Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, SJ (1881 – 1955)
Marshall McLuhan acknowledged Teilhard de Chardin as follows in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962):-
“… since our new electric culture provides our lives again with a tribal base. There is available the lyrical testimony of a very Romantic biologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, in his Phenomenon of Man (p.240):
‘Now, to the degree that—under the effect of this pressure and thanks to
their psychic permeability—the human elements infiltrated more and more
into each other, their minds (mysterious coincidence) were mutually
stimulated by proximity. And as though dilated upon themselves, they each
extended little by little the radius of their influence upon this earth which, by
the same token, shrank steadily. What, in fact, do we see happening in the
modern paroxysm? It has been stated over and over again. Through the
discovery yesterday of the railway, the motor car and the aeroplane, the
physical influence of each man, formerly restricted to a few miles, now
extends to hundreds of leagues or more. Better still: thanks to the prodigious
biological event represented by the discovery of electro-magnetic waves, each
individual finds himself henceforth (actively and passively) simultaneously
present, over land and sea, in every corner of the earth’.
People of literary and critical bias find the shrill vehemence of de Chardin as disconcerting as his uncritical enthusiasm for the cosmic membrane that has been snapped round the globe by the electric dilation of our various senses. This externalization of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the “noosphere” or a technological brain for the world. Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction”. (p. 32)
An early article in Wired magazine (Issue 3.06, June 1995) recognized de Chardin’s influence on Marshall McLuhan and his concept of the global village and how both Catholic visionaries anticipated the global consciousness that has been actualized by the Internet:-
A Globe, Clothing Itself with a Brain
An obscure Jesuit priest, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin,set down the philosophical framework for planetary, Net-based consciousness 50 years ago.
By Jennifer Cobb Kreisberg
He has inspired Al Gore and Mario Cuomo. Cyberbard John Perry Barlow finds him richly prescient. Nobel laureate Christian de Duve claims his vision helps us find meaning in the cosmos. Even Marshall McLuhan cited his “lyrical testimony” when formulating his emerging global-village vision. Whom is this eclectic group celebrating? An obscure Jesuit priest and paleontologist named Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, whose quirky philosophy points, oddly, right into cyberspace.
Teilhard de Chardin finds allies among those searching for grains of spiritual truth in a secular universe. As Mario Cuomo put it, “Teilhard made negativism a sin. He taught us how the whole universe – even pain and imperfection – is sacred.” Marshall McLuhan turned to Teilhard as a source of divine insight in The Gutenberg Galaxy, his classic analysis of Western culture’s descent into a profane world. (Read the entire article at http://tinyurl.com/nk578on ).
Finally, Canadian scholar and writer B.W. Powe, himself a former student of McLuhan, has written and lectured about the connections between de Chardin, McLuhan and their visionary anticipation of the cosmic consciousness enabled by the Internet:-
Marshall McLuhan read Teilhard de Chardin’s work in mimeographed pages while he was a young professor at the University of St. Louis. These pages had been passed on to him, zamizdat style, by his student, Walter J. Ong, himself to become a renowned exegete of orality. What McLuhan took from Teilhard was the grand vision of evolutionary consciousness. The modern era, according to Teilhard, was moving into an evolutionary overdrive, where the mind was being externalized in electronic technologies; the biosphere was being enveloped by thought. This is the noosphere. The noosphere is the vibration of the human mind, and the representation of heart, the warming of the world through the potential of the soul. It is my contention that McLuhan was profoundly moved by Teilhard, and adapted his thought and applied his principles to the emergent global theatre. McLuhan would deny the influence of the great Jesuit archeologist and poet-thinker, but the traces are there in McLuhan’s books and aphorisms. What are the implications of the noosphere? How is it enveloping us today? What is cosmic consciousness? This seminar was also look at the work of the influential Canadian psychologist, Richard Maurice Bucke, who coined the phrase “Cosmic Consciousness”, which McLuhan applied in The Spoken Word chapter of Understanding Media (1964).
