Monday, March 23, 2015

McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed

And now it's time to step out of one alternate universe (whatever we were last discussing) and into another: that as perceived by Marshall McLuhan. 

First off, keep in mind that he was both Catholic and Canadian. 

Secondly, that his books are fascinating, but so are his media appearances. His spirit moves within a universe parallel to yet also distinct from that inhabited by the spirit of William S. Burroughs. 

Regarding Language & Communication

McLuhan: "The media is the message" and "The media is the massage." 

Burroughs: "The word is now a virus," the cut-up, and "towers open fire."

W. Terrence Gordon's McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed (New York: Continuum, 2010) delves into the background and context of McLuhan's ideas; swats away criticisms that Gordon believes are due to misunderstanding of McLuhan's train of thought; and follows McLuhan's evolution and extension of ideas and his revision of older ones. He particularly shows the continuity in McLuhan's work, beyond seeming oddities, randomness and diversions.

Gordon's book "rekindled" my interest in McLuhan. I just happened to pick up a physical 3D copy of the book -- rather than read it on a Kindle -- but either way, it's slow going at first, picks up speed, then finishes off with play.

McLuhan was very much into art and artists as well as science and communication. 

Start anywhere. How about page 121?

". . . art is the sharpening of clichés into probes, into new forms that stimulate new awareness." 

I agree completely here: take something "ordinary" or "routine" and show it, or see it, in a new way, employing a fresh perspective, looking at it from a different angle. 

That is, change how we see or express something from an "automatic everyday way" into another way, so that we no longer "take things for granted" but are "granted" expanded consciousness.  

For anything, anywhere, anytime: stop being "used to it" and start getting "new to it."

"Escape into understanding" (page 95).

Some nitty gritty:

'Media are powerful agents of change in how we experience the world, how we interact with each other, how we use our physical space, how we use our physical senses -- the same senses that media extend. They must be studied for their effects, because their interaction obscures those effects and deprives us of the control required to use media effectively' (page 107).

Attention must be paid to what we're doing and how we're doing it. 

All one need do is consider, if one is old enough, some of the daily behavioral changes engendered by the deployment of mobile digital devices and wireless communication, even within a single decade, especially in the early 21st century. 

If young enough (i.e. too young to have lived through the analog to digital morp), consider horse and foot culture vs. rail and steamship culture vs. automobile and atomic bomb "drive-thru" culture.

Armed with imagination, just about anyone young, old or in between can "escape [bleary everyday myopia] into [sharper, more farsighted] understanding."       

There's much much more, but I'll stop here for the purposes of inspiration beyond "pattern recognition." 

One can only absorb so much at one time without chucking all of it out the window, becoming a litter bug, and who wants that? Not I, said the Fly. 

Today's Rune: The Mystery Rune. 


Charles Gramlich said...

A guide for the perplexed. Wow, sounds like it was written especially for me.

the walking man said...

The part on his perception of art. You do know they are burning piece by piece The Hiedelburg Project down eh?

I find it horrendous the comments that follow each new article detailing the arson, 17 now i think.

McLuhan at least sounds sane to my ears, Burroughs always seemed to be a bit of a fraud.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

Kudos on such a thoughtful reading of McLuhan. Most would gone no further than the medium being the message (which, of course, is increasingly prophetic).

jodi said...

Erik, I remember studying McLuhan in high school. Read a book by him, but don't remember which one!