• Barbara Maria Stafford, ed.,  A Field Guide to a New Meta-Field: Bridging the Humanities-Neurosciences Divide (Chicago: U Chicago P, 2011)                                                                                                                                                                             Chapter 9: “Semantic Reciprocity: Toward a Neuroscience of Cultural Change” by Nicholas Tresilian                                                     314: “If works of art can function semantically as attractors, then surely art has little or nothing to do with the cultural isolation of the legendary ivory tower. On the contrary, art images must be seen as constituting just one small, albeit privileged, constellation amidst the vast stellar cloud of semantic attractors than animate contemporary culture … This does not change the fact that Western concepts of communication are strongly biased against the idea of semantic attraction per se. Despite Marshall McLuhan’s postulate of the elision of medium and message in the mass media, and despite the structuralists’ insistence on the syncretism of the signifer and the signified, the way to full scientific recognition of the semantic attractor is still blocked by the rationalist’s bible on semantic issues: Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver’s Mathematical Theory of Communication.”


  • Why He Matters More than Ever: Happy 100th, Marshall: Headline, The Globe and Mail, 16 July 2011
  • Michael Valpy, “The Messenger,” The Globe and Mail, 16 July 2011, F1; F5

F1: “This Thursday is the 100th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan’s birth, and the communications and technology theorist celebrated by his most fervid admirers as Canada’s greatest thinker of all time has emerged from the valley of darkness that closed around him in the last decade of his life. The University of Toronto professor of English credited with foreseeing the Internet 30 years before it was invented and broadcasting scores of ideas about how electronic communications media was changing the way humans think has been redeemed from labels of McLuhanacy and pseudo-scientific charlatanism.”


  • David Carr, “Media Savant” [review of Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!] in The New York times Book Review (9 January 2011) 1; 10-11

“Oh boy, yet another book about yet another modern thinker who suggests that ‘electronic interdependence’ is the defining aspect of our time. All very ho-hum, except Marshall McLuhan … figured it out 50 years before anybody ever updated his Facebook page or posted his whereabouts on Twitter” (1).

  • James Glieck, The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood (N.Y.: Pantheon, 2011)

“(When McLuhan announced that the medium was the message, he was being arch. The medium is both opposite to, and entwined with, the message)” (263)


  • Mario Carpo, The Alphabet and the Algorithm (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT P, 2011)

10:  “The web sites of various ministries and national services that deal with tax returns are true works of electronic art, and Marshall McLuhan would have delighted in the digital emulation of Gutenberg’s machine recently perfected by modern state bureaucracies: the typographical man is so integral to the modern state that the modern state, even after adopting electronic technologies, is forced to perpetuate a mimesis of the typographical world.”


W. J. T. Mitchell, “There are No Visual Media,” in Caleb Kelly, ed. Sound (Whitechapel Gallery / MIT Press, 2011) 76-79


“From the standpoint of art history in the wake of postmodernism, it seems clear that the last half-century has undermined decisively any notion of purely visual art. … With regard to the senses and media, Marshall McLuhan glimpsed this point some time ago when he posited different ‘sensory ratios’ for different media. (Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, 1964). As a shorthand, McLuhan was happy to use terms such as ‘visual’ and ‘tactile media, but his surprising claim (which has mostly been forgotten or ignored) was that television, usually taken to be the paradigmatically visual medium, is actually a tactile medium … in contrast to the printed word which, in McLuhan’s view, was the closest that any medium has come to isolating the visual sense. However, McLuhan’s larger point was definitely not to rest content with identifying specific media with isolated, reified sensory channels, but to assess the specific mixtures of specific media. He may call the media ‘extensions’ of the sensorium, but it is important to remember that he also thought of these extensions as ‘amputations’ and he continually stressed the dynamic, interactive character of mediated sensuousness (Understanding Media, 42). His famous claim that electricity was making possible an extension (and amputation) of the ‘sensory nervous system’ was really an argument for an extended version of the Aristotelian concept of a sensus communis, a coordinated (or deranged) ‘community’ of sensation in the individual, extrapolated as the condition for a globally extended social community, the ‘global village’” (76-7).

  • Wolfgang Ernst, “Printed Letters, Acoustic Space, Real Time Internet: The Message of Current Communication Media, Deciphered With (and Beyond) McLuhan,” lecture on the occasion of the conference “McLuhan Revisited,” Fritt Ord Foundation, Oslo, 12th April 2011, at zeitkritmcluhOslo3

[n.p.]  “McLuhan’s focus on the message of the medium as perceived by human senses lacks an essential understanding of the inner processes in telecommunication technologies for the second half of the 20th century and since, which is based upon the technomathematical theory of information as developed by Claude Shannon 1948 in his “Mathematical Theory of Communication”. McLuhan’s critical, almost satirical reading of the Shannon diagram as a simple linear sender/reveiver-relation reveals his essential ignorance of the mathematical reasoning involved in digital communication engineering; this makes all the difference between an analysis of the impact of mass media on audiences on the one side, and media archaeology on the other.”

