‘Limitation’ in Take Today

Root posts: The bias of communicationPlenary judgment

When McLuhan writes of “Finn-again” at the beginning (22) and end (297) of Take Today, he is not referring only to Finnegans Wake and to the Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill (aka Finn MacCool). He is also specifying the essential (‘again’ and ‘again’) role of ‘fin’ as end, limit and border. Indeed, throughout Take Today, McLuhan emphasizes this essential role of limitation:

Less familiar as “bridge” is the “tragic flaw” (hamartia), of which Aristotle speaks in the Poetics. Without this interval of ignorance or awareness in his character, the tragic hero cannot bridge one state to another. The flaw is an area of interface and mutation, without which he cannot get better, but can only be hung up. (9)

man is enriched (…) by the recognition of his own limitations. (242)

As we return to role playing under the impulse of electric circuitry, we also confront once more the mysteries of both malignancy and magnanimity in the human heart. (276)

Breakdown as Breakthrough
The principle of this action is stated by Aristotle in his description of the tragic hero. The hero’s suffering or agon or struggle for new identity is made possible by a “tragic flaw” or defect. That is the classical case of breakdown as breakthrough. Without this flaw or gap, he could not make the discovery that changes both himself and his actions. As Charles Olson explains in his book Proprioception:
The fault can be a very simple one — a mere unawareness, for example — but if he has no fault he cannot change for the better, but only for the worse (…) he must pass through an experience which opens his eyes to an error of his own.
What Aristotelians have ignored is that the “flaw” is the needed gap that permits “interface” and change. When the individual is entirely at one with his world or organization, he is headed for a hang-up of merging and unconsciousness, which is sterility in life or in business. (282)

In an information environment the most valuable resource is the recognition of specialists’ ignorance. (287)

For the comprehensivist it is the “noise” of the total environment that he must now convert into the program of his global theater. (293)

In fact, we have now to replace nature itself, remaking it as an art form perfectly accommodated to the totality of human needs and aspirations. Such an enterprise requires nothing less than inclusive awareness of human resources and limitations. (294-295)



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