12 min readAug 8, 2020


Cure for the Common Codebreaker by Germy Folkyways

Waving and waxing between Cryptanalysis, Metafiction, Architectural Prose, Social Atomization, Autofiction, Magic Realism, SuSuBoney Storybellyaching, and Speculative Fiction, the following essay was written by Germy Folkways in 1953.

TLTW — Tetrad Winners and Winers and Whiners? by Gerry Fialka 310–306–7330

“Understanding is not a point of view” — Marshall McLuhan

The Tetrad “reveals McLuhan as the PR man for the moderni who makes available to us a way to break into the control booth of the reality studio, to perceive ourselves perceiving, to waken.” — Frank Zingrone

Let us delve into TLTW, which can mean “Too long to watch,” or “Too long to whine.” I have engaged people in discussions for years. We probe the hidden psyche effects of human inventions to cope with what we don’t like about these hidden effects. How can whiners flip breakdowns into a breakthroughs? We can be serious about being non-serious. “How is it that people looking for a helping hand tend to overlook the one at the end of their own arm?” — Alfred E. Neuman, Mad Magazine. “Where the hand of man never set foot” — James Joyce, Finnegans Wake. So please read on, whine, whimper, win . . . do what you like.

A major tool we apply is the Tetrad, four simple questions proposed by Marshall McLuhan:

1) What does it enhance or intensify?

2) What does it render obsolete or replace?

3) What does it bring back that was previously obsolesced?

4) What does it become when pressed to an extreme, what does it flip into?

By going round robin with the Tetrad, we are probing the psychic and social effects of the environments created by the invention (tangible or intangible). Every invention (from philosophy to cellphones) generates environments that provide services and disservices. We are not really exploring how the invention was originally intended to be used (that is its content). More so, we explore the unintended consequences. How do they shape behavior? What humanness is extended by the invention (like clothing extends skin, movie extends foot, shutter extends eye lid).

For example, the CAR:

1) ENH (enhance) = private mobility,

2) OBS (obsolete) = horse & buggy,

3) RET (retrieve) = knight in shining armor,

4) REV (reversal) = bomb, home, traffic jam.

These discussions nurture fun conversations and insights. We can be winners. Game-changers! Revolutionaries! Paradigm-Shifters! Community!

In person or on Zoom, doing Tetrads with a group of people is like savoring a fine “wine.” The word “savor” is rooted in the word “sapient,” which means “to be wise, to perceive, understanding, insight.” Exactly! This exercise cultivates critical thinking skills. “Wine in, truth out” — Charles Dickens.

It can lead to another “whine.” Is that the whole point, or half a point? “A half of truth is still a lot of truth” — McLuhan.

I have experienced modern thinkers who engage, then wimp out. Some are complainers, faultfinders, grumblers, and soreheads. “Oh, the dreaded Tetrad.” Well, that’s the whole point. Survey these challenges, and suss out your feelings. Engage the impulsive, intuitive and emotional. Analyze the nature of things. First thought, best thought. “I’ve had too much to think” — Captain Beefheart.

We operate on more of a percept level, not a concept level. Raise awareness. Consciously take in a deep breath, right now. Then release that breath consciously. There, you just experienced the Tetrad. You normally breathe on auto-pilot. You can have an epiphany in everydayness with this exercise.

One friend says, “Less Tetrads, more stories.” That is the very point. The very crisis which threatens the complaining sustains Tetradic explorations. I could say “Anybody got any stories”? This may not necessarily lead to deeper knowledge. Needle somnambulism. Challenge your stock lines, and your regular thinking patterns. “Carefully make plans, then do the opposite.” — McLuhan. “Make the subtleties obvious.” — Billy Wilder. It takes courage to risk the norm.

