Monthly Archives: December 2017

McLuhan reading Havelock’s Crucifixion

McLuhan referenced Eric Havelock’s Crucifixion of Intellectual Man1 in his 1954 speech to the Catholic Renascence Society, ‘Eliot and the Manichean Myth’:

Today many thoughtful people are torn between the claims of time and space, and speak even of The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man as he is mentally torn in these opposite directions.

From an unpublished review written in 1952 or 1953 it seems that McLuhan had read Havelock’s book immediately after it appeared. For the second half of Havelock’s book has his translation of Prometheus by Aeschylus and in the first part much discussion is given to Zeus in the play as an evil god. In ‘The Heart Of Darkness’, a review of Melville’s Quarrel With God (1952) by Lawrence Thompson, McLuhan observes:

The condition of men in this [split] world [of Melville] is that of a Prometheus betrayed by a devil-god.

  1. Published in 1950 in the UK and in 1951 in the US.

How it is

1952
the academic world suffers from excessive humility. It is characterized by the conviction that its thoughts and pursuits are as insignificant as the Chamber of Commerce would like to think. Accepting this evaluation of itself, the academic world cannot be bothered to assume social responsibility or to talk seriously about its own pursuits even to itself.1 Perhaps there would be fewer specialist meetings and conferences if men of letters were sufficiently expert in literature to be interested in modern physics. And physicists would want to know much more about letters if they were aware that poetic method was always at least a decade ahead of laboratory method
(Review of Auden: An Introductory Essay)

  1. See the similar sentiments expressed by Harold Innis in the mid 1930s as cited in Innis and McLuhan in 1936.

Human being: navigator between worlds

a new concept of the nature of thought (Is It Natural That One Medium Should Appropriate and Exploit Another?)1

In ‘The Implications of Cultural Uniformity’2 McLuhan offers the following:

William Empson has described the role of the semiconscious navigator between worlds, in his ‘Arachne’ [1928] which opens:

Twixt devil and deep sea, man hacks his caves;
Birth, death; one, many; what is true, and seems;
Earth’s vast hot iron, cold space’s empty waves:

King spider, walks the velvet roof of streams:
Must bird and fish, must god and beast avoid:
Dance, like nine angels, on pin-point extremes.

His gleaming bubble between void and void,
Tribe-membrane, that by mutual tension stands,
Earth’s surface film, is at a breath destroyed.3
 

Worlds” for McLuhan are structured by variable binary relations between the oral and the literate or the auditory and the visual or the ear and eye.4 This is an elementary5 structure that, as Empson says, by mutual tension stands“. All human experience and identity is grounded in this ear/eye structure:

every artifact of man mirrors the shift between these two modes (Global Village, x)6

The spectrum of these elementary forms stretches from an extreme emphasis on the eye at one end of its range to extreme emphasis on the ear at the other. All the degrees of reduced antagonism between the two are arrayed along the axis between these opposed poles. Starting from one end of the spectrum, the eye pole, say, “extreme” emphasis on it as against the ear gradually diminishes toward the centre of the range; at the centre the emphasis on both the eye and the ear is in balance, favoring neither one of the two; from the centre in the other direction, stress on the ear as against the eye gradually increases until it reaches its “extreme” emphasis at the other end. As Take Today has it: 

There are only two basic extreme forms of human organization. They have innumerable variants or “parti-colored” forms. The extreme forms are the (…) eye and ear… (22)

Another text from this same period in the early 1970s, ‘The Medieval Environment’7 from 1974, has this:

there are two great principles of organization present in Western culture, the acoustic and the visual, and (…) these principles have enlarged and reversed themselves at various time in the past 2500 years of Western development (…) the culture of the eye and [of] the ear, of the outer-directioned rational man, on one hand, and the inner-directed intuitive man, on the other hand, are antithetic and incompatible. The other possibility, of course, is that they may be (…) complementary [ie, at the centre of the range of their possible relations where the emphasis on both the eye and the ear is in balance, favoring neither one of the two relative to the other].8

In this same essay, McLuhan turns to the question of time as times in the work of Saussaure:

Structural linguists, following the lead of Ferdinand de Saussure, have divided the approaches of their studies into diachronic and synchronic modes. The diachronic approach is chronological or developmental or sequential, and is familiar to most students of Western history and language and institutions.  The synchronic approach on the other hand, regards each moment or each facet of any situation as inclusive of the full range of the matters studied.  Another way of putting it is to say that the diachronic approach adopts a visual point of view, while the synchronic method prefers the simultaneity of the acoustic method.9 If the diachronic offers a point of view and continuous, rational exposition, the synchronic tends toward insight and instant awareness of totalities. The visual faculty (…) offers a world of continuity and homogeneity (…) whereas the acoustic world (…) offers a world that is discontinuous and multi-locational…

On the one hand, McLuhan explicitly correlates the diachronic/synchronic relation with the eye/ear relation so that the “variants” of diachronic/synchronic emphasis, like those of eye/ear, may be taken to define the range or spectrum of possible worlds. But, on the other hand, the diachronic/synchronic relation has an additional application which is essential to the proposed analysis. Here, diachronic/synchronic is not isomorphic with the eye/ear as the “two basic extreme forms” of the spectrum of worlds, but with “antithetic”/”complementary” where “antithetic” names both “extreme” ends of the spectrum of forms (all the “innumerable variants” of eye versus ear and of ear versus eye) while “complementary” names the middle of that spectrum (where eye and ear are balanced). Now it is this middle (“Medieval”) or  “synchronic approach” to any situation which first and only gives access to the spectrum of world forms from which the structure of that situation derives:10

The synchronic approach on the other hand, regards each moment or each facet of any situation as inclusive of the full range of the matters studied (…) the synchronic tends toward insight and instant awareness of totalities.

Compare chemistry. It, too, “regards each moment or each facet of any situation as inclusive of the full range of the matters studied” (namely, Mendeleev’s table and its associated laws and properties defining the chemical field) and it is “multi-locational” in vertical perspective since chemistry sees through any and every physical sample to the structures and laws exemplified by it. Notably, it is essential to chemistry that (a) the samples it studies and (b) its principles do not merge on a single level, but remain “multi-leveled”, each forever different from the other and, in their different ways, each forever subject to further specification.11

Ordinary experience proceeds (or, at least, takes it that it proceeds) diachronically from moment to moment, continuous and unbroken. It is like the mariners’ ship in Poe’s story sailing on the surface of the sea. The synchronic cuts across this sailing12, like the Maelstrom, which operates to wrench the mariners’ vessel out of its horizontal bearing into a catastrophic vertical descent (where the mariner or “navigator” is exposed to other ‘vessels’ and to the question of which one to ‘ride’). The synchronic in its relation to the diachronic is therefore not only a mode of characterizing possible worlds (where the relations of the two are isomorphic with those of ear and eye); it is also the one and only way in which access to the spectrum of elementary forms is to be gained. To repeat:

The synchronic approach on the other hand, regards each moment or each facet of any situation as inclusive of the full range of the matters studied (…) the synchronic tends toward insight and instant awareness of totalities.

For McLuhan there is a synchronic gap (where the action is) in every moment of human experience (where each is necessarily structured by some eye/ear relation):

The resonant interval may be considered an invisible borderline between visual and acoustic space (Global Village, 4)13

It is in this “invisible” gap “between visual and acoustic space” — the “common sense” or “tactility” which both links and differentiates them14 — that a vertical motion is enacted through which the spectrum of elementary experiential forms are exposed and ‘marked’ (or ‘re-marked’) in some way. “Consciousness is also a multileveled event” (From Cliché to Archetype, 117) and in its synchronic aspect, perpetually cutting across its diachronic bearing, thismultileveled event” unfolds as the essential exposure to “the full range of the matters” at stake, namely, “worlds”. This exposure is what McLuhan repeatedly termed the drama of cognition“.

In this way, access to the array of possible worlds always has been gained in every presentmoment or each facet of any situation” — but this process is nearly always subject to blackout. The scientific investigation of ‘worlds’ therefore only does consciously what unconsciously takes place in every moment in the synchronic generation of experience. Hence “the link between the stages of apprehension [in every moment of all experience] and the creative process [of scientists and artists]”.15

What happens in this perpetual exposure is that certain possibilities along the spectrum of the formal possibilities (the “sensory ground rules”16) receive “emphasis” such that a kind of melody is constellated. Such a ‘melody’ played on the harmonium of the forms of worlds is identity (individual and social) as a “pattern” of experience. The great question is: if identity results from this synchronic process — who plays it?

McLuhan names the agent in this process — an agency that is human being — as “the semiconscious navigator between worlds”.17 These worlds, between which human being perpetually navigates, are the worlds of lived experience and the array of forms beneath it as its ground:

To say that we live mythically today while continuing to think conventionally may help to draw attention to the technological18 gap in our ordinary experience. (Environment As Programmed Happening)

Since this ‘mythical’ ground of forms is the range of possible worlds19, ‘here’, too, the human being is a “navigator between worlds”.

So it is that human being is always actively navigating “between worlds” in three different ‘time-spaces’ at once: the figured world of lived experience (which varies between macro-worlds like east and west and between micro-worlds like the different individualities of each one of us); the grounding spectrum of ‘worlds’ where the possibilities of world structure are constantly in the process of re-view and improvised activation; and the ano-kato vortex between these two such that the latter are encountered below and the former are generated above.

