On Nature and Media: A Dialogue of Effects
July 17, 1978


Marshall McLuhan explains the effects of accelerating communication speeds on human society.

References:
00:00 Forsdale

This is Louis Forsdale, July 17th, 1978, TL4011B, Topics in Communication. Our guest speaker today is Professor Marshall McLuhan from the University of Toronto. All of you know Professor McLuhan, all of you know his credentials. I talked with you on the first day about my feelings about him as one of the towering people in the 20th century in the field of communication.

I’d like to say something else now, at a much more personal level. I’ve known Marshall for thirty years now, it develops. We were talking about it last night. I invited him to come down to T.C. for a session which I described in our first period. And we have developed, through the years, a kind of a close/distant friendship in which we see each other once or twice a year, and exchange letters and so forth. And I’ve come to regard him as not only one of the towering intellectual figures in the field of communication, but also as—there’s a side of him which I admire tremendously, too, and that’s a personal loyalty which I would like to express my appreciation for, Marshall. It’s a great privilege to have someone who remains a loyal friend for so long over a span of space.

02:10

What I propose doing—since this friendship has got us on this kind of same wavelength—is engaging, at least in the beginning of the session, in a dialogue format in which I’m going to pose some questions—generally as a devil’s advocate, because I know the answers—but pose the questions of a kind that I think would be interesting for the group to get involved with. At a certain point, when we get going, give us a little while to get into it, then I would welcome you coming in. I always reserving the right to try to steer us back to what I think of as the course we might be taking, because of inside information I have of where he’s been and where he’s going. I think. Okay. It’s a Mutt and Jeff act that we sometimes do. Anybody remember Mutt and Jeff? Mitt me Mutt.

03:24 McLuhan

That’s one of the expressions in the old comic strip.

Forsdale

Mutt and Jeff were a comic strip in which Jeff is the short one and Mutt is a lankey one.

Well, let us begin our dialogue. Marshall, it seems to me that, in looking back over your work, which is quite numerous indeed—14, 15 books, 1,000 magazine articles, 1,000 speeches—the basic thrust of the thing has been, it seems to me, to invite our attention to the necessity of looking at the form of media, and what the form of media does to our sensibility and to human arrangements rather than attending only to content. Now, I toss that out to you as whether you think that is, as a beginning king of, well, generalization—

04:43 McLuhan

I’ve obviously had time to eulogize my friend Lou, but he is the type just to plunge right in here. And so the—well, for example: why not use examples? When you’re on the telephone, you don’t have a body. You’re disembodied intelligence. You have an image—acoustic—but no physical body. When you’re on radio or TV you have no physical body. What do you think the effect of not having a body is on the user of the telephone or the radio or television? The effect is always a hidden ground. It’s never part of the figure. The thing you see is figure. The thing that affects you is ground. And that’s what I mean by “the medium is the message.” The medium is hidden. The message is obvious. But the real effect comes from the hidden ground, not from the content, not from the figure. It comes from the ground, which is never noticed. Nobody in the history of the telephone has ever mentioned that, on the telephone, you do not have a physical body.

06:29

There’s a recent book by Ithiel de Sola Pool—a ridiculous name! And a ridiculous book, because it’s called The Social Impact of the Telephone, and about which he knows nothing. I mean, a whole group of people did this study on the social impact of the telephone; they didn’t know what an “effect” was.

06:55 Forsdale

By which I think you mean that they did studies of the number of people using telephones, the number of messages…

McLuhan

Yeah. And what they used them for.

Forsdale

…what they used them for—which you feel is not… they never… the deepest level of effect?

07:10 McLuhan

They never noticed the effects at all. But they did notice the inputs. That, for example, they noticed the fact that the telephone was at first used for servants: intercom inside big homes. A new medium’s always used, at first, for the old functions. This is true of the computer, it’s true of the xerox, it’s true of the motor car. True of any—any medium whatever is used, always, at first, for the old function.

07:48 Forsdale

There’s also an interesting example—as you yourself have pointed out in The Gutenberg Galaxy, which at one time you regarded as perhaps the best work you had done—

McLuhan

No.

Forsdale

How do you feel about that by…?

McLuhan

I think it’s still basic.

Forsdale

The Gutenberg Galaxy by Marshall McLuhan.

McLuhan

The effects of printing.

Forsdale

But one of the interesting things apropos of your observation that the new medium always does what the old medium… what it’s doing, is that the first designers of type designed handwriting to be put into mechanical form. Why not? It’s a natural thing—

08:36 McLuhan

I don’t have it with me, but there’s an advertisement for the Xerox, shows a couple of monks who are engaged in making manuscripts, and they’re so delighted to have Xerox—it speeds up their work so much.

Forsdale

It’s been an ad on television in the United States, Marshall, for some time.

McLuhan

Yeah. Yeah, I know. Oh, I’ve seen it. But this is in The New Yorker. I tore it up.

But the, at first—any new medium is at first used for the old functions. And, well, we might come back for a moment to: what do you think the effect of not having a body is on the user?

Forsdale

Want to take the telephone?

McLuhan

Telephone, radio, or TV. You don’t have a physical body at all.

Forsdale

Okay. Are you inviting in an open response?

McLuhan

Yeah. Oh yeah.

Forsdale

Okay, a hunch?

Audience

Could it be a sense of depersonalization?

McLuhan

No, complete.

Forsdale

The observation is it would be depersonalization.

09:37 McLuhan

It’s… well, you are there. The sender is sent. By the way, on all electric media the sender is sent. That is the message. You are the message. They send you. On the telephone, you are sent, and the person to whom you are speaking, they are sent to you. The sender is sent. Also, as you say, you lose your identity. You’re a nobody. The person who is sent is nobody.

Forsdale

Why… is the person who writes somebody [who] has a greater sense of identification than the person who’s talking on the telephone?

McLuhan

Mhm.

Forsdale

Why?

McLuhan

Hardware.

Forsdale

Why?

McLuhan

Hardware… on paper, and pen and ink, and courier-sending this missive to another party somewhere else—I mean, it’s not a transient, it’s not instant.

Forsdale

Thing. Okay, it’s not…

McLuhan

It’s… electric is always instantaneous. There’s no delay. And that’s why you don’t have a body.

Forsdale

Instantaneous…

10:59 McLuhan

…communication is minus the body. So that began with the telegraph. The telegraph, also, had that built-in dimension of the instantaneous, and it completely transformed news and information. The mere speed—didn’t matter what was written—the fact that it went at the speed of light transformed everything. It caused the Civil War. Hidden ground of the American Civil War was the telegraph. No historian knows this. Read a book by Kenneth Stampp called The Causes of the American Civil War and you’ll find no mention of the telegraph anywhere.

11:47

The telegraph is acoustic, not visual. At the speed of light, the ear comes into play. It’s not the eye.

Forsdale

Let me grab on to another point to be sure that we’ve gotten it. What you’re saying is that, with the telegraph and the telephone, the major message is the speed of communication?

McLuhan

Mhm.

Forsdale

And that that very speed, as contrasted with writing a letter and sending it by horseback—or however we do it these days; it’s a good deal slower than horseback—that the major message is the speed with which information is sent and what that does to social relationships in the human psyche regardless of the content of the message.

McLuhan

Content couldn’t matter less. This is increasingly true of news under TV conditions. The content is of no importance. It’s all fantasy. At the speed of light, all hardware news is translated into fantasy. It’s inner trip. However, that’s taking quite a leap forward.

13:00

Let’s notice that, when you move at the speed of light on the telephone, you do not have a private identity. And when you don’t have a private identity—or rather, when you don’t have a body—you don’t relate to natural law. Gravity has no control over you at the speed of light. You’re suddenly outside of the natural scheme of things. You’re a super-man. This does all sorts of things to the human psychology. Completely transforms people. It’s a completely hidden ground. It has nothing to do with the content. What they say on the phone couldn’t matter less. This complete transformation of the user is never mentioned. In all the literature on the telephone—not a word about it. Because it’s hidden. The effect of writing, the effect—I’ll talk about that sometime today—the effect of printing (as The Gutenberg Galaxy is mainly about the effect of printing, although it has a section on writing), the effects of these things have never been studied by… well, I could say anybody.

