Aspen Magazine: Number 4 – The McLuhan Issue (1967)

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 05/02/2015 - 6:04pm

Aspen was a multimedia magazine published on an irregular schedule by Phyllis Johnson from 1965 to 1971. Described by its publisher as “the first three-dimensional magazine,” each issue came in a customized box or folder filled with materials in a variety of formats, including booklets, flexidisc phonograph recordings, posters, postcards and reels of super-8 movie film. Many of the leading figures in contemporary North American and British art and cultural criticism were editors, designers or contributors to Aspen. The magazine has remained of interest to students of the artistic ferment of the late 1960s; extensive documentation of Aspen’s contents is available online at (Source:

Aspen Magazine – The McLuhan Issue (#4)
New York City, USA: Roaring Fork Press, 1967
9.5 x 12.5 x .075″ – Hinged box containing 8 items.

The McLuhan Issue was designed by Quentin Fiore, who had then-recently collaborated with McLuhan on The Medium is the Massage, a book which Fiore had initiated and which went on to become McLuhan’s best seller. The issue came in a box illustrated with a diagram of an electrical circuit and text taken from their collaborative work. The contents included several posters, a flexi-disc record of electronic music, an article about a nature trail for the blind and John Cage’s Diary: How to Improve the World (You Will Only Make Matters Worse). The latter would also later be included in the SMS Portfolio (a publishing project not dissimilar to Aspen) and as a Great Bear Pamphlet, published by the Something Else Press. The advertisements (which include an early Something Else Press newsletter) were held in a magenta folder inscribed with McLuhan’s theory of effective advertising.
Of this publication McLuhan wrote:-
“Quentin Fiore tells me that Aspen Magazine is wild about putting me in one of their boxes.  I am the subject of their next issue, issue number 4, the McLuhan edition.  Corinne will be amused.  The graduate school – I am sure – will not.  This will give the Profs at Toronto University a fit.  I can hear them now.  Pure Commercialism! Undignified!  Not professorial!  

Well that’s their look out. For each issue Aspen’s editors assemble a mix of recordings, posters, essays and whatnot playing on a particular theme.  “Magazine” you know is a very interesting word.  It means a storehouse, a cache, typically for explosives.  This issue is undoubtedly going to result in fireworks.  The last one was on Warhol.  This one’s on me.    Haven’t seen it yet, but I will.  Perhaps next Sunday.” (1967) (Source: )

Categories: Blog

David Orrell’s 2015 Marshall McLuhan Lecture, Parts 1, 2, 3 & 4 at transmediale, Berlin

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 04/28/2015 - 7:27pm

I published a link to the first part of four parts of David Orrell’s 2015 Marshall McLuhan Lecture at transmediale in Berlin in the third posting below this one. Here are the videos of all four parts of the lecture in one place. You can also read a biographical account of David Orrell’s career in the posting below……..Alex

Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015: Money is the Message – Part One

Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015: Money is the Message – Part Two

Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015: Money is the Message – Part Three

Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015: Money is the Message – Part Four 

David Orrell by Catalysta 2014 David Orrell

Categories: Blog

New Book Announcement: The Point of Being Edited by Derrick de Kerckhove & Cristina Miranda de Almeida

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 04/25/2015 - 12:51pm

Picture of The Point of Being

From the Acknowledgements: The writing and editing of this book has passed through different phases. The idea started years ago with Derrick de Kerckhove, trying to understand the implications of a sensorial reset that McLuhan had predicted would be a consequence of electricity. By opposition to the point-of-view, which positions the subject in a visually dominant and detached experience, a tactile response would be a proprioceptive experience, privileging a sensation of the subject over its representation. The notion of the Point of Being, if embryonically, was introduced in the book Skin of Culture in 1998. The second strong impulse to the materialization of the book happened in the summer of 2007, when Derrick invited a group of researchers to work together on the first nucleus of the book in his house in Wicklow, Ontario, Canada.