It is my contention that there is a mystic drama, an alchemical magnum opus, at work in the recombinations McLuhan initiated from his readings and contemplations of Teilhard and the ideas of cosmic consciousness.
While McLuhan was drawn to dramas of hope, it is essential to see the Janus-faced complementarity in the visions of cosmic consciousness: this age is one of apogee (great heights and hopes) and abyss (violence and breakdown).
These conditions of abyss and apogee act like figure-ground interactions: hope and horror are simultaneous. This is the lesson of instantaneous global communions: baptism into the soul of the world, and thus into its pain and panic, into ecstasies and discoveries. (Example: the massacre in the cinema in the Aurora, Colorado theatre, during a showing of the Dark Knight Rises by a young man claiming to be a comic book character; simultaneously, the science community is abuzz with discoveries of new field particles that could be the missing link in physics, understanding cosmological processes. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/nteacmx )
Noosphere and a “map” of the Internet
“… as teachers we have to recognize that education is no longer a monopoly of the classroom and that the young are learning as much outside as inside the classroom. Moreover, we ourselves have to face new facts and new media which are as novel for us as for our students. We have, as never before, to shape the learning process with them.” – New Media in Arts Education (1956)
“… for the first time in human history, there is more information and data outside the classroom or the school situation than inside. The sheer amount… of information outside in the environment far exceed[s] the amount of data and information inside the classroom. This is not just of very recent origin. It’s occurring more and more rapidly and on a much bigger and bigger scale.” – The Medium is the Massage (1966). Published lecture in Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003), p. 89
“We have to realize that more instruction is going on outside the classroom, many times more every minute of the day than goes on inside the classroom. That is, the amount of information that is embedded in young minds per minute outside the classroom far exceeds anything that happens inside the classroom in just quantitative terms now.” – McLuhan, M. (1966, April). Electronics & the psychic drop-out. THIS Magazine is about SCHOOLS. p. 38
“In the future basic skills will no longer be taught in classrooms.” ditto, p.38
In some places this is now being recognized and implemented in new initiatives:-Where Kids Learn More Outside Their Classrooms Than in Them In New Hampshire, work experience plus academic skills equals course credit. Emily Richmond, April 12, 2015
PITTSFIELD, N.H.—It’s time for the morning meeting at Pittsfield Elementary School, and several kindergartners jostle for a spot on the carpet next to 16-year-old Anitrea Provencher, who is helping out in their classroom this semester.
As the students settle into a circle, their teacher, Lenore Coombs, starts off the day’s discussion with a question: What’s something you’ve never done beforethat you would like to try? That’s something Provencher—a sophomore at the neighboring Pittsfield Middle High School—is actively trying to answer for herself as part of a program that awards students academic course credit for engaging in learning experiences outside of the traditional classroom setting. “I’m figuring out where I do fit and where I don’t fit,” said Provencher, who hopes to follow up the kindergarten internship with one in marine biology. “I haven’t really liked school for a long time. This is better for me than regular high school.”
Amid the growing push to reinvent the nation’s public high schools, initiatives that connect students more directly to their individual interests—and tap into their innate motivations—are gaining popularity. New Hampshire is one of a handful of states at the forefront of efforts to promote flexibility in how students learn and how that knowledge is measured. While initiatives like these are relatively small in scale, educators and policymakers say they provide important testing grounds for innovations in school improvement.
“I don’t do well on tests. I prefer a project where I can take my time.”
In New Hampshire, what are known as “extended learning opportunities” can take the form of workplace internships, volunteer work, individualized study, or one-on-one instruction.Students earn credit in English-language arts provided their plan meets academic standards as outlined by the New Hampshire Department of Education. The learning opportunities must also be aligned to the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by more than 40 states, including New Hampshire.
(Source: http://tinyurl.com/ks8gdqv ) That’s what City as Classroom (1977) is essentially about.
