Monthly Archives: July 2019

“If it can be done, it must be done.”

We can, if we choose, think things out before we put them out. (Understanding Media, 1964, 49) 

a burning would is come to dance inane. (FW 250 and the title of McLuhan’s 1970 documentary directed against the Spadina expressway.)1

Starting in the 1960s, both McLuhan and George Grant criticized what McLuhan called the “technological imperative” and Grant “the autonomy of technique”. This is the imperative that ‘If something can be done, it must be done’.

It is unclear which of the two first came up with the phrase or if both of them got it from someone else.2 Harold Innis, for example,  must have formulated something of the sort decades before.

George Grant, ‘Protest and Technology’, 1966

The supreme example of the autonomy of technique is surely the space program. Vast resources of brains, money, materials are poured out in the US and in the USSR to keep this fantastic program proliferating. And it is accepted by the masses in both societies not only as necessary but as one of man’s crowning glories. One leader of the United States’ space program said that as we cannot change the environment of space, we will have to change man, and therefore we will have to produce beings with organs, half-flesh and half-electronic. If it can be done,  it must be done and it surely will be done. This is what I mean by the autonomy of technique. The question whether technique serves human good is no longer asked; it has become an end in itself.3

McLuhan cited on ABC News in 1969

Bill Moyers: Mr. McLuhan said earlier that if something can be done it will be done.4 

McLuhan, ‘Liturgy and the Microphone’, 19745

The ordinary evolutionary and developmental attitude towards innovation assumes that there is a technological imperative: “If it can be done, it has to be done”; so that the emergence of any new means must be introduced, for the creation of no matter what new ends, regardless of the consequences.

  1. McLuhan: “Joyce’s phrase ‘a burning would is come to dance inane’ is the essential theme of the Wake” (From Cliché to Archetype, 73). Joyce’s phrase was cited over and over again by McLuhan, four times in From Cliché to Archetype alone. A “burning would” is, perhaps, a ‘can’ presenting itself forcibly as a ‘must’?
  2. Perhaps it was simply in the air. Charles Coulston Gillispie uses the phrase, apparently positively, to describe Galileo and his predecessors in his 1977 ‘The Liberating Influence of Science in History’: “knowledge finds its purpose in action and action its reason in knowledge, that if a problem can be solved, it should be solved, that if something can be  done it should be done.”
  3. Note from Grant’s CW3, 393: This address was entitled ‘Revolution, Responsibility, and Conservatism’ when it was delivered at the Toronto International Teach-ln held at Varsity Arena 8-10 October 1965. The CBC broadcast the speech on 10 October as ‘Revolution and Response’ on the radio series CBC Sunday Night; the Globe and Mail published excerpts on 12 October under the title ‘Stand on Guard for Independence’; and the entire speech appeared under the title ‘Realism in Political Protest’ in Christian Outlook 21:2 (Nov. 1965), later appearing with minor alterations as ‘Critique of the New Left’ in Our Generation 3:4-4:1 (May 1966): 46-51. The full text of the original address appeared again as ‘A Critique of the New Left’ in Canada and Radical Social Change, edited by Dimitrios l. Roussopoulos (Montreal: Black Rose Books 1973), 55, 57-61, and finally in William Christian and Sheila Grant, eds, The George Grant Reader (Toronto: University of Toronto Press 1998), 84-90.
  4. Apollo 11: As it Happened, ABC News Panel on Moon Landing at 02:09f. Discussion panel in July 1969 with Howard K. Smith, Bill Moyers, Marshall McLuhan, and Ian McHarg, introduced by ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds.
  5. The Medium and the Light, 114.

Jung on Schiller 2

Jung identifies Schiller as a representative of “the psychology of the introverted thinking type”.  He then asks the reader:

to remember that the hypothesis I have just advanced underlies my whole argument. This reminder seems to me necessary because Schiller approaches the problem from the angle of his own inner experience. In view of the fact that another psychology, i.e., another type of man, would have approached the same problem in quite another way, the very broad formulation which Schiller gives might be regarded as a subjective bias or an ill-considered generalization. But such a judgment would be incorrect, since there actually is a large class of men for whom the problem of the separated functions [in this configuration] is exactly the same as it was for Schiller. If, therefore, in the ensuing argument I occasionally emphasize Schiller’s one-sidedness and subjectivity, I do not wish to detract from the importance and general validity of the problem he has raised, but rather to make room for other formulations. Such criticisms as I may occasionally offer have more the character of a transcription into another language which will relieve Schiller’s formulation of its subjective limitations. (CW6, 69)

Several points in this passage are of great importance.