A major thinker says you’ve got to do bong hits to do Tetrads. I disagree. It is simply a spark to tell stories, and reveal what one may really be thinking on a more profound level of simultaneity. His brilliant works have homogenized McLuhan, Tim Leary and Robert Anton Wilson for PBS. He has even mentioned Tetrads in his books. Another major academic friend preaches McLuhan, but has problems with the Tetrad. He says, “What does an electric toothbrush retrieve?” How about a toothpick, your finger, a twig to pick your teeth, or shock treatment, or ? It is endless.

In our weekly Tetrad sessions, participants have declared:

“Tetrad prevents us from blowing the same smoke we blow at any yahoo who will listen. It forces us to think beyond verbal. Free association is similar. It is like sand play in Jungian analysis, with the Tetrad as sandbox. McLuhan is a playground. We become play figures.” — Jay

“Tetrads stimulate my mind. I don’t need coffee for hours. It wakes me up totally.” — Penny

“By rapid fire Tetrad cycles, especially in the round robin format, I find my brain naturally suggesting alternative potentials, pitfalls, and possibilities of any given topic, leaving a lot to unpack.” — Jonathan

There are no right or wrong answers. It is simply an inquiry into contemplation. With suspended judgement, we are not saying we like or dislike the invention. No point of view, please. For or against? Four what?

{Insert joke here}

Is this a private fight or can anyone join in? This whole essay (up-and-down-the-rabbit-hole) conjures a joke by Emo Philips:

I got into a fight one time with a really big guy, and he said, “I’m going to mop the floor with your face.” I said, “You’ll be sorry.” He said, “Oh yeah? Why?” I said, “Well, you won’t be able to get into the corners very well.”

I am moping about mopping. McLuhan quipped: “We’re just involved in a mopping up operation.” Etymology gets the pattern recognition fired up and flying. The word “mope” is rooted in words meaning “to move and act unconsciously, to sulk, to grumble.” McLuhan is using the word “mop,” which is rooted in “bundle of course yarn, napkin” and the word “map.” Is it the map or the territory?

Is this a collage or an essay? Frank Zappa, who is often a hidden ground, was going to name his Joe’s Garage album Arrogant Mop. He is holding a mop on the cover. In 1985, he released Frank Zappa Meets The Mothers Of Prevention, aka MOP.

One of his early acts, Wild Man Fischer, did the song, The Mope. Zappa’s graphic artist Cal Schenkel created advertisement comics (which appeared in The Hit Parader magazine in 1967) for Moop, a record label that Zappa and producer Alan Douglas planned to launch. Douglas felt they were too weird and thus backed out of the project. Is this just too weird for you? Grumble, grumble?

{Now let’s return to our regular scheduled program}

“Communication of the new is a miracle, but not impossible.” — McLuhan, who declared: “I have a deep and abiding belief in man’s potential to grow and learn, to plumb the depths of his own being and to learn the secret songs that orchestrate the universe.”

Another important modern thinker and humorist says he is waning from our group due to the format. Consider flipping it into waxing! TLTW could mean To Love To Wax. He claims the Tetrad encourages one-liners and cutesy cleverness (which has services and disservices as well), rather than more engaged discussion. Whaa? Please suggest new questions! New Metaphors! New protocols?

I welcome introducing new queries for the discussion group. Here are Tetrad add-ons:

5: What does it satirize?

6: What does it syncretize? (amalgamate)

7: What does it metaphorize? become a metaphor of? cause a metaphor?

8: What does it retrofit in the private/corporate body?

And here are five questions from George “Understanding Framing Theory” Lakoff:

1- Who is the victim?

2- Who is the villain?

3- Who is the hero?

4- What is the crime?

5- What counts as victory?

“Games were created to give non-heroes the illusion of winning. In real life, you don’t know who really won or lost, but you can tell who is a hero and who is not.” — Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

“Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Samuel Beckett.

So all you whiners, winners and winers, please join in. “Understand everything that is going on. Counter neutralize it. And frustrate them as much as you can” — McLuhan.