Bob Stein, founder and co-director of the Institute for the Future of the Book (and co-founder, in 1984, of the Criterion Collection company) has been writing persuasively in this vein about Wikipedia for years now. I asked him recently to give an update on his views, and he said that if I wanted to understand the significance of Wikipedia, I should read Marshall McLuhan.
“Go back and study the shift in human communication, what McLuhan called ‘the shift to print,’” he said. “The place where an idea could be owned by a single person. One of McLuhan’s genius insights was his understanding of how the shift from an oral culture to one based on print gave rise to our modern notion of the individual as the originator and owner of particular ideas.”
According to McLuhan, Bob explained, “the ownership of an idea” was made inevitable by the invention of printing; it is this era that we are outgrowing, as McLuhan foresaw. “If the printing press empowered the individual, the digital world empowers collaboration.”
Straight Outta Cambridge
“The ruinous authority of experts […] was McLuhan’s lifelong theme.”—Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (1989)
McLuhan’s chief insights centered around the idea that technology strongly affects not only the content of culture, but the mind that creates and consumes that culture. He maintained that technology alters cognition itself, all the way down to its deepest, most elemental processes.
His 1962 The Gutenberg Galaxy is a difficult, disorderly, weirdly prescient and often dazzling book. Reading it is like riding on an old wooden rollercoaster that is threatening to blast apart at each turn; it isn’t organized into chapters and doesn’t make a linear argument; its insights throw off sparks in all directions. On the surface,The Gutenberg Galaxy is about the end of an evolutionary progress from print (“linear,” “authoritative”) to digital (“collaborative” “tribal”) ways of reasoning.
McLuhan prefigured the Internet era in a number of surprising ways. As he said in a March 1969 Playboy interview: “The computer thus holds out the promise of a technologically engendered state of universal understanding and unity, a state of absorption in the Logos that could knit mankind into one family and create a perpetuity of harmony and peace.”
McLuhan came of age at Cambridge, the cradle of modern literary criticism, in that groundbreaking moment when (a) the role of readers and (b) the world at large suddenly became matters of interest to literary scholars. As the New Critics would come to do in the U.S., the Cambridge gang sought the meaning of a literary work in the text itself, in its means of communicating its message to a reader.
Before these rationalists came on the scene, literary criticism had a mystical character rooted in the Romantic ideas of guys like Walter Pater, who viewed literary production and consumption both as occurring through the inspiration of an almost divine agency. (The phrase “purple prose” might have been invented for Pater, who was given to such turns of phrase as “to burn always with this hard, gem-like flame, to maintain this ecstasy, is success in life.”) Artists ranging from the Pre-Raphaelites to Oscar Wilde bought into this super-aestheticized model of understanding art and literature, but it was ill-attuned to the rationalist demands of a post-industrial society (though we aren’t yet quite free of this idea of the Muse striking us with the inspirational equivalent of Cupid’s dart; Harold Bloom, for example, is still forever blathering on about Pater.)
Modern criticism was also born out of frustration with the hidebound academics who appeared to believe that English literature had ended in the 17th century. F. R. Leavis, an influential critic who taught McLuhan at Cambridge, was among the first who dared to rank Pound and Eliot alongside Milton. The view of the scholarly establishment on both sides of the Atlantic had theretofore been that it would take you a lifetime simply to master the recondite joys of Milton; that was the true and real study of literature, and nothing written in our own lifetimes was ever going to count. It took some serious English-department renegades to alter those convictions. Studying under Leavis at Cambridge, McLuhan developed the beginnings of the lifelong distaste for “expertise” and “authority” that would come to characterize his work.
McLuhan took Leavis’s methods far beyond literature, though. Just as, in Leavis’s view, a poem imposed its own assumptions on the listener, created its own world, so too did every medium of communication force its own methods of connection into the human mind. The late David Lochhead, a Canadian theologian, did a lovely job of explaining McLuhan’s approach in 1994.