[n.p.]  ”

In a McLuhanite reading, the essential message of electronic communication transfer is in its temporal field. The previous technical media of storing physical events (photography, phonography, cinematography) have been counter-balanced by media of pure transfer in the 20th century. Prominently ranging among these has been radio based on the electronic vacuum tube and its functional successor (though irreplaceable in the case of the TV monitor tube!), the transistor. The thermionic tube has been the defining element of electronics as such. McLuhan neglected this decisive media-archaeological artefact, remaining a philologist rather than an engineer, thus being media scholar only half way. That is how he can write of “electricity” as the paradigmatic energy form of the present, whereas electronics does not simply mean electric energy but the directability, almost governance (both analogue and logical) of free-floating electrons in vacuum space with almost light speed, thus allowing for low-currency based information engineering.”

[n.p.]  “McLuhan’s term “acoustic structure” [sic] evidently refers to an epistemological ground, not to the acoustic figure (what ears can hear). This ground-breaking took place with the collapse of Euclidic space into Riemann spaces and culminates around 1900 with quantum physical notions (the para-sonic wave/particle dualism, up to the “superstring” theory of today) on the one side, and Henri Bergson’s dynamic idea of matter as image in the sense of vibrating waves and frequencies. McLuhan’s “acoustic space” is oscillating time and implicitly returns in Gilles Deleuze’s “interval” philosophy.”

[n.p.] ”

In terms of analyzing current computer-based media culture, McLuhan’s electricity-centered approach seems antiquated. But when it comes to apply his critique of technical communication to the re-thinking of media history, the replacement of scriptural linearity by “sonic” resonance becomes productive. “Resonance” is McLuhan’s central figure of dynamic temporality taking place in acoustic space which is “organic and integral, perceived through the simultaneous interplay of all the senses”, a kind of “echoland”– sonic time rather than history.”

[n.p.] “Media theory, today, thus needs to be algo-rhythmic itself, just as the conventional concept of media history is being replaced by chrono-archival reconfigurations and media-archaeological recursions. Thus, re-reading McLuhan still sets media theory in motion.”


  •  Friedrich Kittler, “Il dio delle orecchie,” in Prepare la venuta degli dei: wagner e i media senza dimenticare i Pink Floyd (Roma: L’Orma, 2011) 45-69 [trans. of “Pink Floyd, Brain Damage,” Europalyrik (1982)]

“[Q]uando, insieme a forte e piano, chiaro e scuro, cielo e inferno, scompaiono anche tutte le altre differenze, si apre un nuovo spazio che altre culture chiamano ‘Satori’; per questo non bisognerebbe ascoltare l’esplosione mediatica dei nostri giorni, come hanno fatto i suoi profeti, con gli strumenti della teoria dei media. Secondo Marshall McLuhan, il messaggio del sintetizzatore e’ semplicemente il sintetizzatore stesso; ma quando si fa talmente buio che non e’ piu’ possibile distinguere il lato oscuro della luna, chissa’ che i media elettronici non annuncino figure ancora piu’ oscure. Testuali parole di Waters: ‘The medium is not the message, Marshall … is it? I mean, it’s all in the lap of the fucking gods … (Pause for laughter).” (69) [Trans.: When, together with piano and forte, light and dark, heaven and hell, disappeared also all the other differences, there opened a new space that other cultures call ‘Satori’; for this it wasn’t necessary to listen to the mediatic explosion of the present moment, as its prophets did; but when it is so dark that it is no longer possible to distinguish the dark side of the moon, who knows if electronic media weren’t announcing even darker figures. As Waters stated, ‘The medium is not the message, Marshall … is it? I mean, it’s all in the lap of the fucking gods … (Pause for laughter).” The concluding quote is from Roger Waters, A Rambling Conversation with Roger Waters Concerning All This and That, interviewed by Nick Sedgewick, in Wish You Were Here Songbookthis interview is on the web at utopia.knoware.nl. The context is: “I just can’t get my mind round all that fucking nonsense … all that bollocks about when, how, and why … you know, the medium is not the message, Marshall … is it? I mean, it’s all in the lap of the fucking gods … (pause for laughter).”


