A New Voice in Media Ecology?

John Fraim

Into a Virtual World

Background of a new perspective towards McLuhan and Media Ecology. It is the idea that the great prophet of today’s digital, virtual, world foresaw a spiritual vision of it. It is not a very popular topic for most followers of McLuhan and the branch of knowledge he first presented in his legendary Understanding Media (1965). In the half century since the publication of this book and other groundbreaking books by McLuhan, there has developed an increasingly accepted discipline of Media Ecology. 

I’ve been writing and researching media ecology since I first carried Understanding Media around with me in the back of my pocket in high school while I carried official homework assignment in my school bag. Often I didn’t complete the official homework and found myself reading and thinking about the things that Marshall McLuhan was saying about the world. They were large, philosophical ideas for me. Ideas that not only changed the content of your life. But really, the context. 

This was McLuhan’s original message to me. Perhaps the world is not about that which is in it but that which contains it. It was the 60s and most popular focus was on the content, things, images, products, celebrities of culture. The music of Jim Morrison. The War in Vietnam. It was enough content to make all of us think there wasn’t anything else in life but content. These images and sounds and words and films and music of popular culture have a huge magnetic force on pulling the general culture of a nation towards them. When you’re pulled so much towards the content of life, it was a revelation for me to consider that there might be something bigger than all this content in my life. All these “messages” as McLuhan would call them in his famous statement: The medium is the message. 

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For the first time, it created the possibility of another perspective on the world. It was exciting to me at the time and I read more and more books by McLuhan and others who carried on his work and research. Soon, I linked McLuhan’s discussion of media to an equally strong affinity I had developed for the psychology of Carl Jung. I published many articles in Jungian journals during the time of my growing interest in McLuhan and the two somewhat melded together. 

I discovered a form of Jungian symbolism that seemed related to McLuhan’s media ideas. I wrote a book on this titled Symbolism of Place: The Hidden Context of Communication. It is published on my website but never officially published. Basically, it transferred Jung’s ideas on symbols and McLuhan’s ideas on media into the suggestion of a new story form. In effect, the word “place” in the title of the book really means McLuhan’s “medium.” The manuscript argues that place holds the content of life in somewhat the same way that a set or scene of a movie contains the actors and actions within this set. The same way that the real power is in the background of an advertisement or a commercial. Not the foreground. 

Many of the ideas of McLuhan matched up with the ideas of Jung in that Jung said the great change in the heavens was the change from the sign of Pisces to Aquarius. From a symbolic point of view, it was the change from the sign of a fish to that of a water carrier. In effect, Jung’s message about the change in the heaves was echoed in McLuhan’s statement that “The medium is the message.” 

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Over the years, I developed a close friendship with Marshall McLuhan’s son Eric McLuhan. We would email each other all the time on all types of projects. We had a great meeting when I went up to Toronto. It was a great time and I got to meet one of McLuhan’ original people in meeting Donald Theall and his lovely wife one sunny day maybe twenty miles outside downtown Toronto. 

One summer when I was living in the Bay Area, I heard from Eric. He wanted me to review a book he had just edited titled The Medium and the Light. It was the late 90s and I read the book in Carmel Valley staying at the place my mother was renting. Here is the article, published recently in the New Explorations Journal started by McLuhan. 

https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/nexj/article/view/35087/26863

The Journal is one that I am pleased to be on the board of as well as have some of my writing published in this amazing journal of writers and a great publisher. Many ideas first expressed by McLuhan used in current thinking. And just brilliant takes on our world far above other journals out there.

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Eric McLuhan and I continued to collaborate on several projects in the past ten years. There was Eric’s Renaissance Project where he suggested (in a type of white paper) that Renaissances came within cycles throughout history. There were our ideas for a streaming series based around this type of satire genre more than anything else. 

Then, there was the historical novel that Eric pulled me into with his anthropologist friend. The result was a 250-page historical novel. Certainly, there was input by Eric and his friend in all of this. But in the end, I was the overall author of the work. Don’t believe anyone has ever seen the work as I have not attempted to share it with anyone. Yet, it is a work I am proud of at the same time. 

