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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  


Press,  2009.  




response to Marshall McLuhan