Monthly Archives: May 2023

Solution lies in the problem

Alchemy of Social Change, 19571
We have to know in advance the effect (…) of any change whatever. This is necessity, not ideal. It is also a possibility. There was never a critical situation created by human ingenuity which did not contain its own solution. 

Technology, the Media, and Culture 1960
Let us return for a moment to that increasing awareness of the dynamics of process and learning and creativity which l suggest gains new force from the subliminal patterns of the TV image. In his
Landmarks of Tomorrow, Peter F. Drucker has pointed to Operations Research as “organized ignorance”. It is a procedure in tackling problems which resembles the “negative capability”2 of Keats — a sort of intellectual judo. Instead of straining all available effort on a visible goal (…), let the solution come from the problem itself. If you can’t keep the cow out of the garden, keep the garden out of the cow. A. N. Whitehead was fond of saying that the great discovery of the nineteenth century was not this or that invention but the discovery of the technique of invention. lt is very simple, and was loudly proclaimed by Poe, Baudelaire, and Valéry, namely, begin with (…) the problem, and then find out what steps lead to [that problem].
3 In other words, work backwards.

MM to Pierre Trudeau April 14, 1969
The real solution is in the problem itself, as in any detective story.

Take Today, 13
Our chief resources are the gripes and jokes, the problems and breakdowns, of managers4 themselves; for therein lie the solutions and breakthroughs via pattern recognition of the processes involved. Managing
The Ascent from the Maelstrom today demands [new] awareness that can be achieved only by going Through the Vanishing Point.5

Take Today, 92
It is not possession of the solution, but the recognition of the problem itself that provides a resource and the answers.

Take Today, 103
All solutions are in the very words by which people confuse and hide their problems…

The Argument: Causality in the Electric World, 1973
The breakdown or hang-up is always in the connection whereas the breakthrough or discovery is inside the problem itself (…) Breakdown is the old cause in action, the extension of the old figure to the new ground.  Breakthrough is the effect of understanding as the new cause. The solution is a figure that we can discover by organizing our ignorance and swarming over the ground. This process is encapsulated in the myth of Hercules in the Augean stables.

At the Flip Point of Time — the Point of More Return, 1975
Understanding that the entrance to knowledge is through the back door of ignorance is basic to an understanding of media and technology. It seems to be a human characteristic to hide the effects of our actions when they move out into the environments of services and/or disservices. Yet as James Joyce said of these man-made environments “when invisible they are invincible”. To free ourselves from the invincible effects of our own programs of organized activity, it is necessary that we inspect the ignorance systematically engendered by our applied knowledge.6

In sum: only with the problem do we have a solution.7

 

  1. Explorations 8.
  2. As often broached by McLuhan, Keats described “negative capability” in a December 1817 letter to his brothers: “when a (hu)man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching-after-fact & reason“.
  3. McLuhan has “the solution” here, not “that problem. The substitution has been made to clarify his suggestion, namely, that when identification is made of “what steps lead to” a problem, a “solution” to that problem will then be found in the modification of those steps.
  4. Take Today is addressed to ‘managers’ and ‘executives’. Its subtitle is ‘The Executive as Dropout’. But its larger topic is the human subject as the ‘manager’ or ‘user’ of media (dual genitive).
  5. In order to attain new awareness, transition Through the Vanishing Point is required. “Managing the ascent” is the movement between worlds of experience — from a world with the problem to another with its solution. This requires ‘vanishing’ since there is no world between worlds.
  6. See the following note: “all technical solutions have a new problem”.
  7. At the same time, however, with the solution we have a problem. Barry Nevitt (?) in the Monday Night Seminar, January 22, 1973: “all technical solutions have a new problem” — οδός άνω κάτω…

McLuhan and Plato 12 — Cratylus

The doctrine of names is, of course, the doctrine of essence and not a naïve notion of oral terminology. (The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time)1

Just as language offers an extensive and complex apprehension of the structure of beings, so that faculty which produced this state of language is perpetually operative — an intuitive perception of essentials(The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time)2

