Connubium of Being 2

Increasingly, I feel that Catholics must master C.G. Jung. (…) Modern anthropology and psychology are more important for the Church than St. Thomas to-day. (1944)1


KEYS to GIVEN (1939 Joyce; 1964, 1972, 1974 McLuhan)2  


trying to point to the shut-off button of an active and lethal environmental process (1964)3


The conclusion of War and Peace in the Global Village (discussed in Connubium of Being 1) was revisited by McLuhan in Take Today.4

Compare the two:

War and Peace in the Global Village, 190
Biologists use two (…) categories that are helpful for
perceiving the relation between the end of nature today and the problem of understanding the future of media and technology. They speak of ‘outbreeding’ and ‘inbreeding’. As Mayr puts it: “Most animals are essentially outbreeders, most microorganisms inbreeders.”5
With electricity, all this has changed totally. At present the entire mammalian world has become the microorganismic. It is the total individual cultures of the world, linguistically and politically, that have become the mammals, according to the old classifications of evolutionary hypothesis. It is the cultural habitat in which we have long been accustomed to think that people were contained that has now become the mammal itself, now contained in a new macrocosm or ‘connubium’ of a super-terrestrial kind. Our technologies, or self-amputations, and the environments or habitats which they create must now become [informed by] that matrix of that macrocosmic connubial bliss derided by the evolutionist. 

Take Today, 294

The moment of Sputnik extended the planet. Something happened to the stellar system at that moment. The possibility of “retuning the sky” was born. Previously, the “extensions of man” related to his body, anything from his skin (clothing) to his central nervous system (electric circuitry). Each and all of these extensions affected the transactions between men and their previous environment. The extension of the planet itself meant that the technology was not transported [anymore] by individual or collective man but by his previous environment — the Earth. It became a totally new game with new ground rules. Our ground now was literally in the sky. (…) Whereas previous extensions had altered the speed of human motions in a great variety of ways, freely hybridizing with one another, the new extension of the planet seemed to call despotically for a new harmonizing of the spheres of action, influence, and knowledge. 

The problem posed here, and indeed by the whole history of humans on this earth, is how to understand our place in the “generalized environment” (Mayr)6, that is, in the “super-terrestrial” environment, that is, in the “macrocosm” of the entire universe. 

For hundreds of thousands of years before Sputnik,7 answers to this question were formulated within all the different “individual cultures of the world” — “the cultural habitat[s] in which we have long been accustomed to think”. All the cosmic interpretations of humans were “transported” between contemporaries in space and between generations in time via their ‘collective representations‘ of (dual genitive!) the spacetimes of the Earth. Of course all these representations were technologically modulated. But now, “with electricity all this has changed totally”. Now, with “the moment of Sputnik”, we exist within “a totally new game with new ground rules. Our [new] ground [no longer the Earth] now is literally (…) the Sky.”

But just how would this trans-formation work?8 By practicing outbreeding in Mayr’s sense of the “maximum of ecological plasticity and  evolutionary flexibility”,9 humans might (indeed can) learn to theorize their total “cultural habitat” (consisting of all their myriad of actual and potential habitats “freely hybridizing with one another”) by isolating its dominants.

Such, indeed, is the only way a domain may be brought into focus and investigated: through discrimination of its dominants.10 The medium is the message.

Humans have learned to theorize all sorts of other domains in this way, so the general ability is not in question — only (only!) its application to ourselves! To the interior landscape!

In the Take Today passage, McLuhan suggests that “the new extension of the planet seemed to call despotically”. This is a very com-plicated matter, a very knotted matter. For McLuhan does not say that the extension into outer space called “despotically”; rather he says that it “seemed to call despotically”. That is, looked at from the Earth, this was the impression. But how on earth can a call be “despotic” absent “despotic” formation? Absent “despotic” in-formation?

