Center for Intermedia Research and Communication Analysis



Here are a couple pages of ideas for Jean de Menil on the intermedia idea. There are I think, several ways in which the short paragraphs could he reassembled. The idea is that the artists always show us how first--principles of composition as encountered in Karl-Heinz Stockhausen's "Klavierstuck XI" the performance directions of which read: "The performer looks at random at the sheet of music and begins with any group, the first that catches his eye;...at the end of the first group...he then looks at random to any other group. (This) implies that the performer will never link up expressly-chosen groups or intentionally leave out others." Out of these passages, perhaps something of relevance to the St. Thomas catalogue will be found. I hope this will be of help.

The other pages contain more random thoughts, generally related to the main idea. Take a semi-fantasy notion, like CIRCA, and see how it develops itself. OK, call it something like SMERSH, and get a similar rationale. Or forget about the conceit, but consider some of the ideas. Pass them on only if you think there is something of relevance...but I hate to burden people with very tentative and speculative notes, since it is so much better to talk about these things personally.

Next Wednesday I will attend a meeting here in Los Angeles of a very important little group of people, who are seriously attempting to do something here on a closely related "intermedia" project. Gifford Phillips, Ed Janes, Betty Freeman, and one or two other really alert patrons are the backbone, with Walter Hopps, Sam Francis, Joseph Byrd and myself as the idea-sources. Sam has been entertaining some sort of project for LA for several years, and now it might blossom. The idea involves bringing Hopps back to Los Angeles (Janes actually sponsored his chair at the Institute for Policy Studies in Washington for the next year or so, in order to carry him until the project could be set up, and until the Pasadena Museum scene receeds into the distance). The idea of a center comes up physically, as a place, in which events, or "manifestations" can occur. Electronic toys will eventually play important roles, too. Sam's original idea involved running an actual UHF TV channel, with the center owning the station. This, or course, gets expensive; but it is not entirely out of the question. Tie-ins with other centers are essential, and certainly easy enough to arrange with shared basic approaches. Following incorporation, probably on a non-profit, tax-exempt basis, there may be good possibilities for cross-financing--at first probably for special projects, and for pooling information & resources. This whole idea is very exciting in that it seems to be catching on all over: Vancouver, LA, New York, Toronto, and possibly San Francisco. Still, there is no one central coordinating mentality. This, of course, is a beautiful opportunity for Houston...one that becomes more viable the more I think of it.

Now working on the Brauner. Need photos from St. Thomas for Artforum. Eager to hear any comments on the notes from last week, etc.

The idea of an interdepartmental or interdisciplinary project provides one of the most direct and important opportunities for reintegrating education. Perhaps the brightest hopes lie in bringing together the revolutionary technology of the twentieth century with our study of the fine arts and liberal arts in the spirit of the great medieval tradition of humanistic scholarship.

Modifying conventional academic forms and attitudes so that they may efficiently utilize the products of this new technology (both practical and conceptual) is a typical and serious problem for those institutions of higher learning with rigidly fragmented, highly compartmentalized patterns of structure and function.

Even in courageously small and humanistically-oriented universities, such arbitrary, mechanistic, and sometimes anti-human patterns can be reflected on all levels: from the form of individual lectures, to the set relationship of one lecture to another, to the rigid and repeated syllabus, to the organization of courses within a department, or to the very departmentalized structure of the university itself.

The history of culture and technology relates this linear, fragmented, sequential kind of structure to modes of visual perception closely connected with the industrial revolution, and going as far back as the invention of movable type by Gutenberg. Especially important in this respect are the writings of Marshall McLuhan, of St. Michael's College, University of Toronto, where he is Director of the Center for Culture and Technology, and who has recently been appointed to the Albert Schweit­zer Chair in the Humanities at Fordham University.

A major challenge for education is presented by McLuhan in his books The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, and more recently in The Medium is the Massage.

"Today's television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute 'adult' news... and is bewildered when he enters the nineteenth-century environment that still characterizes the educational establishment where information is scarce but ordered and structured by fragmented, classified patterns, subjecs and schedules." (The Medium is the Massage, p. 18).

"If we persist in a conventional approach to these developments our traditional culture will be swept aside as scholasticism was in the sixteenth century. Had the Schoolmen with their complex oral culture understood the Gutenberg technology, they could have created a new synthesis of written and oral education, instead of bowing out of the picture and allowing the merely visual page to take over the educa­tional enterprise." (Understanding Media, p. 71).

Within the fine arts in the twentieth century there have appeared important prototypes of this new overlapping and interpenetration of previously separate, neatly distinguished media. With collage or assemblage it is no longer either possible or relevant to distinguish sharply between the conventional media of painting or sculpture. Similarly a new functional methodology for the humanities is emerging, wherein a total field or mosaic approach is reintegrating the disparate efforts of formerly separate specialized disciplines.

This new methodology is shifting the concern of both the scholar and the student away from the mere accumulation and classification of data to confronting problems of structure and configuration, process and relationship.

In a field such as art history it is fast becoming clear that truly significant research can be done now only by transcending the limiting conventions of academic departmentalization. It used to be that one could speak of aesthetics only in the Philosophy department, that art theory belonged only in the studio, that connoisseurship belonged only in the museums, and that art criticism belonged only in the realm of journalism. But the resurgence of an integrated humanistic approach in the light of new technology has given rise to a more meaningful, generic art history, which takes as its proper subject matter not only painting and sculpture or architecture; it now becomes at times anthropology, sociology, psychology, literary history and criticism, poetics, musicology or philosophy.

