Precious Bodily Fluids

Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! – Douglas Coupland, 2010


“‘The medium is the message’ means that the ostensible content of all electronic media is insignificant; it is the medium itself that has the greater impact on the environment, a fact bolstered by the now medically undeniable fact that the technologies we use every day begin, after a while, to alter the way our brains work, and hence the way we experience the world” (13).

His mother was an elocutionist, teaching Marshall about the plasticity of language.

Mediatization as commercial standardization. “Before clocks, there was sunrise and sunset, but there was no way of standardizing time. With clocks, time was reduced to discrete hour chunks like hamburger patties, the same no matter where you go on the planet or, for that matter, outer space or even another galaxy” (103). Note that, divorced from clocks and “hours,” different places offer different experiences of time, and vice versa. Cows are different in different places but standardized by McDonald’s. Continuity, repetition, reduction, simplification, standardization, absorption – connect some of this with Naficy’s argument in Accented Cinema, in which she notes how Hollywood is the great standardizer and conventionalizer of cinema and media. Whatever is accented is eventually absorbed into Hollywood. Coupland (a few pages earlier) also references Poe’s short story A Descent into the Maelstrom. Media as the maelstrom, Hollywood as the maelstrom, sucking into it everything else. According to Poe (and Coupland/McLuhan), the only escape is to cast off the heaviest hindrances, be alert, and wait it out. Note also that the narrator in Poe’s story casts into the vortex his watch. This is not, literally speaking, a heavy accoutrement, but one ideologically heavy, necessary to remove. Consider, too, Auslander’s argument in Liveness, the way that the medium of recorded music changed the way that we listen, along with Jonathan Sterne’s argument in The Audible Past, regarding how the process of recording sound in its earliest days was based on certain ideological and biological assumptions, contingencies that could have been otherwise but have shaped the medium that has in turn shaped us.

“Morality often impedes free thinking. Moral indignation is a salve for people unable or unwilling to try to understand. Again the maelstrom: understand your world and detach from it, or be drowned by it. The world is understandable; too much information makes it feel like it isn’t. Look for patterns. Invert your biases. Debate the other side’s point of view–anything except take it for what it first appears to be” (126).

“In any event, I don’t think Marshall would be wondering [now] about what technology comes next. His concern would probably be more oriented toward ministering to the human soul and on the way our senses of self and our interior voices cope with ever newer worlds. Marshall’s ultimate message might well have been that the body is the medium and trumps all else” (204).

This entry was published on September 12, 2013 at 12:17 pm. It’s filed under Book Summaries and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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