GV and TT p22 — Commentary 2: on “true strength”

What has happened to the planet in its trajectory through the Gutenberg galaxy is that it has become “trapped in an assumption about the nature of reality” (GV 77) which is especially blinding:

In the left hemisphere [type of experience], formal cause is translated into a kind of Platonic abstract ideal form that is never perfectly realized in any material. (GV 78)

This is an outlook that cannot break itself free from a force-field in which vision is restricted to “an abstract sequence or movement isolated from ground” (GV 80). Within this fixation, limitation and cliché are taken as negative markers indicating insignificance and lack of substance and reality. No particular instance is perceived to be “realized”, let alone “perfectly realized”. Perfect realization is held instead to characterize only an “abstract ideal” which does not actually exist and which could not actually exist. And yet it is this dead hand that is conceived to shadow all that would otherwise seem existent and alive. (This is the gnostic gambit, to be treated in later posts…)

Further, in accord with Blake’s dictum, often cited by McLuhan, that “they became what they beheld” (eg, GG 265/272), this outlook necessarily views itself in the same way as it views everything else. It senses that it, too, is “isolated from ground” and is just as unreal and dead as everything else. (One aspect of this topic is McLuhan’s thesis that the “content of any medium is always another medium” (UM 8). Far more important than the re-use of books in film or of film in TV is the implication here of the “fly in the fly-bottle” predicament. This problem will be treated in detail in later posts. Suffice it to note here that the force of this concern turns on the subject of the present post: namely, the death grip of a “Platonic abstract ideal form that is never perfectly realized in any material”. The predicament of the fly in the fly-bottle is exactly that it conceives of form (the fly-bottle) in opposition to content (the ‘outside’) and therefore cannot get to the latter on account of the former. But the fly-bottle ceases to imprison as soon as the fly realizes that form and content may be mutually implicating rather than mutually exclusive.)

Now what alone energizes this force-field is the subject’s own hold to the idea that “ideal form (…) is never perfectly realized in any material”. To break with this hold is difficult precisely because of the subject’s own (owning!) identification with it. Although it is an outlook and vision by which it itself is ultimately stripped of all reality, the subject cannot loosen its grip since this ideal appears to it to be the standard of genuine being and, therefore, all that it itself has and is.  But the strength of this hold to an “abstract ideal form that is never perfectly realized in any material” is the Gutenberg galaxy!

As discussed in The Innis Letter of 1951 (2), what is necessary in this situation is for the subject to go through its own lack of reality in which “where you are is where you are not” (as Eliot puts it following San Juan’s “para venir a lo que no eres / has de ir por donde no eres”).  Of course, this is just where the subject already is — or is not! But the modern superman cannot face this dark night of unknowing and prefers instead to flail about destroying everything alive in the name of its dead ideal. It is not able — because lacking the courage to attempt?  because caught in a net of despair? because confusing light with darkness? because taking dumb to unprecedented heights? — to attempt what McLuhan suggests over and over again:

like Alice, he must pass through the vanishing point, to see both sides of the mirror (GV xii, emphasis added)

What then comes into view for the first time is the relativity of Gutenbergian vision:

Alice went through the vanishing point into the “total field” that bridges the worlds of visual and acoustic, civilized and primal spaces. (Take Today 9-10, emphasis added)

Alice in Through the Looking Glass. Before she went through the looking glass, she was in a visual world of continuity and connected space where the appearance of things matched the reality. When she went through the looking glass, she found herself in a non-visual world where nothing matched and everything seemed to have been made on a unique pattern. (Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting, 253)

Where “everything seemed to have been made on a unique pattern“, the relation of form to content aka material realization is seen not to be fixed but to be endlessly variable. What Alice learned by her experience “on both sides of the looking glass” (Take Today 121) was that “realization” is not singular but plural and that, in order to appreciate “realization”, the first thing necessary is to appreciate that plurality.

approaching letters and words from many points of view simultaneously (…) minus the assumption that any one way is solely correct. (GV 64)

Hence McLuhan’s refusal to endorse any point of view.

The end of page 22 of Take Today reads as follows:

dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old.

“Dialogue as a process of creating the new that came before” is an original “combination” or plurality that re-peats itself (“goes beyond) into further pluralities. This is a repetition, however, that does not “merely reflect or repeat the old”, but instead is the power of “a process of creating the new” — it is that most peculiar sort of original plurality that “goes beyond” itself in such a way as to free radical difference(s) from itself: “the new”. But what is “beyond” plural dialogue in the sense of radical difference from it is only the sort of singularity for which “abstract ideal form (…) is never perfectly realized in any material” — exactly because lacking “dialogue” with it! It thus comes into view that original “dialogue” as original “dialogue” requires its own oblivion as the only way in which it can be the sort of radical plurality required by it as original and as “dialogue”.  Only so can it effect its own repetition in difference as its way of “creating the new”…

Earlier on TT page 22, McLuhan cites the I Ching on the rule of such original “innovation” (what “came before”) as “dialogue”. It is that which lies hidden in what it itself brings forth from itself in “creating the new”:

innovation “does indeed guide all happenings, but it never behaves outwardly as the leader. Thus true strength is that strength which, mobile as it is hidden, concentrates on the work without being outwardly visible.”

This is “true strength” because it is both decided and able to replicate itself as what it is not. Hence it is that what seems to be its absence is in fact its “mobile” ex-pression of itself out of itself.  This is why it remains “hidden” and is never “outwardly visible”. At the same time, this absence from itself is exactly its strength and the way it is able to “guide all happenings, but (….) never behaves outwardly as the leader.”


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