Man, the wanderer within the labyrinthine ways at once of his psyche and of the world… (McLuhan, ‘Dos Passos: Technique vs. Sensibility’, 1951)
I’ve been doing some work on the development of landscape technique — exterior and interior landscape — before and since Rimbaud. (McLuhan to Pound, 1951)
McLuhan attributed the notion of the interior landscape to the French, to Claude Bernard (1813-1878) and to the symbolist poets who were contemporary with him. It was Bernard who coined the phrase, “le milieu intérior” in his physiology studies. But it may have been Jung who gave McLuhan the geographical direction, so to speak, to the new territories whose contours it was necessary to explore and to specify.
In my picture of the world there is a vast outer realm and an equally vast inner realm, between these two stands man, facing now one and now the other (Jung, Modern Man In Search Of A Soul, 1933)1
An interior spiritual world whose existence we never suspected opens out and displays contents which seem to stand in sharpest contrast to all our former ideas. (Two Essays in Analytic Psychology, 1928)2
Failure to adapt to this inner world is a negligence entailing just as serious consequences as ignorance and ineptitude in the outer world. (Two Essays in Analytic Psychology, 1928)3
1933 is the date of the English compilation and translation, not the dates of the lectures and essays included in the book. McLuhan cited the book in 1946. ↩
1928 is the date of the first English translation with this title. The two essays dated back to 1912 and 1916 and were continually revised by Jung until their final form was achieved three decades later. The translation here is from that final form in CW7. ↩
As rhetorician, Mr. Empson has brilliantly availed himself of the new insights of Freud and Jung into traditional speaker-audience relations. The Seven Types of Ambiguity is an ingenious and valid application of Freud’s analysis of wit and of dreams to some of the material of poetry. Insofar as political and social myth-making is inevitably part of the material of poetry, as it is of language, it too can be subjected to psychoanalytic scrutiny with fascinating results. (Poetic and Rhetorical Exegesis, 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 today. (McLuhan to Ong and McNaspy, December 23, 1944)1
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.”2 (Footprints in the Sands of Crime, 1946)
As Father Victor White wrote concerning ‘Jung and the Supernatural’3: “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.” That is, (…) 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, 1953)4
McLuhan read Jung in the early 1940s, if not already in the 1930s,5 and at the time valued his work very highly indeed (as evidenced in his 1944 letter to Ong and McNaspy above). But the eventual influence of Jung on McLuhan’s work may have been more unconscious than conscious and taken decades to unfold. It was above all in that perpetually indistinct area of what Jung termed the “energetics“6 of consciousness7 — aka, the “enantiodrama“8 of consciousness — where that influence, appropriately enough, would eventually set to work. That is, McLuhan, having ‘put on’ role after role after role in three decades of tireless talking and writing, finally found one that could be ‘set to work’ to focus communication problems — and this in that very figure/ground “enantiodrama” that had previously stumped him.9
Jung himself set out his take on “energetics” especially in Two Essays on Analytical Psychology:10
Heraclitus (…) discovered the most marvelous of all psychological laws: the regulative function of opposites. He called it enantiodromia, a running contrariwise, by which he meant that sooner or later everything runs into its opposite.
There comes [at some point in an individual’s life]12the urgent need to appreciate the value of the opposite of our former ideals, to perceive the error in our former convictions, to recognize the untruth in our former truth, and to feel how much antagonism and even hatred lay in what, until now, had passed for love. Not a few of those who are drawn into the conflict of opposites jettison everything that had previously seemed to them good and worth striving for; they try to live in complete opposition to their former ego. Changes of profession, divorces, religious convulsions, apostasies of every description, are the symptoms of this swing over to the opposite. The snag about a radical conversion into one’s opposite is that one’s former life suffers repression and thus is produced just as unbalanced a state as existed before (…) Just as neurotic disorders once arose13 because the opposing fantasies were unconscious, so now a different set of disorders arise through the repression of the former ideals. It is of course a fundamental mistake to imagine that when we see the non-value in a value or the untruth in a truth, the value or the truth ceases to exist. It has only become relative.
