Marshall McLuhan: On the Nature of Media

Advertising as a Magical Institution (1952)


  • Literacy will become as rare as any other specialized skill, because prose was based on the power to translate picturgrams into syntactical gestures and grammatical perspectives – and these are of little interest to the ordinary person today
  • The decline of literary skill is more likely connected with the passivity of modern audiences and the consequent disappearance of conversation
  • The values of civilization would seem to be best created and maintained where there is a great deal of face-to-face discussion

The Comics and Culture (1953)


  • Culture has during the past four hundred years been, for the most part, book-culture
  • Printing fostered nationalism, … [and] proved to be a great setback for the visual and plastic arts
  • In our own time technology has restored pictorial communication to a public which is completely untrained in pictorial discrimination

Inside the Five Sensorium (1961)


  • The “low intensity” or “low definition” of retinal image elicits high empathy or participation on the part of the viewer
  • J.C. Carothers: people who live in an oral-aural world know none of the impersonal and detached attitudes of a visual-literate people
  • TV has the power of imposing its own conventions and assumptions on the sensibilities of the viewer. It has the power of translating the Western literate back into the world of non-literate synesthesia

Cybernation and Culture (1966)


  • The story line as a means of organizing data has tended to disappear in many of the arts
  • Sculpture does not enclose space. Neither is it contained in any space. Rather, it models or shapes space
  • Georg Von Bekesy: the world of flat iconic image is a much better guide to the world of sound than three-dimensional and pictorial art [which] selects a single moment in the life of a form
  • The flat iconic image gives an integral bounding line or contour that represents not one moment or one aspect of a form, but offers instead an inclusive integral pattern

Environment: The Future of an Erosion (1967)


  • Every new technology creates an environment that translates the old or preceding technology into an art form
  • The form of movie which once was environment[al] and invisible has been re-processed into an art form
  • The artists as a maker of anti-environment becomes the enemy in society. He doesn’t seem to be very well adjusted. He does not accept the environment with all its brainwashing functions with any passivity whatever

McLuhan Looks at Fashion (1968)


  • Literate man [refused] to be involved in the world he lived in. He valued the isolated, delimited self, particularly the mind
  • In the tribal world, art belongs to ordinary day-to-day experiences: painting lives on the body, sculpture is something you use or worship, architecture you do yourself, and literature you recite or dance
  • Misako Miyamoto: The audience watches the play and catches the feeling through not only the action and words but also the intervals of the period of the pauses. There is a free creation in each person’s mind … and the audience relates to this situation with free thinking

Foreword to Harold A. Innis, Empire and Communications (1972)


  • Since the Renaissance, science has tended increasingly to quantify cause and effect and to assign as much as possible one effect to one cause
  • Greek physis or “nature” was more a system of classification than of the recognition of dynamic patterns in experience

Do Books Matter (1973)


  • Unlike radio and phonograph, the book does not provide an environment of information that merges with social scenes and dialogue
  • Today, the printed book is the means of detachment and civilized objectivity in a world of profound sensuous involvement
  • Reading and writing were assigned to slaves in ancient Greece, and it was the Romans who promoted the book to a place of dignity

The Brain and the Media: The ‘Western Hemisphere’ (1978)


  • Non-literate culture are mainly oral/aural, even when they cultivate some non-phonetic form of writing such as Sanskrit
  • The linearity of the left hemisphere is reinforced by a service environment of roads and transportation, and logical or rational activities in legal legislation. The dominance of the right hemisphere, on the other hand, depends upon an environment of a simultaneous resonating character, as is normal in oral societies

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