• Friedrich A. Kittler, Discourse Networks 1800 / 1900, trans. Michael Metteer, with Chris Cullens, foreword by David E. Wellerby (Stanford: Stanford UP, 1990 [1985])

29: “Letters have no meaning. Letters are not like sounds, related by the voice to the body and to Nature.”

72: “A discursive original unity could not have existed before the invention of the general equivalent. Printing alone did not guarantee ‘an integrating and interrelating that is anything but innocent'” [cited incorrectly from McLuhan, Understanding Media].

115:  “In the discourse network of 1800, the Book of Poetry became the first medium in the modern sense. Following McLuhan’s law, according to which the content of a medium is always another medium, poetry supplemented the data of the senses in a way that was reproducible and multiplicatory.”

116: “Only books could provide serial storage of serial data. They had been reproducible since Gutenberg, but they became material for understanding and fantasy only when alphabetization had become ingrained. Books had previously been reproducible masses of letters; now they reproduced themselves.”

116: “The new status of letters and books in 1800 produced books of more than new poetry. Its retroactive power could alter texts that previously had belonged to the Gutenberg galaxy and the Republic of Scholars.”

178 “Zarathustra’s curse strikes at the technological-material basis of the discourse network of 1800: universal alphabetization. Not content or message but the medium itself made the Spirit.”

185: “Writing that can discover the basis of its rights neither in what is written nor in the writer has its message only in the medium it constitutes.”

186:  “In 1900 no authority of production determines the inarticulate beginning of articulation. An inhuman noise is the Other of all signs and written works.”

186:  “[L]anguage is no longer the translation of prelinguistic meanings, but rather one medium among others.”

193:  “Spatially designated and discrete signs–that, rather than increase in speed, was the real innovation of the typewriter.”

195:  “Whereas handwriting is subject to the eye, a sense that works across distance, the typewriter uses a blind, tactile power.”

196:  “This writing … does not obey any voice and therefore forbids the leap to the signified. It makes the transition from nature to culture a shock rather than a continuum.”

219:  “Psychophysics advances, beyond all attribution of meaning and its transparent arbitrariness, to the meaningless body, which is a machine among machines.”

228: “The medium and the message coincide because even in grammar the repetition compulsion rules.”

229: “A medium is a medium is a medium.”

229: “The ordinary, purposeful use of language–so-called communication with others–is excluded. Syllabic hodgepodge and automatic writing, the language of children and the insane–none of it is meant for understanding ears or eyes; all of it takes the quickest path from experimental conditions to data storage.”

235-6: “[T]he Wilhelmine poet laureate, Ernst von Wildenbruch [,] … probably the first German writer to record his voice on a wax roll [,] … in the moment he took leave of the Gutenberg galaxy, … was overcome by written language.”

236: “[T]he voice did not cease being born in breath; it retains the vibration fundamental to classical-romantic lyric poetry; but–and this is too empirical or trivial a fact for Foucault’s grandly styled history of discourse–the voice can no longer be pure poetic breath that vanishes even as it is heard and leaves no trace. What once necessarily escaped becomes inescapable; the bodiless becomes material.”

259:  “According to Marshall McLuhan, the fact that ‘the typewriter fuses composition and publication’ brought about ‘an entirely new attitude to the written and printed word.'”

284: “Technologies and sciences of media transposition do not simply extend human capacities; they determine recording thresholds.”

298: “All books are discourse networks, but not all discourse networks are books.”

344: “Each discourse network alters corpora of the past.”

352: “The typewriter brought about (Foucault’s Order of Things overlooks such trivialities) ‘a completely new order of things'” [quoting Burghagen, Die Schreibmaschine (1898)]

361-2: “With a typist as his wife, the unknown writer would have ‘the operational means of the printing press at his disposal’ right at his desk” [cited incorrectly from McLuhanUnderstanding Media]


  • Debord, Guy. Comments on the Society of the Spectacle . Trans. Malcolm Imrie. London: Verso, 1990.

33-34: “MacLuhan [ sic ] himself, the spectacle’s first apologist, who had seemed to be the most convinced imbecile of the century, changed his mind when he finally discovered in 1976 that ‘the pressure of the mass media leads to irrationality,’ and that it was becoming urgent to modify their usage. The sage of Toronto had formerly spent several decades marveling at the numerous freedoms created by a ‘global village’ instantly and effortlessly accessible to all.. However, MacLuhan’s ungrateful modern disciples are now trying to make people forget him, hoping to establish their own careers in media celebration of all these new freedoms to ‘choose’ at random from ephemera. And no doubt they will retract their claims even faster than the man who inspired them.”


  • Harvey, David. The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change . Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1990.

