Exploring ignorance (5)

Exploring ignorance (4) continued …

(e) why is ontological/ontic inter-communication (aka dialogue, inclusivity, interface, metaphor, mosaic, etc) the fundamental relationship for McLuhan?  why does all perception need to start from it?

This gets to the meat of Chrystall’s question.  He wants to know why we can’t start with a known fact — viz, McLuhan’s consulting work.  The short answer is that McLuhan agrees with Nietzsche that there are no facts, only interpretations.  Starting with any ‘fact’ is to start with the RVM. (Why? Because the RVM supplies a direct relationship to something. Once indirection is allowed, once the question of interpretation is allowed, the RVM is relativized and this shatters it. Relativity and the RVM are incompatible.)

Where McLuhan diverges (or reverses) from Nietzsche (like Eliot in this respect) is his finding that the ubiquity of interpretation leads into the tradition rather than out of it. Most of the howling from McLuhan’s critics about his deficiencies has its root just here. Unable or unwilling to probe their own positions with radical questioning, therefore unable to follow him in this reversing maneuver, attention is directed instead at certain ‘facts’ which are alleged to disqualify his perceptions: he contradicted himself or did other bad things. (Those with no ethical position can always find ethics when a stick is needed to beat a competing view.)

Once it is allowed that there are no facts, only interpretations, the question arises (or can arise, if questioning is pursued with sufficient passion, that is, once all questions are allowed): if interpretation is (ex hypothesi) not only not contradictory to truth, but essential to it (as does indeed seem to be the case in the sciences and in practical know-how as well), what could account for this strange relationship? How is it that human beings can successfully relate to truth via interpretation which is never more than partial?

McLuhan’s answer (which he got from Wright, Chesterton, Leavis, Maritain and Gilson) is that ontological/ontical inclusivity precedes all else:

dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the change of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old. (Take Today 22, italics added)

Take Today 22 is one of the most important pages McLuhan ever wrote, and this passage (which concludes the page) is one of the most important ones on it.  Later posts will need to unpack the page as a whole: suffice it here to unpack only this key concluding passage…

– “dialogue (…) came before“: dialogue does not arise as some combination or blend of things which are prior to it, but is itself prior to the relata conjoined by it.

– “dialogue (…) came before, and goes beyond“: dialogue does not come first and then stop; rather, dialogue is the continuing power both in the beginning and throughout the history founded by it.

– “dialogue (…) goes beyond” also in the sense that it goes beyond itself: it is “a process of creating [and sustaining] the new“. This “process” is not merely the creation and sustenance “of equivalents” of itself, it does not “merely reflect or repeat the old“, it is “dialogue” in the deep sense of conjunction between fundamentally different relata. As such deep dialogue, there can be no supposed resolution of it in the merger “of equivalents“; it is a gap which never closes and never fails to conjoin, and is exactly therefore “where the action is”.

Now it can be seen how human beings can successfully relate to truth via interpretation which is never more than partial. The “dialogue” between fundamentally different terms is prior to humans and its power is deeper than them. McLuhan’s problem is therefore to investigate how humans might come back from their “extensions” to its.

It is the “medium” which is the “message” exactly as being prior to all our media and all our messages.

McLuhan’s repeated insistence that truth is making, not matching, has its foundation in these considerations. From this prior power of dialogue, human beings, too, are called to ‘create the new‘ and ‘go beyond‘, not in some “lineal” way. but “through the looking glass”, both via its primordial power and into its opening-holding “extension”.

In sum, the deepest form of such primordial dialogue, ontological/ontic dialogue, is fundamental as first, as continuing, as freeing and as sustaining. McLuhan’s confidence in “intelligibility” is anchored in it. And every word of Marshall McLuhan must be understood as issuing out of, and being directed back to, this original complex.

To be continued in Exploring ignorance (6)….




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