*

Here in chronological order are McLuhan’s thoughts on the Cratylus of Plato and its “doctrine of names” (with commentary in footnotes):

The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time, 1943:3
In the dialogue named for Cratylus, the follower of Heraclitus, Plato has this exchange of arguments between Socrates and Cratylus: Socrates: But if these things are only to be known through names, how can we suppose that the givers of names had knowledge, or were legislators before there were names at all, and therefore before they could have known them?Cratylus: I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names which were thus given are necessarily their true names. Obviously, with this kind of importance associated with the names of things, and of gods, heroes, and legendary beings, etymology would be a main source of scientific and moral enlightenment. And such was the case. The prolific labors of the etymologists reflected in Plato’s Cratylus, but begun centuries before and continued until the seventeenth century, are as much the concern of the historian of philosophy and of science as of the historian of letters and culture. Indeed, it was not only in antiquity but until the Cartesian revolution that language was viewed as simultaneously linking and harmonizing all the intellectual and physical functions of men and of the physical world as well. At any time from Plato to Francis Bacon the statement of Cratylus would have made sense, and would have evoked respect.

The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of His Time, 1943:4
Plato’s Cratylus broaches the question of analogy and anomaly in such a way as to indicate that their dispute was of ancient5 origin even in his day, but the issues [between analogy and anomaly]6, of course, are drawn on a plane loftier than that of [linguistic] conjugations and declensions. Socrates refutes the superficial anomalist doctrine of Hermogenes at great length. Hermogenes says, ‘I have often talked over this  matter, both with Cratylus and others, and cannot convince myself that there is any principle of correctness in names other than convention and agreement.’ Socrates replies that ‘I should say that this giving of names can be no such light matter as you fancy (…) and [that] Cratylus is right in saying that things have names by nature, and that not every man is an artificer of names; but he only who looks to the name which each thing by nature has, and is, will be able to express the ideal forms of things in letters and syllables.7 The general incredulity concerning Socrates’ seriousness in this dialogue is an adequate measure of the modern failure to apprehend the nature of grammar in the ancient and medieval worlds; and much of Plato’s power over St. Augustine and the medieval mind [generally] is owing to his great (…)8 respect for the method of grammar in philosophy.

Medieval Grammar as the Basis of Bacon’s Novum Organum, 1944:
One obvious consequence of the doctrine of the Logos is seen in the Cratylus, named for the famous grammarian who was Plato’s teacher. Socrates concurs in Cratylus’ statement that “a power more than human gave things their first names, and (…) the names which were thus given were necessarily their true names.The dialogue is then given over to the consideration of essence and the basic nature of things by means of the grammatical arts of allegory and etymology. 

Medieval Grammar as the Basis of Bacon’s Novum Organum, 1944
Bacon, like the Stoics, was an analogist, though a cautious one. That is, he held the ancient doctrine (…) of the Cratylus of Plato. An understanding of the great historical dispute waged for many centuries between the analogists and the anomalists is basic to an understanding of ancient, medieval, and Renaissance culture

James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial, 1953
By 1885 Mallarmé had formulated and utilized in his poetry these concepts about the nature of language uniting science and philology, which nowadays are known as “metalinguistics.” However, these views of language were commonplaces to Cratylus, Varro, and Philo Judaeus. They were familiar to the Church Fathers, and underlay the major schools of scriptural exegesis. If “four-Ievel exegesis” is back in favor again as the staple of the “new criticism”, it is because the poetic objects which have been made since 1880 frequently require such techniques for their elucidation

The Little Epic, late 1950s9
Language itself and every department of human activity would in this view be a long succession of “momentary deities” or epiphanies.10 And such indeed is the view put forward in the Cratylus of Plato: “I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names which are thus given are necessarily their true names.” In this way etymology becomes a method of science and theology. William Wordsworth called these momentary deities “spots of time”, Hopkins called them “inscapes”11, and Browning built his entire work on the same concept of the esthetic of the “eternal moment”.

