Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​M​A​.​8​.​3.2 | PDF

Abstract | This essay inves­ti­gates the col­lab­o­ra­tion between McLuhan and the Roman­ian born Cana­di­an artist, Sorel Etrog. In 1975, Etrog’s movie Spi­ral was shown at the Cen­tre for Cul­ture and Tech­nol­o­gy, estab­lished by McLuhan at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. Fol­low­ing that event, McLuhan sug­gest­ed that Etrog select “stills from the film so that he could pro­vide an anno­ta­tion to those images – a free form text of quo­ta­tions from var­i­ous writ­ers – as well as a com­men­tary”. Thanks to anoth­er great pro­tag­o­nist of the Cana­di­an cul­tur­al scene, Bar­ry Callaghan, that idea became a tan­gi­ble object a few years after McLuhan had passed away: Spi­ral. Images from the film. Text by Mar­shall McLuhan, was in fact pub­lished in 1987 by Exile Edi­tions in Toron­to. Today, it remains as a memen­to of an orig­i­nal artis­tic encounter. It also remains as a tool to recon­sid­er our envi­ron­ment through poet­ry and images, as words and still-shots are cast to pose an intel­lec­tu­al chal­lenge to an increas­ing­ly mate­ri­al­is­tic soci­ety. As a book, Spi­ral is con­ceived to make ideas on media and soci­ety res­onate through a wit­ty jux­ta­po­si­tion of images from the film and lit­er­ary quo­ta­tions from a broad West­ern tra­di­tion that encour­ages read­ers to nav­i­gate the ongo­ing pro­found cul­tur­al shift. Known but not often inves­ti­gat­ed when dis­cussing McLuhan’s artis­tic asso­ci­a­tions, the col­lab­o­ra­tion between Etrog and McLuhan ought to be delved into for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. It is, in fact, strate­gic to appre­ci­ate how McLuhan has act­ed as a facil­i­ta­tor of a renewed 20th cen­tu­ry inter-art dia­logue. Then, it helps to con­sid­er the con­scious shift from mod­ernist avant-garde to new avant-gardes and art forms of the 1970s in rela­tion to McLuhan’s envi­ron­men­tal explo­rations. Final­ly, it also pays homage to an artist that deserves to be remem­bered as one of the most orig­i­nal voic­es of the Cana­di­an artis­tic renaissance.

Résumé | Cet essai étudie la col­lab­o­ra­tion entre McLuhan et l'artiste cana­di­en d'origine roumaine, Sorel Etrog. En 1975, le film Spi­ral d'Etrog a été présen­té au Cen­tre for Cul­ture and Tech­nol­o­gy, créé par McLuhan à l'Université de Toron­to. En réponse à cet événe­ment, McLuhan a sug­géré qu'Etrog sélec­tionne « des images du film pour qu'il puisse leur fournir une anno­ta­tion - un texte libre de cita­tions de divers auteurs - ain­si qu'un com­men­taire ». Grâce à un autre grand pro­tag­o­niste de la scène cul­turelle cana­di­enne, Bar­ry Callaghan, cette idée devint un objet tan­gi­ble quelques années après la mort de McLuhan : Spi­ral. Images from the film. Text by Mar­shall McLuhan fut pub­lié en 1987 par Exile Edi­tions à Toron­to. Aujourd'hui, il demeure un sou­venir d'une ren­con­tre artis­tique orig­i­nale. Il demeure égale­ment un out­il pour recon­sid­ér­er notre envi­ron­nement à tra­vers la poésie et les images, alors que les mots et les images fix­es sont jetés pour pos­er un défi intel­lectuel à une société de plus en plus matéri­al­iste. Comme livre, Spi­ral est conçu pour faire réson­ner des idées sur les médias et la société par une jux­ta­po­si­tion spir­ituelle d'images du film et des cita­tions lit­téraires d'une large tra­di­tion occi­den­tale qui encour­age les lecteurs à nav­iguer dans le pro­fond change­ment cul­turel en cours. Con­nue, mais rarement étudiée lors des dis­cus­sions sur les asso­ci­a­tions artis­tiques de McLuhan, la col­lab­o­ra­tion entre Etrog et McLuhan devrait être explorée pour dif­férentes raisons. Il est, en fait, stratégique d'apprécier com­ment McLuhan a agi en tant que facil­i­ta­teur d'un dia­logue inter­artis­tique du 20e siè­cle renou­velé. Ensuite, il est utile de con­sid­ér­er le pas­sage con­scient de l'avant-garde mod­erniste à de nou­velles formes avant-gardistes et artis­tiques des années 1970 en rela­tion avec les explo­rations envi­ron­nemen­tales de McLuhan. Enfin, cela rend égale­ment hom­mage à un artiste qui mérite qu’on se sou­vi­enne de lui comme l'une des voix les plus orig­i­nales de la renais­sance artis­tique canadienne.

Ele­na Lam­ber­ti | Uni­ver­sità di Bologna

Printing a Film to Make it Resonate:
Sorel Etrog and Marshall McLuhan’s Spiral

McLuhan’sArtistic Vision: Modernism and Beyond

In Mar­shall McLuhan’s nar­ra­tive on media and soci­ety, the artist is the hero oppos­ing the actions of the “many thou­sands of the best-trained indi­vid­ual minds [that] have made it a full-time busi­ness to get inside the col­lec­tive pub­lic mind … in order to manip­u­late, exploit, con­trol” (The Mechan­i­cal Bride v). Against these invis­i­ble forces, the artist is the indi­vid­ual who uses their inte­gral aware­ness to per­ceive the emerg­ing sub­lim­i­nal soci­etal pat­terns and antic­i­pate change. As an explor­er, the artist is the inter­face of jux­ta­pos­ing envi­ron­ments; their art is meant to keep peo­ple awake to the fig­ure and ground inter­play. The artist is the anti­dote to the Nar­cis­sus nar­co­sis that numbs per­cep­tion and kills free will.[1] Inevitably, the artist can­not be pru­dent, nor deco­rous. McLuhan por­trays him as a sham and a mime, a char­ac­ter who “under­takes not the eth­i­cal quest but the quest of the great fool” (McLuhan, The Inte­ri­or Land­scape xiii-xiv). In McLuhan’s media poet­ic, the arts are priv­i­leged prob­ing tools pre­cise­ly because they turn giv­en per­cep­tive rules upside-down and let the artist take dif­fer­ent roads. Inevitably, the arts are at once a mir­ror of their time (hence the artist as a mime) and barom­e­ter of all that is new, trans­gres­sive, and mys­ti­fy­ing (hence the artist as a sham). For this rea­son, the “seri­ous artist” oppos­es and chal­lenges offi­cial art and refus­es to com­ply with the estab­lished mod­els (McLuhan, “Art as Anti-Envi­ron­ment” 56); in fact, they detect the tech­niques of manip­u­la­tion, exploita­tion, and con­trol through the con­tem­pla­tion of offi­cial art. That is the pre­lim­i­nary step to devel­op a counter-envi­ron­ment and to restore sen­so­r­i­al and cog­ni­tive aware­ness. Man­ner­ism numbs because it com­forts us, while avant-garde art awak­ens because it shocks us. Offi­cial art pre­serves the sta­tus quo, but exper­i­men­tal art nav­i­gates change.

