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copyright 1998, Gary Genosko.
In Canada today McLuhan is on everyone's lips, and so is Québec, but for different reasons. There was a time, however, when the reasons seemed complementary. The heady reflux of McLuhanism that we are now experiencing, especially on the internet and in some of the more thoughtful pcokets of cyberculture, coexists with the latest expressions and fallout of Québec nationalism. The same two fluxes coexisted in 1967 in the form of McLuhan's launch into francophone consciousness at Expo '67 and Charles De Gaulle's famous 'Vive le Québec libre' speech. Everything new is old again.
No one, however, could change the fact that McLuhan openly denied the importance of language for French Canadian nationalismand considered De Gaulle's famous speech to have missed the point: 'poor De Gaulle is even more lost than the rest because he thinks that in recognizing the French language, he can understand French Canadians. This is not the case since he himself is a man of the 19th century speaking to hippies', McLuhan concluded in the anonymously written report on his Expo remarks in La Presse (n.a. 1967a). McLuhan's hippies were 'tribal', 'feudal', often but not necessarily of the 'Third World' or at least 'non-Western', certainly in a monority, cool, and implosive. What made such groups all alike was that there was no point, his argument went, for them to Westernize, that is, to modernize, industrialize, to pursue literacy, to develop, then, because in so doing they would leave behind the very things which for McLuhan made them perfectly adaptable to the cool configuration of the global village: the oral, tactile togetherness of the electrified Western universe of communications. Such 'others' were already cool, but they didn't know it. Which is to say, they didn't know themselves, or their self-understanding did not yet include the words of this prophet. This is not very different from Baudrillard's (1986) claim in Amérique that Americans, like other 'savages', do not understand themselves, and this is what is charming about them. For no good reason whatsoever, except for the sake of its own poetry, McLuhan believed that people of the 'Third World' had an immediate encounter with, and unimpeded access to, the latest Western insights and technologies. The least advanced by Western standards were really the most advanced, that is the most prepared for the new technological environments, according to McLuhan's (1962: 27) hypotheses, and this made advanced countries 'disadvantaged' with regard to such environments; according to Baudrillard's theoretical travelogue, even though Americans live in such a hyperreal country, they are blind to their role as models of simulation. What it means for cool thinkers such as Baudrillard and McLuhan to possess this knowledge may be grasped through the paradoxes they employ in order to generate it.
The 1973 interview with McLuhan conducted by Jean Paré and published in the Hydro-Québec magazine Forces explicity addresses the question of separation and separatist politics. McLuhan's responses are candid and at first glance surprisingly acute; that is, they were 'surprisingly' so because McLuhan had a talent for avoiding direct commentaries on such vitally important political matters. What I want to show is how seemingly acute were his views on Québec and how through paradox McLuhan managed to efface them.
Paré asked McLuhan (1973: 70):
You wrote, in 1967, that the separation of French Canada has already occurred.
McLuhan: Oh yes ...
Paré: And French Canada is still there ... .
McLuhan: No, it has dropped out [décroché].
A break in the action is in order. Paré appears belligerently literal in this exchange, and quite unwilling to let McLuhan deny the obvious. The French translation of this interview, which was conducted in English, renders dropping out as décroché; already there is a sense in which McLuhan is going to be let off the hook, as it were, by his well-placed French lieutenant. Further along, the political tide comes in:
Paré: You wrote too that we could even have a civil war if the French Canadians got too obstreperous. Was 1970 that civil war or just a rehearsal?
McLuhan: You see, the war is on. The war doesn't have to be fought with guns anymore. The war is on and the country has dropped out. But so have a lot of other people dropped out, in other parts of the world too. There are several wars raging at the same time. Every group has its own mafia, and sure the kids are having their wars. French Canada dropped out but no more than in the sense that English Canada also has dropped out of Confederation.
The image of the 'drop out' was a favourite of McLuhan's. If you were anyone significant you were dropping out of something (contained or packaged: school or the corporation or Confederation), and tuning into or turning onto the 'global electric theatre'. Why drop out? To tune in, of course, in order to hone one's non-specialized perception and join or make a 'mafia' -- McLuhan was big on families! Mafias emerge unexpectedly from hierarchized, rigid structures and shape culture by controlling information; clearly, hackers and phreaks and those into the computer virus scene are McLuhanesque mafioso, as are independent filmmakers (McLuhan and Nevitt 1972). Mafiosos innovate in the ongoing war -- fought with 'flames' or subpeonas in the case of pirates and cybercops -- understood in terms of the displacements effected by new technologies. But McLuhan's approach to the question of separation is clear enough: to drop out is what everybody is doing, and thus, there is nothing very singular about French Canadian nationalist aspirations. English Canada does the same thing. In fact, nationalism is the inevitable aftershock of the revolution in new technologies and the radical changes it brings to human comprehension. This has a ring of truth to it -- like any political horoscope -- but it reduces history to technology and difference to sameness: vive la différence because it is really the same; difference is a great leveller because it sets terms in specific interrelationships and controls them, ensuring their proximity to one another because any given term's identity is based solely on its relations with other terms in the system. Nationalism clings to the notion of country within given boundaries and a language through which a people may define themselves. This makes nationalist aspirations paradoxical because if they are a result of unifying circuits and systems, they are also at the same time an attempt to defend themselves against the threat of homogenization.
I will now consider McLuhan's remarks on nationalism in the Playboy interview so as to draw out the implications of his view. Leaving aside his 'prediction' of the Balkanization of the United States, he is explicit about the consequences of the new media: psychical and sensory integration, but social decentralization, and the development of what he called 'tribal ministates'. Eventually, he speculated, psychical unity or 'tribal bonds' will win out over linguistic, ethnic, religious, and/or ideological differences, with the emergence of a 'world tribe'. This psychic reunification was what made decentralized political entities viable, in McLuhan's estimation. In short, McLuhan's understanding of nationalism was subordinate to his mystical hypothesis about the development of a 'global telepathy', a 'global consciousness' of the human family living together psychically in peace and harmony, even if they were physically separated.
