McLuhan Studies : Issue 2

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Eric McLuhan

The source of the term, "Global Village"

Marshall McLuhan came up with the phrase "the global village" as a way to describe the effect of radio in the 1920s in bringing us in faster and more intimate contact with each other that ever before in human experience. Ironically, today one often hears people exclaim that the global village is now "on the point of finally being achieved," or that it is "clearly getting closer to reality," and so forth. He would have said that such remarks are a reliable indicator that that condition has been displaced by some other and more potent one. The reason: by the time that the average person can see something it has ceased to be environmental and become the content of another environment. Something newer has made it visible even as it has itself taken over general control.

I have often been asked about the origin of the term "global village" in my father's work. I know that it has been variously attributed, to Teilhard de Chardin, for example. He did not get it from Teilhard, however. And on several occasions he specifically remarked that Teilhard was not the source. As far as I have been able to establish, it comes either from James Joyce's Finnegans Wake or else from P. Wyndham Lewis's America and Cosmic Manóif it comes from anywhere but his own imagination.

Joyce published Finnegans Wake in 1939. In it he uses two phrases, both allusive of the Pope's annual Easter message to the City (of Rome) and the World, "Urbi et Orbi." Joyce turned this into "urban and orbal" in one place in the Wake, and into "the urb, it orbs" in another.

Wyndham Lewis and my father were friends in the 40s and 50s. Lewis published America and Cosmic Man in 1948 (Britain) and 1949 (US). Here is the eleventh paragraph of Chapter Two of that book:

If you look at North America on the map of the world, you see a very uniform mass. It is more concentrated and uniform than any other land mass. You see an immense area full of people speaking one tongue: not a checkerboard of "united states" at all but one huge State. "United States" is today a misnomer. And since plural sovereignty anyway--now that the earth has become one big village, with telephones laid on from one end to the other, and air transport, both speedy and safe--must be a little farcial, the plurality implied in that title could be removed as a good example to the rest of the world, and the U. S. A. become the American Union.

Now, my father was a great fan of Joyce's and had read the Wake closely for years. Also, he and Lewis discussed these and related matters frequently during the years of their association. And he had marked the phrases in Joyce and the paragraph in Lewis's book, and pointed them both out to me at one time or another. But I think the truth of the matter simply that he was thinking along those lines and came up with the phrase and found it echoed in both writers after the fact.

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