It happened suddenly. Not too long into our collaboration on the novel. Eric was gone. He was somewhere down in South America as some communications conference. Just like that. It was a hard blow for me.

* * *

I remember my old article about Eric’s edited book about his father, The Medium and the Light. I sent the article to New Explorations and in a few days it’s editor Bob Logan writes back that the article is accepted for publication. There’s also an offer to be on the board of the journal. I accept, of course. 

Then, along comes an announcement to one of my subscriptions or sources out there that an author named Nick Ripatrazone has written a new book about McLuhan, to be published in a few months from now, the last days of January 2022. The title of Nick’s book is Marshall McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age. The book is scheduled for publication in a few months and Nick has graciously let me look at the galleys of the book pre-publication. 

Nick comes to McLuhan from a different perspective than most. More of a religious perspective one can clearly see from his history and books of his. I must say that I have just received the galleys from Rick and have not read them yet. 

So, he has sent me the galleys of his new book that I have on PDF on my computer screen. Ready to review them.

* * *

Yet before I do, it seems important to take a look at the context of all of this by looking at Rick’s website.

http://nickripatrazone.com

Lets let him speak for himself below.

Thanks for visiting.

I’m an author, editor, writer, and teacher. 

My new book, Digital Communion: Marshall McLuhan’s Spiritual Vision for a Virtual Age, is available for preorder from Fortress Press.

My recent books include Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction and Wild Belief: Poets and Prophets in the Wildernessboth from Broadleaf Books. 

I am currently working on a new book for Fortress Press: the story behind a midcentury renaissance of nuns and sisters who wrote poetry (2023).

I’m the Culture Editor for Image Journal, a quarterly magazine that seeks to publish the best writing and artwork informed by or grappling with religious faith.

I’m also a Contributing Editor for the Catholic Herald (UK), where I cover American Catholic culture and artists. 

I’ve written for Rolling Stone, GQ, The Atlantic, The Paris Review, Esquire, Outside, The Sewanee Review, America, Commonweal, The Christian Century, Christianity Today, The Kenyon Review, The Iowa Review, The Mississippi Review, The Poetry Foundation, and elsewhere. My longform reported stories have been featured at Truly Adventurous. I’m a Contributing Editor at The Millions—where I’ve written the monthly poetry column for 5 yearsand a columnist for Literary Hub

I live with my wife and twin daughters in the part of New Jersey with lots of forests and lakes and bobcats. 

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Then, there are the books that Nick has written that form an important part of the “context” or “medium” that this current work of Nick Ripatazone needs to be considered in.

Notes on his previous books are contained in the material below from the pages on his site.

A “Most Anticipated” book from The Millions…noted by the Boston Globe…“Renewal is what I found in Ripatrazone’s examination of the divine in the wilderness taken up searchingly by writers across the ages…Ripatrazone is an excellent guide” (Dappled Things)…”This brand new hardback is one of my favorite books this season and I simply couldn’t put it down…Wild Belief is an ingeniously arranged study of various faith-based literary figures who wrote about the wilderness, whose own encounters with the wild creation (and the wild God of creation) formed their souls and informed their writing projects…Highly recommended” (Hearts & Minds Bookstore)…”Particularly in a culture that values comfort and convenience, we need to listen to those who have encountered wilderness with the humility and attentiveness necessary to receive its instruction. Reading Ripatrazone’s reflections, and returning to the work of the writers he commends, may be just the tonic we need.” (Front Porch Republic)…”Ripatrazone, who lives in America’s most densely populated state, New Jersey, writes powerfully about wilderness in his latest book…[he] observes that wilderness heals us by helping us be aware of our bodily limitations in the wild.” (The Christian Century)…”[Ripatrazone] has a love for the natural world that—fair warning—is practically contagious from reading his prose, combined with a deep knowledge of literature and poetry. He can take a single line from a poem that you or I might gloss over and pluck it out, holding it up to the light and examining it from all sides like an iridescent feather.” (Where Peter Is)…”[includes] a fine essay on God in the desert…This book is for those who search for the presence of holiness within the beauty of wild places.” (Presbyterian Outlook)…”Wild Belief provides sound spiritual advice in the guise of literary analysis. Ripatrazone’s attentive close readings offer a contemplative experience, with each chapter encouraging use to cedar our human desire for control—to be awakened to the divine around us, to be grateful for its mystery and to know, deeply and humbly, our littleness as humans living in the wild.” (Broadview)…”Wild Belief serves as a literary pilgrimage through the lives of poets and prophets who have allowed the wilderness to transform their lives and their work — who have found the wilderness to be “a locus for renewal,” both spiritually and literarily.” (Veritas Journal)….”[Wild Belief] is an invitation to sit, walk, and wander alongside attentive writers who draw our attention to the Spirit’s voice in the sage brush, the constant now of a river, or the dense mystery of a thicket.” (Englewood Review of Books)
Longing for an Absent God: Faith and Doubt in Great American Fiction 