No, as McLuhan states baldly, the new impetus came not from the Earth at all, but from the Sky: “Our ground now was literally in the Sky.” Hence, “the new extension of the planet [was able] to call despotically for a new harmonizing” only as a re-call of such a “despotic” possibility. This was to be a celestial dominant exposed as such for the first time by “the new extension of the planet” into outer space.  Then, as a re-turn from the Sky to the Earth, this would expose, also here, how “the spheres of action, influence, and knowledge” might be harmonized via the study and application of the new domain.11

It’s not a question of planning but of receiving inspiration and allowing it to gradually invade your own being. You’re not thinking about inspiration, inspiration is thinking about you. (Federico Fellini)12

The goal is to learn how to come from the archetypal dominants or despots — in the Sky as this may be characterized — back to their expression on the Earth.13  

McLuhan’s career may be seen as the struggle to bring Jung’s archetypes into demonstrable focus — which in Jung’s work constitute a vast phantasmagoria14 of gods and forces. Just as human experience in all its different manifestations can be interrogated as to its dominants, so can the archetypal realm of dominants be interrogated for its dominants. The medium is the message.

As McLuhan specified in his ‘Notes on Burroughs’:

why not bypass instruction in fragmented subjects meant for fragmented sections of the society and reprogram the environment itself?

But to enter into this questionable realm, this question of the real, this real(m) of the question (dual genitive!), is to descend chaotically into the maelstrom with Poe’s mariner. How to ascend again to the surface — a surface we are — is the riddle hanging over history like the sword of Damocles

As with Jung, archetypes are for McLuhan literally dominants or lords (dominus = ‘lord’). We are the expression of these dominants and just as they maintain themselves in and through their extension into us, so our extension is able to maintain itself, and in fact to first find itself, in the mirroring action of our reaching out to them and retracting back from them: ὁδὸς άνω κάτω.

Such a ‘play’ of dominants and dominated, which is first of all simultaneous and only (only!) secondarily sequential,15 is McLuhan’s “global theatre”:

