February 3rd, 2014 Response to Marshall MchLuhan The Medium is the message Canadian philosopher of communication theory, Marshall McLuhan (1911 -‐ 1980), wrote The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects in 1967. He presented a new media and technology's theory, breaking with contemporary academic standing. In this assignment, the first chapter "The medium is the Massage" will be discussed, reflecting on the artists' role in society. McLuhan states all technologies are extensions of our body; speed, structure and patterns being altered. Introducing the individual at the core of function of technology permits to analyze it as something which affects directly our relationship with the world. Furthermore, technologies’ value does not depend on the use they have but in their nature. As he points out, criticizing General David Arnoff, it does not depend on who is shooting, to say that guns are good or bad. Guns are the extensions of our fists, of our instinct and impulse of violence. They simply "add itself on to what we already are" (McLuhan, 11). The author starts by a brief recount of technologies and perceptions. He explains how mass production and production line create a sense of fragmentation, process and sequence; cause and consequence factors are present, notion of place and space are evident. Later, with electricity, connections happen without any need of a sequence, so electricity originates a sense of "etherialization": changing patterns of perceptions. Thus, a huge brake arise in our perception of time and space. The link between cause and consequence is lost automatically. All electricity related technologies have characteristic of immediacy and connectivity. Time and space are being displaced, or compacted, becoming ephemeral. German modern philosopher, Immanuel Kant, in the 18th century declared that time and space were not in the outside world, they were in the human's brain. They were innate capacities for perceiving the environment. That affirmation permits to reconsider time and space concepts, by making them anthropomorphic, since nor
animals nor nature have the sense of time and space, in Kant's view. Referring to Kant, time and space concepts are not absolute and they can change in time. People living in the second industrial revolution (or the technological revolution), in the late 19th century, experienced a change in their vision of space and time. With railroad's innovation, for example, distances became shorter. It is significant that artists through their work have always responded to changes in their society ( the latter, to a degree, caused by technologies' innovation). Reactions are diverging, some artists are technophilic and others technophobic. Poètes maudits were against the acceleration of society and were building a sort of shelter in isolation, drugs and in their work. In the opposite spectrum, futurists were enthusiastic about society's changes, they were impassioned by energy, speed, engines, cars, arms and particularly by war. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, in his Manifesto of Futurism, in 1909 declared: "We say that the world's significance has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car [...] is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace." (187). Going back to McLuhan text, he declares: "Cubism, by seizing on instant total awareness, suddenly announced that the medium is the message." (13). A guitar, a vase, a woman or a table: the content of the painting is not the message. What is then the message of a cubist painting, it may be asked. Well, cubists were not concerned with components in the symbolic or iconical side. They were reflecting on the way to represent objects in a two dimensional space. They broke with the Renaissance's one-‐point perspective and the Cartesian plane. It is not anymore about the window, the mirror, but about "the world of structure and of configuration" (McLuhan, 13). Cubists painted an object from different perspectives at the same time, the picture plane was considered flat, as it is. They were not pretending any more to create an illusion of space. Cubist's work did not deal directly with electricity but their change of perception of time and space had to do with that technology. "The serious artist is the only person able to encounter technology with impunity, just because he is an expert aware of the changes in sense perception." (McLuhan, 18). So, by being able to understand the motivations behind artists' work and
artists' movements, one gets to understand how they were perceiving body and mind's perceptions of their time. Considering contemporary society, electricity, virtual realities and high technology have reached a climax of immediacy and illusion. Individuals are immersed in a world of mere visual chimeras. They might be comfortably using all those technologies, unaware of what they loose as complete human beings. McLuhan tries to prevent us: "For any medium has the power of imposing its own assumption on the unwary. Prediction and control consist in avoiding this subliminal state of Narcissus trance." (15). Contemporary Narcissus, contemplating himself in a shiny flat high tech screen, will drown in the shadows and absence of sounds, sensations, smells and senses. As a society, if we don't want to die of vanity, paralysis and hypnosis, we need to be aware of the spell of technology. McLuhan already warned us, in the late 60's, but it seems that not many listened to him.
Kant, Immanuel . Critique of Judgment. Oxford University Press, Jun 14, 2007
McLuhan, Marshall . The medium is the message, Ginko Press, 2005
Poggi, Christine, Laura Wittman. Futurism: An Anthology. Yale University