The great promise of a center for interdisciplinary, or interdepartmental, studies lies precisely in these possibilities for a humanistic reintegration of education, which implies as its goal the unenlightened individual human being, totally integrated in body, mind and spirit.


CIRCA - Center for Intermedia Research and Communication Analysis

A generic, neutral term, but with many of the associations of the vortex (Wyndham-Lewis and Ezra Pound). Metaphorically related to the brain as a nerve center (communications and control). If the whole world is a city, or a village, then there is less difference in kind between one place and another than there is in quantitative intensity or density. The center is the place of control, of high density, hence of greater intensity. Within the structure of the university, a center implies a certain degree of autonomy. The term department suggests dispersal and fragmentation, other departments with boundaries between them, their efforts separate and uncoordinated. "Center" suggests bridging and integrating these conventional distinctions, functioning on an interdepartmental level. The center is an abstract, no-dimensional point; it may be conceived of as the enter of a circle, or the center of a sphere, or the center of an environment of any dimensions, and of any configuration. It is the theoretical optimum vantage point for total perception.

Inter--in the midst, amid, between, among; media, the means by which information (of whatever sort) is transmitted, the extensions of man. We live in the midst of media; they are extensions from our nerve centers. Interest is not just in the media themselves and how they work, but also in their interrelationships. Study of intermedia will be the key to understanding the communications wars of the present and the future. Examples of such wars between media that we have already witnessed involve radio vs. TV, radio vs. the 45 r.p.m. record, TV vs. the movies, and TV vs. the printed page (as manifested by the fear of TV in the universities).

Study at the university level, by individuals who seek knowledge and understanding rather than indoctrination. This is usually best achieved on the graduate level, implying a basic preparation and methodological preparation. However, one of the primary objectives of such a center would be to develop new methodologies, new approaches, hence the speculative exploratory associations of research are also apt.

Any process of transmitting information may be conceived as communication. All branches of the fine arts can be thus studied, together with the popular arts, folk art, non-art, and even anti-art.

The analytical function of the center emphasizes its place within the university. Analysis leads to discovery of meaning and hence to comprehension. The emphasis is upon study rather than upon active competition with other commercial media. Analysis may very well imply active participation and involvement with media however, and the center could easily become a vital focal point for creative developments.

One of the recurrent petty fascinations of academic historians is the idea of teaching history backwards. Start with Picasso and work your way back to the pyramids. Sometimes the course even gets taught this way, perverting the simplistic cause and effect logic only in the sense of altering its direction. Start with the answer and work toward the rationale. This is, of course, evidence of exactly the same commitment to linear, fragmented, sequential, visual, logical, print-technology-oriented methodology as the standard introductory chronological survey. The cute twist probably does not work to avoid ennui after a lecture or two. Such a syllabus is only superficially a fresh point of view, a bogus, titilating innovation instead of a really radical new approach that concerns itself with essentials.

Yet there is something fascinating about filling in the rationale to explain the conclusion. This is the basis for the murder mystery's commercial tri­umph. And while it violates the strict rules of deductive logic or the principles of scientific method, there is something very human about seeing what we want to see, hearing what we want to hear, and freely choosing to believe what we already believe anyway. Whole systems of philosophy are based upon explaining away precisely that which one assumes, whether the Emperor Aurelius or Dr. Pangloss.

Yes we are going around in circles. As Martin Heidegger says, everything that is human usually does. Despite our individual ups and downs, it is all one big carousel: the macro-merry-go-round. Just be ready to grab the brass ring when you go by. It is the mega-Monopoly set. Do directly to jail. Do not pass "Go." Do not collect $200. That's chance. AH! the profound vision of the Parker Bros. in 1933, with all the aleatory implications.

Around, around about, about, circa, ca., c. CIRCA. C.I.R.C.A. Center for Intermedia Research and Communication Analysis.

That hovering inquiry, that free ranging around a problem, the innovation, invention, discovery, creativity, speculation, meditation: all around what Confucius called the unwobbling pivot. One of our great capacities in the twentieth century is to suspend judgement; this provides us with the opportunity to reject one of the great threats to civilization of the twentieth century, that of the authoritarian mentality. We don't have to accept instant answers anymore, even though more and more of our common men demand them. The ethical and intellectual relativism of Existentialism has con­tributed to the age of abstract man, just as the relativism of history and of culture contributed to the rise of abstract art half a century earlier.

The New Deal, wartime bureaucracy, and then the United Nations Organization all conspired to create a new medium of poetic expression (Dichten = condensare): the acronym. CIRCA really does sum it up, metaphysically perhaps. Going around in circles is human enough. It willingly sacrifices the teleological commitment, the goal-orientation and short-term focus and purpose definition.

The real organization is a manifestation of human involvement with the processes of thought and creativity, ideas and action, joy and concern. It is not a letterhead, nor a building, nor corporate assets, nor reputation. It is a constantly, subtly changing product of many individual human beings, through their extensions of being.

Kurt von Meier
Circa 1967