First, Jung notes that the identification of a certain type “underlies my whole argument”.  Just as in chemistry in the realm of material being, so analysis of any sample in the realm of psychology/experience/human being (understood verbally) must begin with the identification of its elementary type or compound types. It is this identification which brings the analysis (so to say) ‘into science’. On this basis, other scientists can know what kind of stuff is at stake (or claimed to be at stake) and how investigation of the sample can be expected to relate to other work in the field. What Kuhn called ‘normal science’ can begin. This is collective work done on the basis of a properly assumed “general validity”.1

Second, although the notion of elementary types underlying all  experience seems, as Jung says, to limit it in advance to some or other variety of  “subjective bias”, this “bias” itself now becomes subject to open collective research. And once “bias” itself becomes subject to research on the basis of an acknowledged classification, the relativity of all possible human being (verbal) ceases to be disabling and becomes instead the very source of a whole new sort of knowledge concerning humans and their universe.2 Relativity becomes an illuminating object of study instead of its disabling subject.

Third, types of human being (verbal) themselves make sense only within a certain “species” (Schiller) or table or spectrum. A type is inherently one unit of a collective — McLuhan’s cliché. This is what is at stake in Jung’s requirement of “a transcription into another language which will relieve Schiller’s formulation of its subjective limitations.” In chemistry, an elementary type is one expression of the general series formulated in Mendeleev’s table.  The table represents a formula which can be expressed over a defined range (EnPn, say, where ‘n’ represents some matching number of electrons and protons from 1 to 118). What makes any specification of type in chemistry true, in the end, is its anchorage in the general table. Because it is true, so also are its expressions. Similarly, in regard to human being (verbal), its various types must be anchored in the range of a general formula representing the basic truth of the field.

Fourth, Jung notes that “another psychology” amounts to “another type of (hu)man”. This applies as much to the ‘same individual’ as it does to family, social and national groups. The implication is that there is something to human being (verbal) that is deeper than psychological type, something that permits ‘identity’ across types even when those types are ‘elementary’. This medium below fundamental types has critical implications for morals (since as grounded on this medium there is nothing human that is ultimately foreign to me) and for ontology (since this medium must be).

Fifth, just as important as what Jung says in this passage is what he does not say — what remains unspoken. Namely, that the types of human being (verbal) are its ‘basic truth’ — its being.  This at once introduces a new way to interrogate types and to assess their “general validity”, for ontology has powerful laws of its own. Considered ontologically, Jung’s types remain subjective and hence defective in a way that Schiller’s do not. This is a decided limitation in a series of ways to be explored elsewhere.  Suffice it to note here only that the world now clings to a precipice defined by its nihilism — by a suffocating subjectivity that explodes all value and truth and ends by imploding itself.  And perhaps the world along with it. The specification of the types of human being (verbal) may represent the one way out of this dead end.


  1. In science, “general validity” is, of course, questionable. But this is rarely done and, even less rarely, successfully done. In any case, the questionability of basic propositions is an aspect of science and does not at all contradict its possibility.
  2. Since the physical sciences are examples of human being (verbal), the study of the types of human being introduces a new way to address problems in physics and, in fact, in all the physical sciences.

Jung on Schiller 1

Jung’s long commentary on Schiller’s Aesthetic Letters (in CW6, 67-135) is valuable for an assessment of both — and of their relative contributions to an understanding of the drame intérieur. 

Schiller belongs to the introverted type (…) Because of this identification, an inevitable limitation is imposed on his formulations, a fact we must never lose sight of if we wish to gain a fuller understanding [of psychological types and their interactions]. It is owing to this limitation that the one function is presented by Schiller in richer outline than the other, which is still imperfectly developed in the introvert, and just because of its imperfect development it must necessarily have certain inferior characteristics attached to it. At this point the author’s exposition requires our criticism and correction. It is evident, too, that this limitation of Schiller’s impelled him to use a terminology which lacks general applicability [allgemeiner Verwendbarkeit]. (CW6, 68)

Jung has put his finger on a series of critical points here:1 

  • any attempt to specify the types and dynamics of the drame intérieur must account for its own type and for the solution it brings forward, implicitly or explicitly, to the self-reference inherent in this requirement
  • the demand for “general applicability” cannot be gainsaid. A fitting beginning to the investigation of the interior landscape can be made only when anyone following explicit rules can identify the type or types at play in any given sample (just as chemistry was finally initiated when the rules governing the identification of its elements became defined in the course of the nineteenth century)
  • at the same time the demand for “general applicability” implies that any sample of psychological activity whatsoever be subject to the suggested analysis (just as chemistry would not be chemistry if some material samples were excluded from its analysis)
  • further, “general applicability” applies to time and space. There can be no time or space in which the analysis has not, is not and will not be applicable.