Unmis­tak­ably, McLuhan’s ideas on art are root­ed in his pro­found knowl­edge of Mod­ernist artists. He learned from Ezra Pound to con­sid­er the artist as “the anten­na of the race.” Read­ing James Joyce dis­closed to him the prob­ing pow­ers of ety­mol­o­gy as a key to sen­so­r­i­al play­ful­ness. T. S. Eliot’s poet­ry and crit­i­cism opened up new “doors of per­cep­tion on the poet­ic process” (McLuhan, The Inte­ri­or Land­scape xiii-xiv). Wyn­d­ham Lewis’s vor­tex­es and spa­tial phi­los­o­phy offered McLuhan a con­cep­tu­al form designed to cap­ture the inner truth of a sit­u­a­tion through a dis­tort­ed and grotesque per­spec­tive. McLuhan’s intel­lec­tu­al debts to these artists (and oth­ers), have been acknowl­edged, dis­cussed, and inves­ti­gat­ed.[2] How­ev­er, being a “seri­ous artist” himself—that is, a mime and a sham—McLuhan did not indulge in “Mod­ernist man­ner­ism.” Instead, he put on the Mod­ernists and then start­ed new explo­rations of his own, engag­ing in orig­i­nal col­lab­o­ra­tions with con­tem­po­rary artists. He got along bet­ter with artists than with most of his fel­low aca­d­e­mics because his own modus operan­di was intrin­si­cal­ly artis­tic; that is, exper­i­men­tal, inno­v­a­tive, and out­ra­geous­ly non-aca­d­e­m­ic. If not anti-aca­d­e­m­ic.

McLuhan’s works with Harley Park­er, Wil­fred Wat­son, Quentin Fiore are well known. His con­nec­tions with Wyn­d­ham Lewis and Sheila Wat­son have been explored to bet­ter under­stand McLuhan’s cre­ative prob­ing method (Betts et al.). We know that a vari­ety of artists and celebri­ties came to his Cen­tre at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to to dis­cuss con­tem­po­rary trends in soci­ety, pol­i­tics and, of course, the arts, includ­ing John Lennon, Yoko Ono, and Kei­th Car­ra­dine. John Cage’s Roara­to­rio, first pro­duced at the Paris Fes­ti­val d’Automne at Beaubourg in Jan­u­ary 1980, was pre­sent­ed as a trib­ute to Mar­shall McLuhan when brought to Toron­to on the cen­te­nary of James Joyce’s birth­day, two years lat­er. The list is long and inter­est­ing because it cross-reads dif­fer­ent and inspir­ing artis­tic expe­ri­ences. How­ev­er, in this brief essay, I want to focus on a col­lab­o­ra­tion that is not often inves­ti­gat­ed when dis­cussing McLuhan’s artis­tic asso­ci­a­tions and which I think ought to be delved into for dif­fer­ent rea­sons. It is, in fact, strate­gic to appre­ci­ate how McLuhan has act­ed as a facil­i­ta­tor of a renewed 20th-cen­tu­ry inter-art dia­logue. I con­sid­er the con­scious shift from mod­ernist avant-garde to new avant-gardes and art forms of the 1970s in rela­tion to McLuhan’s envi­ron­men­tal explo­rations. This essay also pays homage to an artist that deserves to be remem­bered as one of the most orig­i­nal voic­es of the Cana­di­an artis­tic renais­sance. I focus on the brief but mean­ing­ful col­lab­o­ra­tion between Mar­shall McLuhan and Sorel Etrog, the Roman­ian-born Cana­di­an artist who passed away in 2014.

Sorel, Marshall, and Dada: Changing Perspectives

In 2013, the Art Gallery of Ontario host­ed a major ret­ro­spec­tive ded­i­cat­ed to Sorel Etrog, show­ing five decades of his works and art projects. The exhi­bi­tion closed at the end of Sep­tem­ber; Sorel passed away a few months lat­er, in Feb­ru­ary 2014. Born in 1933 in Jassy, Roma­nia, in a Jew­ish fam­i­ly, Etrog was a young boy when the Ger­mans occu­pied the city in 1939, fol­lowed by the Rus­sians a few years lat­er. The fam­i­ly suc­ceed­ed in escap­ing to Israel in 1950; here, Etrog served in the army (doing a peri­od of active duty dur­ing the Suez cri­sis in 1956) and received an Army schol­ar­ship to attend a new school of art in Tel Aviv (Hein­rich). His first group exhi­bi­tion was in 1956, but his life took a new turn in 1959, the year he met the Cana­di­an Art crit­ic, Samuel J. Zacks. That same year, in Octo­ber, “he held his first one-man show in North Amer­i­ca at the gallery Moos. It con­tained twen­ty-six new and old paint­ed con­struc­tions and some draw­ings” (Hein­rich 98). Etrog became a Cana­di­an cit­i­zen in 1963, when he was thir­ty years old. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly, that same year on Octo­ber 24th, the McLuhan’s Cen­tre for Cul­ture and Tech­nol­o­gy was also estab­lished at the St. Michael Col­lege at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. Twelve years lat­er, in 1975, Etrog’s exper­i­men­tal film Spi­ral was shown at the Cen­tre (also broad­cast on CBC tele­vi­sion), an event that trig­gered a col­lab­o­ra­tion between the Roman­ian-born sculp­tor and the Cana­di­an media guru and lit­er­a­ture pro­fes­sor. They worked togeth­er on a pub­li­ca­tion based on that movie: Spi­ral. Images from the Film. Text by Mar­shall McLuhan, pub­lished in 1987 by Exile Edi­tions in Toronto.