353: “Even [ sic ] McLuhan saw the significance of time-space compression and the confusions it generated in ways that the left could not see, precisely because it was so deeply embroiled in creating the confusion.”


  • John, Richard. “Remembering McLuhan [review].” Reviews in American History 18.3 (September 1990): 419-24.

423: “McLuhan’s specific insights into mass media may well prove too ephemeral to be of much use for working historians. Like the maverick economist Thorstein Veblen, he often reads better as satire than social science. Nonetheless, as Elizabeth Eisenstein’s Printing Press as Agent of Change (1979) has abundantly demonstrated, McLuhan’s insights can furnish a starting point for an empirical inquiry of the most fruitful kind. There are even signs that the almost visceral distaste for his iconoclastic prose might be waning. In the two decades since the publication of Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media , and especially since cultural history has taken its ‘linguistic turn,’ historians have become accustomed to gleaning insights from theorists whose premises differ radically from their own. Now that Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault have found their way into the footnotes, can Marshall McLuhan be far behind?” (423)


  • Levinson, Paul. “McLuhan’s Space.” Journal of Communication 40.2 (1990): 169-73.

170: “One searches for a theme or thread that unifies and thus helps clarify this work – although such themes are at least as much a creation of the searcher as they are inherent in the work. I propose that McLuhan’s work can be understood as a series of more or less successful attempts to explain a reality that had only partially come into existence even at the time of his death in 1980 and that therefore eluded a clear description even by a wordsmith with McLuhan’s talents. McLuhan most frequently referred to this reality as ‘acoustic space.’ Today, we call it ‘cyberspace’ – the ‘place’ we enter when we talk on the phone, listen to the radio, watch television, or communicate in immediate and lasting ways via computer networks. It is a place that violates our sense of common physical space – for example, unlike our physical bodies, our electronic surrogates can be in an infinity of places simultaneously – and thus seems metaphoric and even illusory. Metaphoric it may be (for everything radiates with metaphor), but unreal it is not, if we define reality in the valuable Deweyesque way as anything that affects us. By this criterion, cyberspace is at least as real as ‘regular’ space. And it is the elusive ‘effect’ McLuhan sought to elucidate in all his important work.”


  • Patterson, Graeme. History and Communications: Harold Innis, Marshall McLuhan, the Interpretation of History . Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1990.


  • Rosen, Jay. “The Messages of ‘The Medium Is the Message.'” ETC: A Review of General Semantics 47.1 (1990): 45-51.

45-46: “Just around the time he was becoming famous, Marshall McLuhan was known to haunt used bookstores looking for copies of his first book, The Mechanical Bride , which was then out of print. It was not vanity that sent McLuhan on this hunt, but something quite different. The author was embarrassed by the book and wished to prevent anyone from reading it. The cause of his embarrassment related to what were, perhaps, the most notorious words ever uttered in communication studies: “The medium is the message,” which was, of course, the main message of McLuhan’s third book, Understanding Media . Of the many ideas McLuhan sought to get across with this remark, the most important was the dominance of form over content. That is, the effects of a medium will have more to do with the properties of the medium itself than with the content it carries.

“McLuhan had staked his career on this idea–and his career was going quite well-so he repudiated The Mechanical Bride because it was basically a content study. The book reprints about 50 advertisements from newspapers and magazines. On the facing pages McLuhan remarks on what the ads indicate about industrial culture just as it was about to become what we now call “post-industrial.” Published in 1951,The Mechanical Bride was one of the first books to consider advertising as a serious clue to cultural realities and values. I am reminded of McLuhan’s approach whenever students warn me–as they frequently do–that I am “reading too much” into a single ad or image or slogan. “Yes,” I say, “that’s the whole idea.” As McLuhan put it in The Mechanical Bride , “What is needed is not attacks on obvious imbecility but a sharp eye for what supports . . . it.” In other words, the ads themselves are not that important, but the values they represent are. Today, this approach is routine in the study of popular culture, but McLuhan deserves credit for realizing its possibilities quite early in the game.”


  • Smith, R.C. “From Milton to McLuhan [review].” Columbia Journalism Review 29.3 (Sept 1990): 55-7.

56-57: “Where McLuhan saw unity, Innis saw control. Innis believed that the electronic media – he died in 1952, just as television was exploding onto the scene – were easier for the powerful to manipulate. He feared that the taste for complicated and expensive technology would result in a thirst for a constant flow of instantaneous and novel factoids, and that serving this taste was intherently hostile to art and history, which are slower to change. Most of today’s observers of the media’s effect on our culture and politics would surely tend to agree with Innis and find McLuhan’s optimism excessive.”