  1. In McLuhan Hot and Cool (1967).
  2. Published in Superculture: American Popular Culture and Europe, ed C.W.E. Bigsby, 1975, 43-56.
  3. Empson’s poem is discussed in New Bearings in English Poetry (1932) by F.R. Leavis. McLuhan was an enthusiastic Leavisite for more than a decade after encountering the man and his work at Cambridge. He mentions Leavis’ book in ‘Poetic and Rhetorical Exegesis’ (1944) as “assessing the precise changes in the poetic climate which have occurred in consequence of the impact of Yeats, Eliot, Hopkins, and Pound on our language”. Hugh Kenner wrote to Philip Marchand of the time in 1946 after he met McLuhan: “He pushed at me T.S. Eliot, who’d been the type of unintelligibility to my Toronto profs. And he had me read Richards’ Practical Criticism, Leavis’ New Bearings in English Poetry, and (eventually) the entire file of Scrutiny. He kept mentioning Wyndham Lewis, whom I’d never heard of, notwithstanding that for two years I’d lived half a mile away from him…. So many windows opened! (Hugh Kenner to Philip Marchand, March 18, 1987, cited in Marchand’s bio of McLuhan, 102). Empson was in Toronto and had dinner with McLuhan and Frye in 1973. This could have been the motivation behind McLuhan looking into Empson again and citing his poem in his 1975 essay. Further, McLuhan’s citation may be a hint of what first set him on his life’s work during his time in Cambridge from 1934 to 1936: Leavis, Eliot and the question of what is traditioncontinuity and — communication? “Tribe-membrane, that by mutual tension stands”…
  4. “All rational propositions can be reduced to binomial terms” (Is It Natural That One Medium Should Appropriate and Exploit Another? 1967).
  5. “Every medium is in some sense a universal” (Notes on the Media as Art Forms, 1954).
  6. In chemistry, to compare, every material sample “mirrors the shift between these two modes of the proton and electron. The Global Village reverts over and over again to the notion that the eye and ear in their formal sense exist only in relation and therefore must always be understood structurally: “Acoustic and visual space structures may be seen as incommensurable (…) yet, at the same time, as complementary — a foot, as it were, in both visual and acoustic space” (45); “In our desire to illumine the differences between visual and acoustic space, we have undoubtedly given a false impression: and that is that the normal brain, in its everyday functioning, cannot reconcile the apparently contradictory perceptions of both sides of the mind” (48).
  7. The full title of this essay is ‘The Medieval Environment’: Yesterday or Today?’. ‘Today’ points to the treatment of the synchronic in this essay as cited in this post above. It is because ‘the Medieval Environment’ is a present synchronic possibility that McLuhan observes as a hint to us now: “a time when such a process of using both the visual and the acoustic, the rational and the intuitive, in some sort of equilibrium, however shifting, such is the time we have learned to call the ‘Medieval Period’.” McLuhan considered modern art and science, if not his age itself, as deploying in such a “‘Medieval period”.
  8. See note 6 above.
  9. Re “the simultaneity of the acoustic method”, see ‘We need a new picture of knowledge’ (1963): “It is important to observe that the quality of the new ‘structural’, as opposed to the old lineal, sequential and mechanical, is the quality of the simultaneous. It is the simultaneous ‘field’ of multitudinous events in equipoise or interplay that constitutes the awareness of causality that is present in ecological and nuclear models of perception today. Our electric mode of shaping the new patterns of culture and information movement is not mechanical but biological.” Also McLuhan to Ralph Cohen regarding Saussure: “His celebrated distinction between ‘diachronic’ and ‘synchronic’ is quite basically the contrast between the world of the eye and the world of the ear, between sequential and simultaneous. La langue is natural, simultaneous, total and hidden, while la parole is obvious and conscious.” (July 11, 1974)
  10. The synchronic is both a formal world possibility and the realization of that possibility in the world of lived experience.  The difficult knot of communication implicated here lies in the fact that access to the former is obtained only through the latter, but awareness in the latter necessarily originates only in the former. As Eliot says in Four Quartets (Burnt Norton), the instigation of such awareness comes “before the beginning and after the end”.
  11. In Through the Vanishing Point McLuhan writes of “the world of space and time in the art of Chaucer (as) discontinuous and multileveled”, of “a multileveled exegesis” and “a multileveled approach” (all on 49); of the “multidimensional” and of the “many spaces in multileveled time” (55); of the “multispatial” (229). Again in From Cliché to Archetype on the “grammatical method”: it is “multi-leveled exegesis”, a “multi-leveled literary approach” that therefore is able to investigate “the multi-leveled phenomena of the world” (all on 128).
  12. Cf, Socrates’ ‘second sailing’ (τὸν δεύτερον πλοῦν, Phaedo 99c-d).
  13. Not only between but also within each of the “two great principles” there is a corresponding gap: “The sounds we utter are structured in acoustic space by noise spaced in silence. What silence is to acoustic space, darkness is to visual space” (Counterblast, 1969, 117).
  14. See ‘The humble ditch‘.
  15. Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process, 1951.
  16. Environment As Programmed Happening (1968).
  17. See the discussion of the ‘rider’ in Vortex atoms in 19th century physics.
  18. For McLuhan, the archetypal technology is language and there is no human being without language. Hence, there is no human being without such a “technological gap”.
  19. See Archetypes as inherently plural.

Virtual coinage

1972
PROMISES PROMISES PROMISES — 
People of promise, and promising enterprises, like promissory notes, have become inseparable from the promises of promotion and advertising itself. Money in turn is a promise to pay promises, and the plausible con man has returned as the stand-in for the traditional gentleman.
Inflation Is Pollution: The Dilution of Promises — Inflation is a tribute levied by those who know on those who don’t. As W. C. Fields saw it, “Never give a sucker an even break.” In a world of promises and con men only the sucker will take valuable time to acquire socially useful skills, such as carpentry or plumbing or “keeping” the books. (Take Today, 79)

1974
Like our money, which is a ‘promise to pay’, our advertising and P.R. only promise to pay promises.  (Foreword to Abortion in Perspective)

The world too much with us

1974
When Sputnik put the entire planet inside a man-made environment of information, the world may have seemed to become much smaller, but it also became much more obsessive and demanding. The power of the world to invade every feature of our personal lives has been given a kind of medieval Morality Play treatment (…) It is almost as if we had revived “for real” [for real!] the popular medieval narratives (…) As the world manifests its credentials and rewards in
ever more theatrical terms, it becomes ever more difficult for some to resist the world (…) Even theatrically speaking, the drama of the world has become more and more a mockery of merely human satisfactions, when it is quite evident that the richest people in the world have to become “hotel hermits” for security reasons, and when the most powerful people in the world lead lives of frantic uncertainty. (Foreword to Abortion in Perspective)

Present depicted 60 years ago

1959
since [the advent of] printing it has been the poets and painters who have explored and predicted the various possibilities of print, press, telegraph, photograph, movie, radio, and television. In recent decades the arrival of several new media has led to prodigious experimentation in the arts. But, at present, the artists have yielded to the media themselves. Experimentation has passed from the control of the private artist to the groups in charge of the new technologies. Whereas in the past the individual artist, manipulating private and inexpensive materials, was able to shape models of new experience years ahead of the public, today the artist works with expensive public technology, and artist and public merge in a single experience. The new media need the best artist talent and can pay for it. But the artist can no longer provide years of advance  awareness of developments in the patterns of human experience which will inevitably emerge from new technological development. (Electronics and the Changing Role of Print)

 

 

Eliot on Scylla and Charybdis

In 1952 Eliot gave a lecture titled ‘Scylla and Charybdis’. It was not published until 19851 and may have been unknown to McLuhan.  But he was publishing on Eliot at the time and was part of a loose group of figures, including Eliot, Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis themselves, who were often longtime friends (Eliot, Pound and Lewis had known each other by then for over 40 years) and who were publishing poetry and essays on literary  and social matters in journals like The Sewanee Review and Shenandoah.  Eliot, Pound and Lewis all contributed to both these journals and McLuhan published more than a dozen essays and reviews in them in the 1940s and 50s. He was in correspondence with Pound and Lewis, while friends of his like Felix Giovanelli and Hugh Kenner were in touch with Eliot. Within this loose network much more was known about the activities of its various members than what found its way into print. So McLuhan may well have heard of Eliot’s lecture, if not seen it in samizdat.

However that may be, there are themes in the lecture which echoed Eliot’s past work and were of under active investigation by McLuhan at just that time.

