Friday, November 13, 2015

Exploring Clichés & Archetypes

Bob Dobbs on clichés, archetypes & probes
What ‘Youth’?, 10 November 2015

Bob Dobbs & Scott Woods on critic Richard Meltzer on cliché & McLuhan’s From Cliché to Archetype
25 April 2010
13 parts here

McLuhan Galaxy

The key terms “cliché” and “archetype” are two of McLuhan’s most difficult ideas, but the main theme of the discussion is our formulaic, habitual ways of engaging with the world, and how these have changed, particularly in the modern period.

The term “cliché” is a French word which derived originally from printing, and refers to the blocks that are used to make prints. Similarly, the word “archetype”, which comes from Greek, first referred to an original pattern or model from which copies are made. A cliché has come to mean an overused expression which, though it was once fresh and conveyed something novel, has been repeated so many times that it is now a trite stereotype, such as “you are what you eat” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. An archetype, in psychology and literary criticism, has come to mean a mythical, universal figure or idea that repeats itself throughout history and across cultures, such as the questing hero or the ill-fated lovers.

In From Cliché to Archetype, McLuhan extends these two terms beyond their usual verbal or literary meanings. For instance, he argues that our very perceptions are clichés, since they are patterned by the many hidden, surrounding structures of culture. We tend to see or hear what we expect to see or hear. So, at its simplest level, a cliché is a perceptual probe, which promises new information but merely reiterates old, stereotyped ways of understanding. Continue reading at McLuhan Galaxy

Journal of Visual Culture

By a Commodius Vicus: From Cliché to Archetype to Cliché
by W Terrence Gordon
Dalhousie University and St. Mary’s University, Nova Scotia

Midway among Marshall McLuhan’s book publications stands From Cliché to Archetype. It owes its origins to McLuhan’s notice that the word archetype had degenerated into a cliché. When he set about regenerating it, he showed that archetype and cliché are inseparable. This discovery is illustrated fully in From Cliché to Archetype in relation to language, literature, and beyond, thus simultaneously underscoring the unity and coherence of Understanding Media and adding a new dimension of insight to it.

An archetype is an expandable category; a cliché is neither a category nor expandable. But it can be modified, and McLuhan has much to say about how this is done in the hands of artists. Just as McLuhan stretched the sense of ‘medium’, he stretches the sense of ‘cliché’, defining it at different times as an extension, a probe, and a means of retrieving the past. The resonance among these notions demonstrates how fundamental the study of cliché is for McLuhan.

He calls perceptions clichés, since the physical senses form a closed system. In this sense, all communications media are clichés, insofar as they extend our physical senses. And even art is cliché, because it retrieves older clichés.

The simplest definition of cliché for McLuhan is that of a probe. Here is an apparent paradox, as the authors freely acknowledge. But art is the sharpening of clichés into probes, into new forms that stimulate new awareness. What is familiar, even worn out, becomes new. McLuhan’s favorite example to illustrate this process comes from James Joyce, whose writing wakes up language (creates new clichés) by putting it to sleep (destroying old clichés). Or, as McLuhan (1974) put it in commenting on the treatment of this theme: ‘All cliché is always being put back on the compost heap, as it were, whence it emerges as a shining new form.’ Continue reading at Journal of Visual Culture

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