These requirements stand before a new science of human being (verbal), or sciences, both as hurdles and as path markers.

  1. It is another question how far Jung himself met the requirements set out by him for the specification of psychological types. His typology is notoriously complicated and hardly unambiguous even as deployed by Jung himself. However, to make a decisive contribution to the rigorous investigation of the drame intérieur it is not necessary to solve all of its difficulties at once. It is enough to shed further light on some area of great potential importance.

The “new level” of art

A 2012 film Nema Aviona za Zagreb (No Flights to Zagreb) by Louis van Gasteren includes a scene shot in 1964 in which McLuhan opens an exhibit of ‘tele-creation’ art by van Gasteren. The exhibit in Amsterdam was opened by McLuhan in Toronto via ‘tele-vision’.

A blurb for the film informs that “van Gasteren began filming Nema Aviona in 1964 but did not complete it until 2012, making it the longest film in production of all time.” Further: “The film includes the only professional color sound motion picture footage ever filmed of Meher Baba.”

McLuhan’s remarks opening the exhibit were featured on the cover of Tele-Creation, Auto-Sculpture by Louis van Gasteren, the catalogue for the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. These remarks were captured on film and presumably were part of the ‘tele-creation’ exhibition in 1964.

In the film McLuhan stands in an elevator before television cameras and says:

Painting now moves from representation to a direct encounter with the environment. The environment itself is just as mobile as the old easel painting was at one time. As new environments form around old environments, the old environments become art forms.
The whole mechanical technology, including the motorcar on the road, the whole mechanical technology now has an electronic environment around it which turned these old forms into art forms.
The planet itself has a satellite information environment which turned our planet into an art form. The planet is now being programmed as a teaching machine, as an art form. This kind of revolution is reflected now in painting, too.  The direct encounter with the environment as art form, is a formal violence, that helps us to discover our identity.
The artist by his direct facing of the present environment creates a kind of interface that is somewhat startling and violent and this helps us in turn to develop a sense of identity, which we would otherwise not have a chance of doing.1

The elevator door then closes on McLuhan: he is moving on to ‘another level’ and another identity, leaving the exhibit he has just opened to the crowd.

  1. Aske Land, proprietor of Antiquariaat Gemilang in Bredevoort, The Netherlands, kindly provided a rare copy of the catalogue for the 1964 tele-creation exhibit at the Stedelijk Museum. Many thanks, Aske!

Jung’s drame intérieur

In the 1935 preface to the second edition of a 1916 paper, Jung noted that:

The present essay (…) is (…) the expression of a long-standing endeavour to grasp and — at least in its essential features — to depict the strange character and course of that drame intérieur, the transformation process of the unconscious psyche. This idea of the independence of the unconscious, which distinguishes my views so radically from those of Freud, came to me as far back as 1902…(CW7, 123)

In a slightly earlier piece from 1932, Jung used this same phrase of a drame intérieur in an essay on Picasso:

The descent into ancient times has been associated ever since Homer’s day with the Nekyia. (…) Seldom or never have I had a patient who did not go back to neolithic art forms or revel in evocations of Dionysian orgies. [Picasso’s] Harlequin wanders like Faust through all these forms, though sometimes nothing betrays his presence but his wine, his lute, or the bright lozenges of his jester’s costume. And what does he learn on his wild journey through man’s millennial history? What quintessence will he distill from this accumulation of rubbish and decay, from these half-born or aborted possibilities of form and colour? What symbol will appear as the final cause and meaning of all this? In view of the dazzling versatility of Picasso, one hardly dares to hazard a guess, so for the present I would rather speak of what I have found in my patients’ material. The Nekyia is no aimless and purely destructive fall into the abyss, but a meaningful katabasis eis antron, a descent into the cave of initiation and secret knowledge. The journey through the psychic history of mankind has as its object the restoration of the whole man (…) This man stands opposed to the man of the present, because he is the one who ever is as he was,1 whereas the other is what he is only for the moment. With my patients, accordingly, the katabasis and katalysis are followed by a recognition of the bipolarity of human nature and of the necessity of [an encounter with] conflicting pairs of opposites. After the symbols of madness experienced during the period of disintegration there follow images which represent the coming together of the opposites: light/dark, above/below, white/black, male/female, etc. (…) This state of things in the psychic development of a patient is neither the end nor the goal. It represents only [the stage of] a broadening of his outlook, which now embraces the whole of man’s moral, bestial, and spiritual nature without as yet shaping it into a living unity.  Picasso’s drame intérieur has developed up to this last point before the dénouement. (CW15, 139-140)

McLuhan began to read Jung along with Freud and Adler in the 1930’s in Cambridge. He does not seem to have used the phrase le drame intérieur himself, but le paysage intérieur appears very frequently in his writings in both French and English2 — most prominently as the title of the 1969 collection of his essays in criticism, The Interior Landscape. And recourse to ‘drama’ and the ‘dramatic’ is, of course, even more common in his work.