Forsdale

Except… you wouldn’t excuse yourself?

14:37 McLuhan

No one does… no, I guess I could include myself. Havelock, in his Preface to Plato, has quite a bit to say about some of the transformations of the human psyche resulting from use of the phonetic alphabet. Eric Havelock. And Havelock was a student of, or a colleague of, Harold Innis at the University of Toronto. And Innis was the first man since the alphabet was instituted 25,000 years go—Harold Innis was the first man to study the effects of the alphabet on people and politics. Havelock was a student of Harold Innis and carried on that work. I am a student of Harold Innis, and I am carrying on his work.

Forsdale

Empire and communication…

15:55 McLuhan

Bias of Communication. Harold Innis. The effects we’ll get to in due time—the effects of writing, which are fantastic. I mean alphabetic writing. I gather that Juilan Jaynes does not know the difference between alphabetic writing and other kinds of writing. Phonetic writing, rather, is the only kind of writing that has this special effect on the human psyche. Ordinary writing—say, Sanskrit, Hebrew, and other alphabets—do not have the effect of the phonetic alphabet.

Forsdale

Let me make sure that we’re clear on this point. The phonetic alphabet is the kind of alphabet in which the sounds of the language…

McLuhan

Aah, buh, kuh, duh.

Forsdale

…are analyzed, and a finite number of marks are put down representing the sounds of the language. We use a phonetic alphabet. In English it doesn’t work very well because it isn’t—we would need about 48 letters to be equivalent to the necessary sounds to do a good spelling job. There are other methods of writing—pictographic writing, for example—where the writing attempts to show a tree and is gradually reduced in more abstract form. Or ideograms, in which arbitrary symbols—

17:43 McLuhan

In Chinese, “honesty” is the figure of a man standing—physically standing—beside his word. That means “honesty.” A man stands by his word. Two sticks. Figure, ground.

17:59 Forsdale

So you’re saying that the phonetic alphabet, the one which derives from speech, is the alphabet that we should be concentrating on and thinking about the major effects of writing on the human psyche?

McLuhan

Yeah, yeah.

Forsdale

Why?

18:15 McLuhan

Because, when you translate from sound into sight, you pull out the physical ground in the situation and you’re left only with figure. Instead of having a Gestalt of figure and ground, writing leaves you only with figure. It is an extremely abstract process. It—you see, the letters in the phonetic alphabet have no meaning. As I said, “Aah, buh, kuh, duh.” It’s not “A, B, C, D,” it’s “aah, buh, kuh, duh.” These meaningless phonemic sounds enable you to translate any language—doesn’t matter what language—into those sounds. Meaningless sound. If the letters have any meaning at all, you can’t translate. But you have to have this neutral, abstract, meaningless set of figures as a way of translating sounds into sight. And when you do this, you pull the ground out from the Gestalt and are left only with the figure. And the result of having figure without a ground is Euclid, is logic. What is called “logic” is pulling out the ground from under the figures. And tying the figures together in tight patterns. It began with the alphabet with Parmenides, and onward through the Greeks.

Forsdale

That is, logic did?

20:07 McLuhan

Logic. Logic is figure without a ground.

Forsdale

Is that the same as, or close to saying—when you say “figure without ground”—is that close to saying that it’s abstract?

McLuhan

No.

Forsdale

That it’s arbitrary?

20:26 McLuhan

Yes, it’s very abstract. But, you see, when you’re on the telephone, you’re totally abstract. You are an image without a body. That is figure without a ground. When you’re on the air, on radio/TV, you are without a body; with figure-images there, but no body.

Forsdale

So in an oral culture, what you and I are doing here, this does not have the same quality as if we were talking on the telephone, because there’s…

McLuhan

We have figure-ground here.

Forsdale

Okay.

20:27 McLuhan

And interplay is between figure and ground, which is called Gestalt. Incidentally, apropos the hemispheres of the brain. The right hemisphere is the Gestalt side of the brain; the figure-ground side. The left hemisphere is the figure without ground, abstract. There is one side of the brain which is able to perform non-Gestalt, abstractly, figure minus ground. And that is called the “rational” side, ridiculously. It’s merely the abstract side. The abstract side of the brain, the left hemisphere, is figure without ground. It is logical and lineal and connected. It has classification, places to put things. It has syntax, grammar, order. Which is all figure without ground. The right hemisphere is all figure and ground and is called “intuitive,” is called “simultaneous.” Or, not called, but they discovered that it has these characteristics, so just by rule of thumb. Fortunately, the hemispheres are not a theory. They are empirically established by the most painstaking methods. But the right hemisphere is simultaneous. Right is the electric side of the brain.

Forsdale

Are you for or against the right or the left hemisphere?

22:52 McLuhan

I am for the underdog. And the right hemisphere is the underdog side of our world. The gifted child is a right-hemisphere child, and there’s no place for him in the school system. The school system is built only on the left hemisphere: quantified, classified, graded, and so on. IQ test are all left hemisphere tests. Einstein wouldn’t have made 90 on an IQ test. He was so right hemisphere he could hardly talk. He certainly couldn’t spell, and he couldn’t even do mathematics. He was intuitive, and he had his friends help him to mathematicize his intuitions. But there’s a wonderful about him, recent book, by Feuer. It’s called Einstein and the Generations of Science. It’s a book of stories and anecdotes and dialogue between Einstein and a dozen or so of his friends when they were growing up in Zurich and Bern and so on. Feuer.

24:31

Anyway, the right hemisphere is the underdog side. Western man has not used it very much. It is the Third World. It is the Orient. The Orient and the Third World are 100% right hemisphere. That’s why they’re backward. That is, they can’t forge ahead quantitatively the way the left hemisphere does.

Forsdale

Are you saying “backward” with a little bit of irony?

McLuhan

Oh yeah. Why, sure! Because the gifted people are all very backward. But our school system has no place for gifted people. And the universities likewise. No place for gifted people. They don’t fit into the courses. They don’t fit into anything.

Forsdale

Let’s back up a little bit. You subscribed to the proposition that we were basically right hemisphere people wandering around the world prior to the phonetic alphabet?

25:40 McLuhan

Yeah. Mankind, for many, many eons, was right hemisphere minus any development of the left. Heaven knows what—no, we do know how the left hemisphere did suddenly get activated. It was by Phoenician businessmen. They worked out this alphabetic code just out of sheer need for speed in their calculations and bookkeeping. And they passed it along to the Greeks.

26:14

Fascinating story about how the Greeks happened to pick it up. It was not picked up by educated people and gradually transmitted to the hoi polloil. Havelock has a new essay on the alphabet, it’s in the New Literary History. He explains that the alphabet got going thanks to the—what they call these people who do inscriptions?

Forsdale

Scribes?

McLuhan

No. Working in stone.

Forsdale

Stone scribes.

26:54 McLuhan

Yeah. Working in wood and stone, these people would put names down, and events, just as they do today. And they began to use this alphabet. It gradually moved upward into the educated area, but only after centuries. It was centuries before it actually became an educational factor in Greece. And so it had been around, say, from the 8th or 7th century, and it beg to perform a little bit in the 6th, and then it had its big day in the 5th century BC. But—that’s 2,500 years ago. It began to flower.

Forsdale

Is there any contemporary information about—umm, there is, of course. This is one of the signal questions. Any information about contemporaries of the time the alphabet was introduced, and how they felt about it? Anybody like it? Didn’t like it?

28:04 McLuhan

Yeah. I hope you have a book down in the Columbia bookstore by Professor Ryle of Oxford. It’s on the progress of the Platonic dialogue. And I don’t know the exact title because I’ve never had the book in my hand. But there’s a new book by Ryle on the development of the Platonic dialogue. It does not have very high-brow beginnings. It began as fun and games.

