It’s a book,
No – it’s a poem,
No – it’s a diary,
No – it’s an art book
No – it’s a searing analysis of today’s politics,
No – it’s an indictment of the misuse of digital media seen through the lens of media ecology,
No – it’s a review of poetry and song lyrics,
Actually it is B. W.’s meditations distilled into, words, colors, and fonts along with images by Marshall Soules and a masterful job of typesetting and page layout by NeoPoiesis Press.
Here is B. W.’s description of the Membrane in his own words because only B. W.’s words could describe this totally revolutionary way of writing a book, a poem, a diary, a political analysis, a critique and a literary review all in one:
a seizing of moments /
a venturing into the vibrations /
a poetry collage essay / a journal diary
a gathering of aphorisms /
a thought experiment that’s an attempt /
to put my finger /
on the pulse /
Again / journeying on the waves / cycling back /
Into the current /
Yes / I admit /
To following my fascinations / my obsessions /
The Charge in the Global Membrane places you in Marshall McLuhan’s global village located on Teilhard de Chardin’s Noosphere contemplating Lama Anagarika Govinda’s mystery of electricity and the way it manifests itself as life, consciousness and communication. Here B. W. muses about and meditates on the global membrane including xenophobia, the refugee crises, pilgrims both physical and digital, Trump and other authoritarian despots, cult leaders, shock jocks, trolls, hackers, the loss of privacy in the “web whorl”, the misuse and sale of our data, the disappointment of the digital environment to meet our basic needs of connection and community, information overload, fake news, our misuse of the environment, global warming, climate change, the compromise if not the loss of literacy, the loss of intimacy. He touches on many other topics ranging from the “me too” movement and the obsessions with selfies to tattoos, graffiti, yoga, head phones, smartphones, iPhones, search engines, Google, Alexa, Facebook, robots, AI, virtual reality, blogs, podcasts, never ending upgrades and all the other trappings of the 21st Century. In vivid detail, Powe reveals the dystopia of digital based and screen based life, with its endless flow of banal data “signifying nothing”.
While not providing remedies and solutions for the shortcomings of our global membrane, Powe through his searing analysis of all the woes that beset us at least identifies their stark reality, which is the first step in the amelioration of those woes. He also reveals their interconnections making another important contribution.
Powe’s communications’ analysis of Trumpism and the harm it does do society is connected to his media ecology analysis of the digital environment that makes Trump’s form of authoritarianism so compelling to so many. Powe shows how Trump uses twitter and TV sound bites to mesmerize his base. Powe also analyzes the way in which print media, television and Twitter as well as other social media impact political dialogue and politics itself.
Powe combines the literary criticism tradition of his mentor and professor, Northrop Frye, with the media ecology tradition of his other mentor and professor, Marshall McLuhan. He interweaves the two traditions in a fascinating analysis of our brave new world of digital media and the new literary forms of the 20th and early 21st centuries. Like McLuhan he critiques education, classrooms and reading styles. He references an endless stream of poets and writers: Emily Brontë, Blake, Mary and Percy Shelley, Dante, Simone Weil, Emily Dickinson, Coleridge, Whitman, T. S. Eliot, Alice Munro, Don DeLillo, Elena Ferrante, Thomas Pynchon, Cormac McCarthy, Anne Carson, Marilynne Robinson, Sylvia Plath, Sam Shepard, and Allan Ginsberg
He reflects on pop culture, rock and Woodstock and connects the lyrics of the song writers Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, David Bowie and Joni Mitchell, to the poetry of Rimbaud and Baudelaire.
Given Powe’s fascinating style, the reader should not expect a linear narrative. Rather B. W. creates a mosaic structure more in the style of mentor McLuhan rather than that of mentor Frye. But, I would suggest that B. W.’s writing style while somewhat similar to that of McLuhan’s that in a certain sense it is post-McLuhan in the way so many different streams of thought are juxtaposed challenging the reader to see the connections that animates B. W.’s vision of today’s digitalized reality. There is another major difference in the writing styles of McLuhan and Powe which is the beauty in the way B. W. expresses himself in a text that is highly poetic. As I said at the beginning of this review: “No – it’s a poem.”
Powe jumps from one theme to another often tracking back to a former topic and then pushing on in a never-ending flow of ideas moving forward again in a spiral whorl and whirling spiral of reflections and observations. By juxtaposing different currents of contemporary culture new insights emerge.
BW Powe’s Membrane is quite addictive. I read the book (I should say devoured it) in two sittings only interrupted by the need to get some shut eye resuming my read upon awakening the next morning. Once you start this book it is hard to stop. There are no chapters, no sections, not even page numbers. No preface. No footnotes. No index. One page flows into the next in a non-stop flow of ideas, words, insights and images. The book itself is a highly charged global membrane.
As the book comes to a close Powe pens a poignant letter to the Net Gens, the digital natives describing their challenges and what digital media are doing to their brains and their spirits. He offers them his advice for what it is worth.
Powe then closes with his hopes for the future setting a religious tone that runs throughout the Membrane. His diary entries, for example, correspond to various religious festivals and special days of the calendar with a spiritual dimension to them: Ash Wednesday, International Women’s Day, Daylight Savings, the clocks change, The First Day of Spring, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, a day of rest for some cultures, Easter Monday, Earth Day, Mother’s Day, Ramadan, World Environment Day. Then there are the references to sacred book, Genesis, Book of Proverbs, Book of Job, Isaiah, and the Kabbalah
Maintaining this focus on things spiritual he writes as the Membrane comes to a close:
When cries and moans become prayers and calls for grace… “Greetings / Blessings / I hope / for / the approach of hope / sparks / for / sparks/ of hope / hope/”
And I close my review with my hope – hope you too enjoy B. W. Powe’s The Charge in the Global Membrane. It is well worth the read and the ensuing reflections that are sure to follow.
And I must say I have never written a review like this one because I never read a book like this one either.
Robert K. Logan