The myth [of Scylla and Charybdis] belongs to that Mediterranean world from which our culture springs; it refers to a well-known episode in Mediterranean pre-history; like other myths in the story of Ulysses it is what I believe Professor Jung would call a universal archetype of human experience. It responds to some of the deepest desires, and terrors of all human beings: it is the experience of life itself. It is applicable to almost any subject one can discuss. (6)

The considerations I have been discussing are not, of course, equally applicable to every type of poetry, nor are they equally important in every poem of the same type. They are applicable to the degree in which philosophical ideas have contributed to forming the poet’s mind and have been digested into (we might say composted into) that profound couche of experience which constitutes the soil in which the germs of his poetry are nourished. They are peculiarly applicable when the matter of a poem, rich with philosophical ingredients, is organised into a structural design. (18)

Valéry’s poem has what I call the philosophic structure: an organisation, not merely of successive responses to the situation, but of further responses to his own responses. He has put more of himself into the poem — to that point at which the surrendering of the maximum of one’s being to the poem ends by arriving at the maximum of impersonality.  (19-20)

Eliot puts forward the view that the work of the individual poet is isomorphic with the work of western civilization (“that Mediterranean world from which our culture springs”) and even of “life itself”. All are founded in “that profound couche (…) which constitutes the soil in which the germs (…) are nourished”. It is the job of the poet (or at least of some poets) to reconnoiter the pathways to and from this seedbed and to formulate for us how it stands with it

Here is McLuhan in essays from this same time (some predating Eliot’s lecture):

1949
Mallarmé (…) saw that a poetry of effect was impersonal. The author effaced himself above all in not assigning causes or explanations as transitional devices of a novelistic and a 
pseudo-rationalistic type between the parts of the poem. Poetry could free itself at last from rhetoric and the novel. Insofar as a rationale of poetry was needed it is to be found naturally in the analogical drama of the very action of the intellect itself in making poetry. (Mr. Eliot’s Historical Decorum)

1951
the business of the artist in this context is that of an impersonal agent
, humble before the laws of things, as well as before his own artistic activity as revealer. He must strip himself of all but his mere agency…
 (Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process)

1953
the artist, in order that he may perform his katharsis-purgative function, must mime all things. (…) 
He must become all things in order to reveal all. And to be all he must empty himself. Strictly within the bounds of classical decorum Joyce saw that, unlike the orator, the artist cannot properly speak with his own voice. The ultimate artist can have no style of his own but must be an “outlex” through which the multiple aspects of reality can utter themselves. That the artist should intrude his personal idiom between thing and reader is literally impertinence. (James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial)

1953
“Every letter is a godsend,” wrote Joyce. And, much more,
every word is an avatar, a revelation, an epiphany. For every word is the product of a complex mental act with a complete learning process involved in it. In this respect words can be regarded not as signs but as existent things, alive with a physical and mental life which is both individual and collective. The conventional meanings of words can thus be used or disregarded by Joyce, who is concentrating on the submerged metaphysical drama which these meanings often tend to overlay. His puns in the Wake are a technique for revealing this submerged drama of language (…) For his view of the poet was that he should read, not forge, the signatures of things. As he explains in Stephen Hero, this involves the poet in a perpetual activity of retracing and reconstructing the ways of human apprehension.(James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial)

1954
it was Mallarmé who formulated the lessons of the press as a guide for the new impersonal poetry of suggestion and implication. He saw that
the scale of modern reportage and of the mechanical multiplication of messages made personal rhetoric impossible. Now was the time for the artist to intervene in a new way and to manipulate the new media of communication by a precise and delicate adjustment of the relations of words, things, and events. His task had become not self-expression but the release of the life in things. (Joyce, Mallarmé and the Press)

1954
Mallarmé regarded the press as this ultimate encyclopedic book in its most rudimentary form.
The almost superhuman range of awareness of the press now awaits only the full analogical sense of exact orchestration to perfect its present juxtaposition of items and themes. And this implies the complete self-effacement of the writer for “this book does not admit of any signature.” The job of the artist is not to sign but to read signatures. Existence must speak for itself. It is already richly and radiantly signed. The artist has merely to reveal, not to forge the signatures of existence. But he can only put these in order by discovering the orchestral analogies in things themselves. (…) All those pseudo-rationalisms, the forged links and fraudulent intelligibility which official literature has imposed on existence must be abandoned. And this initial step the press has already taken in its style of impersonal juxtaposition which conveys such riches to the writer. (…)  Mallarmé sees this impersonal art of juxtaposition as revolutionary (…) It is the rhyming and orchestrating of things themselves which releases the maximum intelligibility and attunes the ears of men once more to the music of the spheres. We are finished, he says, with that custom of an official literary decorum by which poets sang in chorus, obliterating with their personal forgeries the actual signatures of things. In fact, the new poet will take as much care to avoid a style that is not in things themselves as literary men have in the past sought to achieve and impose one.  (Joyce, Mallarmé and the Press)

In this view (which was far from being only McLuhan’s) humans are “amphibians” (as McLuhan cited Lewis from Snooty Baronet) who constantly move between the surface of life, language and consciousness and their motivating “germs” in an underlying seedbed. The great questions of the time, even in cybernetics, concerned this general picture and the ways in which it might be specified, investigated and communicated. McLuhan’s turn to media, which began to unfold at this time in the early 1950s, was his answer to these questions.

  1. T.S. Eliot, Scylla and Charybdis’ (Lecture in Nice, March 29, 1952), Agenda, ed W Cookson and P Dale, 23:1-2, 1985, 5-19.

Scylla and Charybdis 1

In a startling example of second sight, McLuhan’s short Manitoba M.A. thesis on George Meredith (1934) cited one passage from Meredith no less than four separate times:

speeding of us, compact of what we are, between the ascetic rocks and the sensual whirlpools, to the creating of certain nobler races now very dimly imagined… (Meredith, Diana of the Crossways, chapter 37, cited by McLuhan, George Meredith as a Poet and Dramatic Novelist, at pages 39, 48, 63 and 82)1

The whirlpool or worldpool or vortex or Maelstrom would become, of course, a central theme and image in McLuhan’s whole enterprise. But, twenty and thirty years after his Manitoba M.A. thesis, he also specifically discussed “Scylla and Charybdis, rock and whirlpool”, themselves:

1953
Joyce underlines the skill of Bloom’s social decorum in a peculiarly witty way. Homer’s Odysseus learns from Circe that after passing the Sirens there were two courses open to him. One is by way of the Wandering Rocks, which Jason alone had passed in the 
Argo. The other is the way of Scylla and Charybdis, rock and whirlpool. Odysseus avoids the labyrinth of the Wandering Rocks. But Bloom navigates both labyrinths safely, thus excelling Odysseus. The Rocks are citizens and society seen in abstraction as mindless, Martian mechanisms. The “stone” men are children of the sun, denizens of space, exempt from time (…) Opposed to them are “The Dead” (see last story in Dubliners) children of the moon, the Celtic twilight (“cultic twalette”), moving in the aquacities of time, memory, and sentiment. On these dual labyrinths of stone and water Joyce has built almost every line he has written. (James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial)

1962
What could be more practical for a man caught between the Scylla of a literary culture and the Charybdis of post-literate technology to make himself a raft of ad copy? He is behaving like Poe’s sailor in the Maelstrom who studied the action of the whirlpool and survives. May not it be our job in the new electronic age to study the action of the new vortex on the body of the older cultures? (The Gutenberg Galaxy, 77)

While Meredith’s “creating of certain nobler races” might strikes us today as dubious and dangerous, McLuhan’s larger (if less grandiose) goal could certainly be thought to have concerned human and even biological survival “now very dimly imagined”.

 

  1. At the end of his thesis at 117, McLuhan cited a part of this passage a fifth (!) time: “certain nobler races now very dimly imagined”. A trace of this early citation may possibly be found in McLuhan’s remark 30 years later: “The bomb is our environment. The bomb is of higher learning all compact, the extension division of the university.” (‘Notes on Burroughs’, 1964)

Blackout

In 1936, McLuhan’s last undergraduate year at Cambridge, his friend there1 and later unofficial adviser on his PhD thesis, Muriel Bradbrook (1909-1993), published The School of Night: A Study in the Literary Relationships of Ralegh.2  Influenced or not by Bradbrook’s study, which he certainly knew3, McLuhan adverted to blackout (and associated themes like obscurity and somnambulism) throughout his career and did so both positively and negatively. Negatively, black signaled an omission, a failure of perception, a gap in awareness. Positively, the gap strangely designated by such obscurity was, as McLuhan would insist over and over and over again, ‘where the action is’. So black covered something up which needed to be discovered  — and so functioned as a signpost and means to what required recovery.

1944
As excessive activity [has] starved the other needs of man and sharpened the spirit of gain and commercialism [such that] 
an unofficial blackout [has been] ordained over the spiritual and intellectual areas of man’s nature. (Dagwood’s America)

1953
THE ADS ARE A FORM OF MAGIC WHICH HAVE COME TO DOMINATE A NEW CIVILIZATION 
Most people must by now have seen the original advertisement featuring a Clifton Webb sort of gentleman wearing a white shirt and having a black patch over one eye. This advertisement sold a million Hathaway shirts in a few weeks, but few ever found out why. The ad was a piece of abstract art, of unabashed symbolism… (The Age of Advertising)

As illustarted below, McLuhan reverted again and again to the Hathaway man.  Not seeing that it was remarkable (let alone what was remarkable about it) seemed to capture for him not-seeing in general. The Gutenberg galaxy formula illustrated by the ad was: seeing can be blind.4 As McLuhan noted in testimony before the US Congress: “Opposites are often very similar. They’re complementary. Affluence creates poverty, public creates privacy, white creates black, learning creates ignorance.5

1953
The spoken word instantly evokes not only some recently conceived idea but reverberates with the total history of its own experience with man. We may be oblivious of such overtones as of the spectrum of colour in a lump of coal. But the poet by exact rhythmic adjustment can flood our consciousness with this knowledge. (Culture Without Literacy, 1953)

1954
like symbolist art, [advertising] is created to produce an effect rather than to argue or discuss the merits of a product. The Baron Wrangel, the man in the Hathaway shirt — white shirt and black eye-patch: what did it mean? Out of the millions who bought Hathaway shirts, how many could say what the ad meant? It was a piece of magic: irrational, meaningless. But it had a definite effect. (Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters)

1956
The manuscript page with pictures, colors, and correlation between symbol and space, gave way to uniform type, the black-and-white page, read silently, alone. (The New Languages, [McLuhan and Carpenter])

Gutenbergian visual emphasis fixes black and white on the same horizontal level in strictly sequential order. This is how print looks and how print functions. “The print reader is subjected to a black and white flicker that is regular and even. Print presents arrested moments of [just this] mental posture [and no other]” (The Gutenberg Galaxy, 158). By contrast, the acoustic allows the black to cut through the white, and the white to cut through the black, vertically. Only so can there be something like figure and ground. And if no figure and ground, then no ground and only figure — and if only figure, ultimately no figure either.6

1959
because of its static aspect, the written word inspires the human mind with doubt. This is the habit of the eye. This is the habit of the eye inspecting writing: black-white … yes-no … maybe yes-maybe no. Scepticism is the very form of written culture. (Communications and the Word of God)

1962
“She comes! she comes! the sable Throne behold
Of Night Primaeval, and of Chaos old!
(…)
Nor public Flame, nor private, dares to shine;
Nor human Spark is left, nor Glimpse divine!
Lo! thy dread Empire, CHAOS! is restor’d;
Light dies before thy uncreating word:
Thy hand, great Anarch! lets the curtain fall;
And Universal Darkness buries All.”
This is the Night from which Joyce invites the Finnegans to wake. (The Gutenberg Galaxy, 263/298)

These are the concluding lines (before its final short section, or appendix, on ‘The Galaxy Reconfigured’) of The Gutenberg Galaxy.

