brush-ups, links: July 22-23, 2010; 1 more link: Aug 6, 2010


Happy 99th Anniversary, McLuhan World!
Today’s the 99th Anniversary since the birth of Canadian professor of English Herbert Marshall Mcluhan (MM henceforth), famously hailed as “the father of media studies (theory)”, “media guru/prophet”, “philosopher of media and technology”…

For those invested in continuing, upgrading, revising his theoretical heritage, or only just starting, Prepare to step up for the 100th anniversary on July 21, 2011!!!

Centenary events are in preparation in several cities in Europe (Barcelona, Berlin, Bologna & Turin, Copenhagen) as well as on this side of the Atlantic, notably Toronto, where he taught, Edmonton, where he was born, Winnipeg where he went to university, initially as a student of engineering, until he switched to English, and subsequently completed a PhD at Oxford, Great Britain.

The quotable-overquoted, and the under-read McLuhan
One of my favourite quotes with which MM is credited declares:

    I may have been wrong, but I was never in doubt.

The mind-catching spin to it that I–among numerous others–so much enjoy (get a real kick out of, to be precise) bares “what he said/meant” to contravening interpretations. Apart from characterizing the aphorisms attributed to him, this also extends to his scholarly views in general.

As illustrated by the adage above, the multiple ambiguity, so fluently created, is charged with

  • the appearance of the (genius’s) anticipated arrogance–that used to run, and still does–in the face of his academic environment,

and if you were to continue, e.g., with “…[in doubt] about speaking my mind, right or wrong, acceptable or rejectable”, you would also detect

  • an attitude of intellectual courage and a scholar’s honesty,

the clash of the two producing the trademark

  • daring t.in.ch humour, which his wife consistently pointed out in interviews, and so do his friends to this day.

In all evidence, the intellectual-naughty tease invested (cf. Mark Twain, even closer at times perhaps, Oscar Wilde) makes him so quotable and overquoted, while the import, both semantic and sociohistorical, remains for the majority, at least, under-read/-understood/-appreciated. I somehow tend to take this socio-semiotic dichotomy (curiously feeding off of the Sausseurean tradition’s sign-meaning dichotomy of the linguistic sign, note 1) as the ironic and best proof of the “truth” behind a couple of the most readily picked up quotes–call them “viral”, moreover unabatingly so, across time and cultural borders.

Medium = message in the Electronic Era global village

To start with MM’s prime quote, “The medium is the message” (cf. the book by the same name, with a catch, note 2) the tendency is either to get the phraseology, which in turn runs away with the meaning, or to just dig in one’s heels at first exposure, piping up, “This makes no sense!”, without making the effort to unravel the metaphor. Unravelling reveals the generalization that technology tends to project a meaning of its own, unanticipated and unintended by its designers, which may oust the meanig of the message that said technology is supposed to be transmitting, possibly to the point of overwhelming it completely. [note 3]

Global village“, of which–incidentally–MM is not the earliest recorded epistemic agent, aptly matches the buzz-creating capabilities of today’s discourses, co-located with electronic technologies. Spaces get created, where everybody knows and discusses everybody else, including the neighbours’ back teeth, so to speak. MM emphasizes that the global village is not a “good” thing, e.g., a friendly, safe place of idyllic brotherhood – contrary to what the phrase has come to mean for, e.g., the supporters of globalization as a beneficial development. It’s a space at a time when, to use another signature adage, “the earth has shrunk, the world has imploded” (ICT-minimized distances [note 4] + info overload), and the resulting compression has the effect of re-tribalizing humanity, i.e., divesting us of what civilization is presumed to stand for – yet another typical MM concept.

“The medium is the message” and “global village” are (linguistic) media in and of themselves. Each applies to itself, and both apply to the other. This explains the effect, stated above, of the interpretation of the quotes tending to be as superficial (according to the former), as their circulation is pervasive (according to the latter). Their meaning may be so elusive as to practically be suspended to the widest audience, yet their rhetoric, call it “sound”, makes them memorable, thereby speeding up transmission.

