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The Gutenberg Galaxy

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Marshall McLuhan

[1911 – 1980] Canadian media theorist, originally trained in English Literature. Considered one of the cornerstones of media theory. Coined numerous popular terms, include "the medium is the message" and "global village". Often rhetoricized as the "father" of media studies.

His position on rapid shifts in media technology was ultimately progressive and humanist, believing new technologies could fulfill man's potential to live in a cosmically balanced global media utopia.

The Gutenberg Galaxy [1962]

The Gutenberg Galaxy is Marshall McLuhan's effort track what he considers to be the primary structuring breaks between mediated man: from audio-tactile man to visual man, and a return to audio-tactile man through the medium of electricity. McLuhan writes with the desire to "study the interiorization of print technology and its effects in shaping a new kind of man" (210). McLuhan clearly believes that while media affects man, man should maintain mastery over this process: "Is it not possible to emancipate ourselves from the subliminal operation of our own technologies? Is not the essence of education civil defense against media fall-out?" (294).

Mosaic Method

McLuhan historical method is self-described as mosaic, typified through simultaneity rather than a fixed, Renaissance POV (56). The mosaic, fundamentally 2D, is about dynamic simultaneity, whereas 3D is about inert homogeneity (156); type creates a uniform homogenous space and an assumption of repeatability, which produced the characteristics of Western thought (176). Authorship was mosaic before print--manuscripts were many pieces lying about and combined (162). Through the mass press, or telegraph, does simultaneity conquer lineality. The popular press offers no single vision, no point of view, but a mosaic of the postures of the collective unconscious (317).

Transition from the Audio-Tactile to the Visual

McLuhan argues that the phonetic alphabet produced a break between the eye and the ear. For medieval man, the ratio between sight and sound was more balanced, perhaps even weighted for sound (for medieval man, reading was done aloud). For modern man, the primary sense was almost wholly visual. Thus the medieval-to-Renaissance transition was about turning tactility into visuality (middle class craftsmen—the new class of the early Renaissance—transformed the hand skills of older crafts into the visual magnificence of the Renaissance) (146). Life becomes vivid as old skills emerge upon a visual field (this also allows for class mobility) (148). Print translates shared discourse into a portable commodity in the form of the book and other print media (198). Print “splits head and heart”, isolating visuality (205). The rise of print produces the rise of development of grammar as a centralized instrument (285).

Typography and Visual Homogenization

Typography, then, functions as a uniform repeatable commodity, the first assembly line and the first mass production (153). The mechanization of script was the 1st reduction of handicraft to mechanical terms, “the first translation of movement into a series of shots or frames” (hence type is like cinema) (153). Typography made text repeatable, a scientific experiment, a Foucauldian truth-sky rather than the truth thunderbolt (like the acts of divine interpretation of Moses Maimondes associated with speaking the words). Visual experience is homogenized in print culture (153). The book broadcasts private image as public image; thus, type fosters individualism, or a sense of identity about the object typed, as well as habits of private property and enclosure (161). The literate liberal is convinced all values are private, personal and individual, such is the message of literacy (191); print is the technology of individualism, detribalizing man (192). As typography filled the world, voices ceased-->man read passively, as a consumer (298).

Print and Nationalism

Print, by turning the vernaculars into mass media, or closed systems, created the uniform centraizing forces of modern nationalism (239). Print amasses collective national awareness by outering private inner experience; the vernacular is rendered visible, central and unified by new technology (239). “For it was inevitable that a larger market existed for the printer book within the bounds of a national speech than the international, clerical elite of Latin readers could ever muster” (249). Modern man is visual and concerned with conformity, with belonging. He craves centrist gatherings, starting with nationalism (255). There is no nationalism without a vernacular in printed form (261). Nationalism depends on a fixed point of view that arrives with print, but fixed POV can ben individual or collective, creating clashes (264). If print made the vernaculars into mass media, they also constitued a means of central government control of society beyond anything even the Romans had known with papyrus and the alphabet and paved roads. But the very nature of print creates 2 conflicting interests as between producers and consumers, and between rulers and ruled. For print as a form of centrally organized mass production ensures that the problem of “freedom” will be paramount in all social and political discussion. Is print is uniform, it should create uniform rights for writer and reader, publisher and consumer (282).

