Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Useful Introduction to the Academic Sources Marshall McLuhan “Put On”

McLuhan on Maui

McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography by Richard Cavell
(Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2002)

A review by Donald F. Theall

Marshall McLuhan's work has not been the subject of many genuinely scholarly books, nor has he, with few exceptions, been regarded as an artist or as a significant figure in the pantheon of Canadian culture.

Consequently, Richard Cavell's recently published McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography is a significant addition to the literature about McLuhan. In this profusely documented study of McLuhan as a "space theorist," Cavell seeks for an all-encompassing formula to explicate the phenomenon of a quintessentially Canadian McLuhan, who had a substantial impact throughout the world in the 1960s and then again in the 1990s. Cavell locates the vision that creates such an impact in McLuhan's discovery of the idea of "acoustic space" (a "percept," according to McLuhan). "Acoustic space" has become one of those phrases like "global village," "the medium is the message" and the "Gutenberg Galaxy," which are synonymous with his name. The peculiar attractiveness of this percept is that it is simultaneously abstract and yet material, describing "unenclosed space" and hence permitting discussions about measure, movement through "space-time" and speed.

"Acoustic space" as a McLuhan percept originally emerged from the description of "auditory space" in the behavioural psychology of E.A. Bott of the University of Toronto, which was brought to McLuhan's attention by a colleague in the Ford Foundation Culture and Communication seminars, psychologist Karl Williams. Bott's idea, that auditory space "has no centre or no margins since we hear from all directions simultaneously," immediately attracted McLuhan, who had already been immersed in then-contemporary writers concerned with space, including art and architecture historian Sigfried Giedion, visual artist and designer Laszlo Mohly-Nagy and classicist Francis Cornford, author of "The Invention of Space." With Ted Carpenter, co-founder of the seminars and of the early multidisciplinary journal Explorations, McLuhan gradually expanded the idea of auditory space, christening it "acoustic space" to dramatize its abstract nature. Carpenter contributed Aboriginal, especially Inuit, conceptions of an acoustic space; McLuhan worked out its relation to the contemporary arts and poetry affected by four-dimensional geometry and the new physics. Continue reading at McLuhan on Maui

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