Let's return, then, to McLuhan's interview with Paré. Further (after a discussion of nationalism):
Paré: Do you think that Québec or French Canadian nationalism is maybe a way of getting revenge on the conquerors of 1750?
McLuhan: I hope so. If I were a French Canadian, I would spend most of my energy fighting the bastards who ran the country, who made it English. Yes, I would. I'd be a violent anti-English person if I lived in Québec. But, on the other hand, I can be just as violently anti-English here, I don't have to be in Québec. I have been very anti-English, right here, but the English really have lost everything so it is no longer much fun kicking them in the ass, because they're finished, you know. They have had it. They are the drop outs of our times. But the Americans too are dropping out, their way of life is no longer the real new way of life in the world.
According to McLuhan, one could be anti-English anywhere, and it wouldn't make much difference. To be anti-English is to be obsolete, especially if one is inspired by French Canadian nationalism, which itself clings to the outdated notions of country, language, and point of view. The paradox is a virulent form of identification since it turns on a neutralizing regime of definitions. A further implication is that McLuhan would be, as an anti-English Quebecker but not Québécois, flogging a dropped-out horse, which is to say, he would be just another example of a 'pre-industrial' person who didn't understand how contemporary they were because they uncomprehendingly pursued a politics of self-determination based on segementations such as 'English' and 'French' and 'separation' in general, and did so against the grain of the implosions of space-time with the speed of new media technologies, the rise of a planetary consciousness, and the triumph of pattern recognition over point of view. McLuhan wanted to dictate the desires of other cultures and nations, putting so-called out-dated goals such as an industrial infrastructure into their mouths, and then call them uncomprehending and by implication unappreciative of the fact that they had, unknown to themselves, graduated immediately to the electric technological circus, as if in the global political economy outdated products, processes, and policies were not forcibly exported to these nations in the maintenance of poverty and various other dependencies (and this even obtains in certain regions of the so-called 'developed world'). Separation, like the year 2000, has already taken place. But it happened ever so gently, so no one noticed a thing. As McLuhan specified, nothing is old, everything is new: 'there is nothing old under the sun', McLuhan said to Paré. This is an extreme form of proto-Baudrillardian fatalism. Baudrillard adds, standing before the Berlin Wall, before the two hemisphers of Berlin (a nod to McLuhan, to be sure), that 'it is impossible to capture the tremor of terror. Everything is insignificant -- here, at the pinnacle of history self-exposed by its violence, everything is eerily quiet like an abandoned November field' (Baudrillard 1989: 35). Everyone has dropped out, everyone is indifferent. In these terms, everyone is 'frostbitten in advance' before the referendum that keeps the vital organs of social enumeration running long after the political and historical body has passed away. The latest polls report on the condition of a corpse.
McLuhan was fascinated by the liberal politicians of the 1970s -- Pierre Trudeau, Jerry Brown, Giscard d'Estaing. Indeed, McLuhan became a self-appointed adviser to Trudeau -- whose tribalness he likened to the Beatles -- even though he did not agree with many of his policies, which he found far too liberal. Trudeau's persona was cool, like television: low-definition and eliciting participation in the completion of its content. Québécois McLuhanites such as Jacques Languirand (1982: 173-75), whose interest was in the participatory nature of magic from Pythagoras to McLuhan, made the connection between the hot/cool distinction and political expediency: if Trudeau was cool, then Jean Drapeau (former Mayor of Montréal) was surely hot, a man of radio in a television era whose definition was too complete and did not invite much participation (ironically, Drapeau was cool enough if one thinks of the massive participation he required of Montréal taxpayers to service the heavy debt incurred by hosting the Olympics in 1976). Languirand was interested in what is now called spin-doctoring: the cooling down of a political image or the reheating of a cool message on the level of style, in both aesthetic and semantic terms. In other words, damage control and positive spins through macluhanisme.
McLuhan's praise for Trudeau, coupled with his pronouncements about the gaps in Québécois historical experience -- perhaps I should say the intervals in the historical experience of a tactile culture revealed by Expo '67 -- placed him in the federalist camp in the minds of many politically active Quebeckers aligned with the nationalist movement. But McLuhan was not only identified with federalist politicians: he was also a Catholic. This was a double whammy for he was not merely politically suspect (a co-conspirator with the oppressor Trudeau, who called the army into the streets of Montréal during the October Crisis of 1970) but also aligned with the church as a dominant conservative institution out of whose shadow progressive elements in Québécois culture had struggled to emerge. The only one who was really cooler than Trudeau was, after all, Jesus. And the Jesus of Montréal was a McLuhanite. Recall in my first lecture that I introduced the question of religion and technology. More than a few pundits noted the influence of McLuhanite Christians at Expo '67, for instance, referring specifically to his influence on the design of the Christian Pavillon (Cox 1967) and the retrofitting of Jesus as a cool operator, quick with aphorisms, parables, puns, and a variety of non-explicit pedagogical tactics, resisting the temptation to speak plainly, to heat up his messages for the sake of the scribes and Pharisees (Matson 1968). Pier Paolo Pasolini may have showed us a Marxist Jesus, but McLuhan and his followers believed in a hippie Jesus.
