Media Log

by Marshall Mcluhan (1953-1959)

About 1830 Lamartine pointed to the newspaper as the end of book culture: “The book arrives too late.” At the same time Dickens used the press as base for a new impressionist art, which D. W. Griffiths and Sergei Eisenstein studied in 1920 as the foundation of movie art.

Robert Browning took the newspaper as art model for his impressionist epic The Ring and the Book; Mallarme did the same in Un Coup de Des.

Edgar Allen Poe, a newsman and, like Shelly, a science fictioneer, correctly analyzed the poetic process. Conditions of newspaper serial publication led both him and Deckens to the process of writing backward. This means simultaneity of all parts of a composition. Simultaneity compels sharp focus on effect of thing made. Simultaneity is the form of the press in dealing with Earth City. Simultaneity is formula for the writting of both detective story and symbolist poem. These are derivatives (one “low” and one “high”) of the new technological culture. Simultaneity is related to telegaph, as the telegraph to math and physics.

Joyce’s Ullysses completed the cycle of this technological art form.

The mass media are extensions of the mechanisms of human perception; they are imitators of the modes of human apprehension and judgment.

Technological culture in the newspaper form structures ordinary awareness in patterns that correspond to the most sophisticated maneuvers of mathematical physics.

Newton’s Optics created the techniques of picturesque and Romantic poetry.The technicques of discontinuous juxtaposition in landscape poetry and painting were transferred to the popular press and the popular novel.

In 1830, due to this technological revolution, English popular consciousness was structured in ways that French and European intellectuals did not acquire until a later generation.
Average English and American unawareness has been ahead of official culture and awareness for two hundred years has automatically thrown in his lot with the average man against officialdom.

The Swiss culture historian Giedion has had to invent the concept of “anonymous history” in order to write an account of the new technological culture in Anglo-Saxondom.

The professoriat has turned its back on culture for two hundred years because the high culture of technological society is popular culture and knows no boundaries between high and low.

The children of technological man respond with untaught delight to the poetry of trains, ships, planes, and to the beauty of machine products. In the schoolroom, officialdom suppresses all their natural experience; children are divorced from their culture. They are not permitted to approach the traditional heritage of mankind through the door of technological awareness; this only possible door for them is slammed in their face. The only other door is that of the high-brow. Few find it, and fewer find their way back to popular culture.

T.S. Eliot has said he would prefer an illiterate audience, for the ways of official literacy do not equip the young to know themselves, the past, or the present. The technique of an Eliot themselves, the past, or the present. The technique of an Eliot poem is a direct application of the method of the popular radiotube grid circuit to the shaping and control of the charge of meaning. An Eliot poem is one instance of a direct means of experiencing, under conditions of artistic control, the ordinary awareness and culture of contemporary man.

Photography and cinema have abolished realism as too easy; they substitute themselves for realism. All the new media, including the press, are art forms that have the power of imposing, like poetry, their own assumptions. The new media are not ways of relating us to the old “real” world; they are the real world, and they reshape what remains of the old world at will.

Official culture still strives to force the new media to do the work of the old media. But the horseless carriage did not do the work of the horse; it abolished the horse and did what the horse could never do. Horses are fine. So are books.

Technological art takes the whole earth and its population as its material, not as its form. It is too late to be frightened or disgusted, to greet the unseen with a sneer. Ordinary life-work demands that we harness and subordinate the media to human ends.

The media are not toys; they should not be in the hands of Mother Goose and Peter Pan executives. They can be entrusted only to new artists, because they are art forms.

Harnessing the Tennessee, Missouri, or Mississippi is kid stuff compared with curbing the movie, press, or television to human ends. The wild broncos of technological culture have yet to find their busters or masters. They have found only their P.T. Barnums.

Europeans cannot master these new powers of technology because they take themselves too seriously and too sentimentally. Europeans cannot imagine the Earth City. They have occupied old city spaces too long to be able to sense the new spaces created by the new media.

The English have lived longer with technological culture than anybody else, but they lost their chance to shape it when the ship yielded to the plane. But the English language is already the base of all technology.

The Russians are impotent to shape technological culture because of their inwardness and grimness. The future masters of technology will have to be lighthearted; the machine easily masters the grim.

Russian austerity is based on fear of the new media and their power to transform social existence. Russia stands pat on the status quo ante 1850 that produced Marx. There culture ends. The Russian revolution reached the stage of book culture. Russian politicians have the same mentality as our professoriat: they wish technology would go away.


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Filed under Necessary Illusions in the Global Village, Notes

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