• Stefan Collini, “Upwards and Onwards” [review of Dai Smith, Raymond Williams: A Warrior’s Tale] in London Review of Books (31 July 2008) 13-16

“When Raymond Williams died suddenly, aged 66, in January 1988, estimations of him were sharply divided. There were those who regarded him as a deservedly influential literary and cultural critic, a major socialist theorist and an exemplary instance of the union of intellectual seriousness and political purpose. There were others who thought he had for too long enjoyed an inflated reputation, that he was a muddy thinker and verbose writer who had been swept to a form of cultural celebrity by the vogue for working-class sentimentalism in the 1960s and lefter-than-thou self-righteousness in the 1970s.
… Williams may recognize, unlike more conservative critics, that the village of the 19th and early 20th centuries was not an ‘organic community’ which had been disrupted by the social and economic changes of the past couple of decades, but there remains the structural nostalgia involved in believing that such community existed before the Industrial Revolution destroyed it. And this was the historical story that underwrote the argument of Culture and Society: the idea of a ‘culture’ develops from the late 18th century as a way of compensating for the ravages of industrialism and individualism, but only ‘culture’ when it is understood as a ‘whole way of life’ (and hence, Williams argued in a particularly bold twist, working-class culture) rather than as art and literature, can now restore people’s experience of living in genuine community with each other. The rhythm of Community Lost and Community Regained was inscribed in Williams’s historical schema from very early on.
…If Williams could at one point have been seen as ‘the English Lukács,’ not least for his sustained engagement with the historical place of literary realism, he now [“throughout the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s”] came to be seen as ‘the English Goldmann’ or even ‘the English Bourdieu’ (such labels always exhibited a disregard for the fact that he was not English, as he pointed out with increasing insistence). And indeed, since cultural materialism’s attentiveness to non-literary contexts and its repudiation of ‘evaluative criticism’ was seen by many to have affinities with the academically still more powerful school of New Historicism, Williams could even be classified, at least when seen down the wrong end of a transatlantic telescope as ‘the English Greenblatt.’
Fortunately, his standing was never confined to the world of academic literary studies. His work, early and late, on ‘communications,’ especially television, meant that he was a constant point of reference in the fast expanding field of Media Studies (‘the English McLuhan’), just as several of his books from Culture and Society onwards were regarded as founding texts, though frequently repudiated, in the diverse field, or movement, now established as Cultural Studies (‘the English Gramsci’)” (13; 14; 15).


  • Doug Coupland, “Visual Thinking: Zulu Romeo Foxtrot,” Granta 101 (Spring 2008) 17-22

“I think that an inevitable and necessary step for written culture over the next few decades is going to be the introduction of a détente between the visual and literary worlds—at the very least, an agreement to agree that they’re not mutually exclusive and that each feeds the other. The notion that literary experimentation ended with the publication of Finnegans Wake doesn’t leave much hope or inspiration for citizens on a digital planet a century later. Acknowledging the present and contemplating the future doesn’t mean discarding the past, and to be interested in print’s visual dimension isn’t the same as being anti-literary. People in the art world do a spit-take when they hear that James Joyce is called modern. The literary world has the aura of a vast museum filled with floral watercolors and alpine landscapes, a space where pickled sharks will never be contemplated or allowed. Ten-year-olds now discuss fonts, leading and flush-righting paragraphs. Words are built of RGB pixels projected directly on to the retina for hours a day. Machines automatically translate spoken words into Japanese. Medium and message are melting into each other unlike ever before.” (21-2)

  • Derrick de Kerckhove, Martina Leeker, Kerstin Schmidt (eds.), McLuhan Neu Lesen: Kritische Analysen zu Medien und Kulture im 21. Jahrhundert (Frankfurt: Transcript, 2008; ISBN 978-3-89942-762-2; includes CD of interviews with speakers).

[Essays by Derrick de Kerckhove, Martina Leeker, Kerstin Schmidt, Wolfgang Hagen, John Durham Peters, Ulrike Bergermann, Klaus Benesch, Fred Turner, Bernhard J. Dotzler, Georg Christoph Tholen, Claus Pias, Hartmut Winkler, Wolfgang Ernst, Mark Poster, Dieter Mersch, Bernhard Vief, Annette Bitsch, Stefan Rieger, Richard Cavell, Stegan Heidenreich, Jay David Bolter, Jens Schröter, Peter Bexte, Andreas Broeckmann, Erich Hörl, Alexander Firyn, Klaus Bartels, Dirk Förster, Arie Altena, Jeremy Bernstein, Dominik Busch, Jens Hauser]

  • Tom Holert, “Learning Curve: Radical Art and Education in Germany,” in Artforum [Special Issue on May 1968] (May 2008): 334-339; 406

