In his handwritten letter to Harry Skornia from November 21, 1958, McLuhan used the German phrase “und so weiter!”
This followed on from the sentence: “TV image is not contained in space but makes its own.”
“Und so weiter” is German for ‘and so on’ or ‘et cetera’. In fact, a few weeks later in another letter to Skornia, from December 16, 1958, McLuhan concluded a list of points with “etc., etc., etc……..”.
The point he was making in both these instances was both funny and profound.
Funny, because he was using the very formula for the Gutenberg era, as seen in lines of print, assembly lines, railway lines — namely, ‘und so weiter’, ‘etc., etc., etc……..’ — to implicate the very formula of the Marconi era, as seen in bits of data, namely:
0-space-1/space/1-space-0/space/0-space-1/ — und so weiter!1
Profound, because he was indicating that the Gutenberg era could not have arisen without an implicit understanding of the spatial notion of the Marconi era that would overthrow it.2
the visual lineality of scribal and print cultures really includes the anal-oral axis, with strong anal stress, of course. (Explorations 8, #9)
Lines of print cannot function without the implicit understanding that any unit is both different from and related to the units before and after it. But the space of this ‘identity and difference’ between units was not theorized or even recognized in the Gutenberg era. It was “the missing link”. Recognition and theorization would come only with the Marconi era and particularly with the development of digital technologies.
The distinctive difference between the ‘eras’ — or ‘galaxies’ as McLuhan came to call them to get away from the chronological time implicated in ‘eras’ — lay in their understanding (or not) of the nature and time (Sein und Zeit!) of the ineluctable intervening space. As McLuhan would come repeatedly to insist: “the gap is where the action is!”
- McLuhan, Myth and Mass Media (1959): “the spot news of the telegraph press really acts like the yes-no, black-white dots of the wirephoto in creating an inclusive world image.” ↩
- One all important implication to this suggestion was that all chronological ‘eras’ are always subject, consciously or not, to all of the galaxies of the interior landscape — “all at once”! ↩