, the name of the families.
So the whole oral culture is oriented to the past - the golden age. The principal of oral culture is the past - the golden age; People look back, they don't like novelty, they don't like future, they don't like anything that changes, they want the things to stay stable, wanna go back to it. Sudden violent reversal! First big revolution of language - writing! Because writing changes the arrow of time of language - changes the vector of language from golden age to progress.
Because writing allows to cut information in little bits, take words, put them together and create, like genetic DNA recombined. We have a recombined culture - something that Arthur Crocker talks beautifully about. Because of writing down our words, recombining in fiction, recombining in technology, recombining everything ... So this is how we moved from the golden age to the progress - the mythology of progress.

The other thing about writing which is important: It makes all of us individuals. Before that, we are a single tribe. The single tribe's identity projects a new mirror, a mirror of personality, of consciousness and turns us into individual people. This power of autonomy is an extremely complex issue, and today we may have to deal with it completely anew.
Writing itself is a paradox. Writing itself is completely devoted to the past, to existing objects. Even fiction, which is the promise of the future, which is the break of the existing reality, is written in the past. Most of the history of novel-writing is always written in a completed story, but then in the new orality, now in the electronic orality it is electronic, it is nomadic, it is instant, it is global and it is turning language into a tool, more than it ever was. Changing the structure of language from past orientation to present. Cinema has helped a great deal. Cinema makes narrative present by definition, but in any case, now the relationship of recording the objects reality is not related to the past of the object but to the present of the object and very quickly to the future of the object. So we are now looking at a situation where our language is recovering its very earliest biblical role of pure creation.

Technology and technological development are behaving in a completely new way. Its not that we knew a lot about technology before, but now we don't have any choice. We have to find out, cause its behaving. This bloody thing is really behaving! And we can recognize the behavior. Its now moving in two directions and they are represented here very well this evening in the art-pieces and the talks.
- First of all the physical direction, which is tele-reality. It intends to eliminate the body, but this is just one issue. If tele-reality is extending the body, bodyparts extending senses further and further away from the core. The core which is the subject, the individuality, whatever.
Then miniaturization is also invading the body technological supplements chemical, organic, so that there is a two way interaction between inside and outside. Projecting outside as far as we can go to the planets and taking in the world as an organic substitute.
And the third physical thing is interactivity which is expanding the reach of proprioception.
The problem is, that we feel things as well as we see them and in fact we are rediscovering that we are feeling them. And so proprioception is a way by which, from the body to the world there is a constant interaction. Interactivity is nothing but the viability of proprioception. But it extends further than the skin. That limit of the skin is obsolete anyway
- To the psychological end of this issue; The ultimate goal: Where is technology going? Its ultimate goal is to bridge mind and matter in realtime. That is, to have no interface, no medium. (The medium is the message - no more message no more medium.) Just direct thought to matter which is already experienced in Brain.Vader. All this is going on in very fast pace right now. If you can translate every matter into 0 1, or into a digit, every texture, every substance, every sensory input or output, every displayform, you are dealing with a complete etherealization of matter. Its becoming cosubstantial with mind by digitization. Digitization is one step beyond atomization. Atomization remains material - digitization is spiritual atomization. Very very much the process of 2000 years history.
Instant distribution - the net, huge computers, 20 million co-processors - so we have instant communication everywhere and that is another etherealization of form and it is another transmutation of mind. Completely new associations of consciousness are going on - so that's another aspect of this transformation.
Computer assisted decision making - until now we thought, that decision was only located in the organic mind. We now recognize that neural networks are the sign of computer assisted decision making agents. Remember Wim Wenders wonderful Russian bear with a little hat saying: "Searching, searching" all around the databases of the world. This is a kind of thing that is going on.
But the most important thing I think of what is happening to mind is that orality, the oral condition of language and literacy, the written condition of language are meeting on-line as thought. Thought was created in mind by writing. Until than speech was alone with very little thinking. There was no need for it. Thinking becomes a possibility. Personal control of information-processing comes with writing. Now collective and personal information-processing as thought combine literacy and orality on the net or on line. That's a very big thing what's going on and its out of our control. Most of it is selforganizing - not all of it but most of it is selforganizing.