The 'philosophical bomb' that was McLuhan, as Maurice Tassart put it in Carrefour in1967, was a brillant spectacle the damage from which could not be controlled. Still, when Jean Sarrazin, director of Forces, wrote to McLuhan explaining that giving this interview will be seen as gesture of friendship with French Canadian society, it is surpising that he did not seize the opportunity to 'clarify' or even modify his most contentious theses on Québec (MP. 137-1), theses that he had been spouting throughout1967 on television on shows such as Telescope . He did seem to take a sympathetic position by idenitifying himself in speculative terms with anti-English actions, even violent ones, but turned this into a criticism, even repeating the most damaging claim of all: language didn't matter any more. There was nothing more that Paré, or anyone, could do about that.
To rethink the conjunction of McLuhan and Québec means setting the proponents of cool media liberalism against the hard-line post-Lévesque péquistes and the conservative elements of the Bloc. Not much has changed since the late 1960s: liberal federalism is trying to recycle itself and péquiste's are trying to reterritorialize. Whether this reterritorialization can be, to use of the terms of Félix Guattari and Antonio Negri (1990: 141), placed 'among those movements of nationalist territorialization -- Basque, Palestinian, Kurdish -- which assume, to a certain extent, the great deterritorialized flows of Third World struggles and immigrant proletariats' or 'the movements of reactionary natinalist reterritorialization' marked by oppressive and degrading conservatisms is not very difficult to decode: the reactionary and racist conservatism of leading péquiste politicians have been let out of the bag. René Lévesque really is a ghost.
Today, in the time of the reflux of McLuhanism, renewed Liberal federalism in Canada (in the guise of fiscal and social conservatism), and recurring debates about separation and/or sovereignty association, if there is a spectre haunting the mediascape it is surely Lévesque. If McLuhan was a prophet of the age of television as such, Lévesque was an animateur of the age of Québécois television. He was a driving force behind the internationalization of French Canadian society in the 1950s through CBC public affairs programs such as Carrefour (where he worked with Languirand) and Point de mire. He was not a theorist of the media, but readily offered his reflections (in -- where else? -- but the pages of Forces in 1973) on the relations between information, communications and social and political change, and the refocusing of international reporting onto Québec events. CBC reporter, talking-head, minister in Jean Lesage's Liberal government, and founder of the Mouvement Souveraineté-Association, Lévesque's contributions to media and politics are an antidote of sorts to the theoretical poltergeists of macluhanisme. Rethinking the influence of Lévesque is a way to resingularize an otherwise formalistic, abstract, and technologically reductionistic definition of media employed by McLuhan and devoid of specific content -- except what each user brings to the medium; an approach insensitive to the cultural specificity of language, and outside of the local and provincial histories of catalyzing political events. Yet McLuhan's French lesson remains eerily prescient for a electorate paralyzed by representations of themselves as suffering from referendum fatigue: separation has already taken place, and the only remaining issue is how to pose the question in the next time around and, for all intents and purposes, in order to provide the answer of (re)association. And sovereignty, as even the purists must realize, is out of the question in a free trading global economy.
The analysis of the tropes of primitivist discourse(Torgovnik 1990) finds an extraordinary wealth of material in the writings of McLuhan. Any reader of The Gutenberg Galaxy will have noticed his deployment of a general category called the 'tribal', and the enormous amount of work it is made to perform throughout the book. The tribal in McLuhan contains a diversity of cultures, things, experiences, and lack of sensory biases; so many things in fact that it is difficult to describe without lapsing into a simple inventory of its contents. One way to make the category empty itself is to pose some of Torgovnik's questions to McLuhan. Since McLuhan almost completely eschewed ethnographic detail, however, it is not ethnographic representations of primitives that are at issue but, rather, his representation of a diverse selection of nations and cultures as tribal through his galactic categories. With McLuhan, then, galaxies replace ethnographic categories, and within these galaxies a series of oppositions (cool/hot; implosive/explosive;linear/mosaic, and the rest) serve as signposts. The focus of these galaxies are the psychic and social implications of sensory (re)organization focussed and brought about by fundamental technological change. I want to show that McLuhan's analysis of globalization is built on a parade of unanalyzed and naively deployed tribal tropes.
While it may be the case that McLuhan, in concert with the major tropes of primitivist discourse, defined the tribal as 'different', believing such societies, if one may call them that, held the key to a universal understanding of human nature, he also closed the gap between them and us in the following way: they are already like we are today, and should not strive to become what we were like yesterday (as I have shown, according to this thinking the 17th century Quebecker is perfectly adapted to the 20th century mosaic and, hip, let us say, hippy McLuhanites in Québec who have turned on by dropping out have an affinity with their 17th century predecessors). The tribal is exotic yet familiar, and it is deployed in the search for a universal truth because to know them is to know the most up-to-date parts of ourselves. They may be different; they may be exotic; they may be other in so many ways, but for McLuhan the West is retribalizing, and retribalization, after a long period of Gutenbergian detribalization, is valorized with reference to the adequacy of tribal sensory life in our contemporary technological environment. McLuhan's (1962: 46) premiss of similarity hinges on the 'connaturality' of our culture with that of the non-literates, that is, the pre-Gutenbergian tribes. The phases of technologically driven galactic change, from traditional oral societies (non- or pre-literate) through literacy to post-literacy, end as the global village goes tribal again since 'we have recreated it [non- or pre-literate cultural experience] electronically within our own culture' (1962: 46); yet, McLuhan specified that pre- and post-literate cultures were not identical. Connaturality means similarity on the level of the criteria McLuhan used to describe his galaxies and distinguish between non-literate and literate (I will return to this momentarily).
McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy is saturated with the tropes of primitivist discourse. For instance, instead of pre-capitalist, McLuhan's tribes were pre-literate. That is, they were oral and auditory societies living as much at the birth of the West, or even medieval times, as in modern Russia (an oral, non-literate, auditory society; McLuhan 1962: 20), or in any number of audile-tactile societies such as India; included in this list are the tribal 'people of the ear' living in China ( and Japan, as well, since neither have phonetic alphabets, McLuhan added; why, then, are French-Canadians so tribal?); despite their advanced technologies and literacy, the Germans, too, 'retained the core of auditory tribal unity'; unidentified nomadic peoples and Eskimos (McLuhan 1962: 66-67) are just as tribal because they are funadamentally non-visual. The list goes on. As one of McLuhan's French readers noted, capturing the ambiguity of this inexact ethnology, 'tribal man does not necessarily live in an archaic society; it is his manner of living and thinking which is archaic' (Bourdin 1970:62). For Bourdin, the tribal man of the global village was a sort of hippy, at home in a happening, or a block party, a free concert in a park, living in a mass mediated, auditory-tactile, village. The implication is that McLuhan's anthropology is utopian and idealist. In reviewing some of the criticisms of McLuhan anthropology, Theall (1971: 63-6) observed that his attitude toward primitivism actually underwent a change from the period of The Mechanical Bride to The Gutenberg Galaxy. The metaphor of the 'tribal drum' was in the early 1950s:
one of the great threats to man's sense of discrimination and contemporary civilization. Tribalism, and consequently re-tribalization, had from that perspective seemed to require a society which was passive and static. During the Explorations period, McLuhan met and worked closely with Ted Carpenter, an anthropologist interested in language, culture, and personality and who was studying Eskimos. The association led to a growing interest on McLuhan's part in the dimensions of the primitive and to a reassessment of what this primitivism meant (Theall 1971: 65).
It was the perception of non-linear patterns that some anthropological research revealed about native cultures as diverse as Aivilik Eskimos and Trobriand Islanders that interested McLuhan.
Elsewhere one reads that for McLuhan, the tribal, like the primitive, is quintessentially African, (Torgovnik 1990: 11), and stereotypically 'dark' in the play of light metaphors; indeed, the 'return to the Africa within' (McLuhan 1962: 45; 255) that is vital to McLuhan's sense of the affinity of the contemporary with the pre-literate renders Africa psychical. This sort of claim is common enough today in McLuhanatic cyberbabble; witness pop electronic music composer Brian Eno's (1995:204) recent appearance on the cover of Wired magazine and his claim that both nerds and computers do not have enough Africa in them, which is to say that the 'return' was even blocked by the hard to break habits of post-literacy.
Further, the tribal is applied just as easily to subordinate groups in the West, including but not limited to McLuhan's favourite examples, African and Native Americans, upon whose 'cultural advantages' he dwelled in the Playboy interview. McLuhan believed that racism was explicable as a kind of subliminal jealousy that whites felt in the face of the obvious 'psychical and social superiority' of these tribal peoples. He voiced, to be fair, concerns about the consequences of rivalries between Black and the dominant white culture, and the latter's extermination of the former. But his diagnosis was reactionary: African Americans are sorely mistaken if they think that they can make progress by entering the 'senescent' mechanical, literate world. The 'backwards is really superior' thesis was nothing less than a policy of repression completely lacking a political economic analysis of American racism and an acknowledgement, in any specific -- embodied or historically situated -- way whatsoever, of the history of slavery and the systematic eradication of Native Americans; certainly, McLuhan recognized and explicitly stated that 'the Negro and Indian seem to always get a bad deal; they suffered first because they were tribal men in a mechanical world, and now as they try to detribalize and structure themselves within the values of the mechanical culture, they find the gulf between them and a suddenly retribalizing society widening rather than narrowing'. These tribal peoples are doomed, according to McLuhan, and even worse, in speaking for them, he can demonstrate how little they understand of the contemporary world as he defined it, making of their desires for literacy in the broadest possible sense a mistaken 'lemming leap', as it put it. There are two serious matters at issue here. The first is this typically racist animal metaphor that McLuhan trotted out in the Playboy interview and used to strip African and Native Americans not only of intelligence but seal their fate as well to the extent that certain species of lemmings have been observed undertaking a suicidal migration to the sea. The implication of McLuhan's animalization of African and Native Americans was that they set themselves on a suicidal journey. In the gloom of these notions McLuhan's afterthought that all the tribes would eventually overcome their differences was sheer mysticism and a bad prediction. The second issue is the uncritical use of literacy, which is nothing less than inflammatory when taken in the context of the history and practice of slavery in the United States. There is nothing in McLuhan about the role played by the denial of education to slaves, and their largely secretive struggles to learn how to read and write, as an important project toward freedom rather than a step away from it.
In another way, however, these sorts of matters served McLuhan as a substitute for the tired evolutionist premiss of primitivist discourse: they are what we were; therefore, to document them is to understand how we came to be the way that we are today. For McLuhan, instead, tribal others need to be studied so that we can better understand ourselves and in so doing retribalize ourselves by going, metaphorically, backwards, thinking in a more non-linear way, becoming more like them in terms of a change in sensory orientation and consciousness shifting from the part or fragment to the whole. Despite the best efforts of critics such as Jonathan Miller (1971:46) to hang McLuhan out to dry on the basis of his promotion of the 'impudent myth of Southern egalitarianism', McLuhan's brand of racism -- a word Miller mentions but in a negative construction -'I do not mean to suggest that McLuhan is a racist... ' -- was a direct consequence of the backfiring of his galactic categories. There is, in addition, a certain amount of stereotyping in McLuhan that leaves itself open to ridicule, such as his refrain in The Gutenberg Galaxy and elsewhere that an audile-tactile culture resonates with the sounds of 'tribal drums', which sounds a bit like a typical case of New Age cultural appropriation designed for vacationing executives, which was not far from the truth given McLuhan's penchant for hawking his intellectual wares in the boardrooms of America and abroad.