It is not only our material environment that is transformed by our machinery. We take our technology into the deepest recesses of our souls. Our view of reality, our structures of meaning, our sense of identity—all are touched and transformed by the technologies which we have allowed to mediate between ourselves and our world. We create machines in our own image and they, in turn, recreate us in theirs.[…]
Our machines allow us to reach out beyond the limits of our flesh. Our machines alter the ways in which our senses feed us information about the world beyond. […] Our machines offer us an image of ourselves — an image, which like the reflection of Narcissus, can hold us transfixed in self-adoration.
McLuhan drew from many, many sources in order to develop these ideas; the work of Canadian political economist and media theorist Harold Innis was instrumental for him. Innis’s technique, like McLuhan’s, forswears the building up of a convincing argument, or any attempt at “proof,” instead gathering in a ton of disparate ideas from different disciplines that might seem irreconcilable at first; yet considering them together results in a shifted perspective, and a cascade of new insights.
In the familiar, linear method of argument, it’s as if the author were a trial attorney and the reader a juror. By contrast, the McLuhan/Innis method is more like throwing the reader in a helicopter, taking him somewhere far away and simply exposing him to a vast new panorama. These authors wanted not to make and sell their own “point of view,” but to take you on a head trip instead.
As McLuhan writes in The Gutenberg Galaxy:
Innis sacrificed point of view and prestige to his sense of the urgent need for insight … When he interrelates the development of the steam press with “the consolidation of the vernaculars” and the rise of nationalism and revolution he is not reporting anybody’s point of view, least of all his own. He is setting up a mosaic configuration or galaxy for insight … Innis makes no effort to “spell out” the interrelations between the components in his galaxy. He offers no consumer packages in his later work, but only do-it-yourself kits, like a symbolist poet or an abstract painter.
All these elements—the abandonment of “point of view,” the willingness to consider the present with the same urgency as the past, the borrowing “of wit or wisdom from any man who is capable of lending us either,” the desire to understand the mechanisms by which we are made to understand—are cornerstones of intellectual innovation in the Internet age. In particular, the liberation from “authorship” (brought about by the emergence of a “hive mind”) is starting to have immediate implications that few beside McLuhan foresaw. His work represents a synthesis of the main precepts of New Criticism with what we have come to call cultural criticism and/or media theory.
How neatly does this dovetail into a subtle and surprising new appreciation of the communal knowledge-making at Wikipedia?! It’s no wonder that McLuhan is among the patron saints of the Internet.
It’s no accident, either, that from grad school onward McLuhan was involved in collaborative projects that drew in a wide variety of disciplines, institutions, students, and paths of inquiry. If the results were chaotic (and they often were) they were also vital and thrilling. He worked with educators, corporate executives, computer scientists and management theorists; he helped develop high-school media syllabi, designed a study relating dyslexia to television watching, and conducted sensory tests for IBM. (For more on McLuhan, I can highly recommend Philip Marchand’s fine biography, The Medium and the Messenger.)
McLuhan’s insights, though they are being lived by millions every day, will take a long time to become fully manifest. But it’s already clear that Wikipedia, along with other crowd-sourced resources, is wreaking a certain amount of McLuhanesque havoc on conventional notions of “authority,” “authorship,” and even “knowledge.”