Forsdale

That is, the dialogue—not the book?

28:40 McLuhan

The dialogue of Plato. Yeah. It began—in fact, Plato, we’re told, came to Athens with a mime troop just to perform and be somewhat like the noh; Japanese plays. They’re like Disney cartoons with… they dramatized Aesop’s fables, things like that. And that’s still, today, in Japan, the noh drama is very close to the Platonic mime. And the miming of the dialogues and so on began as fun. And as a special artform. Nothing to do with philosophy. And it was just entertainment. But there’s quite a bit about this in a book on Dostoevsky by Bakhtin. He’s a Russian with this new book on the poetics of Dostoevsky. Now, Dostoevsky was entirely a right-hemisphere man, and he, too, puts on these mimes, these carnival-like, Mardi Gras, crazy performances that were a traditional Byzantine form. Now, Byzantian you’ve heard of. Another name for it is Istanbul, where you’ve just been. And Byzantian has a big tie-in with Russia, and Russian origins are very close to these Byzantine [???]. And Byzantium was Hellenic, not Roman. And so, hence the Greek tie-in. Byzantium came out of the old Hellenic, eastern world. The world adventurely hung on to Aristotle. Remember [???] gave Aristotle, finally, to the west.

Forsdale

Remember them? A while out, yes?

31:22 McLuhan

But Aristotle had been kept in this eastern world through the centuries, and eventually, about the 12th century, his text was given to the West from the Arab world. The Arabs kept Aristotle and used his philosophy before the West had him. So, in the same way, Dostoevsky was using art forms that go way back into Byzantine times, Hellenic times, and are based on the Mardi Gras festival world of fun and games. And his Notes from Underground, or his Idiot, or whatnot, these are really parts of ancient and traditional entertainments. And among one of the major forms of function for these entertainments was to put down the high-brows, to debunk—what did they used to call it? On the radio programs?

Forsdale

Eggheads?

32:38 McLuhan

Going—the programs that were devised against the eggheads? The… all those various titles. But the $64 question was one of them, in which… stumping the experts. That sort of thing. Stumping the experts was a normal activity of these old fun-and-game shows from the Hellenic times. This is where the Platonic dialogues began. They began as a way of putting down the high-brows.

33:09

Now, that gimmick of putting down the high-brow, debunking the pretentious, comes right along through European tradition, out of the Orient, out of Hellenic times, and finally gets to forms we are familiar with: Don Quixote, the [???], Sterne’s Tristam Shandy. These are direct descendants of the old carnivalistic debunking of the institutions of society.

Forsdale

Now we were back with the alphabet.

33:51 McLuhan

Now, the alphabet—

Forsdale

I would—

McLuhan

Yeah?

Forsdale

Okay. The Platonic dialogue boys… gotten much to the alphabet?

McLuhan

No. They certainly… remember Plato accepted Euclid as a basis for entrance requirement for his academy? “Let nobody come here who doesn’t know his Euclid?” Euclid was one of these first defects of the alphabet. That is, when you pull out everything except the figure, all the attributes of space and time are pulled out except certain abstract features. Euclid could not have happened before the alphabet, and he has never happened in any other country except with the alphabet. China does not have Euclid, nor does Africa, nor India.

Forsdale

Without the phonetic alphabet?

34:48 McLuhan

Without the phonetic alphabet, there’s no Euclid. And there’s no logic. There is no logic in India. If you read The History of Logic by Bocheński—there’s only one History of Logic; big fat one—Bocheński’s History of Logic, when you get to the Hindus with about three or four pages of, sort of, scribbles. And Chinese, likewise, they have no logic. And logic is a form that is possible only where the alphabet has pulled out the ground and left only the figures. Euclid is a world of figures without a ground.

Now…

Forsdale

Ergo, one of the major messages, McLuhan style, with respect to the invention and introduction of the alphabet is the birth and overwhelming growth of the notion of logical thinking.

35:49 McLuhan

Connected! Connected thinking. Because the right hemisphere does not have any connections. Bogen—the surgeon, the neurosurgeon—has a wonderful essay on the hemispheres and education in which he explains that the left hemisphere has propositions and the right hemisphere has appositions. There are no propositions in the right hemisphere, it’s all apposition—meaning figure-ground, no connections, just juxtaposition. And this, by the way, is what happens to your newspaper under telegraph conditions: at the speed of light, there are no connections in the news. Everything is apposed, or juxtaposed, minus connections. There are no connections in the news. They’re just mosaic. At the speed of light you have a mosaic under one dateline and no connections.

Forsdale

Footnote: if you physically look at the front page of the New York Times or any other newspaper, what you will discover is a story, here, about something that’s happening in Bonn at the moment, a story down in the lower right-hand corner about how the crime rate on the East Side of New York City is increasing, a story in the upper right-hand column about Governor Brown in California…

McLuhan

Inflation…

Forsdale

A story someplace else about inflation. Observation is being made that there once was a time in journalism, pre-telegram, when all of this stuff would’ve been connected in long essays. And with the telegram coming in, and U.P., et cetera, it’s a paste-up job of stuff that has no connection.

37:46 McLuhan

Literally. Politically, The Spectator essays of Addison and Steele were newspapers. That’s the form of the first newspapers: essays. But they’re editorials. News came later.

38:03

But at the speed of—by the way, simultaneous (that’s a right hemisphere thing) is acoustic, whereas lineal is visual. Now, remember, the alphabet translated the acoustic, translated Homer—who had been recited and performed for centuries—they translated him into visual terms, lineal terms, at which point you could read him, but you didn’t need any more sound effects. So Homer became very abstract, he became a literary figure, whereas up till the time of the alphabet he had been performed operatically. And a gentleman in Greek times was a person who could perform Homer, who could sing him from beginning to the end of The Iliad and The Odyssey.

39:11

And, by the way—it’d be interesting to go into the nature of those poems, but they were very practical poems; they were pragmatic to the core, they had nothing fancy or literary about them. They were the day’s logbook. And they were really down to earth. They were not intended for aesthetic effects. They were education. And Plato was against the education of Homer because it was all for the ear. So Plato became—you know, he went to war with the poets because they were performers, and he wanted logicians.

So philosophy was born when they pulled out the acoustic thing and get, instead, the logical, visual thing.

Forsdale

“Visual” is being used in the sense, here, literally meaning: I look at A, B, C on the page rather than hear the sounds.

40:23 McLuhan

It means “lineal.” Now, that’s a point that is very, very basic, for, again, it has not been studied by modern psychologists or any other psychologists. But visual space is the only space that is connected, is a continuum. Touch is totally discontinuous, acoustics are completely discontinuous, and so with all the other senses. The sense of sight alone is a continuum. And it was isolated or abstracted by the alphabet. The alphabet left sight and the connected spaces of sight in the saddle. It pulled out the other senses, left sight alone and supreme. That’s the Greek world in which sight is supreme. Sight is a connected continuum, it is uniform and static. Visual space is continuous, homogeneous, connected, and static.

Forsdale

I wonder if we can sort of reduce those notions into some kind of example. By “visual space” you mean, when I look out here at this group of people, and you look out there, that’s what you’re talking about with “visual space?”

41:52 McLuhan

John Locke has written an essay on human understanding. It’s all about visual space. Because, in his world of the 18th century; Newton’s world—Newton is a completely visual man. Nothing acoustic in Newton. All visual, all connected, all uniform, all logically tied together. And, by the way, come electronic speeds, Newton was toppled and non-Newtonian physics took over. Non-Euclidean geometries took over in about 1900. So visual man was obsolesced by electric speed. We are now living in a world in which the left hemisphere is obsolete and the East is surging back into dominance. And our school systems are obsolesced. Nobody conspired, nobody had any intention of this happening, because they didn’t understand what they were doing.

Forsdale

Does anybody have any control over it?

43:15 McLuhan

No. Not at all. And no plans, no programs, in sight. Just, you know, “Full steam ahead. Damn the torpedoes.” This is the left hemisphere talking. The right hemisphere would never say, “Full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes.” The right hemisphere is the hemisphere of the hunter, the man who studies the whole environment. It is ecological.