The Gutenberg Galaxy
Cratylus: I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names which were thus given are necessarily their true names
This view of Cratylus was the basis of most language study until the Renaissance. It is rooted in the old oral “magic” of the “momentary deity”12 kind such as is favoured again today for various reasons. (27-28)

McLuhan to Tom Wolfe, October 25, 1965 (Letters, 326)
Plato’s Cratylus presents a theory of language as the key to an inclusive consciousness of human culture much in the style of Finnegans Wake.
 

 

  1. The Classical Trivium, p16.
  2. The Classical Trivium, p51.
  3. The Classical Trivium, 15-16.
  4. The Classical Trivium, 28.
  5. With ‘ancient’ McLuhan signaled a different order of time from the chronological. As seen in the very title of his 1944 lecture (published in 1946), ‘An Ancient Quarrel in Modern America’, ‘ancient’ time was not, or was not only, long ago. It was also, and equally, contemporaneous. “Ancient origin” was therefore also, and equally, active — right now.
  6. Analogy and anomaly are not 2, but 3. If there were not the third possibility of ‘both together’ their “dispute” could not be perennial. See McLuhan and Plato 8 – Gigantomachia.
  7. The giving of names is assimilated here to science, since the proper name of an entity is said to follow from what it is — and it is the task of scientific inquiry to establish just that. As McLuhan noted in ‘Francis Bacon’s Patristic Inheritance’ from 1944: “The initial imposition of names in this sense signifies essence, metaphysical knowledge.”
  8. McLuhan has “great, though not exclusive, respect” here. He breaks his train of thought regarding the continuity between Plato and “the medieval mind” to indicate how “respect” is subject to the “ancient quarrel”, or “great historical dispute“, between the trivial arts. Plato was “great” exactly in that his “respect” was not “exclusive”: “Plato and Aristotle, the representatives of the new literate culture of Greece in philosophy, had this same doubleness. They straddled the written and oral traditions. They translated the tribal encyclopedia of the preceding culture into the written, classified form” (‘Toward an Inclusive Consciousness’, 1967). McLuhan differentiated between an “exclusive” and “inclusive consciousness”, but recognized at the same time that an inclusive consciousness could not exclude ‘respect’ for exclusive consciousness without itself becoming exclusive. Like air or water, “inclusive consciousness” had in principle to give way to everything other than it.
  9. Unpublished manuscript in the Ottawa archive. This citation is from a chapter entitled ‘The Greeks’.
  10. For “momentary deities or epiphanies” compare “every letter is a godsend” in ‘James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial’ (1953): “Whereas the ethical world of Ulysses is presented in terms of well-defined human types the more metaphysical world of the Wake speaks and moves before us with the gestures of being itself. It is a nightworld and, literally, as Joyce reiterates, is “abcedminded.” Letters (“every letter is a godsend“), the frozen, formalized gestures of remote ages of collective experience, move before us in solemn morrice. They are the representatives of age-old adequation of mind and things, enacting the drama of the endless adjustment of the interior acts and dispositions of the mind to the outer world. The drama of cognition itself. For it is in the drama of cognition, the stages of apprehension, that Joyce found the archetype of poetic imitation. He seems to have been the first to see that the dance of being, the nature imitated by the arts, has its primary analogue in the activity of the exterior and interior senses. Joyce was aware that this doctrine (that sensation is imitation because the exterior forms are already in a new matter) is implicit in Aquinas. He made it explicit in Stephen Hero and the Portrait, and founded his entire poetic activity on these analogical proportions of the senses.” The bracketed insertion, every letter is a godsend“, is from McLuhan and is fundamental to his thinking. It names the ‘dynamic’ or ‘dramatic’ extension that is just as characteristic of media as it is of chemical elements or of DNA: all inherently express themselves in and as particulars to comprise the concrete world around us. The dynamic order is vertical and synchronic; the particular order is horizontal and diachronic. Human being is situation at the crossing of these vectors of space and time.
  11. McLuhan’s interesting suggestion is that Hopkins’ ‘inscape’ is to be understood as the complement of ‘escape’.
  12. For “momentary deity”, see note 10 above.