A “Most Anticipated” book from The Millions and The Englewood Review of Books…the book’s “articulation of a Catholic literature inclusive of—and more importantly defined by—practicing and lapsed Catholics is a valuable one. Scholars of modern American Catholicism will find much food for thought here” (Publishers Weekly)…”Ripatrazone’s previous book demonstrated that there are contemporary Catholic authors worthy of the wider literary world’s respect. This new one shows that some of those authors the world already respects contain spiritual depths that are too often ignored, but that help us to better appreciate their artistic achievement” (National Review)…”Despite its high-brow subject matter, Longing for an Absent God is far from pedantic or didactic; the author holds before him always the desire to uplift these literary witnesses and the potency of their stories” (Law and Liberty)…”an effective and engrossing book that kindles our desire to explore new writers and revisit old favorites to deepen our understanding of the Catholic faith” (America)…”The author’s intent is to show readers what faith and doubt mean about being alive. During a global pandemic in which some wonder about the presence of God while others cling more deeply to their faith in God’s presence, Ripatrazone is a fitting guide for both” (Presbyterian Outlook)…”as this marvelous book shows, even writers who have fallen away from the faith feel God’s absence” (Catholic World Report)…”There is immense value in Ripatrazone’s book, regardless of your faith. You come away appreciating silence, stillness…you come away more reflective and hopeful” (Another Chicago Magazine)…”long overdue in receiving the kind of consideration Ripatrazone himself provides” (Church Life Journal)…“Longing for an Absent God presents a satisfying survey of several major fiction writers of the contemporary period, bound together by their diverse relationships to Roman Catholicism…Perhaps the greatest benefit of this book is to place writers not always featured as Catholic (such as Toni Morrison) in the company of some usual suspects (Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy), and in doing so to suggest the richness of a Catholic tradition that has navigated currents of faith and doubt in complicated ways” (American Catholic Studies)…Longing for an Absent God is a deft, sprightly look at Catholic American fiction over the last 70 years…what makes this book especially valuable is the width of the net it casts. Along with expected ‘heavy-hitters,’ Ripatrazone makes persuasive cases for the influence of Catholicism on writers rarely thought of in such religious terms, from Thomas Pynchon to Cormac McCarthy” (Today’s American Catholic)

Selected Writing

Rolling Stone / The Atlantic / GQ / Esquire / The Sewanee Review /  Truly Adventurous / America

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So some context to a review of this new book in the materials above. Obviously, a religious, or spiritual approach, to the world. Might the ideas of McLuhan be somehow placed within the ranks of these ideas? In fact, might this really be where McCluhan’s heart and spirit and passion really shine brightest to this day. Of course it remains for me to read the book and write a review of it.

The title of this new book, as well as the author’s past credentials, means authors and writers are approacing McLuhan from more of a common direction than that proposed by the author of this new book on Mcluhan and by the author of the galleys sent to me.

Will the promise be fulfilled?

Stay tuned to future Midnight Oil Studios posts for our upcoming reivew of this new book in media ecology.

(Are you a subscriber? Write to us at johnfraim@mac.com and we’ll put you on our subscription list.)

Best to all.

Until the next post.

Or, the review of this book.

John

One thought on “A New Voice in Media Ecology?

  1. Your thoughts reflect the former Dean of Grace Cathedral, Allen Jones. The intersection of sacred and common. Again, thank you for the reminder.

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