John Durham Peters, “McLuhan’s Grammatical Theology,” Canadian Journal of Communication 36.2 (2011) 227-242

228: “McLuhan’s Cambridge dissertation officially concerns the English Renaissance satirist Thomas Nashe but actually covers the history of the trivium.”

229: “McLuhan was persistently interested in revising the dissertation for publication, even late in his life, and the trivium made an appearance in his posthumous The Laws of Media (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1988). [“Dialectics” appears on the same page—curatorial note.]

229: “Seeing [McLuhan] as a grammatical theologian is a more pointed version of the traditional understanding of McLuhan as a Catholic humanist, but it also clarifies his take on language and his vision of media analysis, his systematic blurring of the logical and the analogical, his fondness for arresting assertions (the pun is intended), and above all his repression of dialectical thinking.”

229-230: “For a refresher course on the trivium, there is no better guide than McLuhan himself. Grammar, the art of interpretation in general, flourishes best in concert with rhetoric. … The central drama of the dissertation is that of overweening dialectic repeatedly threatening to engulf and destroy grammar.”

[“The dynamics of the classical trivium both presuppose a science of exegesis … and predispose authors to engaging in the historical controversies surrounding the dynamics in general. … McLuhan stresses the intertwining of the trivial arts (grammar, dialectics, rhetoric), setting out every phase in the complex history of the subject. … Preliminary working definitions of dialectics here (in Chapter One of McLuhan’s dissertation) as reasoning or probable argumentation come from Aristotle. As the chapter progresses, the full concept of dialectics  proves to be substantially more complex than this. McLuhan stresses the inseparability of dialectics from rhetoric  with respect to the origins and history of both … and later gives prominence to quotations from Aristotle  explicitly characterizing rhetoric as the counterpart of dialectics and as an outgrowth of dialectics. This is so because inventing and discovering all the arguments  for or against any position … were subordinate not to the discovery of truth but to rhetorical persuasion. To the extent that dialectics  functioned as a technique of argument and discourse, it was automatically subsumed under rhetoric—by rhetoricians. But dialecticians rigorously subordinated rhetoric and grammar to their art. … McLuhan states plainly that he is writing his history of the trivium from a grammatical point of view, because the analysis and interpretation of the doctrines under discussion are a grammatical problem. He points out that with the exception of Aristotle’s fragmented account, there is no history of dialectics written from a dialectical point of view. … Following developments from Abelard to Erasmus … allows McLuhan to reinforce his thesis  that the trivium endured intact, even during those periods when obvious ascendancy of one component appeared to eclipse another. …Given the historical period under review, the interaction of grammar and dialectics is a substantial focus of this chapter (three). … McLuhan broaches a variety of absorbing questions (in chapter four), emboldened by his vision of the interdependent trivial arts.” (Editor’s notes to McLuhan, The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time, ed. W. Terrence Gordon (1943; rpt. Corte Madera: Gingko P, 2006), pp. xi, 14, 38, 80, 130, 208)]

230:  “McLuhan relies heavily on French Catholic humanists for his arguments, especially Étienne Gilson, his future colleague at the University of Toronto, who earns a fulsome note of gratitude for returning “us to the camp of ancient grammatological [sic; McLuhan wrote “grammatical”] analogists” (McLuhan, 2006, p. 36)

[“Aside from a shared knowledge of detective fiction, the two men had little in common. Gilson, for one thing, possessed a kind of hardheaded, French bourgeois practicality that deflated many of McLuhan’s cherished schemes. He tended to regard McLuhan as a bit of an oddity. Gilson was primarily interested in what Aquinas or Matthew of Aquasparta … had actually said; McLuhan was interested in them for what ideas they might spark in his own head.” Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (Toronto: Random House, 1989) 82].

231: “This capacious attitude toward knowledge and joy in miscellanies are among his most important legacies to media studies. If a medium can be defined as any fabrication, then our field is as big as Google. It is almost a mark of tribal identity for media scholars today to seek out and then transfigure obscure knowledge into higher relevance, and it is a style perfected by McLuhan. … McLuhan helped to dash forever the notion of abstract “content” carried by the neutral “pipes” of diverse media. In a sense, he was the anti-Shannon, and his media theory was the counterpoint to the mathematical theory of communication that dominated intellectual life in the 1950s.”

232: “McLuhan had an acute sense for the tragic aspect of media prosthetics, the amputation that accompanies every extension. In the 1970s he regularly railed against the “angelism” and “gnosticism” he found in thinkers, even Teilhard de Chardin, who wanted to transform the body and its finitude into some kind of electrical or pharmaceutical transcendence.  The state of being “discarnate” he found a disaster, whether for messages or human beings.