Pri­mar­i­ly a sculp­tor and a visu­al artist though he also wrote plays, non-fic­tion, and poet­ry, Etrog already had a his­to­ry of col­lab­o­ra­tions with impor­tant writ­ers of his time, among them Eugene Ionesco and Samuel Beck­ett. Sim­i­lar­ly, by 1975 McLuhan had pub­lished his most cel­e­brat­ed (and con­tro­ver­sial) artis­tic books: The Medi­um is the Mas­sage and War and Peace in the Glob­al Vil­lage (with Quentin Fiore, respec­tive­ly in 1967 and 1968); Coun­terblast (illus­trat­ed by Harley Park­er, 1969) and Through the Van­ish­ing Point (also with Park­er, 1969); From Cliché to Arche­type (with Wil­fred Wat­son, 1970). Inter-art col­lab­o­ra­tion was very much part of the artis­tic spir­it of time. How­ev­er, with McLuhan all exper­i­ments were asso­ci­at­ed to his media inves­ti­ga­tions, meant to per­fect a dis­con­tin­u­ous form of writ­ing capa­ble of ren­der­ing the acoustic dimen­sion of the new elec­tric envi­ron­ment. A form capa­ble of alert­ing to the ongo­ing per­cep­tive shift and of mak­ing peo­ple aware of and even expe­ri­ence the con­tin­u­ing cul­tur­al and soci­etal change: a form that McLuhan called the mosa­ic.[3] Sim­i­lar­ly, Etrog’s artis­tic search intend­ed to explore the invis­i­ble cul­tur­al pat­terns under­pin­ning the vis­i­ble sur­face. McLuhan and Etrog shared not only the will to exper­i­ment with art forms, but also a deep knowl­edge of Mod­ernist avant-garde exper­i­ments with form, as well as of lat­er artis­tic explo­rations. The The­atre of the Absurd was also a shared area of inves­ti­ga­tion. Know­ing both Ionesco and Beck­ett, Sorel Etrog was famil­iar with their post-war poet­ics; as an artist who had sur­vived Ger­man and Russ­ian occu­pa­tion he, too, felt that “what is absurd, or rather what is unusu­al, is first and fore­most what exists, real­i­ty” (Bon­nefoy 127). McLuhan also defined the absur­dist the­atre move­ment as pen­e­trat­ing real­i­ty through a provoca­tive use of ver­bal cliché: “Ionesco par­tic­u­lar­ly cul­ti­vates the art of the ver­bal cliché, and he uses the ver­bal cliché to probe one of the most fas­ci­nat­ing phe­nom­e­na of our age and that is the way in which the West­ern mind is chang­ing its mind”, (McLuhan and Wat­son 5). For McLuhan, the the­atre of the absurd was instru­men­tal to under­stand that, per­haps, “the uni­ver­sal human con­di­tion today in a peri­od of rapid inno­va­tion is nec­es­sar­i­ly that of alien­ation” (McLuhan and Wat­son 9).[4]

As an artist, Etrog had grown in the wake of “The Dada Cir­cus” (his term),[5] so much so that his work stands at the cross-road of the his­tor­i­cal avant-garde of the ear­ly-20th cen­tu­ry and the more exper­i­men­tal artis­tic trends of the 1960s-1970s. Accord­ing to Tris­tan Tzara, also a Roman­ian and one of the found­ing fathers of Dadaism, “The begin­ning of Dada were not the begin­ning of art but of dis­gust” (qtd. in Rubin 12). This dis­gust was for a mate­ri­al­is­tic soci­ety that had led to a hor­ri­ble and unprece­dent­ed war and was not chang­ing its pri­or­i­ties: élites over com­mon peo­ple and con­formism and ortho­doxy over cre­ativ­i­ty and orig­i­nal think­ing. Through Dada, art becomes “anti-art,” a process of rebel­lion against “the incon­sis­ten­cy of con­ven­tion­al beliefs” (cita­tion). Like Dada, Etrog too opposed the habits of the pub­lic and the intel­lec­tu­als alike. Sim­i­lar­ly, this is what McLuhan intend­ed to do with his first pub­lished vol­ume, The Mechan­i­cal Bride, where he open­ly stat­ed that he want­ed to take his read­ers inside the revolv­ing pic­ture and make them sort out the behav­iour­al pat­terns sub­lim­i­nal­ly imposed on them by some of the best-trained minds of the time. In lat­er books, McLuhan was nev­er so explic­it again; how­ev­er, all his work on media, cul­ture, and soci­ety was intend­ed to help peo­ple acquire aware­ness of more or less vis­i­ble cul­tur­al and soci­etal phe­nom­e­na through a dis­rup­tive use of lan­guage and for­mal techniques.

Sorel Etrog nev­er doubt­ed McLuhan’s Dadaism. I met him in 1997 through Bar­ry Callaghan, a Cana­di­an intel­lec­tu­al who must be acknowl­edged not only for his own work as a writer and a crit­ic but also for his inces­sant role as a gen­er­ous advo­cate and sup­port­er of lit­er­ary and artis­tic caus­es. Bar­ry Callaghan turned the project con­ceived by Sorel and Mar­shall into a book and intro­duced me to Sorel’s work, point­ing out the cor­re­spon­dences with some of McLuhan’s ideas I was explor­ing at the time. Thanks to Bar­ry, meet­ing Etrog became for me a jour­ney into artis­tic and cul­tur­al dis­cov­ery. His stu­dio was a place where many media the­o­ries of the time mate­ri­alised in front of my eyes: I found myself immersed in a strange wood made of sculp­tures com­bin­ing a vari­ety of coloured inor­gan­ic ele­ments to shape curi­ous humanoids. Etrog walked me along his crea­tures, him­self a tall man whose long arms con­tin­ued to move around as if also trans­lat­ing his words into whirling objects. To fol­low him into his own cre­ative maze was not only a fas­ci­nat­ing but also an enlight­en­ing jour­ney into both Etrog’s inner land­scape and poet­ic. I could not but think of him as a young boy sur­viv­ing Ger­man and Russ­ian occu­pa­tion, and of him dis­cov­er­ing ways to shape his own “dis­gust” through artis­tic pat­terns. After all, Dada itself start­ed at the out­break of World War I. Anti-Art was not “art for art’s sake” but rather a form of protest against soci­etal con­for­mi­ty, espe­cial­ly against intel­lec­tu­al con­for­mi­ty. This is pre­cise­ly what brought McLuhan and Etrog togeth­er many years lat­er. Act­ing after anoth­er hor­ri­ble World War, they both oper­at­ed against the cul­tur­al homolo­ga­tions of their time. While shar­ing his art with me, Sorel was explic­it in point­ing out what he meant by defin­ing McLuhan as a Dadaist:

For me, I decid­ed that McLuhan was a Dadaist. I tell you why. Because of his lit­er­ary crit­i­cism. Since the first book, he was involved in the absurd, he explored the ads. He con­ceived the com­ic and the absurd as an attack. This was Dada! Anti-art. Give bour­geois insom­nia to wake them up. Dada liked to put traps. Same for McLuhan. Dada was an art of reac­tion. McLuhan, too, taught us to react, to change per­spec­tive, to look at things in a dif­fer­ent way.

