The Medium And The Light | Notes & Review

Posted on April 26, 2013


Marshall McLuhan. The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion. Gingko Press, 2002. (224 pages)



For many hundreds of the years covered in his investigations, the antagonists were clergy. And their debates concerned not simply this or that idea or doctrine but rather the very tools of intellectual endeavour, the nature and seriousness of philosophy and literature, and the techniques of interpretation and their spheres of application. (xi)

The trivium compressed all knowledge into three streams: rhetoric (communication), dialectic (philosophy and logic), and grammar (literature, both sacred and profane, including modes of interpretation). Grammar included written texts of all sorts, as well as the world and the known universe, which were considered as a book to be read and interpreted, the famous “Book of Nature.” (xi-xii)

…the Church — what Chesterton called (another book title) The Thing. It was everywhere. At one point, he later told me (and he was never very specific just when that point occurred), he decided that the thing had to be sorted out or he couldn’t rest. Either it was true, or it wasn’t. Either the entire matter was true, all of it, exactly as the Church claimed, or it was the biggest hoax ever perpetuated on a gullible mankind. With that choice clearly delineated, he set out to find which was the case. What came next was not more study, but testing. (xiv)

To a Catholic, faith is not simply an act of the mind, that is, a matter of ideology or thought (concepts) or belief or trust, although it is usually mistaken for these things. Faith is a mode of perception, a sense light sight or hearing or touch and as real and actual as these, but a spiritual rather than a bodily sense. (xv)

…a thing has to be tested on its terms. you can’t test anything in science or in any prat of the world except on its own terms or you will get the wrong answers. (xvii)

The Church is so entirely a matter of communication that like fish that know nothing of water, Christians have no adequate awareness of communication. Perhaps the world has been given to us as an anti-environment to make us aware of the word.

The study of effects has lately driven me to the study of causality, where I have been forced to observe that most of the effects of any innovation occur before the actual innovation itself. In a word, a vortex of effects tends, in time, to become the innovation. It is because human affairs have been pushed into pure process by electronic technology that effects can precede causes.

The writer’s or the performer’s public is the formal cause of his art or entertainment or his philosophy.

There is, as it were, a sexual relation between performer an public,

It is, therefore, this inherent sexual aspect of the priesthood that makes the ordination of women impractical and unacceptable to a congregation in their feminine role.

It is not brains or intelligence that is needed to cope with the problems which Plato and Aristotle and all of their successors to the present have failed to confront. What is needed is a readiness to undervalue the world altogether … There is no harm in reminding ourselves from time to time that the “Prince of this World” is a great P.R. man, a great salesman of new hardware and software, a great electric engineer, and a great master of the media. It is his master stroke to be not only environmental but invisible, for the environmental is invincibly persuasive when ignored.

He was continually amazed at the reluctance, often the downright refusal, of people to pay attention to the effects of media, and at their hostility to him for what he revealed. They included those, clergy and lay, who enthusiastically embrace the latest technologies without regard for their effects. (xxiii)

I continue to be baffled by the panic and anger people feel when the effects of any technology or pursuit are revealed to them. It is almost like the anger of a householder whose dinner is interrupted by a neighbour telling him his house is on fire. This irritation about dealing with the effects of anything whatever, seems to be a specialty of Western man.

Christ Himself is the archetypal example of the medium as message… (xxvii)

Part I Conversion

1. G. K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic

…there are two principal sides to everything, a practical and a mystical. (3)

Real mystics don’t hide mysteries, they reveal them. They set a thing up in broad daylight, and when you’ve seen it, it is still a mystery. – G.K. Chesterton

For the real world is not clear or plain. The real world is full of bracing bewilderments and brutal surprises. Comfort is the blessing and curse of the English … For there is but an inch of difference between the cushioned chamber and the padded cell.

All profound truth, philosophical and spiritual, makes game with appearances, yet without really contradicting common sense. (5)

…when the goal of Progress is no longer clear, the word is simply an excuse for procrastination. (6)

There is no such thing as a Hegelian story, or a monist story, or a determinist story .. Every short story does truly begin with the creation and end with the last judgment.

