I feel that we’re standing on the threshold of a liberating and exhilarating world in which the human tribe can become truly one family and man’s consciousness can be freed from the shackles of mechanical culture and enabled to roam the cosmos.
I have a deep and abiding belief in man’s potential to grow and learn, to plumb the depths of his own being, and to learn the secret songs that orchestrate the universe.
We live in a transitional era of profound pain and tragic identity quest, but the agony of our age is the labor pain of rebirth.
I expect to see the coming decades transform the planet into an art form; the new man, linked in a cosmic harmony that transcends time and space, will sensuously caress and mold and pattern every facet of the terrestrial artifact as if it were a work of art, and the man himself will become an organic art form.
There is a long road ahead, and the stars are only way stations, but we have begun the journey.
(McLuhan, Playboy interview, 1969/1995: 268)
Marshall McLuhan’s theories of media, art, and culture are being reexamined in the context of new digital cultures and globalization.
This book provides a close reading of some of his key texts to discern the contribution his thinking can make to our understanding of the present condition of convergent and yet unstable media cultures. Throughout McLuhan’s wide-ranging writings on the media, his central contribution to communication and cultural studies does not consist in any one theoretical insight. Rather, McLuhan’s writings over a 40-year period from the 1940s on to his death in 1980 are consistently concerned with understanding the contemporary media as a problem of method.
The key to any analysis of the media, which for McLuhan was always connected to the spaces and temporalities of the lifeworld, is a reflexive field approach. Oriented around the archival, encyclopedic, and artifactual surfaces but also ‘haptic harmonies’ and ruptures, this method draws out patterns that render ground assumptions and matrices discernible. This was encapsulated in his most famous neologism, ‘the medium is the message’. McLuhan drew his insights from philosophers of language and modernity: the Cambridge New Critics (Leavis and Richards especially) who were his teachers, along with Nietzsche, Bergson, and Heidegger – all-important influences on his experimental pedagogy.
McLuhan’s career encompasses the multiple meanings of the word project: the process of creating, an oral performance, refracted light, psychological transference, a forward-moving action, a community in the making. While this book will seek to situate a number of influences and peoplethat informed this project, it is crucial to place McLuhan’s engagement within a Catholic intellectualtradition that encompasses Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas. We see this reflected in his beliefthat human cognition and perception are ‘miracles’ (‘Catholic Humanism’: 80) that make possible ashared experience of the everyday. Hence all scholarship is essentially research and exploration, itis a dialogue with others. This belief that our engagement with the world will always be atransformative and creative one will drive McLuhan’s inquiry into the fundamental process andvalue of human communication throughout his career – from his doctoral dissertation on ThomasNashe and the Learning of His Time to his posthumously published Laws of Media. The humanistecumenical tradition highlights the impor tance McLuhan placed on interdisciplinary models ofpeda gogy and on the significance of a field of study that engages with contemporary culture.
McLuhan’s contribution to the study of communication is distinguished by an approach that isaesthetically based, highly performative and historically grounded. Utilizing formal tech niquesdrawn from the Symbolists and twentieth-century avant- garde forms (James Joyce in particular),McLuhan’s experimental