232:  “McLuhan wanted to encompass nature and culture, science and humanities equally in his media grammars, but he ran aground on mathematics. Instead of blaming Descartes and Pascal for deracinating the tradition, he might have tried harder to see why calculus became the grammar in which the modern book of nature was written. But his exclusively literary understanding of grammar left him out of step, which is twinned with his shunning of dialectic, despite his warm endorsement of scientific modes of thinking, or at least of metaphors ransacked from such fields as evolutionary biology, quantum mechanics, and neurology.”

[“Throughout Western history we have traditionally and rightly regarded letters as the source of civilization, and looked to our literatures as the hallmark of civilized attainment. Yet all along, there has been with us a shadow of number, the language of science. In isolation, number is as mysterious as writing. … Nonliterate societies had small use for numbers, and today the nonliterate digital computer substitutes ‘yes’ and ‘no’ for numbers. The computer is strong on contours, weak on digits. In effect, then, the electric age brings number back into unity with visual and auditory experience, for good or ill. … Had Spengler taken the time to discover the origins of both number and Euclidean space in the psychological effects of the phonetic alphabet, The Decline of the West might never have been written. That work is based on the assumption that classical man, Apollonian man, was not the product of a technological bias in Greek culture (namely, the early impact of literacy on a tribal society), but rather the result of a special tremor in the soul stuff that embosomed the Greek world. … [W]riting [is not] necessary to an electric technology. … The idea of an infinite but continuous and uniform process, so basic to the Gutenberg technology of movable types, gave rise to the calculus.” Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), chapter 11, “Number”].

236: “Recent media histories written in the wake of Friedrich Kittler and Jacques Derrida always discover media as displaced (misplaced) writing. The sola scriptura of Kittler’s Aufschreibesysteme (1985; see Winthrop-Young, 2000) or Derrida’s incessant grammatological conversion of image and voice into writing are the two operations most exciting, in my view, in media history and theory during the past three decades. For McLuhan, in contrast, audiovisual media fit into his overall story in The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) and Understanding Media (1964) as an alternative to—a rupture with—writing, not its radicalization.”

237: “Dialectics at a standstill are also found in McLuhan’s account of metaphor. … In McLuhan, the metaphors often do not defer or refer to another kind of writing: they point away from history, toward the free vacant space of eternity or surrealistic poetic free-play or cognitive process.”

[“All media are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new forms. The spoken word was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way. Words are a kind of information retrieval that can range over the total environment and experience at high speed. Words are complex systems of metaphors and symbols that translate experience into our uttered or outered senses. … With the new media … it is also possible to store and to translate everything; and, as for speed, that is no problem. No further acceleration is possible this side of the light barrier. … Stéphane Mallarmé thought ‘the world exists to end in a book.’ We are now in a position to go beyond that and transfer the entire show to the memory of a computer.” – McLuhan, “Media as Translators,” ch. 6, Understanding Media (1964)]

239: “[T]hough McLuhan may have been a grammatical theologian in theory, he was clearly a sophist rhetorician in practice and performance.”

[“Many people would probably welcome an elucidation of Joyce’s celebrated retort to a critic of his puns: ‘Yes, some of them are trivial and some of them are quadrivial.’ For, as usual, Joyce was being quite precise and helpful. He means literally that his puns are crossroads of meaning in his communication network, and that his techniques for managing the flow of messages in his network were taken from the traditional disciplines of grammar, logic, rhetoric, on one hand, and of arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy, on the other. … [F]or Joyce as much as for St. Augustine, the trivial and quadrivial arts form a harmony of philology and science which is indispensable to the exegetist of scripture and of language, too. … Music was, esthetically speaking, the meeting place of poetics and mathematics, of grammatica and astronomy. Each letter of the alphabet had its numerical power attached to it quite as definitely as Rimbaud joined vowel and color. … [T]rivium and quadrivium … are propaedeutic to other studies. … Dialectics seeks a syllogistic certitude which is alien to the mode of vision of art. Art must employ dialectics as matter, not as the way or conclusion of its quest. … Dialectics shuns the way of these nets of analogies, seeking to reduce them to univocal discourse and linear statements. So there is special propriety in the analogical juxtaposition of the antithetic modes of dialectics, Scylla and Charybdis, Aristotle and Plato, as providing the true course of the poet. ‘One word burrowing on another’ is a typical (Joycean) pun which invokes the two-way process of borrowing and burrowing plus the image of burial mounds and the tree-pillar cults which themselves were modes of communication between the living and the dead.” Marshall McLuhan, “James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial,” Thought 28 no. 108 (Spring 1953).]