Thursday, May 10, 2018

Marshall McLuhan Letter to Donald Theall, 6 August 1970

Dear Don,

Have you by any chance read Jacques Lusseyran's And There Was Light (Heinemann, London, 1964, and Little-Brown, Boston)? Apropos page 112 of Lusseyran, the paragraph beginning: "From my own experience ...." [*see Lusseyran’s paragraph below this letter, ~Ed] includes my entire media approach, both privately and corporately. I think you ignore it in your book. I call it SI/SC, referring to sensory input and sensory completion. The sensory completion, or the actual experience of anything never corresponds to the event or input., i.e. there is no matching, but only making in human experience. This relates, of course, to Aristotle's poesis and mimesis, and his phrase: "It is the process by which all men learn."

I think you will see why the Kenneth Johnstone piece has some relevance here. My approach to the media is never from a point of view, but is in fact a "swarming". Since this is an inexhaustible process, it has to be arbitrary. There is no one position from which to approach any medium. It would be quite easy for me to rewrite every page in ten different styles and patterns. One other basic theme besides SI/SC, Don, is acoustic space, which you by-pass. It too is the world of the unvisualizable. It is like the world of the pun whose centre is everywhere and whose meaning or definition is nowhere. It is the world of the electronic simultaneity which turns the planet into a sound-light show where involvement is unavoidable and where detachment becomes a superhuman feat.

I am sending the Krugman report, not as a proof of anything, but his kinds of discovery will interest you. His formula at the end of pages 17-18 is useful in reminding us that under conditions of electric software it is the sender who is sent, and not the "message." Perhaps that is where the phrase originated "he really sends me." As you know, I study slang as indications of altered sensibility. As for the book in general, Don., I think you take me too "seriously." It is really more fun to join the quest for discoveries than to try to classify and evaluate the processes in which I am involved. You are, in a sense, trying to translate me into an academic fixture. Perhaps that is what I mean by "serious." On page 222 you refer to my retaining Joyce as my major authority. Please consider that there can be no "authority" where the game is discovery. You do tend to overlook the fact that my books are intended as fun books. Certainly I have no system or theory that I would not scrap instantly in favour of better means of discovery. I was staggered by your page 259 where you suggest that I lack a full understanding of the drama of human relations. I hasten to confess this state as entirely applicable to me. I have been amazed at the range of the current drama and perhaps have been mesmerized rather than illuminated. There is a phrase of Aristotle's: Causae ad invicem causae sunt. This is the drama that I am involved in, and it is very difficult to find a beginning, middle, or end except in the most arbitrary way. What I have found is an enormous enjoyment and thrill in experiencing the events that are on every hand. It seems to me that this steady enjoyment of these events is a sufficient value system insofar as it asserts the joy of mere existence. Naturally it does not rule out the possibility of moral judgments, in particular, existential situations, and you know that I am not averse to these in private. But we have surely suffered an enormous deluge of this sort of thing in public, which is directly proportional to lack of awareness of what's really going on.

Don, I have just recalled another misunderstanding that underlies your treatment of linearity vs. discontinuity in my stuff. You mention it apropos Paul Klee - the bounding line in art is sculptural and textural. Abstract lineality is non-visual. It can be seen, but its mode is audile, tactile, kinetic. This was one of Wyndham Lewis' hang-ups. He tended to confuse the bounding line of abstract and primitive art with visual values of continuity and connectedness. This is a major hang-up in all the confusion between television and movie form, for example. TV is "non visual" as Joyce understood from careful analysis. This is not the place to go into a discussion of the visual modalities of eye structure and the contrasting sensory qualities of colour vs. black and white. Colour TV is a new medium, having very small relation to black and white. In the years since you have been in Montreal, I have done a great deal of work on sensory study. Notice page 34 of Lusseyran where he mentions blindness as "dope" and "inner tripping." TV is like that. It is a "blind" medium, fostering inner trips and hallucination-the "eye of Siva" etc.

What I have encountered over the years is the very small degree of human appetite for the knowledge of forms and causes. People prefer their opinions and classifications rather than the exploratory work. It may be merely a matter of limited energy.

Classification makes some people feel secure.

It seems to relieve them of any further need for study.
Thanks for making so epical an effort to present me. Hope to have a chat with you to clarify many matters which simply cannot be done in writing.

P.S. Check spelling of "Morganstern" on page 159. I happened on it, but did not make any attempt at a proof reading job. Is it "Morgenstern"?

[Unsigned original in the National Archives of Canada]

*Below, the paragraph from And There Was Light

When I came upon the myth of objectivity in certain modern thinkers, it made me angry. So there was only one world for these people, the same for everyone. And all the other worlds were to be counted as illusions left over from the past. Or why not call them by their name - hallucinations? I had learned to my cost how wrong they were.

From my own experience I knew very well that it was enough to take from a man a memory here, an association there, to deprive him of hearing or sight, for the world to undergo immediate transformation, and for another world, entirely different but entirely coherent, to be born. Another world? Not really. The same world rather, but seen from another angle, and counted in entirely new measures. When this happened, all the hierarchies they called objective were turned upside down, scattered to the four winds, not even like theories but like whims.

The psychologists more than all the rest - there were a few exceptions, Bergson among them - seemed to me not to come within miles of the heart of the matter, the inner life. They took it as their subject but did not talk about it. They were as embarrassed in its presence as a hen finding out that she has hatched a duckling. Of course, I was more uneasy than they were when it came to talking about it, but not when it came to living it. I was only sixteen years old, and I felt it was up to them to tell me. Yet they told me nothing."
And There Was Light, 1963 - Jacques Lusseyran, ch. 9

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