“There is an impression abroad that literary folk are fast readers. Wine tasters are not heavy drinkers. Literary people read slowly because they sample the complex dimensions and flavours of words and phrases. They strive for totality not lineality. They are well aware that the words on the page have to be decanted with the utmost skill. Those who imagine they read only for “content” are illusioned. — Marshall McLuhan, ‘Verbi-Voco-Visual’, the eleventh item in Verbi-Voco-Visual Explorations, 1967.

“I’m sure that the point regarding “totality not lineality” is precisely the appreciation of the 4-part metaphor-structure which is implicit in prose and rendered explicit in the tetrad.” — Clinton Ignatov.

What does TLTW mean to you?


Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions — Mad Magazine paperback by Al Jaffe 1968

Laws of Media: The New Science by Eric and Marshall McLuhan 1988

Finnegans Wake by James Joyce 1939: “Our wholemole millwheeling vicociclometer, a tetradomational gazebocroticon … autokinatonetically preprovided with a clappercoupling” . . . and . . . “as per act one, section two, schedule three, clause four.”

James Joyce had essentially discovered the tetrad once he had seen through the television form. He even organized the large-scale structure of the WAKE on the tetrad: Book One deals with the amplification of technology. Book Two is concerned with the obsolescence of technologies. Book Three deals with the retrieval of forms, and Book Four is modeled on its ‘flipping-into-its-opposite’ feature of technologies.”- Robert Dobbs

Cameron McEwen —

Andrew Chrystall — and

Clinton Ignatov —

Andrew McLuhan-

Alex Kuskis —

Richard Altman —

Peter Quadrino — and


Read Namwali Serpell’s essential article “I’m Everything and Nothing” (The NY Review of Books 7–23–20) about SUN RA, noting Ralph Ellison’s four questions: “Who am I, What am I, Why am I, and Where?”

“I have no devotion to any of my probes as if they were sacred opinions. I have no proprietary interest in my ideas and no pride of authorship as such. You have to push any idea to an extreme, you have to probe. Exaggeration, in the sense of hyperbole, is a major artistic device in all modes of art …” — McLuhan

Understatement is a million times more effective than exaggeration.

I avoid cliches like the plague.

If the Tetrad is not to your liking, try “fill in the new word(s)”:

“Behind every great fortune there is a crime.” — Balzac

Behind every ……….. there is …………..

“The Shape of Jazz to Come” — Ornette Coleman

The Shape of ……….. to Come

“Don’t believe everything you read.” -? (“The next best thing to knowing something is knowing where to find it.” — Samuel Johnson)

Don’t believe everything you ………….

“Speak what you feel, not what we ought to say” — ShakESPear

Speak what you………, not what we ought to …………

Gerry starts “I can regard the Tetrad” . . . “as the mechanization and distortion of this cognitive miracle by which we recreate within ourselves the exterior world. But whereas cognition provides that dance of the intellect which is the analogical sense of Being, the mechanical medium has tended to provide merely a dream world which is a substitute for reality rather than a means of proving reality.” — McLuhan

“The drama of cognition itself. For it is in the drama of cognition, the stages of apprehension, that Joyce found the archetype of poetic imitation. He seems to have been the first to see that the dance of being, the nature imitated by the arts, has its primary analogue in the activity of the exterior and interior senses.” — McLuhan

“Art, in the critique factory, is not a workshop for the making of tools. The most modern trends — American abstracts, pop and hyper-realism in painting and sculpture, poor and concrete musics (Cage’s above all), free choreographies (Cunningham’s), intensity theaters (if they exist) — place critical thought and negative dialectics before a considerable challenge: the works they produce are affirmative, not critical. They aver a new position of desire, the traces of which have just been referred to. The philosopher and the politicist (whose thinking you are about to consider) would have been content, after Adorno, with using the arts as formal reversal matices; they are nonetheless required to have an eye and an ear, a mouth and a hand for the new position, which is the end of all critique. They might find this difficult: what if it were their own end as well.” from Marshall McLuhan in TIME magazine, August 9, 1968

Tetrad on Electric Language :

(1) Increase speed of communication to virtual instantaneity, compress the sequent into the simultaneous, and create the new information environment;

(2) Erode visual and logically connected order;

(3) Retrieve audile-tactile dialogue, and revive tribal involvement and the occult;

(4) Reverse the order of transmission as the “etherealized” sender gets sent: you are there, and they are here instantly as discarnate minds.