Before I consider the place of McLuhan's galaxies in relation to models of historical change found in postmodern social theory, two points remain to be discussed. The first is that both McLuhan and Baudrillard approve of the harshness of the tribal and symbolic, respectively. For McLuhan, permissiveness (sex and drugs) was a phenomenon of overlapping galaxies; but when retribalization is realized, restrictiveness will reign (family values and austerity measures). Similarly, Baudrillard considered the symbolic order to be brutally hierarchical; his version of the tribal is a cruel society, and the rules governing it are inflexible and restrictive. This is Baudrillard's anti-democratic, pre-simulacral world in which the reference of symbols (motivated signs) is sure and strictly limited, obligatory, as he puts it. Baudrillard's theory of symbolic exchange leads one to the conlcusion that his project is to recreate a symbolic order in contemporary society. It is difficult to avoid drawing such a conclusion, but it is wrong to do so, Baudrillard (1992:296) maintains. Despite his considerable debts to Marcel Mauss and the moral ideal of adapting societies of the gift to his own society, Baudrillard parts company with Mauss: 'we cannot recreate a symbolic order'. Baudrillard's revolutionary anthropology is, to make a long story short, not very anthropological, and its radicalism is purely theoretical, not to mention paradoxical. With Baudrillard there can be no retribalization; only its theorization is possible. It is interesting to note that Lyotard's (1993: 106) criticism of Baudrillard's anthropology is founded on his uncritical inheritance of 'ethnology's good savage' and the phantasy of a non-alienated, non-productive precapitalist society existing sometime and somewhere. These savages may as well have been good hippies or nomads of consumer culture.
The second point requires the gathering together of the key terms of McLuhan's distinction between the pre- or non-literate and the literate worlds, that is, between the tribal and typographic peoples, as a point of clarification. The sensory life of psychically tribal peoples is audile-tactile, involving the interplay of the senses, while linear thinking literate persons are, sensorially speaking, highly specialized, visual and pictorial. In temporal terms, McLuhan tells us that the former were oriented toward the simultaneous and the latter were stuck on the sequential; while spatially, McLuhan's tribes were supposedly nomadic, and the typographic (wo)men, sedentary, the former existed in a sacred, magical space, and the latter occupied a profane, mechanical, and rational world.
Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 557, n. 56) acknowledge their debt to anthropologist Edmund ('Ted') Carpenter's work on Eskimo culture, and hence the influence of the McLuhan milieu given Carpenter's close work with him on the journal Explorations, for instance, in which the Eskimo book they cite appeared as a special issue (#9, 1959). Deleuze and Guattari engage in a McLuhanesque space studies in their discussions of smooth haptic spaces and striated, visual spaces, those of nomads and sedentary peoples, respectively, bringing into focus and enriching the distinctions McLuhan learned to appreciate from Carpenter (especially the idea that the Eskimo was fundamentally a non-visual person; McLuhan 1962: 66-67). Smooth, nomadic, rhizomatic space is heterogeneous, while striated, centred, tree-like space is homogeneous. Haptic space in Deleuze and Guattari and McLuhan, following Carpenter, is marked by the variability of directions and acenteredness, and its tactile contacts also make it implosive. Carpenter (1966: 59) writes: 'Entire Eskimo societies are implosive: everybody is involved with everbody simultaneously and instantaneously. There is no isolating "individualism" and no emphasis upon isolation of sight from other senses'. Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 494) make the same point about what Carpenter called 'ice space': 'Where there is close vision, space is not visual, or rather the eye itself has a haptic, nonoptical function: no line separates earth from sky, which are of the same substance; there is neither horizon nor background nor perspective nor limit nor outline nor form nor center; there is no intermediary distance, or all distance is intermediary. Like Eskimo space'. Carpenter's Eskimo is also a Deleuzoguattarian (wo)man of lines rather than points; lacking both a view and a point, s/he is in flux, without form, the perfect collective assemblage for a nomadology adapted to the global village and free of the disciplinary demands of anthropology.
As a social theory postmodernism has recourse to triphaseal models with one foot in the economic and the other in the semiotic. Following Jameson, postmodernity is the hyperspace of multinational capital in a late form -- not post-capitalism, but an intensified capitalism which has no trouble accommodating the sort of globalism 'predicted' by McLuhan. The description of this intensity requires the integration of both economic and semiotic categories. Models of the mutations of capitalism borrowed from Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy (1936) and Ernest Mandel's Late Capitalism (1978) provide the economic backbone of postmodern theory and guide the effort to describe the waning of use-value and the rise of information and representation as commodities. Representation in postmodernity is a commodity produced and consumed alongside a staggering array of cultural forms which are direct expressions of economic activity. At the extreme, everything in social life becomes cultural and a commodity; the cultural and the economic become one since the cultural is no longer a veil hiding and distorting economic reality.
Marx and Mandel describe in closely related ways the generalization of exchange value and the expansion of capital. On the one hand, the transition from feudal society and the dominance of use-value over exchange-value, as well as the availability of small surpluses for market-place exchanges, to industrial production in which everything produced is exchangable as a commodity, culminates in consumer capitalism and its 'general corruption' of even the most abstract qualities. On the other hand, market capitalism witnesses the industrial-driven growth of national markets, and mutates into monopoly capitalism with imperially-driven market expansions into colonised states; recently, the asymmetrical articulations of colonialism have given way to a multinational capitalism marked by the transnational flows of capital expanding, one may say, endo-colonially, pre-eminently into the logic of representation itself, as well as globally into hitherto untapped domains.