From the Editors’ Introduction: The Point of Being is a book of essays that explore the psychophysiological  dimensions of the ways people experience their presence in the world and the world’s presence in them. While it is intended to interest every kind of culture, The Point of Being addresses conditions that apply principally to Western alphabetized societies. Indeed, the basic premise of the book is that the alphabet has emphasized a visual dominance among the senses people use to perceive the world as a whole, a trend that has repressed or toned down information from other senses. This literate 1 bias is well documented by Eric Havelock, Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, Leonard Schlain and others.
          Much research has focused on understanding how people experience their presence in the world. These publications generally analyse embodiment and new manners of exploring the sensorium beyond the inherited context. These contributions come from varied disciplines such as architecture, art, music, art history, cinema, psychology and proprioception studies, design, a variety of technology and engineering studies, philosophy, medicine, aesthetics, sociology, and anthropology, among others. 2 Although these contributions help construct the subject, they do not fully examine the impact of electricity or that of digital technology on sensibility. The concept of the Point of Being aims at offering different ways to understand this new situation. From the acknowledgement of this situation the book explores the research question: which are the psycho-physiological dimensions of the ways people experience their presence in the world and the world’s presence in them?
The objective of this collective work is not only academic. Because they deal principally with issues of perception and sentience, there is in all chapters an invitation to experience a shift of perception. An embodied sensation of the world and a re-sensorialization of the environment are described to complement the visually biased perspective with a renewed sense of our relationship to the spatial and material surrounds. What is attempted here is to induce the topological reunion of sensation and cognition, of sense and sensibility and of body, self and world
(Source: ).

Download a pdf extract of this book from: .

Nine authors explore different ways in which the paradigm of the Point of Being can bridge the interval, the discontinuity, between subjects and objects that began with the diffusion of the phonetic alphabet. The Point of Being is a signpost on that journey.

ISBN-13:978-1-4438-6038-3   *   ISBN-10:1-4438-6038-7   *   Date of Publication:01/08/2014   *    Pages / Size:360 / A5   *   Price:£52.99  Biographies of the Editors

Derrick de Kerckhove is Emeritus Professor of the Department of French, University of Toronto, and Professor of the Faculty of Sociology, University Federico II, Naples. He is former Director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology (MPCT) and of the Research Programme in Digital Culture, at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute, Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (IN3/UOC), in Barcelona. Professor de Kerckhove received PhDs in French Language and Literature from the University of Toronto in 1975 and in Sociology of Art from the University of Tours in 1979. He worked as translator and co-author with Marshall McLuhan, and holds the Order of “Les Palmes Académiques”, is a Member of the Club of Rome and is Papamarkou Chair in Technology and Education at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

299889_10151113116942078_1313255742_aCristina Miranda de Almeida is Lecturer at the Department of Art and Technology, University of the Basque Country and a Visiting Scholar and external researcher at the Internet Interdisciplinary Institute (IN3/UOC), Barcelona. She holds a European PhD in Art (UPV/EHU, 2005). She spent post-doctoral research periods at the École Nationale Superieur des Beaux-Arts, Paris (2009), at the McLuhan Program of Culture and Technology, Toronto (2007) and at the CaiiA-Hub-Planetary Collegium, University of Plymouth (2005–06), and was a pre-doctoral researcher at Accademia di Belle Arti di Firenze (2005). She collaborates with the International Journal of McLuhan Studies, NoemaLab and Ausart. Her practice-based art research (video installations, photography, performances) focuses on the cultural construction of identity and has been internationally exhibited.

Categories: Blog

Thus Spoke the Spectacle: A Multimedia Rock Music Critique of Our Media Ecology

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 04/23/2015 - 12:12pm

THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE deconstructs and reconfigures the massive onslaught of news, advertising, politics and entertainment into an edgy and highly entertaining transmedia rock experience. Original music, spoken word vocals, video and lights combine to tell the story of “the spectacle”: a worldview come to life as a veil over reality, as the lens through which most people view and interpret the world. The spectacle speaks to us every day of our lives. THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE shows you what it says.



Sun Apr 26, 2015 | 8:00PM

Sun May 31, 2015 | 8:00PM

Sun Jun 28, 2015 | 8:00PM

Sun Jul 19, 2015 | 8:00PM

Sun Aug 30, 2015 | 8:00PM

Thus Spoke The Spectacle – TRAILER from Thus Spoke the Spectacle on Vimeo.


THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE is simply one of the most intelligent attempts to resurrect public discourse on the sorry state of our mass mediated culture that I have ever seen. And the music rocks, too.” — Peter K Fallon, Professor of Media Studies, Roosevelt University

“This collection of video clips brings to light a problem plaguing our race. So many of us believe the spectacle is reality, we deny ourselves the right to think on our own, outside the spectacle. I really enjoy and appreciate what you are doing with THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE.”— David Burkett, Grand Valley State University

THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE is rooted in classic critiques of modernity and mass culture from Nieztsche to Mumford to McLuhan to Debord to Chomsky. In conjunction with these texts, THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE raises particularly interesting questions that can be followed up in the classroom. Particularly, students can evaluate the show’s attempt to use the methods of the spectacle to critique the ‘society of the spectacle’—can the master’s tools be used to tear down the master’s house? Is the message separate from the medium? This is rock and roll that might get people to read a book—think about exactly how rare that is.” — Kurt A. Jordan, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Cornell University

“Media criticism should not be limited to print or text in this multi-mode media era, and THUS SPOKE THE SPECTACLE provides a model of multimedia media criticism that is outstandingly effective and relevant.” — Alex Kuskis, School of Professional Studies, Gonzaga University

Categories: Blog

2015 Marshall McLuhan Lecture: David Orrell at transmediale, Berlin

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 04/21/2015 - 10:29am

David Orrell - Economy and Finance  speaker

Money is the Message – Part One 

Canadian mathematician and publicist David Orrell delivers the Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015 entitled Money is the Message.

Introductions by David Ehinger, Eric Walsh, Kristoffer Gansing
Lecture by David Orrell
Moderator of the conversation: Georgios Papadopoulos

At the Embassy of Canada in Berlin   –   Tuesday, 27 Jan 2015

The Marshall McLuhan lecture is realised in cooperation with the Marshall McLuhan Salon at the Embassy of Canada, which holds one of the most significant collections of audio-visual material by and about the Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan, as well as a large number of his publications.

About David Orrell – Speaker and Author on the Economy and Mathematician:

David Orrell is a speaker, writer and mathematician. His books, published in over ten countries, include the best-seller Apollo’s Arrow: The Science of Prediction and the Future of Everything; Economyths: How the Science of Complex Systems is Transforming Economic Thought; and Truth or Beauty: Science and the Quest for Order. He also writes research papers on topics ranging from systems biology to systems economics, and articles for publications such as Adbusters, Literary Review of Canada, and World Finance. He has been a guest on many radio and TV shows, including CBC’s The National, and Lang and O’Leary Exchange.

David studied mathematics at the University of Alberta, and obtained his doctorate in the prediction of nonlinear systems from the University of Oxford. His work in applied mathematics has taken him to diverse areas including weather forecasting, economics, and cancer biology. He now works as an independent consultant. His talks have informed and entertained audiences at a variety of events, including the Art Center Global Dialogues on Disruptive Thinking in Barcelona, Agri Vision in the Netherlands, the International Symposium on Forecasting in San Diego, and the World Technology Summit in New York. (Source: )

Note: YouTube has provided the incorrect embed code for the video of David Orrell’s lecture. I will embed the video on this posting as soon as the correct code is provided. In the meantime, you can view the lecture by following this link directly to YouTube: .

Categories: Blog

Teilhard de Chardin’s Concept of Noosphere & His Influence on Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 04/18/2015 - 6:18pm

Teilhard de Chardin(1).jpg

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 ).


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: )

Noosphere and a “map” of the Internet 

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan Long Ago Insisted That Kids Learn More Outside of School Than Within It

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 04/15/2015 - 1:15pm

“… 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: ) That’s what City as Classroom (1977) is essentially about.


Categories: Blog

How McLuhan’s Rejection of Experts Presages Wikipedia

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 04/12/2015 - 9:14pm

An excerpt from –

Wikipedia & The Death Of The Expert by    –   May 17, 2011 “Learners are doers, not recipients.”—Walter J. Ong, “McLuhan as Teacher: The Future Is a Thing of the Past”

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:

The Expert

Categories: Blog
Syndicate content