Exploring ignorance (1)

Andrew Chrystall submitted a suggestion to the Media Ecology Association for a panel at its 2012 conference which would explore ignorance. Unfortunately — since nothing would be more important for media ecology to explore than the topic of fundamental ignorance — his suggestion was not taken up.

Chrystall ties his suggestion to two points:

Much of the emphasis McLuhan places on ignorance here appears to extend from: (a) the fact he regarded the sharing of ignorance and an examination of specialists’ ignorance as the starting point for dialogue, and (b) that the practice opened up the possibility of organising ignorance for discovery…

While not entirely wrong, these points do not get at the heart of MMs ‘doctrine of ignorance’. And for McLuhan everything depends on starting with and from that beating heart: “the medium is the message/massage” and “the gap is where the action is” are two ways of pointing to this fundament of “ignorance” whose dynamic life is “preliminary” to all history and experience.

Because Chrystall’s points miss the heart of what McLuhan was attempting to get at, they actually revert to POB perspective — exactly what McLuhan was attempting to get away from. They situate ignorance as a figure on the ground of human action. It is (taken to be) what results from our limited perspective, or from our hasty presupposition, or from our failed sympathy, etc.  But for McLuhan, “ignorance” is that border or interval or gap whose dynamic life (“where the action is”, “the massage”) is first of all ontological. It is that abysmal gap through which ontological possibilities can first be plural because bordered or gapped by ‘im-possibility’. It is the “medium” (between fundamental possibilities) which is “message” exactly on account of this originality. It is this strange ground on which human action and experience secondarily figures.

The dynamic power of ignorance in human life has its spring-board in this foundation. Properly perceived,  ignorance provides the bond via which the social is generated and maintained.  Since ignorance/impossibility both holds apart and bonds the fundamental possibilities of being, so can its gap bond humans with God, individual with individual, one generation with the prior generation and with the next generation, one people with another people, humans with nature, and so on.

It is this power which first enables language and which McLuhan treats over and over again in terms of logos.

Fitting relation to such fundamental ignorance requires beginning again with it and from it. This requires a gap from one’s existing experience and presupposition, reach to original ignorance and re-newed ex-pression of it (subjective and objective genitive!) — all of which receive their potentiality and power from the original gap. Because it is original power, so are we em-powered — a ‘delivery system’ McLuhan often describes in terms of “metaphor” and “light through”.


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