To change per­spec­tive. To look at things in a dif­fer­ent way. Etrog was right. This is what McLuhan taught us when he start­ed to employ the poet­ic process to “adjust the read­er to the con­tem­po­rary world” (McLuhan, The Inte­ri­or Land­scape, xiv), explor­ing ads through his lit­er­ary knowl­edge. This is also what he taught us when he start­ed to read the glob­al vil­lage through artis­tic pat­terns, empha­siz­ing the uncan­ny through a grotesque (absurd) ren­der­ing: he shocked the bour­geois of his own time but attract­ed many oth­er mimes.

As Sorel told me, “Art is a lan­guage” and “artists only have dif­fer­ent lan­guages.” Some­times, the dif­fer­ent lan­guages con­t­a­m­i­nate each oth­er and flour­ish to touch our sens­es and our minds. This is what hap­pened when Etrog’s visu­al imagery and McLuhan’s media poet­ic met. McLuhan found Etrog’s explo­rations inter­est­ing for many rea­sons: they were root­ed in the mod­ernist avant-garde he loved so much; they explored dif­fer­ent per­cep­tive modes; they inves­ti­gat­ed form as a tool to make you see, feel, and hear in a renewed way. The two men met in Toron­to where McLuhan accept­ed to screen Etrog’s film Spi­ral at the Cen­tre of Cul­ture and Tech­nol­o­gy. McLuhan sug­gest­ed that Etrog select “stills from the film so that he could pro­vide an anno­ta­tion to those images—a free form text of quo­ta­tions from var­i­ous writers—as well as a com­men­tary” (McLuhan and Etrog, back cov­er). Thanks to anoth­er great mime and sham of the Cana­di­an cul­tur­al scene, Bar­ry Callaghan, that idea became a tan­gi­ble object a few years after McLuhan had passed away. Today, it remains as a memen­to of an orig­i­nal artis­tic encounter. It also remains a tool to recon­sid­er our envi­ron­ment through poet­ry and images, as words and still-shots pose an intel­lec­tu­al chal­lenge to an increas­ing­ly mate­ri­al­is­tic soci­ety. As a book, Spi­ral is con­ceived to make ideas on media and soci­ety res­onate through a wit­ty jux­ta­po­si­tion of images from the film and lit­er­ary quo­ta­tions from a broad West­ern tra­di­tion that encour­ages read­ers to nav­i­gate the ongo­ing pro­found cul­tur­al shift.

Moving Printed Images Through Literary Voices

Mid­way in our life’s journey,

I went astray from the straight

Road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.

These vers­es open not only Dante’s Divine Com­e­dy, but also the vol­ume Spi­ral. Images from the film. Cho­sen by McLuhan, they accom­pa­ny the first two images tak­en from Etrog’s film and show the face of a man reflect­ed in a mir­ror: eyes shut in the first image (Mid­way in our life’s jour­ney); eyes open in the sec­ond (I went astray from the straight / Road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood). From the very begin­ning, the com­bi­na­tion of image and text engages the read­er in a series of jux­ta­pos­ing move­ments that alter the lin­ear­i­ty and the fix­i­ty of the print­ed page. The first and imme­di­ate one is pure­ly mechan­i­cal and play­ful as it con­sists in the opti­cal illu­sion if read­ers quick­ly turn the first two pages: a short film show­ing the man on the first page open­ing his eyes on the sec­ond page, sud­den­ly star­ing at them. In fact, it is a dou­ble opti­cal illu­sion as the man is look­ing at him­self through a mir­ror. The trick­ery reflex repli­cates the open­ing scene of the film; it becomes here a chal­lenge to the idea of point of view or per­spec­tive. At the same time, it retrieves McLuhan’s famous image of the rear-view mir­ror, anoth­er opti­cal illu­sion that chal­lenges your way of per­ceiv­ing an envi­ron­ment while mov­ing. The words by Dante add empha­sis to the idea of inner jour­ney and visual/perceptive illu­sions, as they devel­op a metaphor also shap­ing a shift­ing envi­ron­ment: the main char­ac­ter leaves the straight road and enters a dark wood alone. He leaves the known for the unknown as he embarks in a jour­ney of dis­cov­ery. We know that Dante’s jour­ney pro­ceeds not through straight lines but through cir­cles, as he moves down and then up again, defin­ing a move­ment that recalls that of a spi­ral. Sim­i­lar­ly, while march­ing into the dark and then into the light, Dante meets peo­ple and ideas of the past as well as of his present. He inhab­its a tem­po­ral con­tin­u­um that blurs tra­di­tion­al per­ceiv­ing pat­terns, as he is talk­ing to the dead and to the immor­tals alike, as well as to him­self and to his read­ers. His final epiphany is there­fore reached through a dif­fer­ent approach to his­tor­i­cal time and space, as if spi­ral­ing across ages. Accord­ing to Etrog:

The Spi­ral is a sin­gle con­tin­u­ous line that cre­ates with­in itself the par­al­lel that exists con­ven­tion­al­ly between two lines. There­fore, you can have on this sin­gle line moments in time and space that sig­ni­fy the past, the present, and the future – and these moments occur in this unique sit­u­a­tion as par­al­lel. Time and space are col­lapsed. Chronol­o­gy is obso­lete. (McLuhan and Etrog 123)

Cer­tain­ly, Etrog’s fas­ci­na­tion with the spi­ral as a form appears to be in line with the visu­al and con­cep­tu­al cul­ture of his time, from land art (con­sid­er Spi­ral Jet­ty by Robert Smith­son, 1970) to the new indus­tri­al design, espe­cial­ly the so-called psy­che­del­ic design that became a sen­sa­tion from the 1960s for more than a decade. How­ev­er, his def­i­n­i­tion clear­ly reveals how he goes beyond the mere visu­al leit­mo­tif in the pur­suit of a deep­er search, which is at once philo­soph­i­cal and onto­log­i­cal: he is look­ing for a shared exis­ten­tial mean­ing with­in a tech­no­log­i­cal­ly evolv­ing soci­ety. At the same time, he is inves­ti­gat­ing across art forms to find the most suit­able one to serve that pur­pose. Metaphor­i­cal­ly, the spi­ral per­fect­ly cap­tures a new, uni­ver­sal human con­di­tion through the dynamism of a move­ment that ren­ders space­time and nei­ther just space nor time (“time and space are col­lapsed”). Sim­i­lar­ly, the sto­ry­line of Etrog’s film fol­lows an anal­o­gous spi­ral­ing movement.