Jameson's version of these phases is best described as the bastardization of referentiality by reification. At the dawn of capitalism signs referred unproblematically to their referents. This reifying literality apparently destroyed an earlier, pre-capitalist, so-called 'magical language' (Jameson 1991:96). Reification is the key force here for it is nothing less in Jameson's mind than that of the logic of capital. The 'ruthless separation and disjunction, of specialization and rationalization' that the 'corrosive force' of reification worked by means of literality then turned on reference itself. This is the moment of modernism in which language withdraws into its own house, away from the referent and the real. Reification does not destroy reference; rather, it enfeebles it by disjoining the sign from its referent in the structural interrelations of signifiers which produce the effect of meaning in the signified; yet, the distance of signs from things and the 'autonomy of culture' is a paradoxical strength of modernism for what affords critical distance also entails 'a certain otherwordly futility', Jameson astutely observes (1991: 96). Reification continues unabated, and this time, in the postmodern scene, its disjunctivity invades the sign and cleaves the signifier from the signified and isolates signifier from signifier; even a weakened referentiality disappears altogether, as meaning itself, in the form of the signified, is eclipsed by the pure play of signifiers. This is Jameson's version of schizophrenia as the postmodern condition. Literality returns in the vividness of the signifier isolated from interrelationships which give it meaning in the hell of a perpetual present (Jameson 1983: 120).
Jameson's debts to Baudrillard will be obvious to anyone who recalls my overview of the orders of simulacra in my previous lecture. The mutations of the law of value from the natural, through the market, to the structural, is paralleled by the transition from the dominant forms of the counterfeit, production and simulation. Jameson's fantasy of a 'magical language' has its parallel in Baudrillard's dream of a pre-semiotic world of symbolic exchange that has been corrupted by semiology. The modern sign is born with the semiological corruption of the symbol by the sign's arbitrariness and withdrawal of reference, which was once sure and cruel. This corruption was also an emancipation of sorts from the obligation of reference. The countergift retains a certain amount of charm for Baudrillard because it was not very far removed from an anthropological phantasy of pre-semiotic, concrete inter-personal relations governed by gift exchange (obligation and reciprocity). The simplest machinic expression of this level would be the automaton since it is a theatrical counterfeit of human being which plays with appearances by analogy. In the second order the charm of the masquerade disappears with industrial production, seriality and machinic operationalization. The trade in appearances is lost to the production of equivalents: the serial repetition of the same in the dull, crude and technical mass production of objects. This is exemplified by the robot that does not play, either with appearances or with analogy, but is simply, and in the technical terms which dominate it, supposed to be the equivalent of the human. The robot does not play; rather, it works. In the third order of simulacra the code and generative models reign over all semiosis. Mechanical reproduction is transcended by the emanation of all values from the code or model, conceiving the real in terms of its very reproducibility. The android fits this order quite well since it is generated from a model according to modulated differences. The android is like a robot in the sense that is the equivalent of a human, but it is of a higher order: it is organic and plays with analogy. While in Jameson literalness plays a role in both the first and third phases, Baudrillard situates the ability to play with analogy and masquerade in both phases as well; in both descriptions, literalness and masquerade indicate the distance from the real and the abstractness of the third phase. Key elements from the first phase recur in the higher order convulsions that have taken place in the decisive shift from the second to the third phase (for instance, the rise of representation as a commodity and the political economy of sign in which all that is material melts into signification).
Both Jameson and Baudrillard agree that reification, the concept developed by Hungarian Marxist theorist Georg Lukács in his important book History and Class Consciousness (1971) on the basis of Marx's analysis of commodity relations, specifically commodity fetishism, is indispensable for an understanding of the postmodern condition. Baudrillard ( 1975: 121) is much more cynically attached to the concept than is Jameson, praising it as the only viable critical advance in Marxist thinking capable of rising to the challenge of his diagnosis of the passage from the commodity to the sign form in the third order of simulation. Arguably, the most stirring pages of Jameson's (1991: 313-18) monumental Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism are those devoted explicitily to reification. Jameson flags the standard meaning of the term as the demand of capitalism to treat human labour power as a thing, a quantity, a commodity. It is in the disproportion between the wage granted to the worker for his/her labour and the value it produces in goods for the capitalist, that is, the surplus value or profit, that reification stirs: capitalist ideology makes profit appear as a property inherent in goods, a 'natural' thing-fetish (this is most powerfully expressed, Lukács [1971:93-4] believed, in Marx's description of interest-bearing capital generating value in itself in the form of interest, a bit like the Baudrillardian signifier whose sole referents are other signifiers). Labour power is sold as if it were a thing outside oneself, and the worker is additionally separated from the product of his/her labour; and the value produced is exchanged as a thing, completely fulfilling the dehumanizing force of capitalist reification. Jameson emphasizes the 'effacement' of the production process and the separation between producers and consumers. Reification is essential to consumerism because in Jameson's estimation it silences the voices in one's head that would otherwise wonder about the conditions under which the precious things that one surrounds oneself with were produced. Reification is in this sense 'functional' for consumer culture. More radically, however, Jameson (1991: 315) thinks that reification 'perpetuat[es] a deep conviction within the consumer that the production of the product in question -- attributable no doubt to other human beings in the generic sense -- is nonetheless beyond anything you can imagine'. The consequence is 'a Promethean inferiority complex' (impotence before production, the compensatory titillations of consumerism, the death of the imagination before products themselves) in the face of a completely reified culture. It follows for Jameson that postmodernism is something of a 'relief' from the alienations of modernism (the cult of genius, specialism), even if the subsequent invitation to play and produce has its own limitations (for instance, the loss of key modernist categories).