Everything human is relative, because everything rests on an inner polarity; for everything is a phenomenon of energy. Energy necessarily depends on a preexisting polarity, without which there could be no energy. There must always be high and low, hot and cold, etc, so that the equilibrating process — which is energy — can take place. Therefore the tendency to deny all previous values in favour of their opposites is just as much of an exaggeration as the earlier onesidedness. And in so far as it is a question of rejecting universally accepted and indubitable values, the result is a fatal loss. One who acts in this way [also] empties himself out with his values, as Nietzsche has already said.
The tragic counter play between inside and outside (depicted in Job and Faust as the wager with God) represents, at bottom, the energetics of the life process, the polar tension that is necessary for self-regulation. However different to all intents and purposes these opposing forces may be, their fundamental meaning and [felt intent]14 in the life of the individual always fluctuate round this centre of balance. Just because they are inseparably related through opposition, they also unite in a mediatory meaning, which, willingly or unwillingly, is born out of the individual and is therefore divined by it [alone and only when] it has a strong feeling of what could be and what should be.15 To depart from this [mediatory] divination means error, aberration, illness.
From a consideration of the claims of the inner and outer worlds, or rather, from the conflict between them, the possible and the necessary follows. Unfortunately our Western mind, lacking all culture in this respect, has never yet devised a concept, nor even a name, for the union of opposites through the middle path, that most fundamental item of inward experience, which could respectably be compared with 16 the Chinese concept of Tao. It is at once the most individual fact and the most universal, [and represents] the most legitimate [possible] fulfilment of the meaning of the individual’s life.
For the primitive anything strange is hostile and evil. This line of division serves a purpose, which is why the normal person feels under no obligation to make (…) projections conscious, although they are dangerously illusory (…) Because the [neurotic] individual has this same primitive psychology, every attempt to bring these age-old projections to consciousness is felt as irritating. Naturally one would like to have better relations with one’s fellows, but only on the condition that they live up to our expectations — in other words, that they become willing carriers of our projections. Yet if we make ourselves conscious of these projections, it may easily act as an impediment to our relations with others, for there is then no bridge of illusion across which love and hate can stream off so relievingly, and no way of disposing so simply and satisfactorily of all those alleged virtues [of ours] that, [in our manifest altruism], are intended [only] to edify and improve others.
From Jung, Modern Man in Search of a Soul, 1933. It may have been this book of mostly translated essays of Jung that set McLuhan to thinking about the relation of gnosticism to the varieties of human experience and expression — thoughts he would begin to define only a decade after this 1944 citation. ↩
McLuhan continued to refer to Jung, sporadically, for the rest of his life, for example in The Gutenberg Galaxy: “The work of Jung and Freud is a laborious translation of non-literate awareness into literary terms, and like any translation distorts and omits. The main advantage in translation is the creative effort it fosters, as Ezra Pound spent his life in telling and illustrating. And culture that is engaged in translating itself from one radical mode such as the auditory, into another mode like the visual, is bound to be in a creative ferment, as was classical Greece or the Renaissance. But our own time is an even more massive instance of such ferment, and just because of such ‘translation’.” (72) But it was not until the 1970 From Cliché to Archetype that the extent and the acuity of his reading of Jung emerged: “The archetype is retrieved awareness or consciousness (of a past consciousness). It is consequently a retrieved cliché – an old cliché retrieved by a new cliché. Since a cliché is a unit extension of man, an archetype is a quoted (cliché), a (prior) extension, medium, technology, or environment — an old ground (now) seen as figure through a new ground. The cliché (…) is incompatible with other clichés, but the archetype is extremely cohesive, the residues of other archetypes 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 (archetype of) consciousness (objective genitive!), we also ‘quote’ (all) the archetypes we exclude; and this quotation of excluded archetypes has been called by (…) Jung (…) ‘the archetypal unconscious’ (…) Jung and his disciples have been careful to insist that the archetype is to be distinguished from its expression (in cliché). Strictly speaking, a Jungian archetype is a power or capacity of the psyche (objective genitive!)”. (21-22) In the same way, a chemical element is “a power or capacity” of physical matter. In both cases, the underlying spectrum or table of potential forms “is to be distinguished from its (dynamic) expression” — but it is equally to be related to it! (In this footnote, all bolding and all text in round brackets has been added. ↩