The movie runs for about 30 min­utes, with music by Dmitri Shostakovich, and unfolds through par­al­lel visu­al motifs that divide into two main themes (life and death), which there­fore work as the two imag­i­nary lines with­in the also imag­i­nary spi­ral (the film sequence). The film nar­ra­tive is not eas­i­ly ren­dered through an ordered telling, pre­cise­ly because it is con­ceived as a spi­ral­ing mon­tage of sym­bol­ic images cre­at­ing a the­mat­ic rather than lin­ear plot. This cap­tured McLuhan’s atten­tion too:

The film Spi­ral was not script­ed but icon­i­cal­ly draft­ed, image by image. The struc­tur­al theme of Spi­ral presents the oscil­la­tion of two simul­ta­ne­ous and com­ple­men­tary cones or spi­rals, con­sti­tut­ing the syn­chronique worlds of birth and death. Spi­ral is not a diachronique or lin­eal struc­ture, but a syn­chronique and con­tra­pun­tal inter­play in a res­onat­ing struc­ture whose cen­tre is every­where and whose cir­cum­fer­ence is nowhere. (McLuhan and Etrog 125)

The open­ing scene of the film, lat­er retrieved as the open­ing image of the book, intro­duces the theme of per­cep­tion and shows the read­er how to inter­play with its nar­ra­tive con­struc­tion. As antic­i­pat­ed, it shows the close-up of a man with his eyes wide closed. Sud­den­ly, he opens them and stares at him­self in a mir­ror. Due to the reflect­ing illu­sion, he seems to stare at us too, chal­leng­ing us to look through things and not at them. Con­sis­tent­ly, the sto­ry then unfolds along a jour­ney that oscil­lates between two main leit­mo­tifs: the jux­ta­po­si­tion of images of death and of images of life, and the jux­ta­po­si­tion of nat­ur­al and mechan­i­cal elements—indeed, the melt­ing of the human body and inor­gan­ic com­po­nents of our civ­i­liza­tion. In a sort of pro­gres­sion d’éffet, Etrog shows a gun extend­ing the human arm; a hand play­ing with two eggs on a female breast; naked human bod­ies packed as food in tins; a watch and a human hand tak­ing turns on a plate as nour­ish­ment on dis­play; warms and screws blurred togeth­er as rot­ten corpses; a new born baby in an incu­ba­tor (arti­fi­cial­ly fed) and a blind­fold­ed man sedat­ed with a paci­fi­er; a naked child draw­ing the sun on a black­board; naked adults in prison whose hands tries to break free from the wood­en cage; and oth­ers. Among all these pic­tures, a blind­fold­ed nurse and a gravedig­ger bury­ing a blind­fold­ed man return along the spi­ral­ing nar­ra­tive to rep­re­sent the pas­sage from one human con­di­tion to anoth­er (and from organ­ic to inor­gan­ic), in an inces­sant exis­ten­tial dance. The idea of repeat­ed and inter­re­lat­ed pat­terns reach­es its cli­max through the image of two mouths (of a man and of a woman) con­nect­ed through a pipe; they cre­ate an air cir­cu­lat­ing sys­tem con­trolled through a faucet posi­tioned at the cen­tre. You live or you die depend­ing on the (mechan­i­cal) faucet posi­tion (open or closed), but both lives are inter-dependent.

In its mon­tage, Etrog’s 1974 spi­ral­ing film recalls Fer­nand Léger’s 1924 avant-garde film, Bal­let Méchanique, as it also pro­ceeds with no lin­ear but con­cep­tu­al plot through a mon­tage which alter­nates a series of images com­bin­ing organ­ic and inor­gan­ic ele­ments. How­ev­er, while in Léger’s filmic exper­i­ment, the cubist mon­tage cre­ates a dance that tran­scends the tra­di­tion­al idea of a sto­ry, in Etrog’s the sto­ry remains. Spi­ral points to the numb­ing process induced by media as envi­ron­ments, some­thing that McLuhan had inves­ti­gat­ed since the ear­ly 1950s. The spi­ral is pre­cise­ly that which pro­vides a dis­cern­ing direc­tion that ori­ents the audience’s psy­cho-per­cep­tive respons­es. There­fore, Etrog’s filmic exper­i­ment goes beyond the cubist urge to over­come a rep­re­sen­ta­tive (nar­ra­tive, pic­to­r­i­al) mod­el, as it engages with the human exis­ten­tial and phys­i­cal con­di­tion with­in the con­sol­i­dat­ing mass-soci­ety, fol­low­ing new wars and cul­tur­al revolutions.

In spite of oth­er more cru­el (and “real”) images already seen by the tele­vi­sion audi­ences of the time (Viet­nam was still hap­pen­ing and broad­cast and on air), in 1975 when Spi­ral was broad­cast on TV, CBC opt­ed for a late evening time. Etrog’s film was all but tra­di­tion­al or con­formist and the accel­er­at­ed mon­tage of some­what dis­turb­ing images in the film (includ­ing some explic­it nudes and some implic­it sex­u­al metaphors) risked shock­ing audi­ences out­side the avant-garde cir­cles. As Mcluhan would say, exper­i­men­tal art not only nav­i­gates change but also chal­lenges com­fort­ing aes­thet­i­cal mod­els; it is no sur­prise to know that McLuhan decid­ed to show Spi­ral at his Cen­tre. Etrog’s film res­onat­ed with McLuhan’s explo­rations of old and new media as exten­sions of man, as well as with his idea of how those exten­sions affect the human sen­so­ri­um. Etrog, too, was pur­su­ing “not the eth­i­cal quest but the quest of the great fool” (McLuhan, The Inte­ri­or Land­scape, 31). Etrog’s Spi­ral made vis­i­ble the shift from lin­ear into acoustic space, the shift from one sen­so­r­i­al mode to anoth­er, some­thing that McLuhan called the pas­sage from the eye to the ear, from the mechan­ic to the elec­tric age. In the ini­tial part of the film, a woman seems to give birth to a dial and to an adult man; in the final part, a naked baby plays with a bro­ken watch. Human­i­ty is born again in a world where time is no longer mea­sur­able along a line, and space needs to be rethought. Etrog’s exper­i­men­tal film, too, nav­i­gat­ed the envi­ron­men­tal change that McLuhan had been explor­ing for more than 20 years. The film was the per­fect cor­rel­a­tive objec­tive to his own ideas on media, art, and soci­ety. Both Etrog’s film and McLuhan’s explo­rations were meant to awak­en their audiences.