The romance of the police force is thus the whole romance of man. It is based on the fact that morality is the most dark and daring of conspiracies.

2 “The Great Difficulty About Truth”: Two Letters to Elsie McLuhan

Now religion-hunting even in its worst phases is yet a testimony to the greatest fact about a man, namely that he is a creature and an image, and not sufficient unto himself. It is the whole bias of the mind that it seek truth, and of the soul which inspires our very life, that it seek that which gave it. The great difficulty about Truth is that it is not simple except to those who can attain to see it whole. (14)

The deepest passion in man is his desire for significance. … It is the most frustrated passion where men are huddled together and taught to admire luxury. (17)

I could have never respected a ‘religion’ that held that reason and learning in contempt — witness the ‘education’ of our preachers. I have a taste for the intense cultivation of the Jesuit rather than the emotional orgies of an evangelist… (22)

3. “Spiritual Acts”: Letter to Corinne Lewis

The first thought which a Catholic has of God is that which a man has for a real friend. (25)

There is nothing proper to human nature which is not perfected and assisted by the Church. Every human faculty finds its true and use and function only within the Church. That is hard for Protestants to realize, because religion with them is so commonly a matter of restrictions and prohibitions. The Church, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with action. Since potency can only become real through act. The Protestant has, or had, a half-truth. he starves on a half loaf, foregoing his rightful heritage, much as the paranoiac imagines his dinner to be poisoned. (25-26)

Orthodoxy is intellectual honesty as regards divine things. Heresy is intellectual and spiritual lying — lying to God Himself. (26)

…since our free will is the most fundamental character we possess, I feel the utmost repugnance to influencing another person, except where readiness to inquire, examine, or consider, is obvious. (28)

Part II The Church’s Understanding of Media

4 Communication Media: Makers of the Modern World

Whether you conceptualize it or whether you verbalize it, you live in a global situation in which every event modifies and affects every other event. (34)

…this global-village world of ours is entirely the result of the force of telegraphic, teletyped communication — information that is moving at a relatively instantaneous rate. (34)

The concept of relevance is a twentieth-century concept. (34)

Any substantial form impresses itself upon you without benefit of awareness or conscious attention on your part. (37)

The meaning of a work of art…has nothing to do with what you think about it. It has to do with its action upon you. It is a form: it acts upon you. It invades your senses. It re-structures your outlook. it completely changes your attitudes, your wave-lengths. So our attitudes, our sensibilities, are completely altered by new forms, regardless of what we think about them. This is not an irrational statement, or a philosophical notion. it is a simple fact of experience. | I am prepared to say that the new media of communication are forms — not simple ones, but complex forms. (38)

The global village is not a place where one thing happens at a time. Everything happens at once. What we must have, therefore, is a means of coping with an all-at-once world. The artist and philosopher can perhaps help here. (38)

Until you learn to read and write and notice letters on a line right-side up, there is no horizontal or vertical axis in the visible world. Cave painters used no horizontal or visual axis. They painted. (41)

Everything penetrates everything else. Everything is at once. [Pre-literate man] doesn’t sort things out and put them in places; he lives in an all-at-once world because he lives by ear. It’s only after long periods of literacy that people begin to trust their eyes and begin to follow the structure of planes and lines of force that the eyes experience. The eye is to the pre-literate man a very inferior organ. (41)

…the all-at-once electronic media compel us back to the dialogue form. In terms of formal causality, the dialogue is a necessity of education today. the old idea of presenting packaged information one-thing-at-a-time, visually-ordered, is completely at variance with our electronic media. I’m talking about their formal structure. (42)

The written word (print aside) is a detribalizing force. … The lines of the famous roads that made the empires were literally paper-routes; when papyrus ended, they ended. (42)

The fact is that you pay attention to written words in a new way. you inspect them statically and develop the habit of segmenting or arresting the movements of the mind. This gives man the power of withdrawing from that auditory structure which is the tribe. He just breaks off. He withdraws into a private world created by his ability to inspect static aspects of thought and information. (43)