From his correspondence, it is known that McLuhan read Freud and Adler in the 1930s. It is likely that he also read some Jung then. Essays by Jung had been available in English translation since the first world war and his Modern Man in Search of a Soul appeared in 1933, just as McLuhan was about to begin his studies at Cambridge and was intensely in search of his soul. Both Freud and Jung are both named in McLuhan’s 1943 Nashe thesis and, as reproduced in this post, McLuhan cited Jung’s Modern Man in 1944. ↩
The setting into work, ἐν + ἔργον, of consciousness. ↩
This and the succeeding genitive, the “enantiodrama” of consciousness, are, of course, both objective genitives! ↩
The “regulative function of opposites”, ἐνάντιος + δρόμος, of consciousness. ↩
Thereafter he would repeatedly maintain that solutions are to be found in the problems that are probed, in our ignorance. ↩
CW7. Two Essays appeared in English translation in 1928 — though not in its definitive form which Jung would publish only in 1943 and which is cited in this post.↩
Jung’s language of ‘spark’ and ‘energy’ is interestingly comparable to McLuhan’s ‘electric’. ↩
Jung specifies this point as coming at “the transition from morning to afternoon” in a person’s life. But this point can, of course, come very early for some and for others never eventuates at all. “Sooner or later”, as Jung says. ↩
Translation: “Just as before, perhaps, neurotic disorders arose”… ↩
McLuhan often requires translation from himself to himself. As will be illustrated here with reference to ‘Why the TV Child Cannot See Ahead’1, there are a variety of reasons for this.
In the first place, McLuhan wrote amazingly quickly, but paid little attention to correcting his work. Unclear and potentially misleading constructions were often left standing. Second, he frequently used passages written at different times and for different purposes in composing ‘new’ texts.2 This could lead to conflicting emphases or contradictions. Third, he habitually used abbreviated designations in place of more complicated ones even when this created inevitable confusion. For example, in the text given below, he contrasts “mosaic form” to “visual order”. But are ‘form’ and ‘order’ strictly comparable? Maybe yes, maybe no. More, what about ‘mosaic’ and the ‘visual’ themselves? Surely these belong to very different categories whose alignment is questionable? More yet, he says of “mosaic form” that it “is not just to be seen [like ‘visual order’], but to be perceived by all our senses”. Later in the same essay, however, it is said that “all forms whether of art or technology (…) involve all the senses”. But if everything “involves all the senses”, if nothing is “just to be seen”, where does this leave “visual order”? Or its supposed contrary, “mosaic form”?
Here is the passage in question:
a mosaic is not just to be seen, but to be perceived by all our senses. Highly literate people in our Western world are naturally confused whenever they move across the boundaries of visual order and arrangement. But mosaic form, although it can be seen, is not visual in its organizing principle.
‘TV Child’ later supplies some clarification of the matter at stake:
The effect of phonetic literacy in extending and amplifying the visual component in Western experience and social organization was to create a sort of hypertrophy in our visual lives at the expense of the other senses.
That is, there is in fact nothing at all that is “just to be seen”. Instead, “visual order” like “mosaic form”, involves “all our senses”. The two are not differentiated by the one visual sense versus all the other senses, but by the emphasis or weight or stress accorded, in the case of “visual order”, to the visual relative to the other senses. Hence the characterization of “visual order and arrangement” as “a sort of hypertrophy in our visual lives at the expense of the other senses“. Presumably the “mosaic form” is a more balanced configuration of these same senses and may therefore loosely be said to be “perceived by all our senses”.
But, then, is “mosaic form” something objective (something “to be seen”) or subjective (Involving “all our senses”)? Or is it both of these? And if both, is this not a ‘matching’, which McLuhan routinely rejected? Or if it is not a ‘matching’, but a differentiated ‘making’, where does this leave the point or points at stake in McLuhan’s text?
The underlying conception is of sensory ‘form’ or ‘order’ as a topological matrix of “all our senses” with an undefined number of configurations, each depending on the emphases accorded the various senses relative to one another:
The tribal drum extends hearing in a specialist mode. Clothing extends skin and heat control [hence ‘tactility’?] in a specialist way. Each of these extensions or amplifications, in turn, involves all the other senses, modifying their relation to each other. (…) All forms whether of art or technology, if not for their impact then in our reactions, involve all the senses… (TV Child)
Even appeal to different configurations of all the senses is itself misleading, however, since, at the end of the day, it is not the senses that are at stake in the investigation of experience. Instead it is the “organizing principle”, “form”, “mode”, “order”, or “medium” that is at stake — and the senses, alone or together, are but one way of designating these.
