Mcluhan or Modernism in Reverse

Mcluhan or Modernism in Reverse

GLENN WILLMOTT
Copyright Date: 1996
Pages: 262
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/j.ctt2ttknf
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Mcluhan or Modernism in Reverse
    Book Description:

    McLuhan, or Modernism in Reversethus aims to retrace and synthesize McLuhan's work in order to illuminate his unexpected meaning and value for critical practice today.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7714-2
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: McLuhan’s Medium
    (pp. xi-xvi)

    Marshall McLuhan is arguably the most powerful literary academic to have affected a North American popular consciousness. Throughout the 1960s, this Canadian literary critic spoke for the corning information age, spinning theories of new social orders and identities determined by electronic communications and computer media. Books were out, television was in. Don’t be distracted by content – the medium is the message. Take radio: hot; demogogic; vehicle of the last, populist nationalism. Or TV: cool; participatory; vehicle of a new, postnational tribalism. Together these new media will reconfigure our planetary world as a Global Village – a deeply interdependent, collective, and non-linear...

  5. Part I. Modernism:: Reversing the Message

    • 1 The Art of Criticism
      (pp. 3-30)

      Marshall McLuhan’s entire critical development is founded upon what has in postmodern times become naturalized as a cliché: the modernist’s belief in art as a critical form. By ‘belief in art’ I mean that ideology peculiar to modernism which granted to art a virtually distinct cosmology – a human object to be sure, but with its own sort of being, knowledge, ethics, and historical power, interactive with, but not constitutive of, the remainder of human reality. This belief was not the Romantic one which made of art a ‘secular scripture,’ the form harmonious with some preconstituted, ideal ontology or order (that...

    • 2 The Art of Montage
      (pp. 31-59)

      I have focused upon Richards and Leavis, the New Critics who most strongly influenced McLuhan at Cambridge, because they provide the clearest critical-theoretical frameworks for McLuhan’s evolving sense, respectively, of a modernist scientism and a modernist historicism – producing together a modernist critical ideology.¹ However, it is clear that McLuhan was also strongly influenced by the literature and art themselves. They appealed to him, not merely as ideal forms mediated by the critical ideologies and valorizations of the New Critics, but directly – exemplifying artasthe form of a critical ideology. McLuhan was unusual in ‘returning’ to art from New Criticism,...

    • 3 Symbolic Reversals
      (pp. 60-75)

      Symbolist art, McLuhan believed, was the first to employ a self-consciously modernist, poetictechne.Though the poetry appeared aestheticist, it was akin to science and was by no means limited to aesthetic values in the results it produced.¹ McLuhan argued that the aestheticist method in symbolism produced a cognitive art, a psychology of experience. Its ideal was to produce through a schematic and literary form the reversal of abstract meaning into the perceptual and historical, retraced experience of meaning.

      Symbolism marked for McLuhan the turning-point in a history of poetics from the ‘picturesque’ to ‘le paysage interieur’ – from the exterior...

    • 4 The Art of Politics
      (pp. 76-91)

      After Cambridge, McLuhan began his professional career in America – only three years before the beginning of the Second World War. His experience in America was divided into the last years of the Depression and the first years of the war, and represents a formative context for the evolution of his critical ideology.

      The Mechanical Bridewas born during a period which saw the most important change in the thought and practice of political economics since the rise of industrial capitalism at the beginning of the previous century. This was the birth of the ‘welfare state,’ and coincided with the Keynesian...

    • 5 Technological Reversals
      (pp. 92-116)

      McLuhan came to America in the 1930s under the spell of Chesterton and Leavis, who had responded to the British wasteland with visions of a precapitalist, premass society held together by more pastoral surroundings and a fragile economic ideal of ‘craft’ A correspondingly nostalgic ideology he found expressed in America by the Southern Agrarian critics. But the ambivalence of McLuhan’s expression of this conservative ideology, together with his insistence upon the priority of studying and teaching popular cultural texts – such as advertising – to his students and to small, public audiences in the 1930s and 1940s, suggest that McLuhan’s vision of...

  6. Part II. Postmodernism:: Reversing the Global Village

    • 6 The Modern Primitive
      (pp. 119-134)

      The ‘Global Village’ is still current in newspeak, where it refers vaguely to a world spatially compressed by powers – economic, military, ecological, cultural – which criss-cross it with the instantaneity of a telephone call, a television broadcast, a multinational merger, or a military jet. But it has its origins in a primitivist paradigm in McLuhan’s discourse which was never this neutral, but which represented in paradoxical horns either aparadisoor aninfernofor our collective future. In the following pages I suggest why it is important to consider the ‘Global Village,’ not merely as a theoretical concept and postmodern myth,...

    • 7 The Postmodern Mask
      (pp. 135-155)

      The moment at which McLuhan made his entrance onto the world stage was a matter of difference among his contemporary chroniclers. His publication in 1964 of the primary scripture,Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,was necessary to his popular success, but was generally acknowledged to be insufficient without the media and cultural hype which – beginning early in 1965, with the first ‘McLuhan Festival’ in Canada, and with the first commercial promotions of his discourse by Generalists, Inc. in the United States – transformed ‘Herbert Marshall McLuhan, 53-year-old Canadian English Professor,’ as Tom Wolfe put it, into ‘McLuhan.’¹ In this chapter...

    • 8 The Postmodern Medium
      (pp. 156-179)

      If McLuhan is to be regarded as a modernist, it must be as a modernist who helped produce the ideology of, and wholived,a new postmodern landscape – whose grasp of a ‘truth’ of modernism remained paradoxically at the centre of his archetypally postmodern projects and concerns, without contradicting the ‘truth’ of postmodernism itself. Here I mean psychological truths of an adequate relationship to, if not adequate representation of, life in the world and others. These are usefully defined and explored for modernism and postmodernism by Fredric Jameson, whose role as a pre-eminent synthesizer of postmodernist ideology I will call...

    • 9 Being There
      (pp. 180-205)

      McLuhan created fictions and fragments of fictions, scarcely believable yet somehow significant, about the life of the media – particularly about speech, writing, print, radio, and television as keys to our collective unconscious, and to an understanding of how things are and how they must come to be. He did so largely by retelling whatever histories came his way, past or present, with their full cast of characters pushed into the background, and his own – historical media, technology – pushed anthropomorphically to the fore. Few readers were able to take such anthropomorphizations literally. To say that he traded in fictions, however, is...

  7. Conclusion: McLuhan’s Message
    (pp. 206-208)

    The medium is the messagereduces all meaning to the historical situation of meaning, at the same time that it reduces knowledge of the historical situation itself to mere historicity, intending only to grasp the historical mechanism of a moment andtopos,not a general knowledge, or even a historical view of it. Knowledge is reduced to the historicity of what McLuhan called, updating Eliot, ‘simultaneity’ – and to a consciousness whose ideal form is the process by which it must retrace the labyrinths of its own necessary symbolizations and intersubjectivities, its own practical imaginary, in the widening gyre of an...

  8. Notes
    (pp. 209-244)
  9. Works Cited
    (pp. 245-254)
  10. Index
    (pp. 255-262)