Exploring Ignorance (3)

Another indication that Chrystall’s treatment of “ignorance” is amiss is that he explicitly treats it as a kind of “resource” (‘Ignorance as Resource for a Dialogic Community and Discovery’) which can and should be be subjected to mining and manipulation: “opened up [for] the possibility of organising”, as he says.

Now McLuhan could speak in similar terms, but only with deep and rueful irony, since this would displace the grounding power of nescience to use within human figuring. The parallel to atomic weaponry was clear to McLuhan as may be seen in his frequent resort to the images and vocabulary of nuclear physics and warfare.  What is at stake in each of these is the attempt to turn something fundamental to human use, an attempt replete with global danger.

McLuhan’s thinking here is close to Martin Heidegger’s critique of Technik as reducing everything to Bestand (usually translated as ‘standing reserve’) and, indeed, McLuhan’s close friend and colleague, Tom Langan, was a Heidegger scholar of some note in the ’60s and ’70s. His book, The Meaning of Heidegger, A Critical Study of an Existentialist Phenomenology was first published in 1959.

Langan, like McLuhan, once taught at St Louis University. He came to the philosophy department at the University of Toronto in 1967 after working with Etienne Gilson on his 4 volume history of philosophy project. Langan is presumably the source of McLuhan’s not infrequent references to Heidegger (as well as a spur to his Catholic activism in the 1970s).

It is possible that Langan gave McLuhan the idea of applying Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner line — We were the first that ever burst Into that silent sea — to his own work. As Langan must have known, and as he may have told McLuhan, Heidegger’s younger brother and archivist, Fritz, applied this same line to Martin.





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