Here is McLuhan to Harold Rosenberg, March 1, 1965:
As soon as you begin to deal with the sensory modalities, you quickly discover that the visual mode may occur in situations that are quite unvisualizable. For example, central heating structures the thermal space of a room visually. That is, a centrally heated room has a thermal space that is uniform, and continuous, and connected. That is visuality as such. (Letters 318)
A few days later he wrote similarly to Claude Bissell:
Sensory levels are really quite useless without knowledge of sensory modalities. (March 4, 1965, Letters 319)
The great question is how to characterize “modalities” such that they become openly and uncontentiously identifiable. On this basis, the shared investigation of all human experience could (and must) be initiated: “the medium is the message”.
‘TV Child’ points to this possibility as follows:
the instant character of electricity introduces the principle ofinterrelation that is antithetic to all earlier technologies which in effect had fragmented and extended the body by way of specialism and amplification
This passage has much to say between the lines. Taken at face value, it seems to parallel the earlier contrast between “visual order” (“just to be seen”, the eye “fragmented (…) by way of specialism and amplification”) and the “mosaic form” (“perceived by all our senses” according to “the principle of interrelation”). However, if “all forms whether of art or technology (…) involve all the senses”, it must be that “the principle of interrelation” is actually a constant — a highly variable constant, to be sure — in all human experience, individual or collective, at any time whatsoever. Hence the famous “allatonceness”.
Once this is clear (if that is the right word), it may be seen (ditto) that McLuhan’s text here moves on two different levels at once. There is the obvious diachronic contrast between earlier forms or orders, ones that amplified a single sense relative to the others, and the later electric order that is said to introduce3 a more balanced approach. Read closely, however, this ubiquitous reading falls apart. In the first place, McLuhan emphasizes that it is “the instant character of electricity” that “introduces the principle of interrelation”. But how is instantaneity to be squared with a diachronically ordered understanding of the passage? Instantaneous but also before-and-after? Likewise with “the principle of interrelation”. If this is the signature of the electric form, would McLuhan have us step away from it — presumably back to the Gutenberg galaxy — in order to behold “all earlier technologies” not in principled “interrelation”, but as “antithetic” to one another and to us today?
McLuhan’s contention is far different. Between the lines (“the medium is the message”) he is saying that with electricity “the principle of interrelation”, which is always active in human experience (what might be termed its implicit or “instant character”), becomes (or can become) explicit.4 What is “antithetic” between electricity and “all earlier technologies” is not their basic common form of interrelation, but their ability to explicate that basic common form. This is what he called, amongst a raft of other designations, the ‘exteriorization of consciousness’.5
When chemistry took off in the nineteenth century, it marked no difference in the physical makeup of the world. That exterior landscape was what it always had been and what it always would be. What was new was the increasing ability to explicate that world. Just so, according to McLuhan, with the “interior landscape” in the electric age.
However, this new possibility remains hidden from us by our own presupposition — “the viable is always invisible” (Take Today, 285).6 Here is McLuhan further in ‘TV Child’:
The effect of phonetic literacy in extending and amplifying the visual component in Western experience and social organization was to create a sort of hypertrophy in our visual lives at the expense of the other senses. This situation exists even among our scientists [today] who make assumptions about the natural order of things as if this order were primarily visual in respect to uniformity and continuity and connectiveness.
Instead of ‘our scientists’ this passage might be read as ‘this situation exists even among all our McLuhan scholars’. For without exception,7 all are locked in “assumptions about the natural order of things” which it was the explicit purpose of McLuhan’s lifelong labors — to unlock. His revolutionary suggestion of a “new science” goes begging because the unwavering assumption of “uniformity and continuity and connectiveness” by his readers binds their understandings of him to a past in which there was no such science and, indeed, couldnot be one. They cannot make the required “flip” out of this unavailing “uniformity and continuity and connectiveness” of unscience.