43:45

Oh, by the way, though: having said that the visual is the continuous, the connected, the static, the simultaneous is the world of the acoustic, because you hear from all directions. The right hemisphere is acoustic, musical. But acoustic space has peculiar properties. Again, ignored by the psychologists. Acoustic space is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere. Acoustic space is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere.

Forsdale

Footnote: Imagine yourself: you are the hearer, your ears are working. You hear from all directions simultaneously. You hear from behind you, beside you, above you, below you. You hear from everywhere. Stimuli are from everywhere impinging upon you, hence this hermispheric or spherical input. Which is untrue of the visual stuff, which operates out here in some kind of an oval fashion. I can’t see what’s happening behind me, although I can hear. Ergo, the different nature of acoustic space from that of visual space.

45:22 McLuhan

And tactile space is very much in attention in the electric age, because the audile and the tactile are very close. Tactile space is the space of the interval. When you touch something you create an interval, not a connection. If there were any connection between your finger and what you touch, you wouldn’t have a finger. So it’s interval and it’s resonance. The resonant interval is touch. And that is called the chemical bond by Linus Pauling. The book on The Nature of the Chemical Bond is a story of the resonating interval. There are no connections in matter, there are no connections between molecules or electrons. There are only interfaces and resonating intervals. This is one of the great discoveries of quantum mechanics about 1900: that matter has no connections, ergo, is totally non-visual and non-visualizable. You cannot visualize any aspect of matter because it moves at the speed of light and without connections. So the things like the electronic microscope and so on are really very doubtful about what you render in the way of knowledge. It’s an area of opacity and confusion. But you don’t—certainly, the electronic microscope does not show you electrons. It does show you the effect electrons have when they bump into each other, but not the electrons. It is a world of effects.

47:20

By the way, the Greeks did not have a name for color; any color. What they used instead was the effect that that color had on you. The wine-dark sea does not tell you the color of the ocean. It tells you the effect looking at the ocean has on the viewer. But that’s merely—the world of effects is right hemisphere, and right hemisphere people do not use visual metaphors. The Chinese have no visual metaphors. And the Pre-Socratics—you can read all about them in books today. [???] has a big collection of essays about them. And you will look in vain for a single visual metaphor among the Pre-Socratics. That means pre-phonetic alphabet. The moment alphabet came in, all the metaphors and philosophy became visual. The ideas of Plato are all visual. The archetypes are all visual. But up till the time of Plato, the ideas of the Heraclitus and Thales and so on were all non-visual. And their poems—and they wrote their philosophy in a poetic form—their poems are all acoustic.

Forsdale

That is, tend to call upon images which are acoustic in nature, or…

48:53 McLuhan

Well, for example, the [???], the idea of the universe as a perfect sphere—this is where Humpty Dumpty came from, by the way—is a sphere that periodically shattered and then put itself back together again somehow. This is a sort of story of the beginnings. And the sphere is, of course, that acoustic sphere. The sphere that is simultaneous. So the egg of the Humpty Dumpty story, of the fall of Humpty Dumpty, and so on, is really a record of the pre-Socratic philosophers. However, the acoustic man, the man who plays it by ear—

Forsdale

The pre-writer, oral man.

49:48 McLuhan

—the oral man. He’s coming back today in the electric age with devastating effects on our establishment, because the electric man not only lacks a private identity, he also lacks any morals. Because he has no relation to natural law. Not having a body, he has no relation to natural law, and therefore no morals. No morals in the ordinary sense of the word, anyway. He can relate to supernatural law, but he cannot relate to natural law. Which may help to account for the strange revival of religion. This kind of disembodied man cannot relate to natural religion, but he can relate to supernatural religion.

Forsdale

Is this kind of man—again, to go back to the notion that, face to face here in this room, we are not discurrent. All senses are in operation here. We see each other, we hear each other, we can touch each other—

McLuhan

And smell each other.

Forsdale

—smell each other…

McLuhan

And B.O. is one of the most basic forms of identity.

Forsdale

So what’s happening—

McLuhan

Each unique. Each one is unique, like fingerprints.

Forsdale

What’s happening, then, is an abstracting out of certain sensory capacities. With the alphabet, there is abstracting out the visual stuff, which was upped for centuries. Now, in what you’re referring to as “electronic age,” we’re still abstracting out—that is, if you’re watching television, you’re not in the presence, literally, of the person; you’re abstracting out an image of some kind. If you’re on the telephone, you’re abstracting out—

McLuhan

It’s an inner trip.

Forsdale

So this abstracting out of certain qualities—isolated, so to speak, in the cell of your living room, with telephone, television, tape recordings, records and so forth—is what you’re suggesting is leading for this tendency toward not confronting another person bodily, so to speak?

52:22 McLuhan

That’s why we have encounter groups: sort of, to compensate for the lack of bodies. And confrontations. And sensitivity groups, which are very insensitive. And so on. And the attempts to… by the way, the huge nostalgia of our time in every field—of music, literature, clothing; everything: nostalgia—is an attempt to get back to the time when we had bodies and identities. When you lose identity, you become violently concerned about recapturing it. How do I get it back again? That was called the existential crisis, angst of the Existenz movement in the 30s, 40s. And Existenz is one of the first moments when they’ve suddenly realized they have lost their identities, they were nobodies, and they have no body.

Forsdale

I ain’t got no body…

McLuhan

No, I got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me.

Forsdale

There was an old song, I ain’t got nobody, but that meant they ain’t got nobody else. You’re saying I ain’t got nobody else, I ain’t got my own body and my own identity anymore. I’ve somehow lost that in this process of high technology abstraction.

53:59 McLuhan

So inner trip takes the place of outer trip. The right hemisphere is an inner trip. World of fantasy. And today, what we call “news” is fantasy. It moves at the speed of light and it lasts about the same amount of time. By the way, that’s another feature: at the speed of light, you lose the power of recall. Attention span gets very short and recall gets very short. So, in educational terms, that’s a big problem. You’re dealing with students who have very little attention span and very little power of recall.

Forsdale

Anything we can do about it?

54:42 McLuhan

Yes. The first thing is to find out: what the heck is the situation? Naturally. There’s no point in acting blindly. (There’s another visual metaphor.) Or we’ve got to play it by ear.

Forsdale

Deftly? No point in acting deftly, right?

McLuhan

No, we’ve got to tune in. Turn on, tune in, drop out. But no, what about our friends with the ecological media program? There’s an ecological media program at NYU.

Forsdale

Is it, uh…

McLuhan

Fronted by Neil Postman and that group. Paul? Yeah. “Media ecology” means using the media so that they help each other instead of just wiping each other out.

Forsdale

[???] the teacher’s college communication program was at the NYU civil education media ecology program.

55:54 McLuhan

Yeah. Media ecology means that, if print or if the written word is in danger, it can be rescued by some other medium, or propped up. And don’t just let something like that go down the drain without any counter-activity.

Forsdale

How do you feel about the back-to-basics movement, where every teacher—sensing the crisis, because every parent is screaming, “My kid can’t read anymore”—the tendency of the school is to say away with everything but print, you know? What do you know…

56:36 McLuhan

Yeah. Well, it’s whistling in the dark, isn’t it? I mean, the one thing that they cannot possibly obtain by that wishful attitude is basics. There’s nothing basic about the basic programming. They’ve never looked into why the need for basics. They’ve never studied the media or the effects of the media on anybody, let alone their students. So if you’re dealing with a lot of discounted kids who have spent many hours with the tube on inner trips, then the programs needed for such people have yet to be devised, they haven’t even been thought of. To go back to basics, to go back to hardware for kids who have lived only with software, is meaningless. It isn’t practical. You have to recover, somehow or other, the meaning of private identity, physical bodies, goals and objectives. By the way, goals and objectives are meaningless at the speed of light. At the speed of light, you’re not going somewhere, you’re already there. On the telephone, you’re not going somewhere, you’re there! And in the electronic world, there are no goals or objectives. They’re already there. And so the basics program, based on the old hardware where people had fixed goals and objectives—literally meaningless.