Inclusive consciousness

What Bacon did was to take the Book of Nature, which had been the medieval image of the natural world, and to this he added the Book of Scripture, the Sacred Page. He took both these pages and directed to these pages a kind of analytic gaze of comprehensive inclusiveness. I’m suggesting that the very components that make for a divided consciousness also can (…) become the means of an inclusive consciousness such as Bacon took for granted in his own case. Plato and Aristotle, the representatives of the new literate culture of Greece in philosophy, had this same doubleness. They straddled the written and oral traditions. They translated the tribal encyclopedia of the preceding culture into the written, classified form, and they too [like Bacon] produced an (…) encyclopedic philosophy. (Toward an Inclusive Consciousness, 1967)1

McLuhan differentiated between exclusive and inclusive consciousness. But at first he identified “inclusive consciousness” with the “auditory organization of many-layered and interpenetrating experiences”. Here he is to this effect in 1960:

The theme of Romantic Image by [Frank] Kermode [1957] is that the quest for the means of an inclusive consciousness drove artists away from discourse of reason and even from language. (…) Romantic poetry developed a one-thing-at-a-time kind of vision and awareness which had succeeded an all-at-once sort of auditory and simultaneous order: “The decline of the aristocratic world of the eighteenth century with its hierarchy of ordered values had sent the Romantic poets scurrying into their own souls in search of a new scale of values. (…) Each created his own order, in terms usually of the vision of love or the journey of life, and each was able to oppose to the flux of a world of broken values, to the anarchy of individualism, symbols of that order in the beauty and permanence of the natural world” (p. 166). Foakes here [in The Romantic Assertion: A Study of the Language of Nineteenth Century Poetry, 1958] reminds us that the image of order that became dominant in the age of Newton was visual. Poetry, too, succeeded in achieving a new visual order based on the correspondence between the inner faculties and the natural scene outside. But this new order was exclusive rather than inclusive in its very nature. It had to deal with one emotion at a time and one level of experience at a time. It could not include erudition and accumulated past experience in the single perspectives of visual space that were devised in order to isolate and to control single emotions. But, above all, it could not fulfill the human craving for an inclusive auditory organization of many-layered and interpenetrating experiences.2

By 1967, as indicated by the lead passage from Toward an Inclusive Consciousness’ he realized that this identification of the inclusive with the auditory had been an error. Now he saw that “inclusive consciousness” demanded balance between “the written and oral traditions”, aka the visual the auditory.

He seems to have come to this awareness in the years immediately following the 1960 review.

The 1962 Gutenberg Galaxy notes:

The speculators of our time can as easily fall unawares into the auditory bias of “field” theory as the Greeks leapt into the flatland of abstract visuality and one-way lineality. (p57-58)

And here he is in a October 4, 1963 letter to Harry Skornia, his partner in crime at the NAEB:

My central idea, as you know, since the GALAXY [1962], is that of electro-magnetism as an extension of the central nervous system. Closely related to this is my insistence that the next extension of man will be the simulation of the process of consciousness itself.3 (…) It does not mean the end of private awareness, rather a huge heightening of same via involvement in corporate energies. Corporate awareness, of course, is iconic, inclusive. Not an aspect, not a moment out of a total life, but all moments of that life simultaneously. That is the meaning of tactual involvement. It is the interplay of sense, all the senses, not the isolation of any one sense

‘Tactility’ was not used by McLuhan as the single sense of touch, but as the junction or switchyard or “interplay” of “all the senses”. So in this passage the “inclusive” is specifically withdrawn from “any one sense”, like the “auditory”, and instead is expressly assigned to “the interplay of (…) all”.  

The great difficulty here (but at the same time is the key to McLuhan’s whole enterprise),4 is the fact that the inclusive cannot exclude the exclusive without itself becoming exclusive! This is why McLuhan notes in the 1967 passage: “the very components that make for a divided [or exclusive] consciousness also can (…) become the means of an inclusive consciousness”

Here “of an inclusive consciousness” must be taken in the first instance as a subjective genitive like ‘the ball of the boy’ — not as an objective genitive like ‘the punishment of the boy’. Hence “the very components that make for a divided [or exclusive] consciousness” belong to “inclusive consciousness” — even as they on their side contradict it!