Like in the film, the Spi­ral book, too, col­laps­es time and space and chronol­o­gy is obso­lete; the first two pages are meant to alert read­ers on that. The play­ful opti­cal illu­sion and the care­ful­ly cho­sen lit­er­ary quo­ta­tions are offered nei­ther as an amuse­ment nor as an intro­duc­tion to the orig­i­nal film con­tent. Instead, they are assem­bled to show the per­cep­tive strat­e­gy that read­ers must adopt to start their own jour­ney of dis­cov­ery, to open their eyes. This book must not be read. It must not be watched. This book must be expe­ri­enced. Read­ers are invit­ed to shift their mode of obser­va­tion from light on to light through. The inter-art dia­logue McLuhan pro­posed here becomes not a cap­ti­vat­ing tech­nique sim­ply fol­low­ing the art trends of the time. Instead, it is employed as a strat­e­gy to over­come tra­di­tion­al and lin­ear modes of per­cep­tion that he con­sid­ers no longer fit for the indi­vid­u­als inhab­it­ing the elec­tric age. Alien­ation also comes from schiz­o­phrenic atti­tudes to an evolv­ing habi­tat, from our inabil­i­ty to remod­el our sen­so­ri­um. For this rea­son, the print­ed ver­bo-voco-visu­al ver­sion of Etrog’s Spi­ral is devel­oped as a per­cep­tive counter-envi­ron­ment con­scious­ly con­ceived to res­onate into the read­ers’ inner land­scape in more per­va­sive ways than the orig­i­nal cin­e­mat­ic one.

The para­dox is explained once one recalls McLuhan’s orig­i­nal def­i­n­i­tion of film as a form, as “the final ful­fil­ment of the great poten­tial of typo­graph­ic frag­men­ta­tion” (McLuhan Under­stand­ing Media 393); sim­i­lar­ly, “movies assume a high lev­el of lit­er­a­cy in their users and prove baf­fling to the non lit­er­ate” (384). Here, the focus is nei­ther on the con­tent nor on the mon­tage tech­nique of films, but rather on their mode of fruition pri­or to the inven­tion of elec­tron­ic and dig­i­tal tech­niques. Until that moment, films were a man­i­fes­ta­tion of the civ­i­liza­tion of the eye and their mode of fruition was tru­ly lit­er­ate: the audi­ence looked at the screen where lights and images were pro­ject­ed. They looked at the screen as they looked at a writ­ten page: words run one after the oth­er cre­at­ing a train-of-thought. Sim­i­lar­ly, images run one after the oth­er, cre­at­ing the illu­sion of move­ment, in fact, a train-of-still-shots. There­fore, if as a film Etrog’s Spi­ral is con­sid­ered avant-garde in terms of con­tent and tech­nique of mon­tage, it nonethe­less remains tra­di­tion­al in terms of per­cep­tive modes: it engages its spec­ta­tors most­ly con­cep­tu­al­ly, chal­leng­ing their stan­dard­ized under­stand­ing of real­i­ty. With lat­er tech­no­log­i­cal devel­op­ments (and start­ing with tele­vi­sion), images and sounds were instead pro­ject­ed on the audi­ence, chang­ing the psy­chophys­i­cal dynam­ics of watch­ing a movie. Spec­ta­tors are turned into screens as images are pro­ject­ed towards them; spec­ta­tors enter the tech­no­log­i­cal flux and com­plete the com­mu­nica­tive flow phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly. Elec­tric media induced a new tac­tile form of per­cep­tion that McLuhan defined as a mul­ti-sen­so­r­i­al and acoustic (that is, non-lin­ear and all-embrac­ing) inter­play, some­thing that returns spec­ta­tors to their role of audi­ences. The term audi­ence is in fact par­tic­u­lar­ly appro­pri­ate for the elec­tron­ic and dig­i­tal forms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and media, as it returns the com­mu­nica­tive process to an audi­to­ry dimen­sion as per its orig­i­nal ety­mol­o­gy. Spec­ta­tors (from the Latin spec­ta­tor, viewer/watcher) watch what is in front of them (light on); audi­ences (from the Latin auden­tia, lis­ten­ing) engage acousti­cal­ly in a com­mu­nica­tive process. As a book, Spi­ral engages the read­ers cog­ni­tive­ly and phys­i­o­log­i­cal­ly, cre­at­ing an acoustic (ver­bo-vocal-visu­al) mon­tage; read­ers must fill in the gaps con­nect­ing the visu­al (the images from the film) to the aur­al (the text cho­sen by McLuhan) in a process that requires a mul­ti­sen­so­ry approach—indeed, a mobile point of view that helps them to see “the action that is in progress and in which every­body is involved” (McLuhan, The Mechan­i­cal Bride 8). As a book, Spi­ral invites the spec­ta­tors of the movie Spi­ral to become an audi­ence so as to ful­ly expe­ri­ence a dynam­ic, inter­ac­tive com­mu­nica­tive process that alerts them on the absur­di­ty of all envi­ron­men­tal dynamics.

The col­lab­o­ra­tion between McLuhan and Etrog trans­lates into an edi­to­r­i­al inter-art project that con­veys move­ment to the print­ed page, giv­ing shape to what McLuhan terms the “con­crete essay.” McLuhan, a knowl­edge­able lit­er­ary schol­ar, was famil­iar with poésie con­crète and how it had inspired dif­fer­ent uses of old print­ing tech­niques. His inter­ac­tive mosa­ic of words, images, and gaps plays with that tra­di­tion to cre­ate a new form of essay that does not nar­rate the­o­ret­i­cal inves­ti­ga­tions but rather ren­ders them direct­ly on the print­ed page. At the same time, Etrog’s orig­i­nal movie offers him a series of per­ti­nent illus­tra­tions to ideas he had been explor­ing for decades:

In the film Spi­ral the ubiq­ui­tous and mov­ing cen­tre inten­si­fies aware­ness of the fragili­ty and tran­sience of exis­tence. In the uncer­tain­ty of the inter­val between the pram and the cof­fin, between birth and death, Spi­ral presents many labyrinths and por­traits of the human cog­ni­tive process. The dra­ma of these two imbal­ances is por­trayed by the action of the two ambu­lances in the labyrinth of the city streets. The body in the incu­ba­tor points to a labyrinth (spi­ral) of res­pi­ra­tion in a blind strug­gle for sur­vival. The open-heart surgery reveals the spi­ral of human cir­cu­la­tion in a par­al­lel strug­gle for blind sur­vival. One of the bizarre con­ceits of the sequence of the sar­dine can con­cerns the obses­sion of a con­sumer age with pack­ages, whether books or hi-rise or the nuclear fam­i­ly. This wit­ty obser­va­tion per­vades the film as a con­tin­u­ing metaphor, as do the two ambu­lances. (McLuhan and Etrog, 126)

In the film, the two metaphors intro­duced here (a “wit­ty obser­va­tion” and the “two ambu­lances”) are jux­ta­posed with a series of visu­al sym­bols that imme­di­ate­ly rein­force the spectator’s “aware­ness of the fragili­ty and tran­sience of exis­tence” with­in what is pre­sent­ed as “a con­sumer age” where thoughts, peo­ple, and ideas are equal­ly turned into pre-packed goods. The list is long: eggs/breast/womb (life) and arms (death); clocks (mechan­ic and lim­it­ed exis­tence) and the nat­ur­al birth of a baby (per­ma­nence of the human species); blind­ed man and books; peo­ple in a cage and  burn­ing books; a pram and a cof­fin; cans of worms and cans of peo­ple; naked bod­ies and arti­fi­cial (mechan­i­cal­ly induced) breath­ing; and many more.