1965
There is a subplot in the famous Hathaway shirt advertisement of the baron with the black patch on his eye. The main plot is simply Hathaway shirts. The subplot, the one that really includes the whole audience, is the black patch which bespeaks the world of aristocratic intrigue, hunts for hidden treasure, and many other mysterious dimensions, all expressed instantaneously by the black patch. The subplot world, the sub-environment, is really that which includes the audience, and it is the power to effect this kind of inclusion that is the mystery… (Address at Vision 65)

1968
Black Is Not A Color (Dew-Line #1)

1970
White is all colors at once, but black is not in the
spectrum. It is a gap. (…) The spectrum gap that is black (…) is not a color but an interval (Culture is our Business, 220, 226)

1970
When the separated or specialized senses are heavily over­loaded, one tends to black out, to merge. (From Cliché to Archetype, 196)

1972
You cannot have a written tradition of white markets (…) without an oral tradition of black markets… (Take Today, 171)

1972
The idealists share with the experienced and practical men of their time the infirmity of substituting concepts for percepts. Both concentrate on a clash between past experience and future goals that black out the usual but hidden processes of the present. Both ignore the fact that dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old. (Take Today, 22)

 

  1. McLuhan mentions being “at tea” in Bradbrook’s rooms with her tutor and a group of others in a letter to his family from May, 1935 (Letters 67). His calling her “Miss B” in this letter from his first year in Cambridge would indicate that he had mentioned her before, perhaps frequently.
  2. Republished by CUP in 2011; often cited with Bradbrook’s Ralegh changed to Raleigh.
  3. Introducing her theme, Bradbrook notes that “there has been a growing interest in the literary activities of Ralegh, and in particular in the society founded by him, and known now by Shakespeare’s nickname ‘The School of Night’. There appears to have been a kind of literary ‘war’ between this school and the faction of Essex, not unlike the dramatists’ ‘war’ of 1598-9, or the earlier one between Harvey and Nashe” (7, emphasis added). The last chapter of the book is titled ‘Shakespeare, the School (of Night), and Nashe‘. McLuhan’s PhD thesis, The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time was completed 7 years later and would be an extended examination of the history of just such ‘wars’ over the two millennia from 400 BC to Shakespeare with special reference to Nashe. The background questions, to which McLuhan would dedicate his intellectual life, were: what is it about human life that such ‘wars’ are recurrent? how do they manifest themselves? how is it that tradition and communication nonetheless continue?
  4. Conversely, as repeatedly noted by McLuhan, ancient seers were often blind.
  5. ‘The Hardware/Software Mergers: How Successful Have They Been?’, Hearings, Ninety-second Congress, H.R. 4916, Sept 13, 1972.
  6. See Nietzsche, ‘How the “true world” finally became a fable‘.

What is the present?

Present: adj. c. 1300, “existing at the time”, from Old French present “evident, at hand, within reach”; as a noun, “the present time” (11c., Modern French présent) and directly from Latin praesentem (nominative praesens) “present, at hand, in sight; immediate; prompt, instant; contemporary”, from present participle of praeesse “be before (someone or something [in space]), be at hand”, from prae “before” (see pre-) + esse “to be” (from PIE root *es- “to be”). Meaning “being there” is from mid-14c. in English. As a grammatical tense, recorded from late 14c. (Online Etymology Dictionary)

With our Vortex the Present is the only active thing.
Life is the Past and the Future.
The Present is Art.
(Wyndham Lewis, ‘Long Live the Vortex!’, Blast 1, 1914)

the artist, as Wyndham Lewis said to me, “is engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is aware of the unused potential of the present.” (Technology, the Media, and Culture, 1959)1

We simply have to (…) become contemporaries of ourselves. (Electronics and the Changing Role of Print, 1959)

Only those who have learned to perceive the present can predict the future. (…) For the future of the future is the present. (Take Today, 134)


McLuhan’s notion that most people don’t perceive the present is well known:

1954
NOBODY yet knows the language inherent in the new technological culture; we are all deaf-blind mutes in terms of the new situation. Our most impressive words and thoughts betray us by referring to the previously existent, not to the present.
(‘Five Sovereign Fingers Taxed The Breath’, 1954 Counterblast)

1967
We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future. (The Medium is the Massage, 74-75)

1967
When a new environment forms, we see [only] the old one as if we lived in a world of the déjà vu. (…) Much learning theory still accepts this illusion (…) that we must learn by going from the familiar to the unfamiliar. Yet this strategy merely ensures that whenever we encounter the unfamiliar, we will translate it into something we already know. It is this that seems to make the present almost impossible to apprehend… (The Future of Morality: inner vs outer quest)

1967
People have always, in all ages, been terrified of the present. The only people that seem to have enough gumption, or nerve, to look at what is happening right under their nose are artists. They are specialists in sensory life. (…) But most people simply expect, when they look at the present, to be turned to stone, as by the gorgon’s spell, and they are terrified. Therefore they prefer the rear-view mirror. (McLuhan Interview on CBC ‘Our World’)

1968
The habit of avoiding the present or the new (…) has been immemorial human tradition
… (Environment As Programmed Happening)

1968
Ordinary human instinct causes people (…) to rely on the rear-view mirror
as a kind of repeat or ricorso of the preceding environment, thus insuring total disorientation at all times. It is not that there is anything wrong with the old environment, but it simply will not serve as navigational guide to the new one. (Through the Vanishing Point, xxiii)

But what is the present and why is it fearsome? The vague general idea seems to be that most people prefer the old to the new because they don’t want to make the effort to accommodate themselves to changed circumstance. While this is doubtless true, even of you and me, this answer does little more than restate the question — namely, what is the ‘effort to accommodate’ and why should it be fearsome?

McLuhan’s answer to these questions was that the process of accommodation is always going on — “In every moment of human awareness”, in “every moment of cognition”, in “the millions of repetitions of the cognitive labyrinth” —  but that we fear (or are otherwise discouraged2) to live it consciously and awake. That is, we don’t fear something that we don’t know, but something we ‘know’ all too well — something that is, however, unconscious and “hidden”, subject to blackout.3

McLuhan’s notion here was close to that of the psychoanalytic ‘unconscious’: there are processes in all human life which are constantly active that are yet not admitted to conscious awareness. And, like the psychoanalysts, McLuhan pointed to dreams as revealing these active yet largely unknown processes:

1967
Freud’s
Interpretation of Dreams reveals the amazing power that all people have in their dream life of invention and poetic discovery; that the most ordinary person in his dream life is a tremendous poet. Most Freudians are concerned with the subject-matter of this poetry. That never interested me. I was always fascinated by the amazing ingenuity, symmetry, and inventiveness of the dreamer. We all have these tremendous unused powers which we use surreptitiously. We are afraid to use them in our waking lives. Except the artist. The artist uses in his waking life the powers an ordinary person would use in his dream life. The creative man has his dream life while awake. (…) The dream is a way of processing waking experiences in a pattern which is non-lineal, but multi-leveled. (McLuhan interview with  Gerald Stearn, McLuhan Hot & Cool)

“The subject-matter (…) never interested me”: the medium is the message.

Again like the psychoanalysts, McLuhan saw these processes at work not only in dreams, but in every aspect of “everyday life” without exception. Not only now and then, but all the time. In this way, the present was conceived by McLuhan as including all those hidden processes through which we experience what we experience:

1951
The poetic process he [Joyce] discovered and states in Stephen Hero is the experience of (gen subj!) ordinary cognition, but it is that labyrinth reversed, retraced, and hence epiphanized. The moment of arrested cognition achieves at once its stasis and epiphany as a result of the reconstruction of the stages of ordinary apprehension. And every moment of cognition is thus a Beatrician moment when rendered lucid by a retracing of its labyrinth. (The Aesthetic Moment in Landscape Poetry)

1953
The spoken word instantly evokes not only some recently conceived idea but reverberates with the total history of its own experience with man. We may be oblivious of such overtones as of the spectrum of colour in a lump of coal. (Culture Without Literacy)

1954
the creative act of ordinary human perception
a greater thing and a more intricate process than any devised by philosophers or scientists. (Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters)

1954
The rational notes of beauty, integrity, consonance, and
claritas traced by St. Thomas were actual stages of apprehension in every moment of human awareness. (Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters) 

1954
the poetic process (…) is involved in ordinary cognition
(Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters)

1970
Stephen’s surname is (…) “Dedalus,” i.e., “dead all us.” Joyce’s last story in Dubliners, “The Dead,” and the last lines of the Portrait explain the relation of the young artist to the 
dead; “I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of ex­perience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated con­science of my race.” This verbal implication of ricorsothe millions of repetitions of the cognitive labyrinth (…) is the task of making sense, of waking the somnambulists in the labyrinth of cognition. (From Cliché to Archetype, 148-149)

1972
The idealists share with the experienced and practical men of their time the infirmity of substituting concepts for percepts. Both concentrate on a clash between past experience and future goals that blacks out the usual but hidden processes of the present. Both ignore the fact that dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old. (Take Today, 22)

1972
sensations and concepts [entail] (…) the continual transformation of sensory inputs into outputs of quite different kinds. Food for the mind is like food for the body; the inputs are never the same as the outputs! This pattern of non-lineality is evident in every human activity. (Take Today, 137)

McLuhan’s take on the present was that it implicated a synchronic descent into the formal possibilities of experience and that this descent had two chief modes.  It could be made perceptively or conceptually.4 The former might be imagined in terms of Poe’s mariner who saved himself in the Maelstrom by learning to understand how it functioned.  This involved a distance not only from his ship, but also from himself, since the possible vehicles in the flotsam and jetsam of the Maelstrom (as a representation of the possibilities ‘present’ in each recurrent moment of experience) were modalities of identity and awareness.  Their plurality could be investigated only by letting go of his own supposed singularity and its associated world. Since there is no world between worlds, he was able to save himself only by becoming nobody. But this is a kind of death and extinction and is feared as nothing else is.