Read the full article here: http://tinyurl.com/3jnjofv
Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan selected as Feature Exhibition at Scotiabank Toronto Contact Photography Festival
Photographs made on an iPhone during a military embed in Afghanistan are the jumping-off point in this journey of process and discovery about communication, photography, technology, and war. High-tech meets low-tech in the battlefields of Afghanistan and in the printing method itself: digital captures from a smartphone are printed with the time-honoured 19th-century technique made famous by Edward Steichen. Photographer Rita Leistner joins with master printer Bob Carnie to create painterly and highly archival three-colour gum bichromate on platinum prints mounted on aluminum. Leistner used the retro Hipstamatic app—with its shutter lag and slowed down processing—to focus on calm or motionless “artifactual” elements in the scene: the Hindu Kush mountains viewed through the portal of a colonial ruin; a torn curtain hanging from a tent-like structure in a deserted campground; a warning sign handwritten by the Taliban in a hybrid Pashto script. Text panels from Leistner’s book, Looking for Marshall McLuhan in Afghanistan, co-designed with Jenny Armour, are also on display. The result is a portrayal of war that differs in form and content from the usual media currency—shedding light on old and new technologies, on a failed war, and on human connection. Curated by Rita LeistnerDates: April 15–May 13 Location: Dylan Ellis Gallery, 1840 Danforth Ave, Toronto M4C 1H8 Times: Mon–Fri, 9–5pm, Sat–Sun, 10–4pm Telephone: 416 778 6969 www.dylanellisgallery.ca Related Events: Artist Talk – Rita Leistner – Dylan Ellis Gallery – April 30, 6:30 pm Download a PDF page describing this exhibition from here rita-leistner-exhibitioncard-0415
Thinking Globally, Speaking Locally – by Kurt Clausen
Abstract: Most Canadians today are familiar with the term “the Global Village”. It is a catch-phrase loaded with positive connotations of unity, familiarity, and humanity on an international scale. Through the modern miracle of electronic networks, most now believe that very personal linkages can be created between just about anyone in any part of the world, regardless of the distance. In short, it means that no-one need be a stranger anymore. However, this is a bit of an incomplete reading of what Marshall McLuhan meant when he originally coined the term. While to the modern urban-dweller a village rustles up images of tire swings, porch doors and the time to sit and talk about the “important things” of life, McLuhan would admonish this perspective as mere nostalgia from people who never actually lived in a village. To him, a village is more claustrophobic, people not as caring as one would think. Instead, it is a place where nosy parkers know your business, the crack in your drapes is a focal point for snoopy neighbors, and a non-stop stream of gossip is purveyed at the local post office. To McLuhan, life in the Global Village was a life lived vicariously. He did not condemn this, but just discussed this facet of the future with a sense of inevitability.
The full article (pdf) for which this is the abstract can be found at the Canadian Journal of Action Research at http://tinyurl.com/q9ke8q7 .
Here’s how McLuhan describes his idea of the global village:
“The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village”- The Gutenberg galaxy: The making of typographic man (1962), p. 31.
“Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.”– Understanding media: The extensions of man (1964), p. 3.
“… tribal people, one of their main kinds of sport is butchering each other. It’s a full-time sport in tribal societies … When people get close together, they get more and more savage, impatient with each other … The global village is a place of a very arduous interfaces and very abrasive situations.” – Violence as a quest for identity (1977). In Understanding Me: Lectures & Interviews (2003), p. 265.
I would define global village as the interconnectness and resulting mutual awareness of people around the world due to electronic communication technologies (radio, TV, movies and inexpensive global jet travel in McLuhan’s time, compounded by the Internet during ours). This awareness, arrived at because of our technologies, does NOT lead to mutual understanding, respect, and global harmony, as Marshall McLuhan (who adopted the term from the writer Wyndham Lewis) wrote in his book “War & Peace in the Global Village” (1968). The book was written during the height of the Vietnam War and Cold War, just a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost led to global thermonuclear disaster. Today Al Queda, ISIS, Boko Haram and other terrorist tribes use the Internet to communicate and collaborate as much as we do, turning our technologies against us, as they did the airliners on 9/11.
