Reading McLuhan, everything depends on whether his texts are seen in the RVM or “through the looking glass”.
On the one (RVM) hand: “whenever we encounter the unfamiliar, we will translate it into something we already know. It is this that seems to make the present almost impossible to apprehend (…) the use of the present as a nostalgic mirror of the past” (‘The Future of Morality: inner vs outer quest’, 1967, 176).
On the other (through the looking glass) hand: “Once science went through the vanishing point into acoustic or resonant space, both scientists and economists were left on the wrong side of the looking glass, because they were mostly unable to make what Bertrand Russell cited (on the first page of his ABC of Relativity) as the indispensable preliminary act needed for grasping Einstein: “What is demanded is a change in our imaginative picture of the world…” (TT 69).
This change is “the indispensable preliminary act”: it must come before starting to read McLuhan. But what kind of action comes before the beginning? What kind of boundary line or limit [Latin, limes, limitis] must be crossed before [pre] the starting line? And what kind of time is implicated where the essential action is “preliminary” in this way?
The result of this “indispensable preliminary act” is the initiation of perception or “insight”:
the concentric with its endless intersection of planes is necessary for insight. In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media. (UM 26)
“Intersection of planes” or “interplay” or “in-sight” is a matter of seeing through. In the same place McLuhan calls it “overlay in depth” — not limitation to a single plane, like Narcissus, but penetration into multiple planes, like Alice.
When McLuhan is read via such in-sight, ‘media’ are not, or are not only, print, radio, television, etc, they are also the elementary structures of the now fundamentally revisioned domain of human sciences.
And the ‘senses’ are not, or are not only, sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch, they are also the structural components of the atomic elements of this domain — media.
And ‘managers’ are not, or are not only, business functionaries, they are also the shadowy “executive” through whom — as whom — humans, all humans, have the strange power to “flip” identities and worlds:
As all monopolies of knowledge break down in our world of information speed-up, the role of executive opens up to Everyman. There are managers galore for the global theater. (TT 295)
It’s Reigning Executives Everywhere Today (TT 281)
every manager creates a service environment or ground that is an extension of himself. He puts on his organization like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The managing process is both a creation and an extension of man. As such, it is a medium that processes its users, who are its content. (TT 13)
The next job is to process all branches of executive function in such a way that a man can be sent to any part of the organization anywhere, anytime, and feel quite at home. (TT 283)
“The organization” is the world or, indeed, the universe. The human need is to “feel quite at home” in it, “anywhere, anytime”. McLuhan proposes investigation of the “managing process” as the way in which this might eventuate.
Humans somehow participate in a “managing process” in which they themselves “are its content”, in which they themselves are a result. A result of a strange “preliminary” action…
But when does this happen? And who does this? And how? Who is this “nobody” who goes “through the vanishing point” and “through the looking glass”, the “executive as dropout”? Who is this “emperor” who somehow “puts on” “new clothes” as both their “user” and their “content”?
the ultimate question: who am I? (The Global Village,147)