In fundamental contrast to the mariner, the conceptual encounter with the present might be imagined in terms of the mariner’s brother, who was not able to ‘let go’ of the ship’s ‘ring’ and to ‘abandon ship’. Transfixed by fear, he could not learn what the vortex had to teach of the present — of what is ‘before’ us at every instant. He thereby went to his doom.

 

 

  1. McLuhan used this passage frequently.  It appears, sometimes with light variations, in at least a dozen different papers and books in the 1960s and 1970s. As early as 1953 in a review entitled ‘Symbolist Communication’ he noted, without mentioning Lewis, “art is a record of the future in so far as it is an expression of the unlived possibilities of the present”. This was clearly a highly important insight for him.
  2. In McLuhan’s take, mass media are grounded in our cognitive processes and attempt, with staggering success, to manipulate them. Part of his turn to media was the thought: if media are successful in manipulating how human beings live, they must do so on the basis of some genuine foundation, regardless if this is known or unknown to them. Therefore they are key to the investigation of what human being is and how it functions.
  3. All of the quotations in this paragraph come from passages given in full elsewhere in this post.
  4. Percept and concept align with synchronic and diachronic in time and with acoustic and visual in sensory emphasis.

Jung

1943
To the modern mind, schooled in Jung and Freud, ancient myth is once more alive and lancing, and able to stir the poetic imagination radically and polysemously. (The Classical Trivium, 157)

1944
Anthropology and psychology together have also revindicated the traditional ‘magical’ view of language fusing the seemingly distinct activities of the brothers Grimm, on the one hand, as philologists, and on the other, as students of folk-lore, so that we are once more in a position to adopt a sympathetic view of the divine Logos of late antiquity. Quite incidental to the radical readjustments in awareness we can relax where Francis Bacon is concerned. We can take him in our stride, as it were, nodding at him as a useful landmark in a great literary tradition whose representatives today are Jung and Count Korzybski. (Medieval Grammar as the Basis of Bacon’s Novum Organum)1

1944
Increasingly, I feel that Catholics must master C.G. Jung. The little self-conscious (unearned) area in which we live to-day has nothing to do with the problems of our faith. Modern anthropology and psychology are more important for the Church than St. Thomas to-day. (McLuhan to Walter Ong and Clement McNaspy, December 23, 1944, Letters 166)

1946
But la trahison des clercs has been to subordinate detached critical intelligence to the servile functions of “political” evangelism. They are thus the inheritors of the sectarian enthusiasms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries presenting a scientific demonstration of Jung’s social principle: “No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity.”  (Footprints in the Sands of Crime, citing Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933)

1947
But it is clear enough to me that the abiding achievement of the past century has been in analytic psychology and as such the Catholic mind has yet to ingest let alone digest that achievement. (McLuhan to Walter Ong, December 1947, Letters 191)

1948
My little book on “books to read” comes along simply and quickly without effort on my part. (..) Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology is on because it provides simultaneously an introduction to medieval allegory (Dante) and the French symbolists and Jung. Jung is on not for his own sake but as an approach to myth and Joyce.  (McLuhan to Felix Giovanelli, Aug 1948)

1950
Immediately associated with this notion of speech is the sense of a collective human consciousness which is not merely psychological (Joyce and Eliot have always been sharply critical of Freud and Jung for this reason among others), but in the nature of a common drama of the race. (T S Eliot [review of 11 books])

1952
As Father White wrote concerning “Jung and the Supernatural” (Commonweal, March 14, 1952, p. 561):  “A living symbol does something to us; it moves us, shifts our center of awareness, changes our values.  Whether it is just looked at, or heard, acted out, painted out, written out, or danced out, it arouses not only thought, but delight, fear, awe, horror, perhaps a deeper insight.”  In other words, the symbols of our environment, commercial and artistic, are not just signs whose reference has to be understood for them to be efficacious. That is Cartesian and Lockean theory of communication which never fitted the facts. But Catholics today still hold to that theory of communication, and it hands them over bound and helpless to the consciously manipulated pagan rituals of art, literature and commerce. (‘Heart of Darkness’, unpublished review of Thompson, Melville’s Quarrel With God)

1953
As Father Victor White wrote concerning “Jung and the Supernatural”: “
A living symbol does something to us; it moves us, shifts our center of awareness, changes our values. Whether it is just looked at, or heard, acted out, painted out, written out, or danced out, it arouses not only thought, but delight, fear, awe, horror, perhaps a deeper insight.”  (…) Symbols are not just referential signs. They don’t just say something. They do something. And saying is also symbolic action. We are moving very rapidly today to a grasp of scriptural, poetic and social communication which promises to take up all the wealth of patristic insight and to go far beyond it. But we have no choice. We have either to surpass any previous age or to collapse into a new Babel. For our problems, like our means and opportunities, are of a scope beyond those of any previous age. (Symbolist Communication)

1962
Any phonetic alphabet culture can easily slip into the habit of putting one thing under or in another, since there is constant pressure from the subliminal fact that the written code carries for the reader the experience of the “content” which is speech. But there is nothing subliminal in non-literate cultures. The reason we find myths difficult to grasp is just this fact, that they do not exclude any facet of experience as literate cultures do. All the levels of meaning are simultaneous. Thus natives, when asked Freudian questions about the symbolism of their thoughts or dreams, insist that all the meanings are right there in the verbal statement. The work of Jung and Freud is a laborious translation of non-literate awareness into literary terms… (Gutenberg Galaxy, 72)

1964
Freud and Jung built their observations on the interpretation of the languages of both individual and collective postures and gestures with respect to dreams and to the ordinary acts of everyday life. The physical and psychic gestalts, or “still” shots, with which they worked were much owing to the posture world revealed by the photograph. The photograph is just as useful for collective, as for individual, postures and gestures, whereas written and printed language is biased toward the private and individual posture. Thus, the traditional figures of rhetoric were individual postures of mind of the private speaker in relation to an audience, whereas myth and Jungian archetypes are collective postures of the mind with which the written form could not cope, any more than it could command mime and gesture. (Understanding Media, 193-194) 

1964
the logic of
the photograph is neither verbal nor syntactical, a condition which renders literary culture quite helpless to cope with the photograph. By the same token, the complete transformation of human sense-awareness by this form involves a development of self-consciousness that alters facial expression and cosmetic makeup as immediately as it does our bodily stance, in public or in private. This fact can be gleaned from any magazine or movie of fifteen years back. It is not too much to say, therefore, that if outer posture is affected by the photograph, so with our inner postures and the dialogue with ourselves. The age of Jung and Freud is, above all, the age of the photograph, the age of the full gamut of self-critical attitudes.  (Understanding Media, 197) 

1970
The cliché (…) is incompatible with other clichés, but the archetype is extremely cohesive; other archetypes’ residues adhere to it
. When we consciously set out to retrieve one archetype, we unconsciously retrieve others; and this retrieval recurs in infinite regress. In fact, whenever we “quote” one consciousness, we also “quote” the archetypes we exclude; and this quotation of excluded archetypes has been called by Freud, Jung, and others “the archetypal unconscious.”
(From Cliché to Archetype, 21-22)

1970
As we meditate upon the ancient cliches or sacro-breakthroughs, the literal man is inclined to consider them as “archetypes.” For example, Northrop Frye in
Anatomy of Criticism defines archetype as “a symbol, usually an image, which recurs often enough in literature to be recognizable as an element of one’s literary experi­ence as a whole.” Of course this particular definition is most un-­Jungian in suggesting that archetypes are human artifacts produced by much repetition — in other words, a form of cliche. For the literary archetypalist there is always a problem of whether Oedipus Rex or Tom Jones would have the same effect on an audience in the South Sea Islands as in Toronto. With the new means of plenary cultural retrieval, ancient cliches are taking their place as transcendental or archetypal forms.
(From Cliché to Archetype, 118)

1971
The simple process by which the unconscious was pushed up into con­sciousness with the help of electricity, Freud and Jung is one of the big dramas of our time. And it’s true that the private identity, the private individual has been swept away by this huge surge of the unconscious up into consciousness. (Theatre and the Visual Arts)

Posthumous
The archetype, which depends on an overarching comprehension of the past (the mythic milieu), is retrieved awareness or consciousness. It is consequently a retrieved combination of clichés — an old cliché brought back by a new cliché. (The Global Village, 16)