Hyperbole is the very best thing ever.

“Today we must all be aware that protocol takes precedence over procedure.” and “Beauty is in the behind of the beholder.” — Irwin Corey

Johnny Carson asked Professor Irwin Corey, “Why do men wear shoes?” and Professor Cory said, “Well, a brilliant, brilliant question, Sir Carson! It’s a brilliant, two-part question. The first part of the question is the word ‘why.’ Why what? Why now? Why then? Why anything? Why the unanswerable quest for knowledge and thirst for knowledge, and we should all ask ‘Why?’ every day, every night, every morning, every day — and with women, we do: ‘Why?’ Do men wear shoes? Yes.” (laughing)

“The word is now the cheapest and most universal drug.” — McLuhan

The fourness of the Tetrad presaged “the Four Riddles of the Spheres” from Werner Herzog’s film The Engima of Kaspar Hauser, which evokes the ultimate statement about the perseverance of the human spirit, the outsider, the freak show, the dwarf and most important, community! For more fourness, visit Fourness hoicks up Ritual, Art, Science and Technology. Giambattista Vico is usually credited with being the first to identify metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche and irony as the four basic tropes. This essay involves exegesis, which is the act of interpreting or explaining in four levels: literal, allegorical, moral, and eschatological. The Wake has four bed posts as characters. Yikes?

“1/2 our standards come from our 1st master and the other half from our first loves.” and “Mythology is the ghost of the concrete.” and “Reality, once self evident, not conceptually experienced, is what’s contained in a poetic metaphor. True only insofar as it contains or hints at such a reality.” — Owen Barfield

“The human world is made of stories, not people. The people the stories use to tell themselves are not to be blamed.” — David Mitchell

I asked Jason Keehn, “is storytelling innate or invented by humans?” He responded, “Humans are invented by storytelling.”

Can one make works which are not works of “art”? — Duchamp

The artist’s problem lies in a conflict — to present oneself, then to draw back, to be seen and to remain invisible. — Aaron Ronald Bodenheimer

Nothing is Hidden Wittgenstein

“There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there’s a willingness to contemplate what is happening.” — MM-The Medium is the Massage

Literature was born not the day when a boy crying wolf, wolf came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels: literature was born on the day when a boy came crying wolf, wolf and there was no wolf behind him. That the poor little fellow because he lied too often was finally eaten up by a real beast is quite incidental. But here is what is important. Between the wolf in the tall grass and the wolf in the tall story there is a shimmering go-between. That go-between, that prism, is the art of literature. — Vladimir Nabokov

“We’re just involved in a mopping up operation” — McLuhan, who said “the gap is where the action is”

Is TLTW the gap? The in-betweenness?The word “go-between” is rooted in “one who passes between parties in a negotiation or intrigue,” 1590s, from verbal phrase go between in obsolete sense “act as a mediator” (1540s).


Gerry Fialka, artist, writer, and paramedium ecologist, lectures world-wide on experimental film, avant-garde art and subversive social media. He has been praised by the Los Angeles Times as “the multi-media Renaissance man.” The LA Weekly proclaimed him “a cultural revolutionary.” Gerry has hosted the McLuhan — Finnegans Wake Reading Club since 1995 in Venice California, now in its 25th year. Laughtears Press is proud to announce the new book, Strange Questions: Experimental Film as Conversation by Gerry Fialka, Edited by Rachael Kerr, Foreword by David James.