Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Spatial Metaphor in the Work of Marshall McLuhan, by Gordon Gow

Spatial Metaphor in the Work of Marshall McLuhan, by Gordon Gow.
Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 26, No 4 (2001)

"While the laws of media themselves had been formulated over the course of McLuhan's career, the tetrad represents an innovation in his thought, distinct from the laws upon which it is formed. The tetrad is innovative insofar as it was a means of binding together the laws of media to establish a set of figure/ground ratios - ratios that McLuhan claimed characterized all metaphorical operations and the relations among the laws of media. Having made this connection between metaphor and the laws of media through the tetrad, McLuhan (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1988) could then articulate what he believed to be a new approach to culture and technology studies"

"In contrast to the static, container-like qualities of visual space, acoustic space comes across as an organic concept, dynamic and contingent in character. With acoustic space there is no empty void to be filled, but rather a space created in the mutual relations between elements as they develop over time. McLuhan explained the idea in a letter to literary critic Harold Rosenberg in 1965 by using an analogy: "Central heating structures the thermal space of a room visually. That is, a centrally heated room has a thermal space that is uniform, discontinuous, and connected. That is visuality as such" (Molinaro, McLuhan, & Toye, 1987, p. 318). McLuhan's analogy suggests that acoustic space might be like that generated by a portable electric space heater. These devices are useful to eliminate drafts largely because they can be used to structure thermal space acoustically: creating [their] own dimensions moment by moment ... [without] fixed boundaries ...[and] indifferent to background. In other words, the portable electric space heater changes the spatial qualities of a room by virtue of its location in the room"

"On this point, McLuhan disputed Innis' claim to the contrary (McLuhan, 1964a) and proclaimed electricity as the force behind a new era of post-Euclidean acoustic space, making obsolete the visual space created by mechanical typographic technology. McLuhan emphasized the effects of the electric revolution in the arts, science, and philosophy of the early twentieth century as this new acoustic mode of awareness seeped into Western culture. For instance, he suggested that the appearance of Cubism was a clear indication of the return of acoustic sensibilities. He tells us in Laws of Media that "Cubism ('multi-locationalism') is one of the painterly forms of acoustic space." Why is this so? Because, he says, "paralleling [the atonal music of Shoenberg], Cubist painting abandons single fixed points of view along with Euclidean geometry and perspective" (McLuhan & McLuhan, 1988, p. 55"

"McLuhan also considered modern data networks as a form of acoustic space, observing that modern telecommunications demonstrate acoustic properties: they have the intrinsic nature of a sphere, simultaneously resonating and structured around multiple and interconnected centres, relatively indifferent to background (McLuhan & Powers, 1981; McLuhan & Powers, 1989, p. 140).

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