The Medium is the Massage

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 6/22/2014

Societies have always been shaped more by the nature of the media by which men communicate than by the content of the communication. It is impossible to understand social and cultural changes without a knowledge of the workings of media. The alphabet, for instance, is a technology that is absorbed by the very young child in a completely unconscious manner, by osmosis so to speak. Words and the meaning of words predispose the child to think and act automatically in certain ways.

Until writing was invented, man lived in acoustic space: boundless, directionless, horizonless, in the dark of the mind, in the world of emotion, by primordial intuition, by terror. Speech is a social chart of this bog. Listeners could memorize with greater ease what was sung than what was said. Plato attacked this method because it discouraged disputation and argument. It was in his opinion the chief obstacle to abstract, speculative reasoning—he called it "a poison, and an enemy of the people."

Print technology changed our perceptual habits ("visual homogenizing of experience"), which in turn affects social interactions ("fosters a mentality that gradually resists all but a... specialist outlook"). The alphabet and print technology fostered and encouraged a fragmenting process, a process of specialism and of detachment. The public consists of separate individuals walking around with separate, fixed points of view. The advent of print technology contributed to and made possible most of the salient trends in the Modern period in the Western world: individualism, democracy, Protestantism, capitalism and nationalism.

McLuhan wrote that the visual, individualistic print culture would soon be brought to an end by what he called "Electric technology". In this new age, humankind will move from individualism and fragmentation to a collective identity that encourages unification and involvement, with a "tribal base." McLuhan's coinage for this new social organization is the global village. Today's television child is attuned to up-to-the-minute "adult" news—inflation, rioting, war, taxes, crime, bathing beauties —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, subjects, and schedules. A new form of "politics" is emerging, and in ways we haven't yet noticed. The living room has become a voting booth. Participation via television in Freedom Marches, in war, revolution, pollution, and other events is changing everything. The rational man in our Western culture is a visual man. We now live in a global village...a simultaneous happening.

Though the World Wide Web was invented thirty years after The Gutenberg Galaxy was published, McLuhan may have coined and certainly popularized the usage of the term "surfing" to refer to rapid, irregular and multidirectional movement through a heterogeneous body of documents or knowledge.

Reading, writing, and hierarchical ordering are associated with the left brain, as are the linear concept of time and phonetic literacy. The left brain is the locus of analysis, classification, and rationality. The right brain is the locus of the spatial, tactile, and musical. "Comprehensive awareness" results when the two sides of the brain are in true balance. McLuhan writes about robotism in the context of Japanese Zen Buddhism and how it can offer us new ways of thinking about technology. The Western way of thinking about technology is too much related to the left hemisphere of our brain, which has a rational and linear focus. McLuhan and Powers criticize the Shannon-Weaver model of communication as emblematic of left-hemisphere bias and linearity, descended from Aristotelean causality

Kafka on the Shore

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 6/04/2014

The First Half of the story is narrated in the first person by a 15-year old boy who calls himself Kafka. He runs away from home because he’s grown up under a curse, that he’ll one day murder his father and sleep with his mother and sleep with his sister. This curse is pronounced on Kafka at a young age by his father, after his mother has left the family and taken his sister with her. 

He drifts west from Tokyo and ends up in Takamatsu, taking refuge at the private Komura Memorial Library.  He’s quickly befriended by the assistant to the head of the library, a youth named Oshima. Oshima had a troubled youth himself, so he takes pity on the young runaway and arranges for him to live in the library in a spare room.

The head of the library is an ethereally attractive 50-something woman named Saeki who has a mysterious past.  She had grown up with the young heir of the Komura family, and they’d been in love. But then he went to college in Tokyo, got caught up in the student movement, and got beaten to death by radicals who mistook him for a spy.  Saeki never recovered.  She disappeared from Takamatsu for decades, and only returned a few years ago to take over as head of the library.  

Kafka is lodged in the room that had once belonged to Komura.  On the wall is a painting of a boy sitting on a seashore.  The painting is titled “Kafka on the Shore”.  Now, it’s not lost on Kafka that he kinda looks like the kid in the painting or that Saeki is the right age to be his mother now. And then the 15-year-old Saeki appears in his room at night a couple of times and then the present-day Saeki comes to his room and they make love. Earlier we learn that Kafka’s father, a sculptor, was found stabbed to death in Tokyo on the same night that Kafka wakes up covered with blood on the grounds of a shrine in Takamatsu, with a blank in his memory of several hours. Although physically there was no way he could have done it, Kafka is convinced that he spirit-projected a la Rokujo and killed his father. He also has a dream about a 21-year-old girl he’d met on the bus to Tokushima.  He suspected she was his sister, although with no particular justification, and in the dream he rapes her.