Everything that's based on grammar finds an instant order. I am talking about grammar as Boolean logic, object oriented programming as any type of machine-language and computercode- language is part of grammar. It is finding a generating order.
Words are flexible and they are taking very quick changes very fast. Words are wonderfully useful for adapting very quickly. Just like those metaphors like "Infobahn" and so on. The media themselves are creating relatively orderly environments. Its interesting for example to see the discussion in the US and Canada today about the Infobahn, and how existing infostructures are trying to combine - that's media finding its order. And its finding its order with push and pull, dialectical contradictions - sudden directions going in a certain way.
We will have to deal with that problem, because the selforganizing principal of media is very dangerous when it comes to individual liberties. Infostructural yearning is all over the world now.

There is a problem with the selforganizing power of technology in that - it is literal - its end is efficiency and its very close to the functionality of language.
But there are two levels or aspects to language: One is literal (I mean what I say), and one is metaphorical (I mean more than what I say). The metaphorical value of language is just as important, in the fact it is more important than the literal, because it is the creative end of language. The literal end of language is the functional one.
Media themselves are metaphors. All media are metaphors of the body. The functional, technical ends of media are metaphors of functional, technical needs of the body.
Only artists who turn around the technology, are making the metaphorical value of technology visible, perceptible. And the hands giving back to the technology itself its full linguistic literal and metaphorical content. The artists perceive the metaphorical end of technology and it is presenting that metaphorical end for people to perceive beyond the functional.
Gabriels, de Sousas and Beckers works here are perfect explanations of what I'm trying to talk about, generally including the issue of language. Perceptual Arena and Brain.Vader are mindstorys. They are mindmetaphors. They are like a report on what's happening to our mind today.
If you look at Konrad Beckers work Brain-Vader you can have two reactions. Either, oh it's another toy, it's another weird little stuff in a long line of new age, new age kind of stuff or it is an absolutely new genre. It's a new genre which has history behind it. The new stuff is the IBVA (Interactive brainwave visual analyzer).
But these [artists] are working in traditions. They are creating a new genre which has his roots in Pierre Henry, the French musician, who was putting electrodes to his brain to create music directly through a synthesizer. Or David Rosenbaum, Canadian composer who is now living in the US.
And there is a history of brain to machine relationship, but it's been very shy, very timid. It's clear now, that it's going to have to take very much more importance. It's beyond neurosports, beyond hand-eye coordination; It goes beyond that type of thing. The mind is provoking events, and it's based on - right now it's only based on switches, on- off- switches - with exception maybe with 01, which allows to have some continuity, some kind of potentiality in the off switches. But basically you have to start somewhere. You start with the on- off- switches, you put them together, and you come to more and more complexity. You add to the on- off- switches a number of networks, neural networks perhaps, that gives some weight, some specific taste and bingo!, you've got it. You've got a system that actually is helping you to think. A system that feeds back to you, and you got a very powerful interaction between mind and the world outside.

Often what happens, when I'm talking with people about Ullrikes work, is that they say: "Yeah, sure, Terrain 001 wonderful but Perceptual Arena I don't get it." People don't really understand how important that piece is. In fact Perceptual Arena is conceptually more advanced then Terrain 001. Terrain 001 is more flashy, it really hits you. But Perceptual Arena is basically, metaphorically more powerful. It deals with the fact, that we are in semi- solipcistic systems, that we are in fact creating the stuff with the support of reality out there. actually closer to language than Terrain 001, which is still very close to the body. And it's a metaphorical explanation of virtual reality. It's not a piece about VR - it's an explanation. That's very important I think to understand.
And I compare it to another piece: It's Galleria Virtual by Rock and Arcies Perez from Barcelona. Their piece is standard VR equipment: goggles, glove. But it's based on six or seven parameters of reality. So you have direction, weight, texture, shape, horizon and Cartesian coordinates. You walk in this virtual gallery and then you shut off one after the other element of reality, so that you experience it missing. And when you get to nothing, the Cartesian coordinates disappear and there is nothing. There is darkness - it's your turn to say: "Let there be light". So you can now reconstruct the world you know from blackness, void, nothingness. Again a piece about VR and about our relationship, our pre- thinking relationship to language.
So those works are the only works today, that make really interesting sense about the technologies that we are dealing with. And thank god, that the communicationsystems of the world are so fast and so comprehensive, that the news travel very quickly, and the people get sensitive to these matters very quickly.

The metaphorical role of language is its health principal. Language without metaphor is unhealthy - very dangerous. If you bring the metaphorical value to it, you give it flesh, substance and human relations; Life, being relations. So I think when we can keep up with the metaphorical value we are in good shape.