Tag Archives: Marshall McLuhan

The Death of Reality

Source: Andrew Potter, National Post, July 24


…The end of history had been proclaimed…by the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, for whom the victory of Napoleon’s forces over the Prussian army at Jena in 1806 represented the triumph of the values of the French Revolution over aristocracy. As Fukuyama sees it, world history between 1806 and 1989 was just the working out of the logic of those principles against monarchy’s successor ideologies, including fascism and communism.

In similar fashion, the death of reality has been declared before, most notably by the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard in his 1981 book Simulacra and Simulation. But it was Canada’s own techno-prophet Marshall McLuhan who beat him to the punch. A lot of McLuhan’s writing is infuriatingly obscure or muddled, but the one thing he saw much clearer than most was the capacity of electric communications to collapse space and transcend time.

Does the new virtuality signal a decisive step? That is, have we definitely reached the end of reality? It’s hard to see how it could be otherwise. Just as the imminent triumph of Western values was signalled by the fact that even communists started couching their legitimacy in the terms of universal rights and democratic accountability, it is telling that Islamic radicals, easily the most socially and politically reactionary elements on Earth today, are so active on social media, YouTube and other instruments of virtuality.

And it isn’t that they see these instruments as mere tools, a ladder that could be kicked away once they’ve climbed up to the final caliphate. The capacity of social media to radicalize potential new followers, to communicate with their base, to propagandize and to spread their message of terror is intrinsic to the cause. Put simply, without virtuality there is no Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.

The same essential connection to technologies of virtuality holds for the collection of hipster nostalgists, foodies, and do-it-yourself cultists that passes for counterculture these days. For all their diverse commitments to everything retro, local and handmade, these communities get their oxygen from the social and sharing aspects of virtuality. As the question goes, how did people know what to eat before they could send other people a picture of their dinner?….


On Metaphor

A guest posting by Laurie Edwards, Principal, Breathlines.org

“I reach for a book like a doubter
and want it to flare round my hand,
a black-letter bush, a glittering shield-wall
cutting as holly and ice”
— Seamus Heany, “Holly,” in New Selected Poems: 1966–1987, Faber and Faber

A man I know, David Nostbakken, a one-time student of Marshall McLuhan, is trying to breathe new life into the MacLuhan Centre (aka The Coach-house Institute) at the University of Toronto. He’s talking to all and sundry about what its mission should be now that the digital age is well and truly upon us.

My question: what is the net doing to language? Never has there been more texting, never such a shrinking of useable vocabulary. When words fall into dis-use, the actualities they call forth withdraw from our experience. Our first task, according to scripture, at least, was naming.

Our longing for meaning, and for reconciliation with loneliness, exile (from Eden, childhood, vigour, and home), and death invests words with the power of not only representing phenomena but generating them. Such transcendence speaks not only to human sorrow but also to the capacity we have for wonder. In the end, all we have is metaphor.