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.