Unthinking Modernity

Unthinking Modernity: Innis, McLuhan, and the Frankfurt School

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Unthinking Modernity
    Book Description:

    Like their European contemporaries, Innis and McLuhan worked toward a theory of how westerners have developed classifications through which they perceive the world. Moreover, Stamps shows that they used insights derived from their North American experience to add a new, media-based perspective to such a theory.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6501-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xvii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Space, Sound, and Negative Dialectics
    (pp. 3-22)

    Between 1930 and 1975, central Canadian scholarship produced two pioneering theorists who studied Western consciousness by shining a shaft of light along a forgotten aspect of its history – namely, the development of communications systems, or media. The first was Harold Innis, originator of the staples thesis of Canadian development (of which more later) and author ofEmpire and Communications; the second was Marshall McLuhan, prophet of the global village and the retribalized West. The focus on media, perhaps the most salient feature of Innis’s and McLuhan’s work, received wide recognition in the 1960s. Since then, it has spurred the...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Frankfurt School, Adorno, and Benjamin
    (pp. 23-40)

    Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin were members of a research group that has been known since the 1960s as the Frankfurt School. This was the first school of German neo-Marxism, or, perhaps better expressed, renegade Marxism, since its members departed radically from many of Marx’s beliefs. They referred to their own work as critical theory, a term intended to express not arrogance (one would think that no one else was critical) but rather their strong resistance to the mainstream movements of their day – communism, fascism, and liberal reformism. They are especially renowned for their analysis of how capitalism interwines...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Innis’s Formative Years and a Negative Political Economy
    (pp. 41-64)

    “The conditions of freedom of thought are in danger of being destroyed by science, technology, and the mechanization of knowledge, and with them, western civilization … My bias is with the oral tradition … and with the necessity of capturing something of its spirit … the quantitative pressure of modern knowledge has been responsible for the decay of oral dialectic and conversation.”¹ So said Harold Innis in an address in 1948 outlining the conditions necessary for critical thought.² Like his European counterparts, Innis identified critical thought with the prospect of true dialogue, and that prospect with a concept of objectivity...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Innis: Communications and the Negative Dialogue
    (pp. 65-96)

    Through his political economy, Harold Innis had begun to reveal how economic systems affect the philosophical assumptions of those who live them. He showed, for example, that the present-mindedness associated with statistical method grew out of an obsession with gold as a medium of exchange. He demonstrated further that this was significant because present-mindedness fostered imperial attitudes that, like Adorno’s identitarianism, were insensitive to cultural differences. This reasoning clearly linked political economy to political culture. Adorno was especially interested in revealing how modern markets, as carriers of the spatial bias, trampled the labouring classes. Innis focused more on the plight...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE McLuhan’s Early Years and Philosophical Framework
    (pp. 97-121)

    Although Marshall McLuhan is well known as a student of Innis’s later texts, the distinctiveness of his work on Innis is not often appreciated. As chapter 4 shows, Innis’s communications studies make for truly difficult, if interesting, reading. They were even more difficult for the scholars of his day, since in North America they had no precedent. They were far too non-linear and speculative for the positivists, and they employed a vocabulary unlikely to attract philosophers, including the philosophical Marxists, from whose attention they might have benefited. As a consequence, Innis mystified his audiences and most of his readers. An...

  10. CHAPTER SIX From Visual Society to No Point of View
    (pp. 122-150)

    Whilst casting about for a way to move from the immediate study of mass culture to the study of its origins, McLuhan began to read Harold Innis’s work. It was a turning point:The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man(1962) bears the unmistakable mark of Innis’s influence. In absorbing that influence, McLuhan brought with him the tension-filled framework that had informedThe Mechanical Bride(1951). Language could be conceived statically, as analogical mirror, or more dynamically, as historically conditioned. McLuhan never resolved this tension. His earlier communications studies tended towards the historical pole or towards a creative balance...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Theorists in Dialogue: Parallel Tracks?
    (pp. 151-168)

    Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan were Canadian theorists of modernity who challenged the boundaries of Western epistemology through a self-styled, uniquely materialist analysis of communications media. Their work is best seen as part of a larger Western project of rethinking the cultural dimensions of space-time relations by employing models built around the temporal qualities of sound. Like Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin, the Frankfurt School theorists with whom I am comparing them, they carried out this task by developing a method that retrieved a fluid, personal sense of time by redefining the oral/aural medium of dialogue. In the process, they...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 169-190)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-200)
  14. Index
    (pp. 201-205)