There are, however, several elements from Lukács's analysis that Jameson omits, but which Baudrillard seizes upon without, as is his custom, guiding his readers through the argument. Although Baudrillard considered Lukács's analysis of the concept of reification to be 'the only' theoretical development of any note in Marxism, including the work of the Situationists, he still rejected the base upon which Lukács worked; that is, the commodity form is the 'universal category' dominating society. Baudrillard maintains (1975: 121-22) the decisive passage from the commodity form to the sign form reveals a kind of control 'more subtle and totalitarian than exploitation' and that, in comparison, the hegemony of the code makes the 'quantitative mystery of surplus value appear inoffensive' . Lukács's discussion of reification relies on Marx's analysis of the generalization of the commodity form through the worker's self-objectification, the alienation of him-herself from him-herself based upon the understanding that one's labour-power is seen as something one owns and which may be 'disposed of'. But Baudrillard thinks that the generalization of the sign form takes place through the process by which the code controls the production of meaning and difference through a 'structural manipulation' that is irreducible to a conscious referential psychology of the use of signs for social differentiation, which is to say, for the sake of a lived distinction. Meaning rather than labour power is at the base of Baudrillard's argument. Reading Baudrillard one cannot fail to be struck that in his brave substitutions and putative advances on Marxian analyses he has retained some of the most pertinent principles of the theorization of reification. This is espcially obvious in his descriptions of the predicament in which one finds oneself when metaphorically facing the code: 'whatever one does, one can only respond to the system in its own terms, according to its own rules, answering it with its own signs' (1975: 127). This is what Lukacs called the 'contemplative attitude' taken towards one's reified faculties. Activity gives way to contemplation and no attempt is made to transcend the commodity structure because it appears to the reified mind to be 'the form in which its own authentic immediacy becomes manifest' (Lukács 1971: 93). This is truly the mirror of servitude held out by capitalism; one is fully integrated into, as Lukács observed, a 'perfectly closed system' operating autonomously; in other words, the code. Indeed, where Lukács saw the consequences of the divison of labour through rationalization and calculation, Baudrillard read the operationalization of binarity and digitality under the dictates of the structural differentiations of the code.
Where is McLuhan in all of this? Isn't the reification of both physical and psychical faculties perfectly described by his hypothesis of the outering or extension of the human sensorium? Isn't it possible to read McLuhan from beginning to end as an apologist for the contemplative attitude before the whirlpool of commerce? Reification was an amusement that McLuhan did nothing except 'scientifically deepen' (the laws of the market are those of the media, as it were), to borrow Lukács's idea of the objective side of reification: the discovery and even the deployment but never the modification of the laws governing the world of commodities. Imagine for a moment that Lukács was referring to the mediascape when he argued that the predicament of life in a capitalist society could be expressed in terms of the human being's confrontation with a reality s/he has made but which is alien to him/her, to such a degree that one is nothing but the object of events, the object of the mediatic message which works one over completely: the medium is the massage. Reaction replaces action. McLuhan's insight into what he called the active 'environments' created by new media, whose invisibility and pervasiveness were not easily perceived, is a central and pernicious mystification of capitalism since the laws governing the society appear as an alien, non-human universe operating autonomously on the basis of 'invisible forces that generate their own power' (Lukács 1971: 87).
McLuhan was, then, a perfect example of Lukács's contemplative, bourgeois man. As Kroker once observed, McLuhan lacked a political economy of technology; put more strongly, he completely divorced reification from its economic base; thus, as Lukács (1971: 94-5) would have it, his surface descriptions of the phenomena of reification, and asides about their 'painfulness', did nothing but deepen their dehumanizing effects.
For Baudrillard, Marx and Marxist analysts have proved themselves to be incapable of grasping the decisive mutation between the second and third orders of simulacra because of their transfer of principles of analysis from the former to the latter without acknowedging the metaphorization of these principles (Baudrillard 1975: 120). Similarly, McLuhan (1970b) maintained that Marx was stuck on certain principles of analysis (these were, of course, commodities, labour, mode of production, exploitation, profit) and was blind to the 'environmental effects' of new products. In other words, for both McLuhan and Baudrillard Marx's categories were too deeply embedded in political economy and therefore inadequate for describing contemporary capitalist societies. McLuhan quickly undermined his not particularly well-formed criticisms with a social and political blindness whose blatancy was staggering in its implications. McLuhan's habit was, for instance, to criticize Marx and communism for the sake of the ideological obfuscation that new electric service environments are free for all, that communism exists today as an effect of wealth, as if wealth was fairly distributed. Of course, McLuhan's (1968b: 6) 'commune-ist form' was a variant of his electric tribalism, which was more tribal than any previously known tribalism: hypertribal. This was the tribalism of films such as Mike Nichols' The Graduate (re-released after 30 years) which McLuhan read as an Oedipal drama; and why not, the high-rise apartment was for him a 'tribal slum ... whose effects are uncomfortable but not bad in themselves' (McLuhan 1969g: 2-3); just as the miniskirt was an involving tribal costume marking off the wearer from the establishment, rather than situating women in a particular relation to the establishment.
The 'tribes' of McLuhan's traditional age belonged as much to the Greek oral tradition as perhaps any cool, speaking-hearing nexus; vertical suburb, slum, or whatever. A key figure is Socrates since he did not write; but Jesus, too, since he was cool; and, of course, Francophone hippies, Blacks and Native Americans, Eskimos, Russians, etc. As far as galaxies go, this one lasted all the way to the fifteenth century when the age of literacy and typographic man was born with the invention of the printing press. Triphaseal models have in common a certain vagueness about phases, such as one finds in Baudrillard's simulacra-focused distinction between the Renaissance, the industrial revolution, and post-industrial era, even though the objects marking the transitions are often explicity flagged (for McLuhan reading and writing undergo significant changes when manuscript culture confronts the printing press, with Baudrillard the thearicality of stucco passes into mechanical means of reproduction or, in other words, substances and forms are displaced by relations and structures [Baudrillard 1993: 53]). Manuscript culture was forever transformed with the mechanical means of reproduction, that is, movable type. It was not until the 1960s that the cool, implosive, electric age emerged and young people began retribalizing with new means. For McLuhan, television was the great 'commune-ist' form. Reading McLuhan on Marx is a little like reading Ronald Reagan on Marx. In both cases the discussions employ a few guy ropes based on borrowed concepts, but remain, for the most part, content to float wherever their own currents take them.
two interviews: See McLuhan (1969f) 'Marshall
McLuhan [Int. by Eric Norden], Playboy (March): 53-77, and 178;
and McLuhan (1973) 'Marshall McLuhan' [Int. by Jean Paré], Forces
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French Canadian nationalism: Newspaper reports include Maurice Tassart (1967) 'Une bombe philosophique venue du Canada', Carrefour (19 juillet) and n.a. (1967a) 'Le professeur Marshall McLuhan estime que les Québécois sont des ... hippies!' La presse (7 aoüt). Compare this representation of a people who cannot understand themselves with that of Baudrillard (1986) from his Amérique, Paris: Grasset.