McLuhan’s insistence that “language itself” is the model and means of “inclusive consciousness” is at work here: 

Corporate awareness, of course, is iconic, inclusive. Not an aspect, not a moment out of a total life, but all moments of that life simultaneously.5

Language brings together in dialogue different persons who never match or merge with each other. It enables the expression of all points of view. And nothing at all happens among humans absent this environment which is, however, neither singular nor still.

*

McLuhan read Joyce as grappling with the problems and promise at stake here:

Joyce was all his life attempting to devise means of coping with the problems of inclusive consciousness that have been thrust on men by the simultaneous and instantaneous flow of information which results from electronic channels since the advent of the telegraph. Anybody who can look at Joyce and say, “It is all very confusing,” has not looked at the world he lives in. (One Wheel, All Square, 1958)

it was his mastery of the art process in terms of the stages of apprehension that enabled Joyce to install himself in the centre of the creative process. Whether it appears as mere individual sensation, as collective hope or phobia, as national myth-making or cultural norm-functioning, there is Joyce with cocked ear, eye and nose at the the centre of the action. He saw that the change of our time (‘wait till Finnegan wakes!’) was occurring as a result of the shift from superimposed myth to awareness of the character of the creative process itself. Here was the only hope for a world culture which would incorporate all previous achievements. The very process of human communication, Joyce saw, would afford the natural base for all the future operations and strategies of culture. Towards this vivisectional spectacle of the human community in action we have been led ever more swiftly in recent decades by increasing self-consciousness of the processes and effects of the various media of communication. Our knowledge of the modes of consciousness in pre-literate societies together with our sense of the processes of culture formation in many literate societies past and present, have sharpened our perceptions and led to wide agreement that communication itself is the common ground for the study of individual and society. To this study Joyce contributed not just awareness but demonstration of individual cognition as the analogue and matrix of all communal actions, political, linguistic and sacramental.6 (Notes on the Media as Art Forms 1954)

Every medium is in some sense a universal, pressing towards maximal realization. But its expressive pressures disturb existing balances and patterns in other media of culture. The increasing inclusiveness of our sense of such repercussions leads us today hopefully to investigate the possibilities of orchestral harmony in the multi-levelled drive towards pure human expressiveness. (Notes on the Media as Art Forms 1954)

 

  1. Toward an Inclusive Consciousness’, Lecture of March 17, 1967 at the University of Toronto, in Understanding Me, pp124-138.
  2. McLuhan review of The Romantic Assertion: A Study of the Language of Nineteenth Century Poetry by R. A. Foakes, 1958, in Modern Philology, 57:4 (May, 1960), pp279-280.
  3. This prediction of AI was made 60 years ago. But phrases like “the simulation of the process of consciousness itself” should not be taken as if McLuhan had in mind only a conscious machine of some sort. Certainly this was one aspect of his vision, the spectre of a monstrous take over of the planet by the machines we have created. But the “simulation” of consciousness would at the same time be analogous to the simulation of the material world that we have in chemistry and physics — and, before them and anticipating them, in language and in all human experience. Such physical sciences simulate the world even as the world simulates them. For McLuhan, then, “the simulation of the process of consciousness itself” would eventuate in and through a ‘new science’, in fact a new genus of sciences. This would be an ongoing science or sciences that would specifically include all the ways of human being, just as chemistry includes the ways of being of physical materials (including those of the human body).
  4. See Jackson Knight on “the main question” and related ‘main question’ posts.
  5. One sentence of the McLuhan October 4, 1963 letter to Harry Skornia cited above.
  6. McLuhan’s vision here is of “individual cognition” sparking different synchronic possibilities as its way of creating and maintaining a diachronic flow of life. This is a microcosmic figuration of the macrocosmic ground of “language itself” — an analogous sparking of possibilities, but playing out on a gigantic scale. Cf, McLuhan in The Little Epic from the late 1950s, an unpublished manuscript in the Ottawa archive: “Language itself and every department of human activity would in this view be a long succession of ‘momentary deities’ or epiphanies.  And such indeed is the view put forward in the Cratylus of Plato: I believe, Socrates, the true account of the matter to be, that a power more than human gave things their first names, and that the names which are thus given are necessarily their true names. In this way etymology becomes a method of science and theology. William Wordsworth called these momentary deities ‘spots of time’, Hopkins called them ‘inscapes’ and Browning built his entire work on the same concept of the esthetic of the ‘eternal moment’.” Compare ‘James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial’ from 1953: “every letter is a godsend“. These epiphanic moments consist of the ‘dynamic’ or ‘dramatic’ extension of pre-existing possibilities. In this way human experience expressing itself via media would be assimilated to the working of chemical elements or of DNA: all inherently express themselves in and as particulars to comprise the concrete world around us. The dynamic order is vertical and synchronic; the particular order is horizontal and diachronic. Human being is situated at the crossing of these vectors of space and time. (McLuhan, as seen in his famous letter to Innis in March of that year, had this vision by 1951 at the latest: “One major discovery of the symbolists which had the greatest importance for subsequent investigation was their notion of the learning process as a labyrinth of the senses and faculties whose retracing provided the key to all arts and sciences.” (Letters, p221) By “retracing” human experience back to its sparking of discrete possibilities, McLuhan would follow the same path of dynamic expression that all experience takes, but in reverse direction. This would expose the underlying forms which express themselves in and as concrete awareness.)

