Thursday, May 31, 2012

Eric McLuhan on "The New Culture"

This past winter I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Eric McLuhan, the son of the celebrated media theorist Marshall McLuhan, and communications scholar in his own right. Eric has been continuing his father's line of reflection and insight since the 1970s and has authored or co-authored some half-dozen books.

Recently, we were corresponding on a few issues concerning communications and society. I was interested to learn that over the last few years, McLuhan has delivered three talks in Rome, which to the best of my knowledge remain unpublished. He was kind enough to share the transcripts with me. The first talk was delivered at the Lateran University in 2009 to a group of university rectors. In it, he discussed contemporary students and the pressures they face. He makes eight points, all of which share a certain amount of interrelation, but together constitute a recognizably McLuhanesque reflection on the effects of our digital environments today.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Eliot: Tradition and the Individual Talent




By T.S. Eliot

Eliot once wrote "Immature poets borrow. Mature poets steal." The great modern poet, who died in 1965, wrote the following essay in which he outlines the relationship of a poem to other poems, that is, of how artists to assimilate themselves to a literary tradition that has come before them. Coming from a poet considered one of the most revolutionary and emblematic of modern literature, it is extraordinary, and is reproduced here in its entirely.

In English writing we seldom speak of tradition, though we occasionally apply its name in deploring its absence. We cannot refer to "the tradition" or to "a tradition"; at most, we employ the adjective in saying that the poetry of So-and-so is "traditional" or even "too traditional." Seldom, perhaps, does the word appear except in a phrase of censure. If otherwise, it is vaguely approbative, with the implication, as to the work approved, of some pleasing archæological reconstruction. You can hardly make the word agreeable to English ears without this comfortable reference to the reassuring science of archaeology.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Word and Silence in 2012



The French poet Charles Péguy once wrote these beautiful lines:

Nous nous taisons. Heureux ceux, heureux deux amis, qui s’aiment assez, qui veulent assez se plaire, qui se connaissent, qui s’entendent assez, qui sont assez parents, qui pensent et sentent assez de même assez ensemble en dedans, chacun séparément, assez les mêmes, chacun côte à côte, de marcher longtemps, longtemps, d'aller, de marcher silencieusement le long des silencieuses routes. Heureux deux amis, qui s'aiment assez pour (savoir) se taire ensemble. Dans un pays qui sait se taire. Nous montions. Nous nous taisions. Depuis longtemps nous nous taisions. 

It refers to the silence that is rich in meaning and significance for two friends who know each other well. They do not need to speak very much. There is deep communication in their silent presence to one another. Happy the two friends who love each other enough to know to be silent together.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Focal Things and Practices

Albert Borgmann
The German-American philosopher Albert Borgmann is professor at the University of Montana and author of several books on the effects of electronic media on the human person. He rejects both technological determinism -- the view that technology is a irresistible force that forces our hand as we shape our culture, and technological instrumentalism, which sees technology as a mere collective of neutral processes and structures that can be used either well or badly. Like Marshall McLuhan, Borgmann is aware that the medium “is” the message, highly transformative in and of itself, and requires critical analysis and understanding. For example, he writes:
Using or not using the interstate highway system is not a matter of choice anymore for most of us, and neither are the moral consequences of long commutes and the neglect of family, neighborhood, and inner city. When we finally come home, late and exhausted, greeted by a well-stocked refrigerator, a preternaturally efficient microwave, and diverting television, there is little choice when we fail to cook a good meal and summon the family to the dinner table.