The sto­ry­line of the icon­i­cal­ly draft­ed movie spi­rals to an end­ing where a naked baby plays with a bro­ken clock and open eyes are paint­ed on the ban­dage cov­er­ing the real eyes of a naked man. Elab­o­rat­ing mod­ernist poet­ics, “In Spi­ral Etrog con­fronts us with the same Waste Land sit­u­a­tion on the wired plan­et in the form of both a vis­i­ble dia­logue of cin­e­ma and the action of sym­bol­ist dra­ma” (McLuhan and Etrog 127). In his final com­ments, McLuhan con­nects the evi­dent social and cul­tur­al denun­ci­a­tion in the film to Etrog’s cre­ative process, here pre­sent­ed as a form that trans­lates the uni­ver­sal search of many oth­er artists of the 20th cen­tu­ry; he con­firms that Etrog also belongs to McLuhan’s own sacred wood of con­scious artists enlight­en­ing on the arche­types of human log­ic and inge­nu­ity. Man as the medi­um is, in fact, the title of McLuhan’s after­word in the book; it is the final epiphany of an artis­tic jour­ney meant to trig­ger aware­ness of a com­plex soci­etal process. A jour­ney that has put traps on the readers/audience as the spi­ral­ing sto­ry has been told to invite them to change per­spec­tive, to look at things in a dif­fer­ent way. Con­scious­ness of one’s own actions fol­lows a renewed sen­so­r­i­al con­scious­ness, some­thing that can be achieved only if we are ready to leave com­fort­ing but numb­ing intel­lec­tu­al and artis­tic cocoons; it implies a shift from man­ner­ism to experimentalism.

The jour­ney of ini­ti­a­tion con­ceived by Etrog and McLuhan is not a reas­sur­ing one. Con­trary to the one that takes Dante to progress from Hell to Par­adise “to see again the stars,” our con­sumerist soci­ety makes the indi­vid­u­als spi­ral upon them­selves, as if they were nav­i­gat­ing a nev­er-end­ing cul­tur­al mael­strom. Inevitably, the human con­di­tion can­not but be one of con­stant alert and strug­gle to remain awake and acquire sen­so­r­i­al insom­nia because we inhab­it a world of con­stant tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion and deep cul­tur­al shifts. The request is there­fore to over­come habits and embrace (artis­tic) chal­lenges. Vir­gil guides Dante out of his igno­rance and takes him to Beat­rice, the woman rep­re­sent­ing pure love and hon­esty of intents, the woman who will lead him to reach the high­est pick. Through Spi­ral, Dante’s search becomes not only the poet’s and the philosopher’s quest but everyman’s search. It acquires a dif­fer­ent mean­ing because human igno­rance main­ly reflects envi­ron­men­tal igno­rance, as the film and the book came after not only Dante and his nat­ur­al and the­o­log­i­cal “world archi­tec­ture”: they came after World War II and Sput­nik![6] The world Etrog and McLuhan inhab­it­ed was a new man­made envi­ron­ment built on “an elec­tron­ic inter­de­pen­dence” that recre­at­ed the world “in the image of a glob­al vil­lage” (McLuhan, The Guten­berg Galaxy 36). McLuhan and Etrog lived and ren­dered a pas­sage from a giv­en envi­ron­ment to a new and evolv­ing one. Con­sis­tent­ly, to accom­pa­ny Etrog’s spi­ral­ing sym­bols, McLuhan select­ed texts from writ­ers and artists who had expe­ri­enced and ren­dered ages of pas­sage, that is, ages mark­ing the mak­ing of new cul­tur­al and tech­no­log­i­cal envi­ron­ments. Dante him­self was a poet who lived at the end of the Mid­dle Ages and at the dawn of Ital­ian Renais­sance. McLuhan also quot­ed Shake­speare, the bard who blurred the audi­to­ry into the Guten­berg Age. He quot­ed Joyce, Eliot, and Yeats, the Mod­ernist mas­ters who retrieved the aur­al while the Gutenberg’s mechan­ic age shift­ed into the elec­tric age. He quot­ed Etrog’s favorite authors, Ionesco and Beck­ett, who used the grotesque to unveil the absurd of intel­lec­tu­al con­formism. In the book, these voices—altogether form­ing a sort of per­cep­tive leit­mo­tif of McLuhan’s dis­cours­es on media as environment—combine with those of oth­er writ­ers and philoso­phers, (Thomas Hardy, Ralph Wal­do Emer­son, Blaise Pas­cal, Eliz­a­beth Akers Allen, David Her­bert Lawrence, Fyo­dor Mikhailovich ), poets (Geof­frey Chaucer, Samuel Tay­lo Coleridge, Wys­tan Hugh Auden, Robert Frost), and the­o­rists (Claude Elwood Shan­non and War­ren Weaver, Alfred Toma­tis) to accom­pa­ny the jour­ney unveil­ing man as the medi­um. These voic­es too are col­lapsed to shape the con­tin­u­ous move­ments of the human con­scious­ness. Togeth­er, images and texts are used as frag­ments shored against intel­lec­tu­al con­formism and cul­tur­al hyp­no­sis, portable still-shots that move beyond the fix­i­ty of the print­ed page to enter the audience’s inte­ri­or land­scape and alert them to new knowl­edge of their time.

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Hein­rich Theodore Allen. “The paint­ed con­struc­tions.” Five Decades, edit­ed by Ohor Hol­u­bizky. Art Gallery of Ontario, 1968, pp. 94-99.

Lam­ber­ti, Ele­na. Mar­shall McLuhan’s Mosa­ic. Prob­ing the Lit­er­ary Ori­gins of Media Stud­ies, Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2012.

---. “Not Just a Book on Media: Extend­ing the Guten­berg Galaxy.” The Guten­berg Galaxy. The Mak­ing of Typo­graph­ic Man. Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to Press, 2011, pp. xxv-xlv.

Fer­nand, Léger and Mur­phey, Dud­ley, Bal­let Mécanique, Pro­duced by André Char­lot, Writ­ten by Fer­nand Léger, Music by George Antheil, Cin­e­matog­ra­phy by Dud­ley Mur­phey and Man Ray. Silent Movie, France, 1924

Liska, Vivian and Astradur Eysteins­son, edi­tors. Mod­ernism. Com­par­a­tive His­to­ry of Lit­er­a­tures in Euro­pean Lan­guages Series, John Ben­jamins, 2007.