This would be hilarious — indeed, it is in fact hilarious — but for one small problem. Namely, McLuhan conceived his work as a ‘survival strategy’. Here he is speaking to Nina Sutton and Barbara Rowes:
McLuhan: when you invade one [group’s] culture with a totally different [cultural] strategy from theirs, naturally they regard you as an enemy.
Barbara Rowes: And how do you personally take this?
McLuhan: I simply consider that this particular form of enmity or creation [of mine that elicits it] is necessary for [our] survival. That’s all. If you want to survive, you had better pay attention. But in paying attention [and who pays attention to McLuhan other than McLuhan scholars?], they get quite angry because they are enraged to think that all these years we have been manipulated by our own culture without knowing it. This is what enrages [the McLuhan scholar]8 — to think that he has been put through all these paces9 like a trained seal, like a blooming robot.
Of course, few McLuhan scholars regard themselves as “enraged” or, even less, as “trained seals”. Most of them are doubtless hail fellows, well met. What with their tenure, travel grants and great bennies, how not? But perhaps it is not so easy or obvious to know what it is to be “trained” to be “enraged”? And perhaps it is just this obscurity at the foundation of our experience, one that prevents the perception of a deep rage, even or especially in oneself, that above all places the question of our survival in grave doubt?
‘TV Child’ first appeared posthumously in a special McLuhan issue of The Antigonish Review (#74-75, October 1988) and then in a selection from that issue as a standalone book, Marshall McLuhan: The Man and His Message (ed George Sanderson and Frank Macdonald, 1989). But most of the essay was written in the 1960s — extended portions of it appeared in ‘Murder by Television’ (Canadian Forum, January 1964), and in Understanding Media that same year.↩
As described in note #1 above in regard to ‘TV Child’, this was common with McLuhan. The 1969 Counterblast, for example, not only includes the 1954 Counterblast, but also whole sections from other essays from the 1950s. ↩
Or, as McLuhan specifies elsewhere, reintroduces from paleolithic times. ↩
McLuhan’s “new science” (which, if the chemical model is any guide, would soon be plural sciences) would be founded on definition of the “the principle of interrelation” in terms of the spectrum of its possible range. He outlined the idea for Nina Sutton as follows: “The wheel and the axle is figure/ground. They can change roles. The axle can be figure. The wheel can be ground. Or vice versa. They can change roles. (…) They flip all the time. Anything can become a figure to a ground and any ground can become a figure to another ground. They interrelate.” The spectrum ranges from all figure at one extreme to all ground at the other. All the f/g and g/f points between these extremes are the ratios of possible perception (objective genitive!). What is interesting about the electric middle point of the spectrum is that here and here alone it becomes possible to define its whole range. This midpoint where f/g is equipoised is “the instant character of electricity (that) introduces the principle of interrelation”. Once introduced, the principle can be applied to the understanding the full spectrum — ie, the project of understanding mediacan be initiated on this basis. ↩
Consciousness becomes exteriorized when its investigation has become subject to Kuhn’s ‘normal science’. It would then no longer be merely implicit inside us operating as a kind of surd. And just as chemistry soon developed all sorts of ‘exterior’ manifestations like new manufacturing methods, new products, new university courses, new journals, new modes of medicine, etc etc, so (it may be expected) would the explicit investigation of all human experience be exteriorized in comparable ways. The world would be changed — and hence conceivably saved from itself! ↩
“The viable is always invisible” has multiple interpretations. That the viable cannot be seen from within an order of perception is the very presupposition for the hang-ups of that order. But these hang-ups invariably relate to some dominating variety of visibility (including its suppression by other sensory factors) such that any viable solution to them is necessarily in-visible. Finally, the viable way away from any problematic order of experience requires descent into the spectrum of its possible orders and transition ‘there’ into another one. All of these movements between the levels of experience and between the different possibilities of its order are necessarily invisible since all are gaps between what is subject to experience at all. In these gaps we are all nobodies on the frontier, somehow aside from all experienceable context. ↩
If there were even a single exception among McLuhan scholars, the scientific investigation of human experience foreseen by him could take off. We could do it! But instead of entering that silent sea McLuhan’s new science remains landlocked as an untried possibility. ↩