Forsdale

And it would follow, then, that if your observation is an accurate one, that kids who’ve grown up in this simultaneous, this fast-moving world, don’t feel the necessity themselves of a goal in life.

58:35 McLuhan

No. I’ll tell you what has taken the place of goals. I have a book called Take Today, and it means just that: let’s have a look at today. Take Today: The Executive as Dropout. And it has three basic themes. The first place: that we have moved from hardware to software, second: we have moved from jobs to role playing, and third: we have moved from central to decentralist forms of activity. The reason the whole job thing is in such a hassle is that jobs are obsolete as a form of human activity. At the speed of light, the role playing takes the place of job holding. Now, what is role playing? Because it is not a job. If you are an actor on a stage, and you are in the role of Hamlet, playing that role has nothing in common with having a 9–5 job. It means putting on an audience. Role playing means a put-on. Instead of getting a repetitive hardware sort of performing area to work in, you have to learn how to put on your audience in such a way that you become important to them.

1:00:11

Role players—let’s see, where would one begin to explain role playing in everyday life?

Forsdale

Peace Corps volunteers are role players.

McLuhan

Yes. Yes. Children playing are all playing in roles. Role playing is literally playing, not working. And at the speed of light, play becomes the major meaning of a human activity. Now play—there’s a wonderful book on the subject by Huizinga: Homo Ludens, “Man Playing.” It’s about the role of play in human institutions and human learning and so on. He goes through the world of Piaget and others. But play means, again, not connections but interval. When you have a wheel and an axle, you have play between the wheel and the axle. The interval is where the action is. It’s called play. When you are really in action, you are at play. So that a painter or an artist, when he is working at full capacity, is completely at play. Because the only way an artist can work is by exploring, inventing, playing, and trying to discover all the potential in a situation. It’s done by play.

1:02:05 McLuhan

Playing means, of course, though, a put-on. It depends on an audience. And this is something that all children understand, but it isn’t part of the educational establishment that role playing, the put-on, is a kind of sanity. Remember that group of people who got themselves accepted into a mad house, and were horrified to discover that, once they were in, nobody could tell that they were sane? Except the extreme psychotics, who pointed at these intruders and said, “They’re playing.” The really far-out nuts saw these invaders and said, “They’re playing”—which is a name for sanity. When you stop playing, you’re mad.

Forsdale

[???] playing by the rules, by the way, too.

McLuhan

Yeah, okay. That is play. Accepting rules is, itself, a form of play.

Forsdale

Right. You can’t… yup. By the way, when Al Shepland comes, remind me (or you ask him) when schizophrenia was invented—not discovered, but invented; and he will tell historically, as a psychiatrist—when it was invented in France to serve a certain need to certain buildings that had been left unoccupied because leprosy had suddenly gone into a decline, and schizophrenia was invented [???] at that time to fill up the [???].

McLuhan

Isn’t that also in the work of Michel Foucault?

Forsdale

Could be.

McLuhan

He has a history of medicine…

Forsdale

Yes.

McLuhan

…in which he explains that the ship of fools was a ship that, when it left the port, they’d race down and put all the nuts on just as it was leaving, so that they could get rid of them. There was no place to put these mad people in those days, and so they put them on boats that were leaving for some other port. And it was called a ship of fools.

Forsdale

Most of them came to the United States.

1:04:48 McLuhan

Well, there were some very serious people—which is another name for insanity. There are some terribly earnest people. Importance of being earnest means the importance of being a madman. When you become very earnest, very uptight, you’re off your rocker. Yeah. So our friend—who is the The Importance of Being Earnest man? Wilde. Oscar Wilde. Thank you.

1:05:20

By the way, there’s an acoustic observation: people’s names have a lot to do with the sort of activities into which they are drawn gradually. Not necessarily classified, but just acoustically tuned towards certain activities. And so when you look over the names of some of the manufacturing outfits and the names of some of the handicraft people and so, you’ll see a strange echo going between the name of the man who runs the brick company and the brick. Here’s a weird story: in St. Louis, there’s a Proofrock Brick Company. Now, Mr. Elliott was born in St. Louis, and his daddy ran a brick company. His father’s company was called the Hydraulic Brick Company. They had a rival called the Proofrock Brick Company. And Elliott waited for years to take him. [???] Proofrock, his poem, this ridiculous guy with this ridiculous name.

1:06:31

Let’s circle back to the Greeks and to the way in which they used dialogue as game and logic as game, and let us suggest that, if you wanted to get back to basics and wanted to re-validate the left hemisphere in our time, you would have to approach it as a game. And you could reestablish the validity and the fun of basics, and of grammar, and arithmetic, and so on, if you approached it through the right hemisphere. I have long ago discovered, for example, that mathematics is a bore, but the higher math is fun. If you get up very high in math of physics today, you’re in a poetic world. It’s fun! It’s only the lower math that is dull and flat-footed. You know, 2 + 2 and that stuff. But the higher math is pure fun. And I have a friend, Rob Logan at U of T, who teaches a course in poetry of mathematics. No, it’s poetry in physics. Yeah. A grad course. And I’ve taken this course and it’s a lot of fun. It’s only the lower echelons where the dullness is. But if you wanted to re-validate left-hemisphere curriculum, then approach it as a fun game through the right hemisphere.

Forsdale

Should we want to re-validate the left hemisphere?

1:08:04 McLuhan

Yeah, because if we want to hang on to any of our institutions—legal or otherwise—you have to keep it in good shape.

Forsdale

But not necessarily overwhelming?

McLuhan

Not necessarily tyrannizing or dominating? No, you see, another factor about the two hemispheres—again, there’s so many that you can’t remember them all unless one made just a list. One of the factors about the dominance of the hemisphere depends on what is the ground under it. The left hemisphere became dominant when they invented this new ground of lineality: logic and courier systems and connected spaces. The military took over. Instead of an armed horde of highland fighters, you’ve got, suddenly, phalanxes and lineal military structures, with the Greeks.

1:09:09

Now, when you get a great big lineal structure going in the society, the left hemisphere goes up, up, up. Today, when you have simultaneous electronic ground, the right hemisphere goes up, up, up. It’s inflating. The right hemisphere is becoming dominant thanks to the new ground of electric information. It is not conspiratorial, it is not intended, and it could be controlled, it could be dimmed down.

Forsdale

By balancing the media?

McLuhan

Yeah.

Forsdale

Not content, but the very presence…?

McLuhan

That’s right. By rationing. Rationing the amount of time you’re allowed to spend with those things. The French spend about one half an hour a month with TV. They regard it as poison. They want to maintain their institutions. That is real [???]. Don’t let the kids near the thing except as a very occasional treat. Otherwise, you’re merely poisoning their psyches.

Forsdale

And you’re not talking about violence?

McLuhan

Nothing to do with the program.

Forsdale

Not talking about sex?

McLuhan

Nothing to do with the program.

Forsdale

I keep saying that because you’ve got to dig to that he’s talking about the form of the thing and what that’s doing to us.

Shall we take a short break?

McLuhan

Yeah.


1:10:56 Forsdale

Okay, Professor McLuhan has in his hand a new book which he’d like to call to your attention.

McLuhan

Made by Arthur Wellesley Foshay, who used to be here at Teachers College, and he retired recently—and it’s called Beyond the Scientific, which means, again, “put me over into the right hemisphere.” And retaining the scientific.

Forsdale

Publisher?

McLuhan

It says SSEC on the back, and I’ll look on the inside what that means.

Forsdale

Foshay used to be in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at Teachers College. This, therefore, will be a book about the implications of hemisphere research on education specifically.

McLuhan

Yeah. Learning.

Forsdale

It’s a collection of [???].

McLuhan

I don’t know what SSEC stands for.

Forsdale

Yeah, I got a thing here in the mail. It’s an obscure publisher, but…

McLuhan

But it would be at the Columbia Library, probably.