Posthumous
Jung is careful to remind literary critics to consider the archetype as a primordial symbol: The archetypes are by no means useless archaic survivals or relics. They are living entities, (…) numinous ideas or dominant representations. (The Global Village, 17)

 

 

  1. Cited in Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 380n8. McLuhan retouched and retitled this Bacon essay at least 4 times between 1942 and 1944. It was originally announced as a lecture for a 1942 MLA meeting that was cancelled on account of the war and ultimately given as a lecture in a later meeting of the MLA in 1944. See, eg, ‘Francis Bacon’s Patristic  Inheritance’, McLuhan  Studies I (1991) and ‘Medieval Grammar as the Basis of Bacon’s Novum Organum‘, EME, 6:3,  2007. An abstract for the 1944 lecture was published in the MLA conference program: “The art of grammar in Greek and Roman times was, in its etymological and analogical functions,  inseparable from physics, cosmogony and the interpretation of phenomena, or the book of nature. Philo of Alexandria adapted the art with its four levels of interpretation, to scriptural exegesis. Patristic theology took over his methods and the encyclopedic tradition in education it implied. Until the time of Abelard grammatical theology and science were supreme. Its temporary eclipse did not effect a breach in continuity. St Bonaventure was its greatest exponent. Erasmus was the key figure for his contemporaries because he restored grammatical theology while struggling against decadent dialectical theology. Bacon’s significance is best understood in this tradition and against this background. His conception of the problem of interpreting of nature is primarily, though not finally, grammatical.”

Archetypes as inherently plural

1946
But la trahison des clercs has been to subordinate detached critical intelligence to the servile functions of “political” evangelism. They are thus the inheritors of the sectarian enthusiasms of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries presenting a scientific demonstration of Jung’s social principle: “No psychic value can disappear without being replaced by another of equivalent intensity.”  (Footprints in the Sands of Crime, citing Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933)

1970
The cliché (…) is incompatible with other clichés, but the archetype is extremely cohesive; other archetypes’ residues adhere to it. When we consciously set out to retrieve one archetype, we unconsciously retrieve others; and this retrieval recurs in infinite regress. In fact, whenever we “quote” one consciousness, we also “quote” the archetypes we exclude; and this quotation of excluded archetypes1 has been called by Freud, Jung, and others “the archetypal unconscious.” (From  Cliché to Archetype, 21-22)

  1. Such “quotation of excluded archetypes” might be called “the living inter-relational current of forms”. Cf, ‘Media Alchemy in Art and Society’, 1958: “Massive achievements like Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time, and Architecture or his Mechanization Takes Command offer as it were a vivisectional awareness of the living inter-relational current of forms and information.” Hence, in a letter from McLuhan to J. G. Keogh, July 6, 1972: “my approach to media is metaphysical rather than sociological or dialectical (…) I am not in any way interested in classifying cultural forms. I am a metaphysician, interested in the life of the forms and their surprising modalities.” (Letters, 412,)

X-ray awareness, the inside story

the inside story (…) is typical of X-ray photographs, boudoir journalism, and cubist painting alike. (The Mechanical Bride, 49-50)

the characteristic mode of learning and knowing since the telegraph offers a pattern of instantaneous inter-cultural x-ray, very different from the enclosed spaces of literature. Man is no longer monad but nomad. (Have with You to Madison Avenue or The Flush-Profile of Literature, 1957)1

Already, new “sex symbols” poke fun at the super female. Notable among them is the boyish and gentle young model known as Twiggy. Sophia Loren, for example, is to Twiggy as a Rubens painting is to an X-ray. And what does an X-ray of a woman reveal? Not a realistic picture, but a deep, involving image. Not a specialized female, but a human being. (The Future of Sex, 1967)

The kids have grown up in an x-ray world. The TV camera does a perpetual job of x-ray on them and they take this for granted. X-ray means depth, x-ray means participation in depth in whatever they are doing, and calls for a totally new kind of commitment to everything they are doing. That is why when they encounter situations in which they are merely classified entities as in the school room, they don’t feel wanted, they don’t feel needed, they just drop out. Now, this strange, new all-at-once situation in which everybody experiences everything all at once creates this kind of x-ray mosaic of involvement and participation for which people are just not prepared. They have lived through centuries of detachment, of non-involvement, Suddenly they are involved. So it’s a big surprise, and for many people a kind of exhilaration. Wonderful! (McLuhan on CBC ‘Our World’, 1967)

TV demands sophistication — that is, multi-level perception. It is a depth medium, an X-ray form that penetrates the viewer. (All of the Candidates are Asleep, 1968)

The same speed of access to many kinds of data has given us the power to X-ray all the cultures and subcultures in the world. We no longer approach them from any point of view or for the purpose of taking a picture of them. The new approach is the X-ray approach of penetration in depth to achieve awareness on many levels at once. (…) The habit of avoiding the present or the new which has been immemorial human tradition tends to yield to this X-ray approach of the structures that shape and surround human perception. (Environment As Programmed Happening, 1968)

The mechanical proceeds by fragmentation of all processes, including the process of perception. The mechanical enthroned the “point of view,” the static position, with its vanishing point. The electric age favors a total field approach, a kind of X-ray in depth which not only avoids a point of view but avoids looking at situations from any single level. (Environment As Programmed Happening, 1968)

TV (…) is a kind of X-ray. (…) The viewer is in the situation of being X-rayed by the image. (Through the Vanishing Point, 241)

the tension between inner and outer is a merely visual guideline, and in the age of the X-ray inner and outer are simultaneous events.  (Through the Vanishing Point, 254)

One equivalent of psychoanalysis might be x-ray photography. Psychology without walls, on one hand; biology without walls, on the other. (Educational Effects of Mass Media of Communication, 1956; also Counterblast, 1969, 123)

Even the new instruments of sensory measurement draw attention to the iconic aspects of visual perception, An X-ray radiologist looks at his images as if he were handling them. (Cliche to Archetype, 100)

The cathode-ray tube is an x-ray. The audience is involved in depth. The TV image is not a picture but an icon. The TV camera has no shutter. (Culture is our Business, 36)

the X-ray vision of all processes renders invention an easy consequence of perceiving causes in action. (Take Today, 104)

ESP Is Old Hat When Effects Precede Causes: The patterns of formerly hidden processes now begin to obtrude on every hand. Prescience, prophetic vision, and artistic awareness are no longer needed to establish an understanding of the most secret causes of personal and social processes. Mere electric speed-up makes X-ray awareness natural. (…) Now involvement is so mandatory and loyalties so corporate that (…) means and goals merge in process (…) these patterns and processes thus become perceptible. (Take Today, 193-194)

television does not present a visual image, but an X-ray icon which penetrates our entire organism. Joyce called it “the charge of the light barricade” — part of the Crimean war against mankind. Stained-glass images are not visual either, since they are defined by light through, as in Rouault paintings. The structure of these images is audile-tactile, as in abstract art, both of Symbolist and Cubist kind. (McLuhan to Barbara Ward, Feb 9 1973, Letters, 465-468)

  1.  Unpublished review of Northrop Frye’s Anatomy of Criticism.

Vatican Council as politics and business

Take Today, 194

At the Second Vatican Council, the participants paid no attention to the causes of their problems in their new policies and prescriptions. Whether politics and business have always been conducted with the same total obliviousness to causes may be left an open question. It seems necessary to postulate a profound motivation for such universal somnambulism. People in general seem to have a built-in intuition of the safe limits of their human awareness at any given time. Until this century, the limits have been set well below the threshold of rational control of the total environment. At electric speeds it is quite futile to set limits of awareness at that level.

Vivisection

Following Joyce in Stephen Hero, McLuhan used the term ‘vivisection’ between 1951 and 1960 to designate what he elsewhere called “percept”, “x-ray awareness”, “insight” and “retracing”.  It is the action of mind whereby it dis-covers the vertical descent and ascent it itself makes every moment in de-ciding the structure of its experience and action from out of the full spectrum of their formal possibilities:

this figure [of the labyrinth] is (…) traced and retraced by the mind many times in the course of a single [Thomistic] article. Perhaps this fact helps to explain the power of Thomas to communicate a great deal even before he is much understood. It certainly suggests why he can provide rich esthetic satisfactions by the very dance of his mind — a dance in which we participate as we follow him. His “articles” can be regarded as vivisections of the mind in act.  (Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process, 1951)

the conjunction of landscape and labyrinth provided Joyce with [a] vivisection of the stages of esthetic apprehension (…). As much, therefore, as the ancient Daedalus who made the labyrinth in Crete, Joyce had the right to name his hero “Stephen Dedalus” (the French form of the word). But it is not only the labyrinth of cognition in which Joyce made himself at home, tracing and retracing with delicate precision. The labyrinthine structure of the eye it is that gives such salience in his work to the figure of the Cyclops. Most of all he was at home in the labyrinth of the inner ear where he met Persse O’Reilly, who is per se, son of the Real. On the labyrinth of the ear, organ of the Incarnation, Joyce built those metaphysical analogies which enabled him to restore the orchestra of the seven liberal arts to its plenary functions. He is never less than the artist of the word. Ulysses is reared on the labyrinth landscape of the human body as the body politic; and Finnegans Wake whispers throughout with the voice of the river of human blood and immemorial racial consciousness. Joyce was at home in all labyrinths because of his original conquest of the stages of apprehension, of the mind in act. (…) [As Joyce writes in Stephen Hero:] “The modern spirit is vivisective. Vivisection is the most modern process one can conceive. The ancient method investigated law with the lantern of justice, morality with the lantern of revelation, art with the lantern of tradition. But all these lanterns have magical properties: they transform and disfigure.1 The modern method examines its territory by the light of day.”2 (Joyce, Aquinas, and the Poetic Process, 1951)

