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The Book of Probes.

Marshall McLuhan and David Carson. The Book of Probes, editors, Eric McLuhan and William Kuhns. Corte Madera, CA: Ginko Press, 2003.

The Book of Probes is to McLuhanism as The Analects is to Confucianism. It embodies McLuhanism. If thinking takes space, the book offers that space prodigiously. If ideas emerge from the resonating interval between other ideas, the book maximizes such intervals. The fairly limited number of words on each page gives them a sense of iconicity--to be savored over and again for their lingering flavor, the way the connoisseur savors the gems of words on an Oriental painting. The typographic stunts call attention to form in the same way oriental calligraphy calls attention to form. There is inexhaustible space for thought but little space for Helvetica--the supposedly transparent typeface that carries information without calling attention to itself, as the 2007 film Helvetica suggests. The book goes beyond the single-minded visual bias prevalent in most books. Take the use of color, which "is not so much a visual as a tactile medium."

The book not so much informs us with "logical or connected statements" as awakens our perception with invented tools (probes) and stirs our affect with graphic design. As such, it ensures maximum participation. Rather than overwhelming us with a superfluity of information, the book entices us with eloquent form. The formal variation from part to part creates a sense of rhythm and elegance somewhat preceded by McLuhan's other books, especially Through the Vanishing Point, but starkly absent in the series of Cool Memories of Jean Baudrillard--"the French McLuhan."

Each page is staged in a way that makes a probe fully a probe--"Like conversation, the verbal probe is discontinuous, nonlinear; it tackles things from many angles at once." The language the book puts on display is what Eric McLuhan calls "electric language"--nothing like the typical page in Jacques Ellul.

The Book of Probes makes McLuhan's corpus radically enticing, and vice versa--"figure" vs. "ground" interplay is created in between, to borrow two key terms from Gestalt theory. It coaches a cool pedagogy with provocative fragments such as: "The most human thing about us is our technology." One might view the book as a McLuhan cheat sheet or checklist. But it is more accurate to see it as a performance of McLuhanism with McLuhan's own element.


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Author:Zhang, Peter
Publication:ETC.: A Review of General Semantics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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