Forsdale

You want to look at it and find the publisher, do so not now but after the class is up.

McLuhan

Yeah.

1:12:14 Forsdale

Let me ask you this: what are you up to today? What’s interesting you now?

McLuhan

Well, I was mentioning just a moment ago that behind every joke is a grievance. And without the grievance, there’d be no joke. So the hidden ground—the joke is the figure, under the figure is a grievance. The grievance peeks through the joke slightly, then you have fun. If it’s just pure grievance, well, then there’s no laughing. In French Canada at the present time there’s no jokes. It’s getting grim. The grievances are too strong for any kind of humor. You can, though, cool situations systematically by pouring humor across them. And humor—as a kind of cathartic, or cure, or therapy for grievance and misery—is a very effective thing.

1:13:26 McLuhan

But it’s true—let’s sample anywhere. I have in front of me a whole book of one-liners. The first one I see is that the largest room in the world is the room for improvement. It’s like that little pothole that said to the big pothole, “You are hole-ier than I.” But—by the way, the pothole itself, you see, suggests grievance. The pothole causes a lot of misery. And one of the most famous jokes in the history of the 20th century was the one about the better O. O Bill is down at the bottom of a great big bomb pit—

Forsdale

World War I.

McLuhan

World War I. And his friend is saying, “Hey, Bill! What are you doing down there!” And he says, “Well, if you know a better O, lead me to it.” He’s using it for protection. But the better O became a classic grievance joke. But you cannot have any kind of humor without a grievance. That is the gestalt, the figure-ground.

1:14:51 McLuhan

So when the grievances get so bad that they’re no more jokes, then you’re in trouble. But now—I mentioned this peeping through: the light coming through the situation. That is called, by the way, phenomenology. It took me a long time to discovery. The phenomenologists managed to cover their tracks pretty well. They like to make out that they are a very serious bunch, hard-headed, logical people; the Heideggers, the Husserls, and so on. All they’re telling you—and this has been ever since Hegel and his phenomenological stuff—ever since Hegel, all they have been telling you is this: that behind every situation, there is another situation that peeps through. And that peeping through is phenomenology. And I call it simply “the medium is the message” or “the figure and the ground.” The ground comes through the figure, or the figure comes through the ground. It can be both ways. But it’s that process of light through that is phenomenology.

1:16:09 McLuhan

Now, when you think of the thousands of books that have been written without even getting close to saying that, why are they motivated to conceal their credentials? I’ve discovered this in most of the highbrow activities of our world. The jealous guarding of the sacred territory, the specialty. But there is no specialty that is not quite easily understood in quite simple terms. If you know enough you can translate it into very simple terms. But my understanding media is phenomenology of the media.

Forsdale

If you don’t know, that’s one of Professor McLuhan’s early books, Understanding Media, and sort of the classic that—

McLuhan

It’s not that early. My gosh, this is another example of that narrow attention span!

Forsdale

Well, it’s… it’s after a lot of literary criticism, after The Mechanical Bride

McLuhan

Oh, no, no. Oh no. Bride is 1951. Understanding Media is 1964.

Forsdale

Yeah. I said it’s after.

McLuhan

Oh, it’s after… after… oh yeah. I thought…

Forsdale

Yeah. And I agree with you. It’s not all that early, but it’s…

1:17:32 McLuhan

No, it’s… what? 12, 14 years old. But the—you asked me what I’ve been up to. I’ve been working on the history of Menippean satire, and…

Forsdale

The history of who?

McLuhan

Menippean. That is—I mentioned it earlier à propos the Dostoevsky book; Bakhtin? Menippean satire includes Lucian, the dialogues of Lucian. It includes Petronius. The world of funny stories, including the 1001 Nights, the are all Menippean satires. And they come on down through the book, Boccaccio’s Decameron. They come down through our Western world in various forms, including Don Quixote—I mentioned. The world of—like the Marx Brothers—it’s a world of crazy adventures and debunking serious things and serious people. ErasmusPraise of Folly, RabelaisGargantua: these are Menippean satires that are debunking serious people and pretension. They’re put-offs. And…

Forsdale

What interests you in that?

1:19:01 McLuhan

I’m working on Tristam Shandy with Eric.

Forsdale

Why?

McLuhan

My son, Eric, is doing a doctorate on Tristam Shandy, and the Menippean satire in Tristam Shandy.

Forsdale

Aside from fatherly affection?

McLuhan

No, interest. Alright. Well, it has a lot to do with my own dissertation, with was on the history of the Trivium. I am also revamping my history of the Trivium for publication. And the Trivium is grammar, logic, rhetoric; talking about basics. And grammar, by the way, is one of the ground things that gets pulled out by the logicians; always pull out the grammar ground and throw it away. Grammar—by the way, it means ‘reading the book of nature,’ reading the whole text of nature as a book: that was called ‘grammatica.’

Forsdale

Boy, has that ever changed! Grammarians pay no attention whatsoever to the whole text of nature now. It’s totally an abstract business, isn’t it?

1:20:02 McLuhan

Well, no. I think we’re coming back more and more to it very much. But the idea of taking total field theory—field theory, in physics, is book of nature.

Forsdale

Interdisciplinary learning?

McLuhan

Is book of nature. Not allowing specialism to take over. But grammar, logic, rhetoric had been from the ancient times a sort of basic curriculum concerned with eloquence and with the word, the logos. And the study of the word as resonating with wisdom and, incidentally, resonating with therapeutic power, goes way back. There’s a book by Entralgo called The Therapy of the Word in Classical Antiquity. Entralgo. He’s a medical historian. That is a basic book, like Havelock’s Preface to Plato. Therapy of the Word concerns the work of the witch doctors and the shamans who cast the spells and so on that helped the people to get well. And the spells were cast in various art forms: lyric, epic, dramatic, odes, and so on were all part of the shaman’s equipment. The genre of what we call the genre of literature began in the spells cast by witch doctors, the shamans. And eloquence was thought of as having the power to heal sick minds. The whole idea of eloquence in Cicero’s De Oratore is the idea of wholeness, healing. And The Therapy of the Word was—this is, of course, especially true of Christianity. The whole idea of the divine word as healing. The logos was thought of as therapeutic. And it was thought of as most therapeutic when sung and performed richly, so in opera and so on.

Audience

There’s a book out called Poetry in the Therapeutic Experience. Came out about six months ago. Goes into a lot of [???]. The editor is Lerner.

McLuhan

“Lerner,” like Max Lerner? The same name?

Audience

Right. I think it’s Arthur.

1:22:50 McLuhan

Arthur Lerner. Make a note. The Poetry as Therapeutic. Ezra Pound had a phrase: “The poets are the antennae of the race.” Meaning, they pick up the messages first. They are the means of orientation in a crazy world. They can tune you in on situations by adjusting their rhythms and perform absolutely necessary functions for the society.

Forsdale

Anticipate, then, for example, the forms which lie ahead, the structures, the interconnections. And if you’re sensitive to what the artist is doing and can dig it, you’ve got a leg up on finding out where we may be or be going?

1:24:01 McLuhan

Yes, the painter or the poet should be able to give you at least 30 years’ warning on where you are headed. Because they pick up the messages that much earlier. At least a generation before the establishment or the bureaucracy.

Forsdale

Meininger has got a thesis that there’s another group that has almost equal sensitivity in the culture, and that’s what we normally refer to as neurotics. That is, that neurotic styles change. In Freud’s time, the great neurosis was hysterical conversion in which you suddenly went lame, and then you got on the couch and learned that your father, you know, when you were three years old, did XYZ, and Freud says get up and walk. That’s known as hysterical conversion. Now, numerically, one of the major neurotic problems is impotence. That is, both physical and psychic. I can’t do nothin’ about it! I’ve got no control. I’ve got no control over the situation. And it fits in beautifully with what you’re talking about.