McLuhan traced the attempt to specify the interior world of the psyche to nineteenth century France:

The first Romantics sought to recover the oral tradition of the ballad form as part of their program of moderating the extreme development of the picturesque. Yet, their use of the outer landscape as a means of defining and expressing emotion gave further stress to visual continuity and perspective. It led inevitably to the isolation of single emotions and single feelings as the basis of organizing  a work of art. It was only with the second Romantic Movement (Baudelaire and after) that the artist emancipated the Western world from the uniformities and specialisms of outer visual space by a sudden shift to what [the French physiologist] Claude Bernard called “le milieu intérior“. It is strange indeed that both poetry and medicine shifted their attention from outer to inner at the same time. T.S. Eliot’s familiar opening lines of Prufrock capture both of these events [of the first and second Romantic Movements]:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table.
The first line leads to the cult of the romantic landscape, and the second to the precise activities of the surgeon exploring the interior of the patient.3

As cited above, Jung asked in this context: “What quintessence will [Picasso] distill from this accumulation of rubbish and decay, from these half-born or aborted possibilities of form and colour?” Comparatively, McLuhan saw the contemporary world as reduced to garbage4 and over and over again cited Yeats:

Those masterful images because complete
Grew in pure mind, but out of what began?
A mound of refuse or the sweepings of a street,
Old kettles, old bottles, and a broken can,
Old iron, old bones, old rags, that raving slut
Who keeps the till. Now that my ladder’s gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.

McLuhan repeatedly cited these lines from Yeats’ The Circus Animals’ Desertion (1938) in his late texts: in Take Today, in ‘Man as the Medium’ (the introduction to his 1975 commentary on Sorel Etrog’s film, Spiral) and, especially, in From Cliché to Archetype where they are cited twice, along with the first lines of this poem:

I sought a theme and sought for it in vain,
I sought it daily for six weeks or so.
Maybe at last, being but a broken man,
I must be satisfied with my heart, although
Winter and summer till old age began
My circus animals were all on show,
Those stilted boys, that burnished chariot,
Lion and woman and the Lord knows what.

No specification of human being or of being itself can ignore “the foul rag-and-bone shop” the “broken man” unaccountably represents within the universe of being. On the one hand, this is a proofstone against which any attempt to formulate any prported truth of these must be tried. No sleight of hand can add lipstick to this pig. On the other, since their truth would inescapably infold this “mound of refuse”, the stunning wonder would be that even this, even the stench and horror trailed along by us, would be enfolded in that strange “quintessence”. More yet, as Yeats discerned, it would even turn out that this “mound of refuse” equally embraced that  “quintessence” as the place “where all the ladders start”. There would thus be a double infolding, Dante’s “forma universal di questo nodo”…5

  1. Jung repeatedly has recourse to the plurality of time in this passage. He begins by referring to “the descent into ancient times” and to “man’s millennial history”. Then the contrast between “the whole man” and the split “man of the present” is described as the difference between “the one who ever is as he was” and “the other (who) is what he is only for the moment”. Time as times is the great path marker followed in the twentieth century by Einstein, Husserl, Jung, Heidegger and others, including Innis and McLuhan, in the attempt to understand the possibility of truth — and only so the truth of human beings and their surrounding cosmos.
  2. McLuhan usually translated le paysage intérieur as the interior landscape, but in ‘Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry’ from 1951 he has “le paysage interieur or the psychological landscape”.
  3. ‘Discontinuity and Communication in Literature’, in P. R. Leon, ed, Problèmes de L’Analyse Textuelle, Problems of Textual Analysis, 1971, 189-199. This was a lecture given by McLuhan at University College, UT, on Nov 21, 1970.
  4. For references and discussion, see Planet polluto, garbage apocalypse.
  5. The modern human being is defined by the inability to believe in such truth. In the decision between our own importance, even if only negative, and what would be the strangest and most marvelous power of being itself, we insist on us.