An everyday roundabout with intrusions from above and below.16


  1. McLuhan to Walter Ong and Clement McNaspy, December 23, 1944, Letters 166.
  2. These are the last words of Take Today which are taken from the near last words of Finnegans Wake — just before its gapped last/first sentence. In his 1964 ‘Notes on Burroughs’, McLuhan discussed this gesture of the universe (dual genitive!) as follows: “Finnnegans Wake provides the closest literary precedent to Burroughs’ work. From the beginning to end FW is occupied with the theme of ‘the extensions’ of man — weaponry, clothing, languages, number, money, and media in toto. Joyce works out in detail the sensory shifts involved in each extension of man, and concludes with the resounding boast: The keys to. Given! Like Burroughs, Joyce was sure he had worked out the formula for total cultural understanding and control. The idea of art as total programming for the environment is tribal, mental, Egyptian. It is, also, an idea of art to which electric technology leads quite strongly. We live science fiction. The bomb is our environment. The bomb is of higher learning all compact, the extension division of the university. The university has become a global environment. The university now contains the commercial world, as well as the military and government establishments. To reprogram the cultures of the globe becomes as natural an undertaking as curriculum revision in a university. Since new media are new environments that reprocess psyche and society in successive ways, why not bypass instruction in fragmented subjects meant for fragmented sections of the society and reprogram the environment itself? Such is Burroughs’ vision (…) he is trying to point to the shut-off button of an active and lethal environmental process.” (McLuhan’s text has ‘shut-on’, not ‘shut-off’. As always with his writing, it is impossible to say if this was intended to provoke thought or was a typo. And if it was a typo, was it seen and approved by McLuhan, like ‘the medium is the massage’, or was it unseen and so comes to us, not from McLuhan, or not directly from McLuhan, but via McLuhan indirectly as a channeled message/massage from the unconscious beyond?) Aside from the Burroughs essay in 1964, and Take Today in 1972, McLuhan discussed Joyce’s The keys to. Given! also in the 1974 ‘Medium Meaning Message’ coauthored with Barrington Nevitt. 
  3. See the passage in the previous note from ‘Notes on Burroughs’.
  4. Bob Dobbs has drawn attention to this replay by citing the two passages in his Trump pamphlet. The War and Peace passage is given on his page 81-82 and the Take Today passage on his page 88-89. The close parallels between the passages may be set out as follows, where small changes in aid of clarity have been made to McLuhan’s phrasing (but the original texts are given in the main post above). (1) War and Peace: “the totality of the individual cultures of the world (…) is the (collective) cultural habitat in which we have long been accustomed to think that people are contained”; Take Today: “Previously, the ‘extensions of man’ related to his body, anything from his skin (clothing) to his central nervous system (electric circuitry). Each and all of these extensions affected the transactions between men and their previous (psychological and social) environments (on) the Earth.” (2) War and Peace: “the cultural habitat (…) has now become (…) contained in a new macrocosm or ‘connubium’ of a super-terrestrial kind”; Take Today: “The extension of the planet itself (beyond the Earth) meant (…) a totally new game with new ground rules. Our ground now was literally in the Sky”. (3) War and Peace: our “environments or habitats (…) must now become informed by that (…) macrocosmic connubial bliss derided by the evolutionist”; Take Today: “the new extension of the planet calls (…) for a new harmonizing of the spheres of action, influence, and knowledge”. In sum, “a new harmonizing” is needed whose possibility in the widest scheme of things — the universe itself — is its provision of “connubial bliss” (dual genitive!) as ground. The possibility here would not follow from the need, however, but rather the need from the possibility. As Heidegger has it in SZ: “Higher than actuality stands possibility” (Höher als die Wirklichkeit steht die Möglichkeit).
  5. Ernst Mayr, Animal Species and Evolution (1963): “Outbreeders and inbreeders differ from each other in numerous ways. The entire breeding system of outbreeders is so organized as to accumulate and preserve genetic variation in order to have a maximum of ecological plasticity and  evolutionary flexibility, but at a price — the production of many inferior recombinants. (…) At the other end is the extreme inbreeder which has found a lucky genotypic combination that permits it to flourish in a specialized environmental situation, but again at a price — inability to cope with a sudden change of the environment. A species thus has the choice between (1) optimal contemporary fitness combined with considerable evolutionary vulnerability and (2) maximal evolutionary flexibility combined with the wasteful production of inferior genotypes. No species can combine the two advantages into a single system. Every species makes its own particular compromise between the two extremes and every species has its own set of devices for achieving this compromise. (…) Outbreeding, that is, genetic flexibility (…) is favored by large, structurally complex, slow-growing organisms that have low numbers of offspring and live in a generalized environment. Inbreeding, that is, genetic fixity, is favored by small, structurally simple, fast-growing organisms that have large numbers of offspring and are more or less adapted to special situations. Most animals are essentially outbreeders, most microorganisms essentially inbreeders.” (421)
  6. See the previous note for Mayr’s use of this phrase.
  7. For McLuhan, Sputnik made manifest what was already implied by industrialization, electrification, mass media and anthropology: namely, the “global village” in which all human cultures of all times and places formed a collective (not to say a unity). In his War and Peace text McLuhan called this collective a new “mammal”, in fact “the mammal itself”, which would have to practice a new type of ‘outbreeding’ in order to establish Mayr’s “maximum of ecological plasticity and  evolutionary flexibility”. The admonition was that it is this sort of exploration, and this sort of exploration alone, which can sustain human survival.
  8. This transformation amounts to nothing less than the one way to exit the cul-de-sac in which modern humans have become trapped!
  9. Such “plasticity and  (…) flexibility” amounts to the exploration of ignorance through the process of flipping between candidates for archetypal dominance. The practice amounts to jumping off a crumbing cliff (the old environments which will not hold) to see if one can land on one which does hold. Of course this is a risky business. But so is any birth!
  10. Discrimination of dominants: in geometry: points, lines, circles, squares, triangles; in physics: mass, time, space; in chemistry: elements, atomic weight, valence. Domains are assemblies of dominants together with the properties of those dominants.
  11. It is the harmonious “connubium of a supraterrestrial nature” (Playboy Interview) that first provides the possibility of harmonies here on Earth!
  12. Fellini Racconta: Passeggiate nella memoria, 2000, 24:24ff.
  13. For McLuhan, responding to in-coming in-formation is attending to ‘light through‘ and is akin to listening; while imposing information from some point of view amounts to ‘light on’ and is akin to seeing. Now humans always stand at some intersection of these lights — light through and light on — and the great need is to obtain insight with a sufficient lack of imposition that reception of it truly occurs, while at the same time there is a sufficient presence of imposition that exposition of it in knowledge and communication may be achieved. The dialectic between reception and exposition is just what science is.
  14. Phantasmagoria as the meeting place (ἀγορά) of the phantasms (φάντασμα) may be considered as the connubium of Being.
  15. The Global Village (1989): “time considered as sequential (left hemisphere) is figure and time considered as simultaneous (right hemisphere) is ground”.
  16. McLuhan frequently paraphrased Frank Budgen in this way from Budgen’s ‘Joyce’s Chapters on Going Forth by Day’, Horizon, September 1941.