1:25:20 McLuhan

Typically, the Greek—not Celtus, who was the Greek medical man? The big… Galen! Galen. Galen. He was a mechanist. Whereas most of the world, especially the Hellenic and Semitic world, saw the sick person as sinful, as suffering from sin. The Semitic idea of disease was sin, and the Galen or Greek idea was mechanism. Our modern medicine is still mechanical. One cure for one disease. The pill will cure of this. If they find the right therapeutic pill then you’re okay. The idea is gradually coming that cancer is not a disease, but a way of life. And that cardiac problems are also not a disease, but a way of life. They are environmental.

Forsdale

When I went into a tuberculosis sanatorium many years ago, on the first day the head doctor came around and said to me, “What are you doing here?” And rather than, you know, clobbering him, I said, “I’ve got tuberculosis,” and he said, “I know that. But everybody has got tuberculosis. Everybody who walks on the face of the Earth. [???] tuberculosis bacillus. How come you’ve decided to let it take over?” Being quite serious, and he was among the early—well, not that early by any means—but he was a holistic doctor who was saying, “Look. Let’s look at your life and see how come it was convenient for you at this moment to have tuberculosis.” It’s sort of an out of fashion disease, too, you know.

1:27:21 McLuhan

Well, actually, diseases are human artifacts. Oh yeah. Diseases are not something that nature produces. They’re made by man. And the cure is, too. Are artifacts. Which reminds us of the LOM’s. I have a—

Forsdale

OK. What’s an LOM?

McLuhan

Laws of the medium. Laws of the media I call LOM for simple. I have this book sort of ready to appear, and I think I’ll now call it the phenomenology of the medium. But it’s called laws of the media at the present time. And I have some samples here. And I think you’ll find that they do help to bring together something we’ve been talking about this morning. All of my laws of the media are right hemisphere.

Forsdale

Radio?

McLuhan

All of them. Doesn’t matter which one.

Forsdale

Okay. So give us the background of what this crazy adventure is all about.

1:28:33 McLuhan

Yeah. I simply was talking or making notes one day, and I came across this phrase of Karl Popper that a scientific hypothesis is one that can be disproved. If it’s science it can be disproved. Not proved, but disproved. And for some reason or other, this prompted me to set down, at that very moment, a hypothesis about money. If money can be hypothesized, then you could put it down in a simple form. So I simply said: A, money enhances or speeds up exchange; B, money obsolesces barter; C, money brings back something that has been pushed out earlier, it brings back potlatch. Potlatch was an old form of conspicuous consumption among native peoples. Kwakiutl Indians still use it in British Columbia. It was a way of showing off and also a way of inspiring further production.

1:30:15

But then, having got A, B, C, I decided that if you push anything far enough, it’s going to flip in the opposite form. You push money far enough and it becomes credit, which is not money. Credit has its completely different set of laws. But anyway, using these four, I’ve approached every kind of human artifact I can think of. And by artifacts I mean words, pencils, safety pins, bulldozers—anything manmade. Disease. I was gratified recently when Dr. McCullough, our [???] in Toronto, took hold of these tetrads and deployed them to some of his own work and found, to his amazement, that they saved him a lot of time by predicting certain events that would occur if they were used. He was talking about therapy. But I don’t think I have that one here.

Forsdale

What they’ve got in front of them is radio, Marshall.

1:31:33 McLuhan

Radio at the moment, eh? Now, what does it enhance? I’ve forgotten what we assigned to radio as a beginning. Oh, here it is: enhances access to the entire planet. To everybody. On the air, you’re everywhere, minus a body. It obsolesces wires and cables and physical bodies, it retrieves tribal ecological environments, which in turn have traumatic and paranoiac effects. But it reverses into the global village theater; Orson Wellesinvasion: where there are no spectators, only actors. It enhances.

Radio enhances access to the entire planet. To everybody. On the air, you’re everywhere, minus a body. It obsolesces wires and cables and physical bodies

Forsdale

Let’s get through that slowly to be sure that we have got the steps.

1:32:30 McLuhan

Yeah. The first one is crucial, of course, because you decide at that point what the figure-ground is going to be. Radio, of course, is figure in the hardware sense, but then you ask: what does it do? It enhances access to the entire planet.

Forsdale

First basic message, then, of the medium is: access to entire planet. Then you hypothesize that radio—as will all other media—move to a second stage in which something is obsolesced.

McLuhan

By the way, they are simultaneous. They are not sequential.

Forsdale

Okay.

1:33:17 McLuhan

But today it’s handy to use sequence. But these four aspects are simultaneous in every case. And they also form a metaphor. They are a four-part metaphor. A is to B as C is to D. They are in ratio. This was not intended. It was only after some time I discovered that these four things were metaphors. And, by the way, this right-hemisphere thing is called metaphoric as opposed to scientific. The quantified, measurable side, left hemisphere is called scientific because it is quantifiable, whereas the other one is called metaphoric because you can’t quantify it. But the four divisions in these little tetrads are simultaneous, and in their relation to each other they form a metaphor. Now, that is to say—if it happens—that every single artifact man ever made has this character. That is to say, that he is dealing with a rational universe. Because metaphors have a reasonable proportion in them. In other words, are proper, proportional ratios.

Forsdale

You’re dealing with a pattern universe in which these four qualities you hypothesize always occur, and that is close to or the same as rational?

1:34:54 McLuhan

Yeah. Yes. They are rational not in the logical sense, but in the analogical sense. Four parts are analogy, and three parts are logic. Logic has a three-part structure. Metaphor has a four-part structure. Three-part structures are like simile, synecdoche, metonymy—these are three parts. Metaphors are four parts. They’re not logical, they’re analogical. But analogy—if these four are in every single artifact of man, and I have yet to find one where they do not have that form—it means that we’re living in a reasonable universe and that our relation to it is rational. So that the things we make are things for which we are responsible. They have a reason and a rationale. Do you find any difficulty with the four in this particular case?

Forsdale

Let’s go through them. First thing radio does is give everybody access to the entire planet. Okay. That seems reasonably obvious, doesn’t it? Second thing it does, by its very nature, is obsolesce wires and cables and the presence of the physical body vis-à-vis another physical body. You can be geographically and physically removed. It obsolesces that. The key is that every medium enhances, obsolesces, retrieves, and reverses. What it retrieves—that is to say, brings back—is a kind of tribal, simultaneous, ecological environment. Everybody knows everybody’s business around the world, and therefore it retrieves—

1:36:54 McLuhan

Well, that is a lengthy dimension, but ecologically, the primitive man was terribly sensitive about the environment because his whole being depended on the environment. He didn’t just grow wheat or corn or some particular crop, he depended on the entire environment for his food. And so he was very sensitive to any defects, any upset of balance in that environment. And he had all these magical dances and things to keep it in good order.

Forsdale

You, I suspect, would regard it as less than coincidental that the rise of the electric media—of which radio is a prime example—brought us back, once again, to thinking about the natural environment as well as this environment that we’re living in.

McLuhan

Yeah.

Forsdale

Because we sure as hell have come back with rocket speed to thinking about what’s happening to the natural environment.

1:38:00 McLuhan

I think you can date that moment from Sputnik; in October 1957, when Sputnik went around the planet and put the planet inside a man-made environment. The planet became an art form. When enclosed—you see, it’s like a frame and a picture: when enclosed, the planet ceased to be nature; became a human art form for which we are now completely responsible.

Forsdale

Let me tell the story that you don’t remember, Marshall, but when Sputnik went up—when was it?

McLuhan

1957.

Forsdale

We were editing around here a little newspaper, which I was in charge of. And I wrote to a number of people and said, “What do you think Sputnik going up means in the long run?” And I wrote a letter to Marshal. And he wrote back—I’m sure you don’t remember this—saying, “It’s obvious! It will result in an intense driving of attention Earthward to the planet on which we live.” Totally unexpected sort of thing that nobody else was saying. But, indeed, that’s what he just finished saying now, and what I want to say is that he didn’t make that up now. When Sputnik went up he said, “Sure. The result will be intense consideration of Spaceship Earth.”