“The March 1970 issue of Kursbuch (Coursebook), the quasi-official journal of the West German New Left, focused on this social and political mission of art in the aftermath of 1968. Kursbuch editor Hans Magnus Enzensberger dismissed ‘superfluous events’ such as Happenings and ‘Fluxus-and mixed-media shows’ as well as the ‘banal fallacy’ of ‘Concept art’ for their limited reach and impact. He admonishes the artist-author to engage in a ‘learning process’ in order to eliminate art as a category of specialization or expertise. Only then would the artist’s ‘self-abolition,’ his or her complete integration into life, succeed. Finally, Enzensberger states, the author-artist is transfigured into an ‘agent of the masses’—before he or she vanishes completely.
Enzensberger believed that both the abolition of art through education and the emergence of a brand-new type of cultural producer were inextricably linked to the mediasphere. He had absorbed the notion of a scientifically and technologically enhanced sensorium, a ‘New Sensibility,’ cultivated through electronic communications and virtual environments, from the writings of Susan Sontag, Marshall McLuhan, Herbert Marcuse, and others stateside. Armed with this theoretical apparatus (as well as Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Radiotheorie’ of the ‘30s), Enzensberger invested utopian belief in the self-educating and self-empowering potential of communications media. To this end, the philosopher and art historian Eckhard Siepmann contributed a related essay on ‘electronics and class struggle’ to the 1970 Kursbuch issue that supplemented and radicalized Enzensberger’s approach. Alluding to the development of new media, mind-expanding drugs, and new spaces of collectivity such as the discotheque, he speculates on the revolutionary shift from the perceptual organization of bourgeois society (based on central perspective) to a dehierarchized and interactive post-bourgeois field of experience, populated by a new subject—the ‘”electronically” structured “human being”’ (337)

  • Michelle Kuo, “Special Effects: Michell Kuo Speaks with Michael Callahan about USCO,” Artforum May 2008 [Special Issue on May 1968]: 133-136

“MICHELLE KUO: What’s all too often associated with the late 1960s discourse of Brand or McLuhan or Fuller is an unbridled technophilia. But could you speak to another side of technology and communications media—the other dimension to what McLuhan called the ‘extension of the central nervous system’? McLuhan, in a very dystopian way, actually speaks of the privatized manipulation of that nervous system, the control of the senses. Likewise it seems that [performance group] USCO was, in fact, profoundly aware of this alternate dimension and aimed to intervene in technological development and use.
MICHAEL CALLAHAN: Our work was really drawn from McLuhan. We looked at McLuhan as the theoretician—and we were the practitioners. It was the scientist versus the engineer; we were the applied science. We had a mission to bring about public awareness of the impact that all this instantaneous communication was having and was going to have—to attempt to be prepared for it and to change it if necessary.
I remember when we met with McLuhan at the University of Rochester in October 1964 during an early USCO performance. Gerd [Stern] drove Marshall to the airport. Those days, you could walk out to the plane; it was a little propeller plane with stairs going up into the tail. I remember Marshall walking up the stairs and us standing below and seeing him disappear into the plane. But then we saw his legs, his feet came back a few steps, and he leaned out and said, ‘Disregard the content and concentrate upon the effect’” (133).

MK: McLuhan’s warning about the manipulation of media systems and the senses, then, seems very much tied to this disenchantment after ’68.

MC: We were all intrigued by McLuhan from the beginning. Gerd got hold of a report that McLuhan did for the National Association of Educational Broadcasters; he used it for a performance at the San Francisco Museum of Art in 1963, to try to implement McLuhan’s theoretical writing. Then in January ’64, there was an arts festival at the University of British Columbia where McLuhan was going to speak. And we were also invited to do a presentation there—Gerd and Judi [Stern] and I—before we were USCO. That was the first time we met McLuhan. At UBC, McLuhan was arguing that if Western consciousness had been hugely fragmented, now it was being drawn together through electronic media. So, he asked, ‘What’s a valid strategy for dealing with this?’ I could see that things were indeed becoming more integrated in the ‘60s due to electronic media providing a shared experience, and I always assumed that these converging tributaries would come together as one. But as it happened, even when they did cross, they kept going their separate ways. I really think that in 1968-69, we were as electronically ‘together’ as we were going to get” (136).

  • Frank Rich, “Hilary’s St. Patrick’s Day Massacre,” The New York Times(Sunday March 30, 2008) 13

“The myth that’s been busted is one that Mr. Obama talked about in his speech—the perennial given that American racial relations are doomed to stew eternally in the Jim Crow poisons that forged generations … . Yet if you sampled much political commentary of the past two weeks, you’d think it’s still 1968 or at least 1988. The default assumptions are that the number of racists in America remains fixed, no matter what the generational turnover … . But politically and culturally we’re not in the 1980s—or pre-YouTube 2004—anymore. An unending war abroad is upstaging the old domestic racial ghosts. A new bottom-up media culture is challenging any candidate’s control of a message.”

  • John Durham Peters, “Strange Symphonies: Horizons of Media Theory in America and Germany” in American Studies as Media Studies, ed. Frank Kelleter and Daniel Stein (Heidelberg: Winter, 2008) 3-23


[n.p.] “Where American Studies, Media Studies, and German Media Theory all meet best is probably in the tradition of Innis and McLuhan.”