…because o it static aspect, the written word inspires the human mind with doubt. … Scepticism is the very form of written culture. (43)

As long as you take a firm moral stand in the Western world you will rally a great number of people to your cause regardless of how deficient you are in understanding the situation. (44)

5 Keys to the Electronic Revolution: First Conversation with Pierre Babin

I do not think that the powerful forces imposed on us by electricity have been considered at all by theologians and liturgists. … Theologians have the impression, I imagine, that everything will return to normal in a very short time. Well, no! (45-46)

At this speed, we cannot adapt to anything. Our entire mode of thought is based on equilibrium: “Things will return to normal,” we think. But equilibrium is a principle inherited from Newton. No balance is possible at the speed of light, in economics, in physics, in the Church, or wherever. (46)

I even became a Catholic while studying the Renaissance almost exclusively. I became aware of the fact that the Church was destroyed or dismembered in that era by a stupid historical blunder, by a technology. Medieval culture based on manuscript allowed for a style of communal life very different from the mass community which appeared with print. The Gutenberg revolution made everyone a reader. (46)

In the manuscript era, texts were rare, which explains the small number of readers. … The printed book accelerated the entire operation and, in doing so, completely modified the image of the old human community. In the same manner, in our time, we can say that the automobile, by its new type of acceleration, destroyed the traditional human community — even more so than print did. No one stays in one place long enough to strike up an acquaintance with anyone. (47)

Print provoked the development of nationalism, because for the first time, everyone could see their mother tongue and not just hear it. In fact, people’s consciousness of their national identity took root in a visual ground. The world of print is visual. (47)

But, the eye isn’t a unifying force. It tends towards fragmentation. It allows each person to have his own point of view and to hold to it. Gutenberg thus accents separation in space and in time. With the book, one can withdraw inward, in the egocentric and psychological sense of this term, and not, indeed, in the spiritual sense. The printed alphabet creates, in large measure, fragmentation. (47)

Luther and the first Protestants were “schoolmen” who were trained in literacy. They transposed the old method of scholastic discussion into the new visual order: they thus used the new discovery of print to dig the trench that separated them from the Roman Church. … This slide toward the visual also explains the appearance of sects. (48)

the Church came into being when the Greek phonetic alphabet was still in its first stages. Greco-Roman culture was still in its infancy when the Church came into being. (48)

But pre-Platonic Greek culture, that is to say, pre-alphabetic, was based on the magical use of speech: it also furnished man with a particular theory of communication and psychic change. The pre-Socratics, Heraclitus in particular, were acoustic people. They lived in a world abounding with voids, gaps, and intervals. For them, things stirred, intersected, and reacted on each other. (48)

This Greco-Roman culture,…seems to have been imposed on the Church like a shell on a turtle. (49)

…the orthodox person, in the etymological sense of the term, confines himself to one aspect only. (49)

…if it is true that the first effect of cheaply printed books was to create the illusion of self-sufficiency and private authority, its ultimate effect was to homogenize human perception and sensibility by making centralization possible to an extent previously unknown. (49)

But now an electric world is unfolding, acoustic in nature because it is instantaneous and simultaneous. (49-50)

When everything happens at the speed of light — at electric speed — the Greco-Roman world gives way. (50)

Electric man has no bodily being. He is literally dis-carnate. But a discarnate world, like the one we now live in, is a tremendous menace to an incarnate Church, and its theologians haven’t even deemed it worthwhile to examine the fact. (50)

The Oriental opposes technology and innovation because he is acutely aware of their magical power to transform the world. He turns inward. His universe is of an oral and acoustic type. (50)

Here is how scientists now characterize the two sides of the brain. The left hemisphere specializes in analysis; the right hemisphere, in global or holistic thought, with a limited aptitude for language. The right hemisphere governs the succession of words not so much as a logical sequence but as resonant interfaces. This hemisphere is, first of all, responsible for our orientation in space, our artistic enterprises, our artistic abilities, the image we have of our own body, the way we recognize faces. It concern everything we take as a whole. Thus we recognize a face not by a particular trait, but by the face taken as a whole. The right hemisphere treats information much more diffusely than does the left hemisphere: information is distributed more vaguely. The right covers the field of perception in its entirety, whereas the left concentrates on one aspect at a time. (52)