McLuhan replays Elsie

He do the police in different voices…1

The City as Classroom, published in 1977 a few years before McLuhan’s death at the end of 1980, replays his early experience, growing up with the constant murmur of his Mother’s preparation of her one-woman shows. As she moved about the house Elsie would have recited passages from poems and plays, both to aid her memorization of them and to try out different voices for them. Later, when McLuhan was at Cambridge, her elocution work was a frequent topic of their correspondence.2

The City as Classroom highlights the role of sound in everyday life and describes its potential use in school, particularly with tape recorders. Here is one of its recommended exercises:

Using tape, rather than the printed page, as the means of presenting the poem (…) edit the tape for a listener. Cut out all the material that is not absolutely necessary to create the effect of the poem, or anything that detracts from its meaning and effect.
Is it necessary to change the sequence of lines or of images in order to present on
 tape 
the essential effect of the poem? If you think that it is, try it.
Use sound effects both where they seem called for by the poem, and where they will help to make the poem more concise. Try this with poems written by four or five different authors of different periods. Try to translate something of each poem’s essence into terms relevant to your audience. This is a very difficult exercise, but try it at least: what you are really doing is updating an old situation for a contemporary audience. (p94-95)

Isn’t this just what was going on in Elsie’s mind as she worked around the house? And what McLuhan came to consider when he began his teaching career at the University of Wisconsin in 1936?

  1. “He do the police in different voices” is a line from Dickens’ Our Mutual Friend. It referred to the police news section of the newspaper as read by the orphan, Sloppy. Eliot used the line as the working title for what was to become The Waste Land. For Joyce on “the living texture” of this “unchanging unceasing murmur” see Voices in Dubliners and A Portrait.
  2. See The put-on for an extended discussion of these points. McLuhan’s title for his 1964 Voices of Literature anthology should be considered in this context.

McLuhan on Dali TV Guide cover

In 1968 and 1969 McLuhan reverted over and over again to Dali’s TV Guide cover…

McLuhan to Sheila Watson, June 12, 1968:1
Obtain cover of TV Guide for June 8-14. It is a Dali explanation of the tactile nature of the TV image. Wonderful interview inside, too.

McLuhan to Warren Brodey, June 12, 1968:2
Don’t fail to study TV Guide cover for June 8-14. (…) The Dali picture on the TV Guide cover reveals his deep understanding of TV as tactility, an interval. Also it includes his awareness of the software environment as the extension of the CNS.