On families see McLuhan and Nevitt (1972) Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, Toronto: Longman.
Baudrillard's remarks on the Berlin Wall are from (1989) 'The Anorexic Ruins', in Looking Back on The End of the World, eds. D. Kamper and C. Wolf, New York: Semiotext(e).
The McLuhanite mafia in Québec included Jean Languirand (1982) De McLuhan à Pythagore, Boucherville: Editions de Mortagne. The unpublished correspondence cited is a letter from Jean Sarrazin, Directeur, Forces magazine, to McLuhan (14 juin 1972), in MP. 137-1.
McLuhanite Christianity is discussed by Harvey Cox (1967) 'McLuhanite Christianity at Expo 67', Commonweal LXXXVI/10 (26 May): 277-78 and Rayner B. Matson (1968) 'The Christian and McLuhan', Dialog: A Journal of Theology 7: 259-65. A parody of religious themes is found in Tom Wolfe's 'What if he is Right?' New York Herald Tribune Magazine (21 Nov. 1965): 6-10; 22, 24, 27-8. Wolfe wrote: 'McLuhan Temple! McLuhan in church -- the Rev. William Glenesk brings McLuhan into the pulpit of his church, Spencer Memorial, on Remson Street in Brooklyn Heights, one week night in a kind of .... apotheosis of McLuhan cultism. Glenesk is the "hip" Prebyterian minister who has had jazz combos, dancers, scultpture -- graven images! -- in church. He brought McLuhan in one night and put him in the pulpit and it became ... cult! Like a melting of all the solitary souls, from the cubicles of the NYU Bronx campus to the lofts of East 10th Street, who had discovered McLuhan on their own'. This is a precursor of the cybercult activities of Wired magazine that I discussed at the end of my first lecture.
René Lévesque also published in Forces; see his
(1973) 'La télévision: le plus gros facteur révolutionnaire
dans le domaine de la perception des gens, les uns par rapport aux autres,
Forces 25: 13-23. The political question of reterritorializing includes
a reference to Guattari and Negri (1990) Communists Like Us, trans.
Michael Ryan, New York: Semiotext(e).
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Telescope: I consulted a transcript of this television
broadcast in Box 2, Folder 1 (Mss. 20) in the Shelagh Lindsey Collection,
University of Manitoba Archives, Winnipeg.
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primitivist discourse: My main reference is to M. Torgovnik (1990) Gone Primitive: Savage Intellectuals and Modern Lives, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The text under discussion is McLuhan's The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). Supporting material includes Alain Bourdin's (1970) McLuhan: Communication, technologie et société, Paris: Editions Universitaires and Theall's (1971) The Medium is the RearView Mirror. Jonathan Miller (1971) questioned McLuhan's debts to the Old South.
Baudrillard's (1992) statement that he is not trying to adapt symbolic exchange to his own society is found in Jean Baudrillard: The Disappearance of Art & Politics, New York: St. Martin's. Lyotard's (1993) critique of Baudrillard is from Libidinal Economy, trans. Iain Hamilton Grant, Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
The facile remarks on Africa are those of Brian Eno (1995) 'Gossip is
Philosophy [Int. by Kevin Kelly], Wired (May): 146-51, 204ff. Deleuze
and Guattari (1987) pick up on Carpenter's work in A Thousand Plateaus,
trans. Brian Massumi, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. I
use Carpenter's (1966) 'If Wittgenstein had been an Eskimo', Explorations
12/3: 49-64 and note the special issue of Explorations that he edited,
using material from Robert Flaherty and Frederick Varley, in 1959 (#9)
called 'Eskimo'. Christopher L. Miller (1993) has, in his article 'The
Postidentitarian Predicament in the Footnotes of A Thousand Plateaus: Nomadology,
Anthropology, and Authority', diacritics 23/3: 6-33, criticized
Deleuze and Guattari's primitivist discourse, especially as it concerns
Africa. Unfortunately, Miller overlooks the Carpenter material.
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triphaseal models: The key references are to Marx (1936) The Poverty of Philosophy, New York: International Publishers; Mandel (1978) Late Capitalism, London: Verso; Baudrillard (1975) The Mirror of Production, trans. Mark Poster, St. Louis: Telos; Jameson (1991) Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press; and Lukács (1971) History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics, trans. Rodney Livingstone, Cambridge: The MIT Press.
The 'commune-ist' writings of McLuhan include (1970) 'McLuhan on Russia
[Int. by Gary Kern]', McLuhan Dew-Line Newsletter (May-June) 2/6;
idem (1968b) 'Through the Vanishing Point', McLuhan Dew-Line Newsletter
(Nov.)1/5; and (1969g) 'Vertical Suburbs and High-Rise Slums', McLuhan
Dew-Line Newsletter (Jan.) 1/7. The passing reference to Baudrillard
(1993a) concerns his Symbolic Exchange and Death, trans. Iain Hamilton
Grant, London: Sage.
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