Off-target attributions
Oh, speaking of attributions, some might want to hear a snippet of setting the record straight from a gathering of McLuhan purveyors in Toronto last night. Even if regularly credited to McLuhan, the observation that “we create our tools and thereafter they create us”, should more likely be traced back to a quote by Winston Churchill in connection with the bombing of the British Parliament during WW2, which apparently had “buildings” in lieu of “tools”. Not that there aren’t other contenders.

Cultural longevity
If nothing else, what MM “did say”, and also “meant”, is guaranteed to keep X,Y,Z wondering for a long-long time still, where X,Y,Z equal those of whom one or more of the following are predicated:

  • welcome the chance to grapple with a discursive enigma, or
  • willy nilly plunge into this addictive routine, or
  • have no choice but to stop themselves from dodging a student’s query, or
  • are forced to “discuss the implications of” for homework, tests… brhrrrh.

In other words, the McLuhanesque style, from its best media-genic to its worst hermeneutic, and his theoretical heritage, from its scholarly deepest to its most fluid colloquial, can be as outrageously annoying for some, some of or possibly all of the time, as they are enlighteningly charismatic for others, all or at least some of the time.

The bottom line: the MM “itch”, which is not all that easy to reach and scratch may hold our attention for awhile still. Moreover, there are no guarantees that being able to scratch will not worsen the discursive itch 🙂


Extensions: an epistemological paradox
Communication Studies, in various combinations with “culture”, “media”, “technology/-ies”, have been cropping up in the post-sec edu field, even if they have been resolutely at worst, and ambivalently at best personae non gratae at alleged pillars of academia such as the University of Toronto and Harvard University. “[fee-paying] Students want…” has not been a quick cure on that score, it seems.

That situation obtains, although infelicitous communication–even in a pre-theoretic sense, i.e., as object of research–has proven time and time again to be a major stumbling block in discourses ranging from high politics to one-on-one relatedness. 

2do: Yet another “obvious 2do” item promptly snaps into place on the growing ES list of illogically unsolved, totally solvable agenda items. 

For future discussion: Fix humans to fix their “problems”? Thought I had written somewhere on the alternate~gradual / incremental~parallel Ecosonic Approach. Consider the search “on”.

Getting off the hook of metaphisics with a few MM-related links below.

________________________________

NOTE 1: per FdeS himself, sound-concept in English translation.

NOTE 2: The Medium is the MassAge, which as a matter of fact was a genuine typo, turned out to be a blessing in disguise, on the one hand conjuring up “message”, with which McLuhan readers are likely to be familiar, and in addition spelling out the influence of media on the content they are meant to transmit.

NOTE 3: In this respect, MM is similar to Martin Heidegger (cf. essay “The Question Concerning Technology”), who saw technology as more than a mere tool, and more like a far-from-benevolent agent threatening our surroundings (nature), and ourselves. Philosopher of technology Andrew Feenberg categorizes the agentive view as “substantivist” (or non-neutral), and the alternative as “instrumental” (or neutral).

NOTE 4: ICT = information and communication technologies.


Websites and videos


MM on [not the exact quotes!]: HOT AND COOL MEDIA – TV DISPENSED WITH THE VIETNAM WAR – CHINA MAY SKIP THE 20th CENTURY & CONTINUE IN THE 21st, BRITISH COLUMBIA DID NOT HAVE A 19th CENTURY – I DO NOT HAVE A “POINT OF VIEW”, ONE CANNOT HAVE A “POINT OF VIEW”, IN THE E-AGE – CANADA STARTED IN THE 19th CENTURY AND STAYED THERE, Am-STYLE PROG NOT TO OUR TASTE, WE ARE LUCKY TO BE A “BACKWARD” COUNTRY – MM IS TAKEN FAR TOO SERIOUSLY, I WOULDN’T DO ANYTHING TO ENHANCE THAT…

NUMEROUS OTHER VIDs ON YOUTUBE

This one was posted by kidberlin (in 2007), at whose request the direct link to YouTube was provided by WP.