Monday, March 19, 2012

Marshall McLuhan: The Canuck Savant

"I don't necessarily agree with everything I say" ~ M.M.
Marshall McLuhan has been making a comeback of sorts in recent years, thanks in part to fans like Douglas Coupland. In his book, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work, Coupland refers to the great "Canuck Savant" as a prophet & guru who saw "the future of the future." Apart from the Montreal comedy troupe Radio Free Vestibule, who wrote "The Ballad of Marshall McLuhan", the "fuddy-duddy fiftysomething English lit professor from Toronto," as Coupland dubs him, was largely being willfully forgotten.

I'm currently reading The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media: Extensions of Man (1964). McLuhan’s tone is often urgent. He has the evangelical conviction of a fresh convert and resembles Coleridge’s Mariner possessed with a story he must tell in order to validate his own existence.

One duality that animates McLuhan’s discourse is “retribalization” and “detribalization.” These are processes that have occurred throughout history with varying degrees of intensity. McLuhan felt that our electric age was particularly unique because of its capacity to accelerate sensory perception. This speed leads to a simultaneous apprehension of reality involving all the senses all of the time. The retribalization of contemporary life can be a traumatic event exposing the individual to the blasting forces of the new environment. The only way to survive is to either shut oneself off or engage in the fluid currents of each moment. To do the former is to become numb; to do the latter requires abandoning the fixed, linear modes of cognition for the flux of the present manifestation of simultaneity. One aspect of McLuhan's character that is too often overlooked is his sense of humour. I found a fascinating and at times hilarious conversation on YouTube between Norman Mailer and McLuhan from 1968:

No comments:

Post a Comment