1:39:29 McLuhan

I’d a propos that. I’ve never done a tetrad on moonshot. What did the moon landing do to us?

Forsdale

What did it enhance?

McLuhan

I’ve never asked myself.

Forsdale

Let’s think about it for a second, then. What did it enhance when Armstrong put foot on the moon and…

McLuhan

It was just about this time. At least, it was July. July 20. July is the moon month, by the way, in the zodiac. The moon month. So it was deliberately chosen by someone. All the moon landings were in July. They never tried another month for them. But—well, what did it enhance? Did it make the moon more visible? Or did it make us more visible? Hm?

Audience

I think, you know, there must be certain stages. For example, in history, there were certain points such as the discovery of gun powder, et cetera, that marked very radical departures from the normal [???] in the histories of various peoples. Now, for example, with certain giant steps that man has taken—either by accident or through conscious planning or discovery; conscious design—I think that, today—because the biggest problem we face is one of science and technology and our lack of ability to control science, for example: atomic weapons. Meaning that the prime and most important problem we have to deal with in this century—

McLuhan

By the way, the left hemisphere man is unable to control environments. Right hemisphere, no problem. But the left hemisphere man, he has a goal, he drives quantitatively, he’s going to use up every bit of gasoline on this planet. He’s going to use up the whole atmosphere, he’s going to use up everything. That’s left hemisphere.

Forsdale

Okay. So we are in one of those moments of leaps forward. The question is: what has that done to the human psyche on Earth? When Neil Armstrong set down with that giant step forward, what did it enhance?

1:42:02 McLuhan

Did it enhance the human ego? Was it a great triumph for man? Hm?

Audience

It all depends if you’re an optimist or a pessimist. If you’re optimistic you can say we just gained more mobility, the sky’s the limit, we can go anywhere.

McLuhan

More power. Power.

Audience

If you’re pessimistic, you could see ourselves even smaller. Or we realize how large our universe is and that we’re not the center

1:42:29 McLuhan

Well, let’s ask ourselves: what happened to the man who did it? Aldrin and Shepard, Collins…

Forsdale

Armstrong…

McLuhan

What happened to them? They had the experience, and they also had the experience of studying the Earth from out there. It had a strange effect on them. If it had a big effect on them, it must’ve had one, also, on us—less obvious. They are the figures and we are the ground, you see? In every sense. By the way, one of the New Yorker joke—this guy says, “I’ve been through most of the places in this galaxy, and Earth makes the best popcorn!”

Forsdale

You know, Russell Schweickart, one of the astronauts, talks very eloquently about what it did to him on a spacewalk; when he went extra-vehicular. He put up his thumb to his eye, looking down toward Earth, and he could blot it out just like that. It was that miniscule. And he said to himself out there, wandering around in outer space tied to an umbilical cord, “Wow!” And he also said to himself—as have a lot of other astronauts who have reported back—what a delicate, fragile place we live on. What a delicate place that is. How susceptible to utter destruction that is. How thin the layer of atmosphere around Earth is. Schweickart said it’s no bigger than an orange peel in thickness, as compared to the Earth—no! Thinner, he said, than an orange peel.

McLuhan

Yeah.

Forsdale

And we’re about to contaminate that out of existence. It enhanced their thinking about a lot of things. Earthward.

1:44:33 McLuhan

Powerful. I like your saying: it enhanced their awareness of the Earth as a delicate and precious heritage.

Forsdale

Schweickart said there’s nothing else out there that has green, blue, and brown on it. Nothing else that could be seen. Earth was the only place which had green and blue in addition to brown. Everything was brown or gray. He also said—by the way, if you’re from outer space, what would you point for if you were landing and didn’t know what green, blue, and brown meant? Just as an aside joke. Directions are pointed, by the way, toward the brown landing spots, or the white landing spots. We pointed toward the blue landing spots, for whatever that’s worth.

1:45:30 McLuhan

Well, it’s rather significant. I’m not sure why. But if it is a preference, it would have, certainly, a lot of significance.

But, look: if it enhanced our sense of… if the moonshot had—now, of course, we’re talking about their point of view; the moon walkers. If it enhanced their sense of the precious heritage of the Earth, or the delicate and fragile character of this place, what did it do to us? Was that awareness repeated in us? Did we also get that sense?

Forsdale

I have the feeling we went in both directions, depending on how we regard it. Some people said, “Why the money on that?”

1:46:20 McLuhan

Well, it was a big war effort. Prestige. On the other hand, how could it obsolesce?

Forsdale

We’ve got to race because we’re done this period, Marshall, right now. So as soon as we can race through this one, we’ve got to unceremoniously…

McLuhan

Okay. What did it obsolesce, then—the moonshot?

Audience

Green cheese!

McLuhan

Yeah, that the moon is made of green cheese, yes. It obsolesced mythology. And…

Forsdale

Yeah, a lot of mythology about the moon. Once you set foot on it…

McLuhan

And then, what did it bring back—

Forsdale

Can you make the same king of love under the moon now that somebody has set foot on it?

1:47:02 McLuhan

No. Definitely not. It has de-glamorized the old moon altogether. It has. It’s de-glamorized. What does it bring back that had been pushed out earlier? The ancient world, naturally, was very concerned with the moon.

Forsdale

And the womb, too.

McLuhan

But they also had voyages to the moon as a popular form of literature in antiquity. They have that, actually; titles of stories. Voyages to the moon. But, well, I suppose you could say it retrieved the fictional reality. Voyages to the moon: it translated the fiction into a reality.

Forsdale

It also retrieved—one would have to go back and do this pretty systematically, pretty left-hemisphered—but it also retrieved a forgotten feeling about the Earth.

McLuhan

Oh yeah.

Forsdale

As we’re now headlong looking at what’s happening around us here—

McLuhan

It’s precious and it’s ecological. Yeah. The sense that it’s in a state of balance that has to be carefully protected.

Forsdale

And could easily be knocked out.

Audience

But we experienced it through the media.

1:48:31 McLuhan

Yes. So that your awareness of the moonshot was mainly through—then, remember how, after the first one, people lost interest?

Audience

There’s a film which suggests the whole thing was done in a studio.

Forsdale

Yeah. Capricorn One.

McLuhan

Okay…

Forsdale

A new American film that says it never happened.

1:48:51 McLuhan

Alright, you’ve just reached point D in the tetrad. What does it flip into when pushed all the way? Just fiction. Phony.

Forsdale

Do we really believe it? What does it mean?

McLuhan

People cease to take it seriously. But you can play with those; the tetrads. They don’t belong in a rigid form. But just, for example—remember High-Rise? Is it sitting here?

Forsdale

High-Rise is here, yes.

McLuhan

As a tetrad, I think it’s a handy one.

Forsdale

And there’s some others as you go out—

McLuhan

High-Rise has: it “enhances privacy,” it “obsolesces community,” it “retrieves catacomb,” apartment is not a home. It reverses it as a slum; instant slum. Because, in a crisis, the high-rise dwellers form a community at once. But the—“enhances privacy” is extreme form of privacy; “obsolesces community,” people are so private they don’t want to ever get acquainted; “retrieves the catacomb,” and “apartment is not a home.”

Forsdale

Apartment is a catacomb.

McLuhan

And it reverses into slum. But that is—Dr. McCullogh, the cancer man, found that he could take any of his therapies, and put them in that form, and find out what they would flip into if pushed too far. The actual therapies he was using on his cancer patients.

Forsdale

We have got to stop Marshall [???] We offer examples of the tetrad, PR, public relations, xerox, and High-Rise. I suggest to you that what we have heard is a kind of exploration in how to think formally about things, structurally about things, without respect to content. That’s the major message which has been Marshall’s major message from the beginning.

1:51:16 McLuhan

By the way, a basic phrase of mine is “the user is the content in all situations.” You are the content of your building, of your motor car, of your language, of anything you read—you are the content. It can’t mean anything that it doesn’t mean to you.

Forsdale

I thank you very much. We all thank you very much.



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