For Mallarmé, as for Joyce, the minutest, as well as the most esoteric, features of the alphabet itself were charged with dramatic significance, so that he used the word and the printed page as do the Chinese, for whom landscape painting is a branch of writing.  Mallarmé had been led to this technique by an aesthetic analysis of the modern newspaper, with its static inclusiveness of the entire community of men. But the newspaper, not so much as a cross section as a vivisection of human interests, stands (…) behind Ulysses, with its date-line Thursday, June 16, 1904.(…) What Mallarmé and Joyce exploit in landscape technique is its power of rendering an inclusive consciousness in a single instant of perception. (The Aesthetic Moment in Landscape Poetry, 1951)

Often noted from Montaigne onward is the growing interest in the anatomy of states of mind which in Giambattista Vico reached the point of stress on the importance of reconstructing by vivisection the inner history of one’s own mind. A century separates Vico’s Autobiography and Wordsworth’s Prelude, but they are products of the same impulse. Another century, and Joyce’s Portrait carries the same enterprise a stage further. Vico generalized the process as a means of reconstructing the stages of human culture by the vivisection and contemplation of language itself. (The Aesthetic Moment in Landscape Poetry, 1951)

For his [Joyce’s] view of the poet was that he should read, not forge, the signatures of things. As he explains in Stephen Hero, this involves the poet in a perpetual activity of retracing and reconstructing the ways of human apprehension. A poem is a vivisection of the mind and senses in action, an anagenesis or retracing, begetting anagnorosis or recognition. This is the key to the theme of memory and history embodied in Anna Livia of the Wake. She runs forward but “ana” is Greek for backwards, and speIls the same both ways. Anna Livia is also the Liffey nourishing the Guinnesses (anagenesis) of all things. It is the business of grammarian and poet to see this cyclic process of emanation and return as the origin and term of all words and creatures. (James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial, 1953)

Massive achievements like Sigfried Giedion’s Space, Time, and Architecture or his Mechanization Takes Command offer as it were a vivisectional awareness of the living inter-relational current of forms and information. (Media Alchemy in Art and Society, 1958)

it is precisely his fidelity to the vivisection of isolated moments that links Tennyson to the greatest work of his time and of ours. This concern with the spectrum of the emotional life was linked with Newton and with Gainsborough on one hand and with the best art and archaeology of the nineteenth century on the other.  It is to be related to the tendency to abandon succession for simultaneity when our instruments of observation acquired speed and precision. Looking back from the nuclear age it is easy to recognize the pattern of ‘total field’ forming in the concern with totality of implication in the aesthetic moment, or spot of time. (Tennyson and the Romantic Epic, 1960)

  1. One can imagine a light-bulb moment for McLuhan reading this sentence from Stephen Hero sometime in the late 1940s. If media as studied by Mallarmé, Innis and Havelock might be taken as “lanterns” with “magical properties” that both “transform and disfigure”, this sentence would bring together (a) the media insights from these three (a poet, an economist and a classicist), (b) Joyce and (c) the New Criticism he had learned especially from Richards where the “magical properties” of language, past and present, was a frequent topic. McLuhan’s whole subsequent career would be woven from these threads. Hence, for example, the title of his 1958 essay, ‘Media Alchemy in Art and Society’.
  2. This text from Stephen Hero was repeatedly cited by McLuhan. “The light of day” may be taken as implicating both the full spectrum of the different colors of the magical media “lanterns” as if through a prism and their study in “the light of day”. This reading of Joyce’s sentence was given 15 years later by McLuhan as follows: “If man, by his ingenious extensions of himself, creates new dimensions and new environments, he also has another creative power for making himself aware of these new forms, and of giving himself cognizance of their effect upon him.” (Alarums in a Brave New World, 1965)

The spectrum of forms

If man, by his ingenious extensions of himself, creates new dimensions and new environments, he also has another creative power for making himself aware of these new forms, and of giving himself cognizance of their effect upon him. (Alarums in a Brave New World, 1965)1

Any form of imbalance proves fatal at electric speeds with the superpowers released by the new technological resources representing the full spectrum of the human senses and faculties. Survival now would seem to depend upon the extension of consciousness itself as an environment.2 (Take Today, 14)

Perception as such is a proportion among proportions apprehended in our sensory life. (Take Today, 137)


In his PhD thesis on Thomas Nashe, written in 1941-42, McLuhan, just entering his 30s, began a life-long attempt to further the project to which he had been introduced by his undergraduate teachers at the University of Manitoba, Henry Wright and Rupert Lodge: the specification of the “forms of human organization”. Like Wright and Lodge (and through them going back via John Watson, 1847–1939, and Edward Caird, 1835–1908, to Hegel, 1770-1832), McLuhan saw the working of these forms throughout all the theoretical and practical realms of human life and society — not only in the intellectual disciplines of the arts and sciences, but in the everyday activities of practical politics, business, education and religion as well. Hegel had seen philosophy as inherently ‘encyclopedic’ and Lodge, McLuhan’s teacher in philosophy, published books on logic, on Plato and on “the great thinkers”, but also on Philosophy of Education (1937), Philosophy of Business (1945) and Applied Philosophy (1951). Wright, comparatively, published widely in philosophy and psychology, but also on politics and religion: Faith Justified by Progress (1916), The Moral Standards of Democracy (1925) — a book heavily annotated by McLuhan — and The Religious Response: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion (1929).

But McLuhan’s work increasingly differed from such prior attempts to define the “forms of human organization” and this in a number of decisive ways. 

By the late 1940s, his interest in Wyndham Lewis, the poetics of the symbolists and futurists, and the work of his new colleague in Toronto, Harold Innis, led him to the realization that ‘mental activity’ could not be supposed to be confined within the skulls of human beings, individually or collectively.3  Instead, as the nascent fields of computer science and cybernetics were already demonstrating with real life devices,  intelligence exceeded humans and needed to be investigated more on the model of ecology than logic (although logic, too, was now subject to a broader understanding). Humans existed first of all in environments which were both material and intelligent (however little the latter was understood). This fitted with McLuhan’s longtime interest in the environment as a teaching machine which had been fostered (if not implanted) by Wright and Lodge in Winnipeg and then amplified in different ways by Chesterton and Leavis in the 1930s and by Lewis and Giedion in the 1940s.4

If whole environments might be conceived as mediating human identities, individual and collective, the radiating effects of particular media like books and newspapers and radio might be investigated both as models of environmental forms and as important, arguably the most important, components of such wider forms. Lewis, Innis, Havelock and even Richards were already thinking along these lines in the 1940s and McLuhan seems to have differed from them above all in his consternation at the difference between the enormous social effects of media — not just historically, but right here, right now — and the little or no notice taken of them. Modern humans were children playing with loaded guns.

In the 1950s McLuhan came in these ways to the idea that specification of the “forms of human organization” might be achieved, or at any rate decisively furthered, through intense focus on communications media.  But investigation of media would at the same time need to start aside from any notion of accepted differences between human and machine, high and low culture, past and future time, and individual and mass identity. Certainly none of these could be conflated; but at the same time no notions about such oppositions could be presupposed at the outset and all would need to be investigated as a critical part of the new science or sciences.

Against this background, it is noteworthy that McLuhan, from the start and continuing throughout his career, perceived the “forms of human organization” as arrayed in a “spectrum” or “axis” or “total field of relations”5 somewhat akin to Mendeleev’s table of chemical elements. In the citations given below, McLuhan characterized the “forms of human organization” in terms of many different relations (male/female, visual/auditory, mechanical/organic, above/below, light/dark, etc); but what is common to them all is the notion that such forms are based on variable binary structures arrayed along a “spectrum” or “axis” according to the degree of opposition of each one between its numerator and denominator (along with rules for establishing these). This spectrum was therefore the rule-governed series of all the possible instances of such formal structures — “the full spectrum of the human senses and faculties”. To compare, Mendeleev’s table similarly displays the chemical elements in terms of the possible relationships of electrons/protons set out along a spectrum ranging from the most simple to the most complex. Importantly, in the case of both proposals, each single form must be understood as an instance of the single elementary structure arrayed along the spectrum of its possible configurations.[For an important implication, see Archetypes as inherently plural.]


