McLuhan – Language extends and amplifies man but it also divides his faculties.

The presentation in the video is shows that a difference in kind between humans and chimps (and by presumption — at some point, at any rate — the ancestors of humans) is the trade-off between perception and higher order processing in the actual percentages of dedicated areas of the brain.

It struck me that Marshall McLuhan discussed this speculation a half-century ago. (See below.) Indeed, novelty (if not progress) in awareness entailing gain and loss was an axiom to his theory of media.

Might experimental explorations of McLuhan’s thought be something possible to pursue?

# # #

… It is the extension of man in speech that enables the intellect to detach itself from the vastly wider reality. Without language,
Bergson suggests, human intelligence would have remained totally involved in the objects of its attention. Language does for intelligence what the wheel does for the the feet and the body. It
enables them to move from thing to thing with greater ease and speed and ever less involvement. Language extends and amplifies man but it also divides his faculties. His collective consciousness or intuitive awareness is diminished by this technical extension of consciousness
that is speech.

Understanding Media, (The Spoken Word)
Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Eve of Destruction and Understanding Media

For some reason or other just now, I noticed the symmetry between the first line of Eve of Destruction and Understanding Media. I wonder if this is a crafted riff, the germination of a received insight, or an independent observation? Might the anthem of apocalypse be a reflection on McLuhan?

# # #

Eve Of Destruction
By P. F. Sloan in 1965
(Recorded by Barry McGuire)

The eastern world, it is exploding
. . .

# # #

After three thousand years of explosion, by means of fragmentary and mechanical technologies, the Western world is imploding. . . .
. . .

Understanding Media
By Marshall McLuhan, 1964

Screen reading as a ricercar

In nature, nearly everything seen is light on, reflected light. The list of things that emit light — light through — is very short: the sun (and other stars), lightning, fire, bioluminescence and molten lava. Only fire and the stars can be stared at for any length of time. Before people learned to produce fire, it too would not necessarily be common. The flash of lightning is evanescent. Bioluminescence is faint and rare. For most, experience with molten lava would be unknown or unusual.

After the mastering of metal craft, glowing red hot objects might often be encountered. The transformation of metal from ore to tool or weapon was seen as a sacred rite.

Edison’s introduction of electric light was unsettling:
When the first electric lights cast their golden glow over Menlo Park on New Year’s Eve 1880, a crowd of 3,000 people gathered in awe. Edison, the worker of miracles, had triumphed. Historian and author Carolyn Marvin says, “Victorians saw the electric light and the effect of electricity (or ‘the lightning’) as having an almost religious power. Edison was both godlike, because he could manipulate the lightning, and a very dark and satanic figure for the same reason. He could challenge God’s order.”

For those whose only experience with illumination had been candle, kerosene or gas, Edison’s electric torchlight parade had men lit up like candles or lamps.

My speculation is that the mind evolved to process reflected light and that glowing and flickering
sources tend to open the doors of perception — as shown by the Dream Machine of Brion Gysin and William Burroughs. It follows then that reading on a screen is a sort of ricercar. The text is something secondary; the effect of the light source itself is the theme.

McLuhan called Satan the prince of the airwaves.

On Jun 5, 2014, at 8:28 AM, Anthony Olszewski wrote:

> I seem to recall that in one of the McLuhan on Maui audio archives,
> it’s mentioned that in a final taped interview with a York University
> student, McLuhan called Satan the prince of the airwaves.
> In Ephesians 2 Paul writes of “the ruler of the kingdom of the air,
> the spirit who is now at work in
> those who are disobedient.”
Fundamentalist Christians have pointed to
> this as proof that the devil works through television.
> I don’t know how Professor McLuhan intended his statement to be
> interpreted, but he appears to have been alluding to the New
> Testament.
> Anthony Olszewski

# # #

Bob Dobbs
Wednesday, Jul 2 02:48 PM
to Anthony Olszewski
Re: Satan the prince of the airwaves?

Yes, he did and was.

You can read his letter to Jacques Maritain in the 1969 section of THE LETTERS OF MARSHALL McLUHAN where he discusses the “Prince of the Air”.


Was the Rolling Stones 1969 Hyde Park Concert crafted using McLuhan’s ideas?

Was this concert crafted using McLuhan’s ideas? Or, is it as it appears, a prime example of a return to tribalism via electronic media? Early in the video, Mick Jagger even speaks about the audience as participants.

# # #

As far as I am able to determine, there is nothing documented that indicates The Rolling Stones were consciously crafting the Hyde Park concert around your father’s ideas. As artists, they were certainly responding to the cultural trends that constituted the focus of his work, so I can understand how it might seem that way. That being said, I did find the following interesting reference to the counter-culture in the Marchand biography.

“If McLuhan was unhappy about the assault on the Church by theological revolutionaries, he was not particularly pleased about the use of his work by cultural revolutionaries such as Abbie Hoffman, who in 1968 was saying, “The Left is too much into Marx, not enough into McLuhan.” When Hoffman published his Revolution for the Hell of It in 1968, McLuhan regarded it simply as a manifesto for the new tribalism. What was absurd, according to McLuhan, was that Hoffman seemed to think it meritorious to embrace this tribalism, when such embrace was almost as automatic, in the new electronic environment, as taking off one’s sweater in a warm room.” (Marchand, 1989, 206-207)

It seems reasonable to assume that the Stones were reading Hoffman and may well have been avid McLuhan-ites. I will certainly ask them if I ever get the chance! By the way, I particularly liked how the automatic nature of the tribal embrace was an issue for [McLuhan]. This makes perfect sense, since he stressed the need to observe the effects, and potential dangers, of new media environments. The tragedy of Altamont, only five months after Hyde Park, would seem to bear this out.

Thomas MacFarlane
Author of The Beatles and McLuhan, Understanding The Electric Age