Marc­hand, Philip. Mar­shall McLuhan: The Medi­um and the Mes­sen­ger. Tic­knor & Fields, 1989.

McLuhan, Mar­shall. The Mechan­i­cal Bride: Folk­lore of Indus­tri­al Man. 1951. Gingko Press, 2002.

---. The Guten­berg Galaxy. The Mak­ing of Typo­graph­ic Man. 1962. Cen­ten­ni­al edi­tion. Toron­to: U of Toron­to P, 2011.

---. Coun­terblast 1954 edn. Fore­word by W. Ter­rence Gor­don. After­word by Ele­na Lam­ber­ti, Trans­me­di­ale / Gingko P, 2011.

---. The Guten­berg Galaxy: The Mak­ing of Typo­graph­ic Man. 1962. Cen­ten­ni­al edi­tion, with new essays by Ter­rence Gor­don, Ele­na Lam­ber­ti, Dominique Schef­fel-Dunand, U of Toron­to P, 2011.

---. Under­stand­ing Media: The Exten­sions of Man. 1964. Edit­ed by W. Ter­rence Gor­don, Gingko P, 2003.

---. The Inte­ri­or Land­scape: The Lit­er­ary Crit­i­cism of Mar­shall McLuhan, 1943–1962. Select­ed, com­piled, and edit­ed by Eugene McNa­ma­ra. McGraw-Hill, 1969.

---. “Art as Anti-Envi­ron­ment”, Art News Annu­al, XXXI, (1966), pp. 55-8

---. ‘Ver­bo-Voco-Visu­al’, Explo­rations in Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, 8 Octo­ber 1957, p. 11.

McLuhan, Mar­shall and Sorel Etrog. Spi­ral. Images from the Film. Text by Mar­shall McLuhan, Exile, 1987.

McLuhan, Mar­shall and Quentin Fiore. The Medi­um Is the Mas­sage. Ban­tam Books, 1968.

---. War and Peace in the Glob­al Vil­lage. Ban­tam Books, 1968.

McLuhan, Mar­shall and Park­er Harley. Through the Van­ish­ing Point: Space in Poet­ry and Paint­ing. Harp­er & Row, 1969.

McLuhan, Mar­shall and Wil­fred Wat­son Wil­fred. From Cliché to Arche­type. 1970. Pock­et Books, 1971.

Moos, Michael A. Mar­shall McLuhan Essays: Media Research, Tech­nol­o­gy, Art, Com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Ams­ter­dam OPA, 1997.

Moss, John and Lin­da M. Mor­ra, edi­tors. At the Speed of Light There Is Only Illu­mi­na­tion: A Reap­praisal of Mar­shall McLuhan. U of Ottawa P, 2004.

Powe, Bruce W. Mar­shall McLuhan and Northrop Frye. Apoc­a­lypse and Alche­my. U of Toron­to Press, 2014.

Rubin William S. Dada, Sur­re­al­ism, and Their Her­itage. The Muse­um of Mod­ern Art. Dis­trib­uted by New York Graph­ic Soci­ety Ltd., 1968

Theall, Don­ald F. The Vir­tu­al Mar­shall McLuhan. McGill-Queen’s UP, 2001.

---. The Medi­um Is the Rear-View Mir­ror: Under­stand­ing McLuhan. McGill-Queen’s UP, 1971.

The Video McLuhan. Writ­ten and nar­rat­ed by Tom Wolfe. Set of six VHS video-tapes. McLuhan Pro­duc­tions, 1996.

Will­mott, Glenn. McLuhan, or Mod­ernism in Reverse. U of Toron­to P, 1996.


[1] “The youth Nar­cis­sus mis­took his own reflec­tion in the water for anoth­er per­son. This exten­sion of him­self by mir­ror numbed his per­cep­tions until he became the ser­vo­mech­anism of his own extend­ed or repeat­ed image.… He was numb. He had adapt­ed to his exten­sion of him­self and had become a closed sys­tem.” (McLuhan, Under­stand­ing Media 63).

[2] See: Marc­hand; Theall; Will­mott; Moss and Mor­ra; Barilli.

[3]The Guten­berg Galaxy devel­ops a mosa­ic or field approach to its prob­lems. Such a mosa­ic image of numer­ous data and quo­ta­tions in evi­dence offers the only prac­ti­cal means of reveal­ing causal oper­a­tions in his­to­ry.” (McLuhan, The Guten­berg Galaxy 7). On the idea of McLuhan’s mosa­ic see also Lam­ber­ti, Mar­shall McLuhan’s Mosaic.

[4] Con­cern­ing McLuhan and the The­atre of the Absurd, it is inter­est­ing to recall what writes Philip Marc­hand in his biog­ra­phy of McLuhan: “On Decem­ber 24th, 1980, in the com­pa­ny of Corinne and Teri, McLuhan vis­it­ed an exhi­bi­tion of sculp­tures by Sorel Etrog at a local gallery. Etrog, an admir­er of the works of Samuel Beck­ett as well as of McLuhan’s writ­ings, had infu­ri­at­ed McLuhan ear­li­er that month by com­par­ing him to Beck­ett. McLuhan, who regard­ed the absolute god­less­ness of Beckett’s work with some­thing approach­ing hor­ror, grew so red in the face that one of his vein stood out” (275). This vehe­ment reac­tion did not com­pro­mise the friend­ship between McLuhan and Etrog, who spent part of McLuhan’s last Christ­mas vig­il togeth­er. Nonethe­less, this reac­tion may sur­prise the read­er, as McLuhan often referred to the The­atre of the Absurd to exem­pli­fy the soci­etal con­tem­po­rary malaise. For instance, in the intro­duc­tion to his Under­stand­ing Media, McLuhan writes: “The The­atre of the Absurd dra­ma­tizes this recent dilem­ma of the West­ern man, the man of action who appears not to be involved in the action. Such is the ori­gin and appeal of Samuel Beckett’s clown” (20).

[5] See: Etrog, Joyce and the Dada Cir­cus: A Col­lage / An Irish Cir­cus on Finnegans Wake. This work was first pub­lished togeth­er with John Cage’s About Roar­to­rio. An Irish Cir­cus on Finnegans Wake, edit­ed and with and Intro­duc­tion by Robert O’Driscoll for the The Dol­men Press in 1982.

[6] “When Sput­nik went around the plan­et, nature dis­ap­peared, nature was hijacked off the plan­et, nature was enclosed in a man­made envi­ron­ment and art took the place of nature. Plan­et became art from” (The Video McLuhan).

This arti­cle is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons 4.0 Inter­na­tion­al License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.