Kafka then wanders into the woods surrounding Oshima’s cabin (where he’s holed up because the police have been searching for him in connection with his father’s death) and visits what seems to be the netherworld. He’s led there by two WWII soldiers known to have disappeared on this mountain, and while there he meets first the 15-year-old Saeki and then the adult Saeki, newly arrived.  He’s happy to stay there, but she tells him he must go back, must live and remember her.  She more or less sort of confirms his suspicion that she’s his mother, and asks his forgiveness, which he gives. Then he goes back to the world of the living, where he learns (though he suspected it) that Saeki has died of a heart attack. He decides to go back to Tokyo and finish junior high, and Oshima says he’s welcome to come work at the library when he’s ready.

The other storyline, narrated entirely in the third person, concerns an old man named Nakata.  As a boy during the war Nakata had been beaten into a coma by a teacher, and when he recovered he was retarded.  Lost all his memory, and never relearned how to read.  As an old man in Tokyo – in the same Nakano-ku that Kafka lived in – he survives on city assistance and a little help from his elite brothers.  And, because he can talk to cats, he picks up a little extra cash finding lost cats. 

One day the search for a lost cat leads him to the house of Johnnie Walker – a guy who looks just like the Johnnie Walker on the whiskey bottle (although Nakata doesn’t recognize him).  He says he’s not Johnnie Walker, but just borrowed his identity to manifest himself here.  He’s been capturing cats, torturing them, eating their hearts, and stealing their souls to make a flute that will allow him to collect more souls.  But now he’s weary and he wants Nakata to kill him.  Nakata is a gentle soul, so Johnnie kills a couple of cats in front of him to arouse his violence, and then Nakata picks up a knife and stabs him to death.  We realize that somehow this Johnnie Walker was Kafka’s father.

Nakata tries to confess to the police, but they think he’s crazy and let him go.  So he leaves Tokyo, hitchhiking westward.  Along the way he realizes that he can no longer talk to cats, but can make odd things fall from the sky – leeches or fish.  Why he’s traveling west even he doesn’t know, but he has something he needs to do.  Eventually he is taken in by a young truckdriver named Hoshino who, reminded of his beloved late grandfather, ends up taking off work and chaperoning Nakata on his mission, whatever this is.

Without knowing it they’re following in Kafka’s tracks, first to Tokushima and then Takamatsu.  In Takamatsu, Nakata realizes he needs to find a stone called the Entrance Stone.  He has no idea how to do this.  But while he’s sleeping, Hoshino goes out on the town and runs into a guy who looks just like, and calls himself, Colonel Sanders, like the KFC mascot.  This guy says he knows where the stone is, and will tell Hoshino, but Hoshino has to hire one of his hookers first – he’s a pimp.  Hoshino finally agrees, sleeps with the girl, and then Colonel Sanders takes him to a shrine and shows him the stone – a round white stone the size of an LP. 

Hoshino takes it back to Nakata.  Nakata, after conversing with the stone, tells Hoshino he needs to flip it over.  This takes all of Hoshino’s strength, since the stone has miraculously become almost infinitely heavy, but he lifts it. Then Nakata says he needs to do something else, and has Hoshino drive him around until they stumble across the Komura Library. This is the place, says Nakata, and the next day they go in. Nakata meets Saeki and talks with her alone.  He tells her the entrance stone is open, and that his role is to put things back in order.  She asks if this is because she went in before – Nakata has no idea.  He leaves.  Later that day is when Oshima finds her dead.

Back at their apartment (a hideout prepared for them by Colonel Sanders), Nakata goes to sleep, and then dies in his sleep. Hoshino knows that he has to close the entrance stone, but it’s just a normal, light stone right now.  A cat appears on the windowsill and tells him (now Hoshino can talk to cats) to wait until It comes and kill it.  Then he can close the stone.  What? But he waits, and eventually a white, slug-like thing crawls out of Nakata’s corpse.  No limbs or face.  Hoshino does battle with it, and finally drops the stone on it, killing it.  Then the stone is heavy, and he can wrestle with it and flip it, closing the entrance.