The Future of the Library (1976) by Marshall McLuhan & Robert Logan: Excerpt from the Condensed Essay
(The photograph above was taken by Josephine Smith in 1945 when Marshall McLuhan was 34 and teaching at Assumption College, now part of the University of Windsor; it was restored by the McLuhan Estate in 2012 and is copyright.)The Australian literary quarterly Island magazine (Issue 140) has just published a 6,000 word edited excerpt, abstracted from the 60,000 word unfinished manuscript by Marshall McLuhan and Robert K. Logan (see the announcement in the 5th posting below this one). The following is from Bob Logan’s Introduction to the excerpt:-
“Marshall and I began to work on this project but, sadly, McLuhan fell victim to a stroke in the fall of 1979 that left him aphasic. He died on 31 December 1980. I stopped work on the library project and worked instead on our original plan, and as a consequence published The Alphabet Effect (1984). That study led to a series of studies and books, including: The Fifth Language (1997), The Sixth Language (2004), The Extended Mind (2007), Understanding New Media (2010), McLuhan Misunderstood (2013), and What is Information? (2014), all based on my work with McLuhan”.
People wanting to purchase the single issue of Island magazine that contains the full 6,000 word excerpt can do so at http://islandmag.com/collections/frontpage/products/140 . Below is a short section from the magazine’s excerpt, published here by permission:-
From The Double Bind
“We are caught in a double bind. Electronic media are a mixed blessing. They encourage ecological patterns of thought and help us to recognise the nature of our global village, but they discourage the development of reading and its concomitant analytic skills. Put the other way, reading is a mixed blessing. With too much print we are blinded by specialism and are unable to see the patterns crucial to our survival. However, if we allow our reading skills to deteriorate, we lose our capacity for analytic thought and consequently our control over our complex technological machinery. How, then, shall we survive on an overpopulated and under-resourced planet?
The unique challenge facing educators, communicators, information scientists, and librarians in this era of mixed media is to discover a synthesis of the two basic modes of communication, the electric and the literate, so that the best of these two ways of handling and transmitting information can be utilised. There exists a dynamic tension between these two ways of knowing that can be very creative”.
From Impact of Electricity and Modern Technology on the Library
“In industry there is an old saying: ‘If it works, it is obsolete.’ We have been saying for some years that the book and printing are obsolete. Many people interpret this to mean that printing and the book are about to disappear. Obsolescence, in fact, means the opposite. It means that a service has become so pervasive that it permeates every area of a culture like the vernacular itself. Obsolescence, in short, ensures total acceptance and ever wider use.
To debate the virtues of print versus the other media for the library is fruitless; but to observe may help to conserve. We must accept the fact that the book is no longer the major mode of communication in our society. This does not mean the book is finished, but that its role has certainly changed.
The car did not obsolesce walking, but it certainly made it difficult for the pedestrian, particularly in urban environments. It is only recently that we awoke to the realisation that the car had taken over urban life. We are now taking corrective measures to reverse this trend by constructing pedestrian malls and bicycle paths. We have not thrown out the car; we have only made room for the pedestrian and the cyclist. It is not an either-or situation.
The same is true for the electronic versus the manual handling of information. Electronic information handling is in many ways superior to book-bound information handling, as is electronic storage of information. It is to be encouraged, but not at the expense of the more mundane forms of information access. There is room for both the traditional and electronic forms of data handling. Each has its appropriate applications and therefore we should approach our study of the traditional and electronic modes of information not so much in the spirit of either-or but in the spirit of both-and.
The challenge facing libraries is how to fully exploit the new technologies while at the same time preserving the best of the past traditions of the library. The implications of these new technologies for the library are particularly important, since it is possible to link every home in a community with its library and to link all the libraries to each other.
The future of the book is inclusive. The book is not moving towards an Omega Point so much as rehearsing and re-enacting all the roles it has ever played; new graphics and new printing processes invite the simultaneous use of a great diversity of effects. The current range of book production varies from the cultivation of the art of the illumination of manuscripts, and the revival of handpresses, to the full restoration of ancient manuscripts by papyrologists and photographic reproduction. The age of electric technology is the obverse of industrial and mechanical procedure in being primarily concerned with process rather than product, with effects rather than content”.
