Menippean satire 2

The Toronto School Of Communications fb page offers some counterblast to the idea that the importance of menippean satire in McLuhan’s work is overrated. McLuhan is cited as follows:

I don’t see any point in making anything but controversial statements …There is no other way of getting attention at all. I mean you cannot get people thinking until you say something that really shocks them; dislocates them.

This is from a talk McLuhan gave before a panel studying ‘The Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario’ (January 19, 1967). It was published in print in The Best of Times/The Worst of Times: Contemporary Issues in Canadian Education, 1970. The preceding sentence reads: “Here is another thought for you that is very controversial.” So McLuhan was offering a “controversial” thought about his “controversial statements”. This might be thought similar to satire about menippean satire. But would this be an endorsement or a rejection? Neither? Both?

At any rate, McLuhan was hardly an advocate of shock. In fact, he might well be imagined as addressing the difficult question of how to wake people up from the repeated shocks of modernity without resorting to the contradictory and doubtless useless strategy of attempting to administer one more dose of it.  We have shock jocks and shock and awe and today a thousand more shocking things/girls/boys/songs/images/movies/events etc etc will join the previous billions of them. Shock and somnambulism have become so merged that unimaginable violence against everything is not only the new normal, it is the fervently endorsed new normal.

The mean level of stupidity in the world has never been so high and there have never been so many people around to exercise it. The prospects are shocking.

Another pro menippean satire text cited is:

The urgent effort of the poets to gain a hearing for their intuitions is always lost on the public.

This is from ‘The Crack in the Rear-View Mirror‘ which appeared in the first issue of the McGill Journal of Education in 1966. But instead of offering a questionable historical description of the “urgent effort of the poets to gain a hearing”, or giving the questionable advice that poets turn their attention to publicity instead of their writing, perhaps McLuhan was thinking here of something more like the “urgent need of the public to give poets a hearing”? His dictation ‘writing’ all too often came out like this.

In this same paper from the McGill Journal of Education, McLuhan concludes by expressing the counterfactual hope that:

In the jet age there are some indications that the rear-view mirror as a notification device is losing its monopoly.

Earlier he had given the “only conceivable” way in which this might eventuate:

The only conceivable defence against the distorting effects of the new environments created by new technologies is a patient and total understanding of their powers and influences.


3 thoughts on “Menippean satire 2

    1. McEwen Post author

      The Winnipeg and Toronto ‘schools’ pages probe McLuhan via the juxtaposition of image and text, and of text vs text, and of image vs image, in ways which are both highly original and highly interesting. The image here is closed in on itself in multiple ways and presents a kind of wheel of numbed repetition as the foreground and/or background of the text from Arthur Kroker’s Digital Humanism: The Processed World of Marshall McLuhan.

      The text from Kroker (and his take on McLuhan generally) is excellent up to a certain point where it stops — where it stops before engaging the paradoxical “crux” (Chrystall) of McLuhan’s thought. This crux is the juxtaposition of “the numbing of consciousness” (a numbing which defines humans as humans and has always already occurred to the individual and race in ways which are unrecallable) and truth. “The technological massage”, as Kroker has it, de-finitively de-fines humans for McLuhan from the start — but it does not preclude perception!

      It is exactly here where McLuhan should engage our thought — were we actually to engage in thinking. But, as Heidegger notes, the most thought provoking thing is that nothing provokes our thought.

      In the wonderful image (reminding of the Minoans 3000 years ago here and here) which is brought together with Kroker’s text, there is also, along with a whole series of closed loops, and of loops within loops, undenial life. This juxtaposition is exactly McLuhan’s topic.

  1. cue are

    Did McLuhan consider the writing of satire to be the most appropriate means of elucidating the social, cultural and psychological aspects of human communication and communications technology ?

    Don Theall seems to answer that this cannot be under-rated. See Don Theall’s #take in Messages in McLuhan’s Letters :

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