A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

The power of the artist

Marshall McLuhan (Summer 1968, age 57).  You can give Mailer a compliment but he hasn’t the wit to accept it

That chat I had with Norman Mailer on the CBC’s TV program, “The Summer Way,” is still on my mind, largely because despite the title of the program, “Meeting of Minds,” there was so little meeting of minds.  Here’s how it went.  I’d make an observation.  (Violence is necessary to the formation of identity.) He’d say he didn’t like it.  So I made another observation, (the new electronic environment has abolished nature) and he’d say he didn’t like that and so it went.  I don’t have a problem with his liking or not liking my ideas.  But I don’t think liking or not liking is productive.  In fact I’m convinced it’s counter-productive.  Liking and not liking, which is so often masked as truth-seeking interferes as I said yesterday with just observation of the world.

I decided to try a new tactic.  Norman, I said, you will be delighted with this – the artist is the only one who is able to face the present and see it for what it is.  He alone has the ability to tell us what is happening.  Poor Mailer was not delighted.

Me (December 2009, age 57).  Marshall McLuhan:  Artist or scientist?

At this point, the moderator of the meeting, Ken Lefolii, stepped in and asked McLuhan whether he thought of himself as an artist or a scientist.  McLuhan’s answer was no, he didn’t think of himself as an artist or a scientist.  He said he rejected these categories as unhelpful, fragmenting, nineteenth century devices, and in particular he implied they were not helpful for thinking about him as an observer of the unfolding electric 20th century world.  McLuhan’s answer then in effect was “I refuse to be lumped in a category.”

But of those two boxes, artist and scientist, he seems to fit most easily into the artist category.  Scientists he said are in the matching game. Matching ideas about the world with evidence of the world.  Artists are in the breakthrough game.  Looking for new patterns in the world.  McLuhan tries his hand at the matching game in his observations about media.  For example, radio is visual, TV is tactile and children who watch TV look at the world from an average distance of 4’6”and therefore are hunters not readers.  But this science is not the science you met in High School.  The matching is often difficult to separate from assertion.

What category would you place yourself?  Artist or scientist?  What about the people closest to you?  Family, friends, colleagues?  Should businesses be in the matching game or the breakthrough game?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, December 16th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 No Comments

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