Fifty years ago, Tom Wolfe asked this now famous question of Marshall McLuhan: “what if he is right?” Fifty years later, McLuhan’s biographer, Douglas Coupland; his sons, Eric and Michael McLuhan; and sixteen scholars explore in this dynamic collection the many ways in which he was, indeed, right. Engaging with McLuhan’s remarkable legacy and responding to his call to participate actively in understanding technologies, Finding McLuhan offers relevant and timely insights for readers encountering him for the first time and for those re-encountering and re-evaluating him. With a robust line-up of established scholars and newer voices from different disciplinary traditions, this volume offers multiple sites of entry ranging from theories of landscape and art, aboriginal innovations and medical instruments, to practical pedagogical and rhetorical applications. It concludes with three short, insightful interviews with Douglas Coupland, Eric McLuhan and Michael McLuhan, who provide intimate glimpses into McLuhan as friend, colleague, husband, and father.
“An exciting collection … Its authors make rich, well-researched, and consistent contributions to both long-standing and contemporary debates about McLuhan.” — Michael Darroch, Associate Professor of Media Art Histories & Visual Culture, University of Windsor & Director of IN/TERMINUS: Media, Art, and Urban Ecologies
- Hardcover: 304 pages
- Publisher: University of Regina Press (May 30, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0889773742
- ISBN-13: 978-0889773745
About the Editors
Professor and chair of Rhetoric, Writing & Communications at the University of Winnipeg, Jacqueline McLeod Rogers has recently published in such areas as transatlantic suffrage, mommy blogging ethics and prison literature.
Tracy Whalen is an Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Writing & Communications at the University of Winnipeg where she focuses on contemporary Canadian rhetoric. She has published in the areas of rhetoric and charisma, iconicity, literary style, and embodied performance.Catherine Taylor is Professor of Education & Rhetoric & Communications at the University of Winnipeg where she specializes in anti-oppressive education. She has published extensively on sexual and gender minority inclusive education in Canada. The University of Winnipeg
Jokes Are Based on Grievances
“Today young people are in the habit of saying, ‘Humor is not cool'”. The old fashioned joke with its story line has given way to conundrum, e.g.: ‘What is purple and hums?’ Answer: ‘An electric grape.’ ‘Why does it hum?’ ‘Because it doesn’t know the words!’ This kind of joke is involving. It requires the participation of the hearer. The old-fashioned joke, on the other hand, permitted us to be detached, and to laugh at things. The new kind of joke is a gestalt or configuration in the style of set theory. This helps to explain a strange aspect of humor raised by Steve Allen. In his book ‘The Funny Men’, Steve Allen suggests that the funnyman is a man with a grievance.’ In Canada at present, the Quebec separatists are a people with a grievance. A whole stock of stories has come into existence in connection with their grievances. For example, there is the story of the mouse that was being chased with the cat. The mouse finally discovered a spot under the floor to hide in. After a while it heard a strange ‘Arf! Arf! Bow! Wow!’ sort of sound and realized that the house dog must have come along and chased the cat away. So the mouse popped up, and the cat grabbed it. As the cat chewed it down, the cat said, ‘You know, it pays to be bilingual!’“ – Cybernetics and Human Culture (1964). In Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003). p. 45.
“… a joke really requires a hidden ground of grievance, for which the joke is only a figure sitting out front.” – Man and Media (1979). In Understanding Me: Lectures and Interviews (2003). p. 278.