He leaves the cops to claim Nakata’s body, but says that he’ll always carry a part of Nakata with him – he’s been changed.

My Interpretation is that Nakata storyline is just Kafka’s dream. 

The Life-Giving Sword

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 6/02/2014

The Life-Giving sword, melts Zen teachings with sword fighting. Munenori found the middle ground between technique and spirituality. He had inherited the ideals of no-sword from a long line of ancestor priests and samurai, the sword being a medium for life rather than death. He teaches how to overcome opponents mentally by achieving the state of No-Mind. By freeing your mind from attachments (sickness), your mind can only act without even thinking of this action. This state is called Emptiness, to act without thinking.

The Life-Giving sword

In a chaotic society many people are killed for no reason, the death-dealing sword is using to bring chaos under control. Once this is done the same sword can be a life-giving sword. The Life Giving Sword – one gives life to the opponents sword, leading the opponent to a place where he gives up the sword, hence giving life. An opponent should be subdued without killing him. In some cases, an especially evil swordsman may be killed to save countless others in the future.


In the Great Learning it says to extend your knowledge to all things, to know people of the world to and understand the principles of all existing things. If you do not understand the principles of things then nothing will come of your actions. If you lack knowledge, you harbor doubts and these doubts will never leave your mind. What you don't understand obstructs your mind and everything becomes difficult. When questions are cleared up they become nothing, you will achieve an emptiness and your actions will be in harmony with what you have learned without your being aware of it.

The Continually Moving Mind

It is the very mind itself that leads the mind astray. The mind must be kept free from attachment and fixation, stopping the mind, abiding, meant certain death from the opponent's sword. If your opponent lifts his sword, you mind shifts with the sword, if it moves to the left or right, your mind shifts accordingly.  If your mind stops you will be defeated in the martial arts, if it remains in the place where it has shifted, the results will be merciless. The mind that releases the mind is one that is let go and does not stop moving. If you keep a released mind, your movements will always be free.

The continually moving mind is philosophically symbolized by the avatar Fudo Myo-o, the Wisdom King, often depicted holding a sword in one hand for cutting through ignorance, and a rope in the other for tying up passions.


When using the sword, if your mind is occupied with thoughts of plying the sword, its tip will not likely be regulated. When practicing calligraphy, if your mind is occupied by thoughts of writing, the brush will be unsettled. When playing the koto, if your mind is filled with thoughts of plucking the strings, the melody will be confused. This is because you do it with a mind occupied with doing something well.

To think only of winning is sickness, to think only of martial arts is sickness, to think of making an attack or waiting for one is sickness, to fixate on eliminating sickness is sickness.  What remains stationary in the mind is sickness, as these sicknesses manifest in the mind, you must expel them.


Abbot Lungchi said to some monks: "Do not see the existent pillar as a pillar; do not see the non-existent pillar as a pillar. Expel Existence and Non-Existence altogether, and make what lies behind them your own".
With Emptiness a swordsman is able to see the inside and the outside, the active and the pre-active. To be able to judge an opponent's actions before they are manifested. This is achieved through tremendous meditation. Emptiness allows you to see the mind of your opponent, it has no color, no form, it is a void. The firmly held mind is also empty and cannot be seen, it strikes at the point where the hand has not yet moved. Victory is determined a thousand miles away. Do not lose the ordinary state of mind, if you think “I won't move”, you have already moved. Moving is in itself the principle of not being moved. If a man blinks normally, that is natural, if he stops blinking, his mind has moved.


Training in technique is done to transcend training itself, by taking training to the ultimate the swordsman goes beyond the fetters of technique. Swordsmanship can be executed with interference from the mind. When you have run the length of various practices, those practices will no longer remain in your mind and that lack of mind is at the heart of all things. By then forgetting your training and casting off your mind, you can become more aware of yourself and your environment, you have put aside thoughts of doing things well and have attained the realm of no-thought / no-mind. You will not be self-conscious and your mind will not be occupied with your actions. You will make no mistakes, but if your mind slips, you will miss your aim. If you maintain no-mind you will always hit the mark. You enter through training and arrive at absence. At this point you don't know where your mind is, daemons and heresies will not be able to find it.

The middle ground is the balance between going too fast and too slow, going fast is the result of fright, going slow results from being overwhelmed.