Marshall McLuhan

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Marshall McLuhan : biography

July 21, 1911 – December 31, 1980

In McLuhan’s terms, a cliché is a "normal" action, phrase, etc. which becomes so often used that we are "anesthetized" to its effects.

An example of this given by McLuhan is Eugène Ionesco’s play The Bald Soprano, whose dialogue consists entirely of phrases Ionesco pulled from an Assimil language book. "Ionesco originally put all these idiomatic English clichés into literary French which presented the English in the most absurd aspect possible."From Cliché to Archetype, p. 4.

McLuhan’s archetype "is a quoted extension, medium, technology or environment." "Environment" would also include the kinds of "awareness" and cognitive shifts brought upon people by it, not totally unlike the psychological context Carl Jung described.

McLuhan also posits that there is a factor of interplay between the cliché and the archetype, or a "doubleness":

Another theme of the Wake [Finnegans Wake] that helps in the understanding of the paradoxical shift from cliché to archetype is ‘past time are pastimes.’ The dominant technologies of one age become the games and pastimes of a later age. In the 20th century, the number of ‘past times’ that are simultaneously available is so vast as to create cultural anarchy. When all the cultures of the world are simultaneously present, the work of the artist in the elucidation of form takes on new scope and new urgency. Most men are pushed into the artist’s role. The artist cannot dispense with the principle of ‘doubleness’ or ‘interplay’ because this type of hendiadys dialogue is essential to the very structure of consciousness, awareness, and autonomy.From Cliché to Archetype, p. 99.

McLuhan relates the cliché-to-archetype process to the Theater of the Absurd: Pascal, in the seventeenth century, tells us that the heart has many reasons of which the head knows nothing. The Theater of the Absurd is essentially a communicating to the head of some of the silent languages of the heart which in two or three hundred years it has tried to forget all about. In the seventeenth century world the languages of the heart were pushed down into the unconscious by the dominant print cliché.From Cliché to Archetype, p. 5.

The "languages of the heart", or what McLuhan would otherwise define as oral culture, were thus made archetype by means of the printing press, and turned into cliché.

The satellite medium, McLuhan states, encloses the Earth in a man-made environment, which "ends ‘Nature’ and turns the globe into a repertory theater to be programmed."From Cliché to Archetype, p. 9. All previous environments (book, newspaper, radio, etc.) and their artifacts are retrieved under these conditions ("past times are pastimes"). McLuhan thereby meshes this into the term global theater. It serves as an update to his older concept of the global village, which, in its own definitions, can be said to be subsumed into the overall condition described by that of the global theater.

The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (1989)

In his 1989 posthumous book, The Global Village, McLuhan, collaborating with Bruce R. Powers, provided a strong conceptual framework for understanding the cultural implications of the technological advances associated with the rise of a worldwide electronic network. This is a major work of McLuhan’s because it contains the most extensive elaboration of his concept of Acoustic Space, and it provides a critique of standard 20th century communication models like the Shannon–Weaver model. McLuhan distinguishes between the existing worldview of Visual Space – a linear, quantitative, classically geometric model – and that of Acoustic Space – a holistic, qualitative order with a complex intricate paradoxical topology. "Acoustic Space has the basic character of a sphere whose focus or center is simultaneously everywhere and whose margin is nowhere."The Global Village, p. 74. The transition from Visual to Acoustic Space was not automatic with the advent of the global network, but would have to be a conscious project. The "universal environment of simultaneous electronic flow"The Global Village, p. 75. inherently favors right-brain Acoustic Space, yet we are held back by habits of adhering to a fixed point of view. There are no boundaries to sound. We hear from all directions at once. Yet Acoustic and Visual Space are in fact inseparable. The resonant interval is the invisible borderline between Visual and Acoustic Space. This is like the television camera that the Apollo 8 astronauts focused on the Earth after they had orbited the moon.