Here is another page of one-line jokes from Marshall McLuhan’s joke book, dated 1973 at the bottom right:-
“You mean my whole fallacy is wrong”, from Annie Hall (1977), directed by Woody Allen
“Marshall McLuhan was a skeptic, a joker, and an erudite maniac. He read too deeply from Finnegans Wake, had too great a fondness for puns, and never allowed his fun to be ruined by the adoption of a coherent point of view. He was dismayed by any attempt to pin him down to a consistent analysis and dismissive of criticism that his plans were impractical or absurd. His characteristic comment during one academic debate has taken on a mythic life of its own. In response to a renowned American sociologist, McLuhan countered: ‘You don’t like those ideas? I got others.'” – Wired 4.01: The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool by Gary Wolf ( http://tinyurl.com/mkhbxe2 )
“Technical critiques of McLuhan are somewhat beside the point. How does one logically attack a court jester, a man who declares the end of linear logic?” – Daniel Czitrom (1982). Media & the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan, p. 128)
The Marshall McLuhan Estate has published 3 pages from the great man’s joke file on the Estate’s Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/mcluhanestate and scroll way down). The first one below is of McLuhan one-liners, which McLuhan argued were all that listeners in the acoustic Electronic Era could pay attention to, because of their decreased attention spans in an environment of information overload; he opined that one-liners like this, often pun-intensive, at least those devised by McLuhan, had replaced the long form story line jokes. The second page below illustrates this obsolesced narrative style of jokes, a by-product of the visual era of print literacy.
(Magnify your screen view for easier reading.)
Photo [by Harry Benson] shows Marshall looking over a sculpture (by William McElcheran, outside the Kelly Library, UofT) on which he himself is featured.'" width="153" height="215" />
If the Media Didn’t Get Marshall McLuhan’s Message in the ’60s, Another Is on the Way
September 20, 1976 – Vol. 6, No. 12
Select quotes from that article, the full text of which can be read at http://tinyurl.com/lgdnnzu .
Just as Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, Marshall McLuhan is the pioneer in media sociology [today called media ecology], the study of the effects of electronic information—TV, radio, stereo and cassettes—on society. Understanding Media created a storm of controversy when it was published in 1964, but now it is used in nearly every university on the North American continent and has been translated into 15 languages…
“You see, I’m a sleuth, a kind of Sherlock Holmes character who simply investigates the environment and reports exactly what he sees. Strangely enough, some people are actually frightened by me. I find the whole exploration of the environment very exciting. Once you decide to become an explorer, there’s no place to stop. I’m like Columbus. I discover new worlds everywhere I look”…
Much to his satisfaction, more and more of his early prophecies are coming true. Twelve years ago, for example, he predicted that high school students would soon be more dramatically influenced by the audiovisual media than by print. At the time educators doubted him. Now HEW and several educational testing services confirm that reading scores among such students have dropped alarmingly…
Watergate, of course, was for McLuhan a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in this electronic age. “Electronic devices are making what we think of as privacy obsolete,” he explained back in the 1960s. Nixon, to hear McLuhan talk about him, was a Greek hero. His tragic flaw was his failure to recognize that he could not defend his own privacy while depriving everyone else of theirs. “He also wasn’t good television,” McLuhan points out. “He looked too different, too private. People are suspicious of privacy in the electronic age. Now, Gerald Ford is the perfect electronic man. He becomes whatever you want him to be.”
Because of his theory that print is becoming obsolete, McLuhan is sometimes considered an enemy of books. On the contrary, he devours them, as many as 30 a week in five languages. Curiously, McLuhan moved his TV set into the basement recently. Although his theories pivot upon the importance of TV in shaping the future, McLuhan wants to minimize the effect it has on him. “I did not want it invading my home,” he explains. (Likewise, he never uses a dictation machine and prefers that his secretary use a manual rather than an electric typewriter)…
A month ago McLuhan got word that he has achieved a kind of immortality. The Oxford dictionary, bible of the English language, will include the word “McLuhanism” in its next edition, a colleague advised. McLuhan considered the prospect sourly. “I can just imagine,” he says, “what that word is going to mean.”
[Addendum: the word McLuhanism is still there in the OED in its online version, defined as: “The social ideas of McLuhan concerning the effects of mass media, esp. the argument that it is the characteristics of a medium rather than the information it disseminates which influence and control society”. – see http://tinyurl.com/pwo7mqe ]
McLuhan on the Today Show, 1976