“Understanding is not a point of view”

We cannot transcend our “flat earth” view of media so long as we rely on private impressions at a particular time and place. The meaning and effect of a medium is the sum total of all its impact upon psyche and society. (McLuhan to Harry Skornia, July 6, 1964Letters 305)

 In McLuhan’s letter to The Listener, August 11, 1971 (Letters 435):

The private point of view (…) is detached and non-corporate. (…)  Understanding is not a point of view.1 

Similarly in ‘The Argument: Causality in the Electric World’ (1973):

Understanding Is Neither a Point of View nor a Value Judgment

The Gestalt switch or paradigm shift that has to be made to initiate (an) Understanding (of) Media is captured here and can well be described as “the medium is the message”. The individual point of view as the de-tached stand-ard of truth must be give up in favor of the corporate medium. This involves a triple fundamental change at once: (1) change in what is understood as “the medium as such”, (2) change in what is understood of the range of “the medium as such” and (3) change in the place of the individual within that range.

Understanding Media cannot be initiated, this is to say, without the fitting (1) objective and (3) subjective focus — with ‘fitting’ understood (2) within the complete range of its possibilities. Since “understanding is not a point of view”, the required focus cannot be achieved except by the whole person in the whole medium.

Focus is not a point, but a complex. The medium is the message. The gap is where the action is. Understanding is not a point of view.

While some few individuals have long been able to achieve this tour de force, this exemplary turning,2 establishing it within a general program of education and social being has proved fatally beyond us. The tower of babel (la tour de Babel).3 No one is about to out-think Plato and yet how far have we advanced in 2500 years in the practical application of his insights? Meanwhile untold millions have died in the throes of the resulting horrors. Saturno devorando a su hijo

The astonishing amount of energy expended in McLuhan’s incessant speaking, writing and traveling must be understood as a passion engaged in this age-old educational struggle, the “ancient quarrel” that is implicated in the attempt to initiate, at last, a general understanding among humans of human being. The medium that is the message.

  1. A March 24, 2020 tweet from Andrew McLuhan shows an annotation of this maxim made by McLuhan on the first page (‘Preface to the Third Printing’) of Corinne McLuhan’s copy of Understanding Media:
    Since McLuhan’s other uses of the phrase date from the early 1970s, this one probably does as well.
  2. Tour‘ in tour de force is from French tourner, ‘to turn’.
  3. Tour‘ in tour de Babel is from Latin/Greek turris/τύρρις, ‘tower’.