Sense Ratios and the Global Village

Our bodies have sense ratios—the proportion at which different senses provide us with world input. When rations change, men change. Sense ratios change when one sense or bodily or mental function is externalized in technological form. Imagination is the ratio among perceptions which exists when perceptions are not embedded in material technologies.McLuhan is straightforwardly damning of vision as a dominant sense, as it overemphasizes one sense at the expense of the others, numbing our sensitivity to our other sense. Electronic culture, on the other hand, returns us to a tribal base. Rather than the core values of privacy and individuality, contemporary technology moves us toward human interdependance and collective orientation, the global village (191). These ideas are expanded up in Understanding Media.

Interersting Statements

Interesting statements:

  • camera obscura turns spectacle of external world into a consumer commodity (157)
  • consumer oriented cultures: concerned with authors and authenticity, producer oriented cultures looked at usability of items 161
  • prose remained oral rather than visual for 2 centuries after printing 166
  • every technology contrived by man can numb human awareness during the period of its 1st interiorization 187
  • with the gutenberg era, change itself becomes the archetypal form of life 189
  • a written philosophy will make certitude of the object even knowledge even when the scholar has nothing to say 190
  • new technology can make us the center of the university (gutenberg) even as it casts us to the margin (in tension with copernicus) 190
  • there is a new passion for exact measurement in the Renaissance, coupled with a rise of statistics and economics. 201
  • applied knowledge transfers complex relations into visual terms (195)
  • The segmentation of print (a segmentation I think of both reading from hearing, reading words linearly, and of segmenting the process of producing books), allows us to discover what makes man tick and thus control him; man is reduced to a machine distinguished between his functions and his motives (210)
  • The mass produced page becomes a substitute for the confessional mode. 230
  • we destroyed oral culture to re-invent it as a tourist commodity made of marginal identities, including woman—see Mechanical Bride (254-5)
  • Visual quantification as a collective mania yields French Revolutionary military mania. Here the uniform and the homogenous are most visibly one. The modern solider is especially the instance of the movable type, the replaceable part, the classic Gutenberg phenomenon. (263)
  • the denuding of conscious life and its reducation to a single level created the new world of the unconscious in the seventeenth century. The stage has been cleared of the archetypes or postures of individual mind, and is ready for the archetypes of the collective unconscious (291).
  • the first stage of print introduces the first stage of the unconscious. “since print allowed only a narrow segment of the sense to dominate the other sense, the refugees had to discover another home for themselves” (292). The linear specialism and separation of functions enabled by print produced the cartesian technique of separation that ensured all neglected aspects of experience would be rolled back into the unconscious (300). print eventually develops a collective unconscious; the printing press produces a new tribalism (308).
  • the Greeks first conceived of space as a neutral container (Aristotle's body as delineated by the inner surface of a body) (301)
  • The discovery of curved space ends the Gutenberg galaxy because it ends lineal specialisms, compartmentalized knowledge and fixed POV. (302).
  • light through vs. light on
  • Print produces fame for anything (308).
  • the intellectual must tap the collective unconsciousness, explore and communicate the massive unconsciousness of collective man. The intellectual is a primitive seer.
  • We must concentrate on the method itself. It was the Gutenberg method of homogenous segmentation, for which centuries of phonetic literacy had prepared the psychological ground, that evoked the traits of the modern world. The numerous galaxy of events and products of that method of mechanization of handicrafts, are merely incidental to the method itself. It is the method of the fixed of specialist POV that insists on repetition as the criterion of truth and practicality. Today our science and method strive not towards a POV but to discover how not to have a POV, the method not of closure and perspective but of the open “field” and the suspended judgment. Such is now the only viable method under electronic conditions of simultaneous information movement and total human interdependence. (327)
  • the stream of consciousness ends the gap between appearance and reality (329).

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