McLuhan to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, June 12, 1968:3
The cover of the June 8 – 14 TV Guide is a Dali masterpiece. It manifests in detail the tactile quality of the TV image. The extension of the central nervous system via electricity is environmentally indicated in the upper right corner by a segment of brain tissue. The two thumbs with the TV images on the nails are carefully separated to indicate the gap or interval constituted by touch. The age of tactility via television and radio is one of innumerable interfaces or gaps that replace the old connections, legal, literate and visual.

Include Me Out: Reversal Of Overheated Image, 1968:4
The extreme coolness and tactility of TV has received its most impressive testimonial in a new painting by Salvador Dali. It appears on the cover of TV Guide for June 8, 1968. Two TV screens appear on two thumbnails. The thumbs are widely separated, looking like cracked sculpture (tactile space is the space of the interval, the icon, the contour).

Foreword to The Interior Landscape (1969):
TV Guide for June 8-14, 1968, has a painting by Dali on the cover. Two thumbs exhibit two TV screens as thumbnails. That is pure poetry, acute new perception. Dali immediately presents the fact that TV is a tactile mode of perception. Touch is the space of the interval, not of visual connection. I have been trying to elucidate this fact for years. In vain. The somnambulist knows better. Can’t he see TV with his eyes? How could it be tactile? Pasteur was thrown out of the medical profession because he insisted that doctors wash their hands before surgery. They knew better. They could see their hands were clean.

Retribalized Makers, 19695
The cover for TV Guide for June 8-14, 1968 consists of a painting by Salvador Dali. It presents two TV images in two thumbnails. The thumbs are coarsely textured and carefully spaced to indicate different worlds. Among other features there is on the horizon a segment of brain tissue. The new “software” environment of electric information is literally an extension of our central nervous system. The interface or touch or “gap” that constitutes the sense of touch is scarcely acknowledged except among artists. As an artist, Dali understands that the TV image is profoundly tactile and quite unlike photo or movie. Touch is not only the world of musical beat but of the Beats [– and the Heepies!6].

  1. Letters, p353.
  2. https://ionandbob.blogspot.com/1988/06/
  3. Letters, p354.
  4. Playboy, December 1968.
  5. In Alexander Klein, ed, Natural Enemies? — Youth and the Clash of Generations, 1969.
  6. See Dali TV Guide interview: watch TV upside down

Pasteur

Flaubert taught us that there is no neutral area in human communications, and no more merit in tolerating hideous and tendentious forms of pictorial arrangement than in putting up with polluted drinking water. Before Pasteur, Flaubert introduced the germ theory into social communication. (McLuhan NAEB presentation September 1959, reused in The Medium is the Message,1960)

The world of body and mind observed by Baudelaire and Bernard was not photographical at all, but a nonvisual set of relations such as the physicist, for example, had encountered by means of the new mathematics and statistics. The photograph might be said, also, to have brought to human attention the subvisual world of bacteria that caused Louis Pasteur to be driven from the medical profession by his indignant colleagues. Just as the painter Samuel Morse had unintentionally projected himself into the nonvisual world of the telegraph, so the photograph really transcends the pictorial by capturing the inner gestures and postures of both body and mind, yielding the new worlds of endocrinology and psychopathology. (Understanding Media, 1964, pp201-202)

The utmost purity of mind is no defense against bacteria, though the confreres of Louis Pasteur tossed him out of the medical profession for his base allegations about the invisible operation of bacteria. To resist TV, therefore, one must acquire the antidote of related media like print. (Understanding Media, 1964, p329)

TV Guide for June 8-14, 1968, has a painting by Dali on the cover. Two thumbs exhibit two TV screens as thumbnails. That is pure poetry, acute new perception. Dali immediately presents the fact that TV is a tactile mode of perception. Touch is the space of the interval, not of visual connection. I have been trying to elucidate this fact for years. In vain. The somnambulist knows better. Can’t he see TV with his eyes? How could it be tactile? Pasteur was thrown out of the medical profession because he insisted that doctors wash their hands before surgery. They knew better. They could see their hands were clean. The effects of new media on our sensory lives are similar to the effects of new poetry. They change not our thoughts but the structure of our world. (Foreword to The Interior Landscape, 1969)