George McManus [Bringing Up Father cartoonist] was just as pro-Jiggs as Chic Young [Blondie cartoonist] is pro-Blondie. This is another way of saying that America has swung very far toward the feminine pole of the axis in recent years. (Dagwood’s America, 1944)

Baudelaire whose spectrum analysis of states of mind has sufficed poetry ever since as a base of operation. (…) What these poets effected after Baudelaire was that plenary elucidation of verbal landscape, psychological with Laforgue, metaphysical in Rimbaud. (T. S. Eliot [review of eleven books on Eliot], 1950)

For them [Joyce, Pound, Eliot] the aesthetic moment was, like the band of the spectrum, an affair of zoning. As Mallarmé stated the matter: “The poetic act consists in seeing suddenly that an idea fractions itself into a number of motifs equal in value, and in grouping them, they rhyme6.” (The Aesthetic Moment in Landscape Poetry 1951)

The poetic process he [Joyce] discovered and states in Stephen Hero is the experience of ordinary cognition, but it is that labyrinth reversed, retraced, and hence epiphanized. The moment of arrested cognition achieves at once its stasis and epiphany as a result of the reconstruction of the stages of ordinary apprehension. And every moment of cognition is thus a Beatrician moment when rendered lucid by a retracing of its labyrinth. Dante implies all this in the Beatrician moment of the Vita Nuova, but the pre-Raphaelites had accepted it at the relatively banal level of psychological impressionism. The Beatrician, or sacramental, moment when analyzed as a spectrum band yields the entire zoning of the hierarchized scenes and landscapes of the Commedia (…). As the eighteenth century recovered some of the techniques of the Middle Ages through their own development of the picturesque, so Joyce, Pound, and Eliot recovered the secret of the dolce stil nuovo through the prismatically arranged landscapes of Rimbaud and Mallarmé. (The Aesthetic Moment in Landscape Poetry 1951)

By means of the interior landscape, however, Baudelaire could not only range across the entire spectrum of the inner life, he could transform the sordidness and evil of an industrial metropolis into a flower.7 (Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry, 1951)

The spoken word instantly evokes not only some recently conceived idea but reverberates with the total history of its own experience with man. We may be oblivious of such overtones as of the spectrum of colour in a lump of coal. But the poet by exact rhythmic8 adjustment can flood our consciousness with this knowledge. (Culture Without Literacy, 1953)

Joyce employs (…) the lore associated with the ancient conception of the auditory side of the external world as an Aeolian harp. His color symbolism employs the complementary conception of the visual aspect of creation as the harp of Memnon9. With the development of the spectroscope in the eighteenth century both these ancient images became popular again. The color chord of the spectrum suggested that there exists a rapport between the outer world and the inner world of our faculties which developed into the symbolist doctrine of “correspondences”. (James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial, 1953)

we have fashioned a Plotinian world-culture which implements the non-human and superhuman doctrines of neo-Platonic angelism to the point where the human dimension is obliterated by sensuality at one end of the spectrum, and by sheer abstraction at the other. (Nihilism Exposed, 1955)

using poetry as a means of exploring the spectrum of mental states (Introduction to Tennyson: Selected Poetry, 1955)

Both these idylls represent two extremes of demonic possession. “The Holy Grail” concerns the invasion of unprepared minds by “mania from above”. “Merlin and Vivien,” like “Lucretius,” presents the struggle and fall of the merely intellectual man when invaded by “mania from below“. (…) The reader of Tennyson’s poems will find everywhere in his landscapes the symbolic struggle of light and darkness as the drama of the divine and the demonic. Many of his most characteristically poignant effects, as in “Tears, Idle Tears,” the seventh elegy of “In Memoriam,” “Morte d’Arthur,” and “Crossing the Bar,” are rendered by means of twilight and the poise of opposite powers.  (‘Introduction’ to Tennyson: Selected Poetry, 1955)

Is not the artist one who lives perpetually on this borderland (…) between technology and experience, between mechanical and organic form? And when a time or a culture is similarly poised between the new technology and traditional experience is not that the moment of maximal creativity for that culture? (…) In this respect, one might say that [Northrop] Frye’s world is simply the slapping down of the poised balance on the visual side of the scale. (McLuhan to Wilfred Watson, October 8, 1959)

it is precisely his fidelity to the vivisection of isolated moments that links Tennyson to the greatest work of his time and of ours. This concern with the spectrum of the emotional life was linked with Newton and with Gainsborough on one hand and with the best art and archaeology of the nineteenth century on the other.  (Tennyson and the Romantic Epic, 1960)

The various structures of knowledge that have been devised by the numerous languages, arts and technologies of mankind can be revolved or inspected almost at the speed of motion picture frames. At such speed would not the unity of human culture and experience become manifest as a single spectrum? (We need a new picture of knowledge, 1963)10

In India the idea of darshan — of the mystical experience of being in very large gatherings—stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from the Western idea of conscious values [in the individual]. (UM, 110)

Where before there had been a narrow selection from periods and composers, the tape recorder, combined with LPs, gave a full musical spectrum that made the sixteenth century as available as the nineteenth, and Chinese folk song as accessible as the Hungarian. (UM, 283)

Newton’s Optics had an extraordinary influence on eighteenth- and nineteenth-century poetry and painting alike. His revelation of the natural power of the eye to refract the visual world encouraged artists to select outer landscapes that isolated a particular mood or feeling from the emotional spectrum. (Through the Vanishing Point, 22) 

The low visual definition of the environment [of the Russian peasant] favored a high degree of tactile and acoustic stress. At this end of the sensory spectrum individuality is created by the interval of tactile involvement. At the other end of the sensory spectrum we encounter the familiar mode of individuality based on visual stress and fragmentary separateness. (Through the Vanishing Point, 222)

black is not a color. White is all colors at once, but black is not in the spectrum. It is a gap [in the spectrum]. (…) The spectrum gap that is black creates great involvement for all parties.  (…) black is not a color but an interval (Culture is our Business, 220, 226)

When a man-made environment circumvents the entire planet, moon, and galaxy, there is no alternative to total knowledge programming of all human enterprise. Any form of imbalance proves fatal at electric speeds with the superpowers released by the new technological resources representing the full spectrum of the human senses and faculties. Survival now would seem to depend upon the extension of consciousness itself as an environment.  (Take Today, 14)

There are only two basic extreme forms of human organization. (…) They have innumerable variants or “parti-colored” forms. (…) The extreme forms are the civilized and the tribal (eye and ear)…(Take Today, 22)11

The idealists share with the experienced and practical men of their time the infirmity of substituting concepts for percepts. Both concentrate on a clash between past experience and future goals that black out the usual but hidden processes of the present. Both ignore the fact that dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old.12 (Take Today, 22)

City planners seem to be incapable of understanding figure-ground relationships. They want uniformity. Everything [in their estimation] must become figure, or everything must become ground. The interface or interplay of figure and ground necessary to community, or social dialogue and diversity, are alien to their uniform concepts and blueprints.  (Take Today, 33)

Montaigne was the first to discover the meaning of the printed book: “I owe a complete portrait of myself to the public.” At the other end of the spectrum is J. P. Morgan, proclaiming “I owe the public nothing.”  (Take Today, 207)

While the “subjectivist” puts on the world as his own clothes, the “objectivist” supposes that he can stand naked “out of this world.”  (The Argument: Causality in the Electric World, 1973)

T S. Eliot pointed (…) out in regard to Dante, that a great poet or serious artist should be able to perceive or distinguish more clearly than ordinary men the forms and objects within the range of ordinary experience and be able to make men see and hear more at each end of the spectrum of their sensibility than they could ever notice without his help. (Laws of Media, 5)

  1.  Review of Cyborg: Evolution of the Superman, by D. S. Halacy, Winnipeg Free Press, December 11, 1965, p 73
  2. Many readers of McLuhan take it that “the extension of consciousness itself as an environment” is something mystical, a kind of oceanic fog emanating good vibes. But it is, on the contrary, simply (simply!) the extension of scientific understanding to all human experience and action.
  3. “If a person is speaking into a P.A. system or into a radio microphone, etc., the who and the what are profoundly transformed.” (Report on Project in Understanding New Media, ‘What I Learned on the Project’)
  4. The notion that environments had a mental element and could be studied scientifically led McLuhan in seemingly contradictory directions  On the one hand, low culture like comics might be investigated as readily as high culture like poetry.  To compare, what chemist would reject experiments with tin, say, as unworthy of the discipline? Perhaps tin could reveal more that silver — and similarly with low culture compared to high? On the other hand, a culture in which comics were used to manipulate children might well be judged harshly.  Readers of McLuhan have often failed to grasp the compatibility of these different approaches.
  5.  Environment As Programmed Happening (1968).
  6. “Rhyme” is used here as meaning something like ‘having a common origin’ — namely in “the band of the spectrum” of the “forms of human organization”. It is because this ‘aesthetic’ idea is applicable to all human experience and actions that McLuhan recommended it in his March 1951 letter to Innis as the basis for a new school of communication studies.
  7. Just as every physical material is ‘chemical’, so is every manifestation of culture, however “sordid and evil”, ‘formal’. To show the inherent exposure of humans to the formal elements of their experience and actions is itself transformative: “if the external world is attuned to the mind of man, then the whole of Nature is a language and the poet is a pontifex or bridger between the two worlds. He conducts the symphony of mind and nature. (…) The poet here is exercising his priestly powers of purifying the wells of existence, exerting his primary imagination which is the agent of all perception, not the secondary imagination which brings art into existence as an echo of the functions of perception.” (Coleridge As Artist, 1957)
  8. See note 4 above.
  9. Pausanias: “In Egyptian Thebes, on crossing the Nile to the so-called Pipes, I saw a statue, still sitting, which gave out a sound. The many call it Memnon, who they say from Aethiopia overran Egypt (…) This statue was broken in two by Cambyses, and at the present day from head to middle it is thrown down; but the rest is seated, and every day at the rising of the sun it makes a noise, and the sound one could best liken to that of a harp…”
  10. See TT 193: “The patterns of formerly hidden processes now begin to obtrude on every hand. Prescience, prophetic vision, and artistic awareness are no longer needed to establish an understanding of the most secret causes of personal and social processes. Mere electric speed-up makes X-ray awareness natural.”
  11. The bracketed insertion of “eye and ear” is McLuhan’s. These “extreme forms” characterize the reversible nominator/denominator fractions of the spectrum of forms and its two sides (depending on which is stressed relative to the other): “visual and acoustic space are always present in any human situation” (Global Village, 55).
  12. “The usual but hidden processes of the present” are the moment to moment retreat to the spectrum of basic forms or “percepts” and the de-cision there to align with one of them. These processes constitute a labyrinthine knot in time since ‘light on’ this spectrum can come only from it.