Gutenberg attaches itself to the left hemisphere; the oral, the acoustic and consequently the electric, to the right hemisphere. … thus, the entire Western world — what we call civilization — from the Greco -Roman era onwards come from the left cerebral hemisphere, if not entirely, then at least for the most part. The Gutenberg event gave a disproportionate push to visuality. It launched an era of left-brain dominance, that is, of logical, sequential, and visual control. (52)

Babin: When it was said “God is dead,” did it not mean, at least in part, “Newton is dead”?

McLuhan: Without a doubt. The world that made sense according to Newtonian categories was quickly crumbling. But the God that this culture has adored, wasn’t He a bit too much cast in the image of a particular type of man? Wasn’t He too rationalized, a sort of divinity for deists? (53)

Indeed, the solution lies in the complementary nature of the two cerebral hemispheres. For, anatomically, these two hemispheres are complementary, and not exclusive. Neither mode is more important except in transitional forms of awareness. It is culture that makes one or the other dominant and exclusive. A culture builds itself on a preference for one or the other hemisphere instead of basing itself on both. Our school system, like our Catholic hierarchy, is completely dominated by the left side of the brain. The result was mostly confusion. Ecumenism, too, I suppose attempts to play both hemispheres equally, but it leaves me perplexed. (53)

6 The De-Romanization of the American Catholic Church

De-Romanization is a fact ever since the telegraph. Any speed-up of communication de-centralizes. Slow forms of communication centralize: information is localized and the decision-making takes place at the centre. All this is reversed by electric speed when information becomes available at the same moment everywhere. (54)

Only artists are able to live in the present. Saints are artists, too. you never heard of a saint who lived in the past or future. Saints want to live in the present. That’s why they are intolerable. (54)

How did Romanization come about? Rome was entirely a product of technology — a bureaucracy, a classification system like a dictionary or a phone book. But in a world of electricity, classification gives way to involvement and men live the apostolate of pain. When you are involved in other people’s lives, you are involved in their being, their pain. (54)

Ancient Rome fell when the Egyptians no longer sent papyrus and the Roman bureaucracy no longer had a way to communicate. It wasn’t until the Renaissance, when the Chinese sent papyrus back to Europe, that Roman bureaucracy became powerful again. Then there was a vast clerical staff and centralized administration. Gutenberg stepped up centralization a thousand times and bureaucrats could achieve dimensions of centralization and bureaucracy not dreamed of by the Romans. (55)

when man worshipped pagan idols, it meant the worshipping of tools. (55)

at the instant of Incarnation, the structure of the universe was changed. All of creation was remade. There was a new physics, a new matter, a new world. … The moment God touched matter its very structure was altered, its potency was enormously enhanced. So was man’s. Modern science is aware of this, not necessarily as revealed truth, but simply as truth. | The first Adam was an aesthete. He simply looked at things and labelled them. The second Adam was not. He was a maker, a creator. The human being sharing in the second Adam has the mandatory role of being creative. Passivity is not for man; creativity is mandatory. (55)

Being wide awake is frightening, a nightmare. (56)

7 “Our Only Hope Is Apocalypse”

The car, in a word, has quite refashioned all of the spaces that unite and separate men… | What McLuhan does is “probe” (his word) and provoke (my word) his listeners and readers to notice what they tend to overlook: how our inventions shape us. (59)

McLuhan sees humanity returning in an electric age to the pre-alphabetic stage of tribal life where “hearing is believing.” When the alphabet came into the picture, “seeing was believing,” and when print ushered in the Gutenberg Galaxy of moveable type, what dominated was a linear, uniform, connected, continuous way of approaching the world. (59)

…if there were only three Catholics in the world, one of them would have to be Pope. Otherwise, there would be no church. There has to be a teaching authority or else no church at all. (61)

That unique innovation, the phonetic alphabet, released the Greeks from the universal acoustic spell of tribal societies. Visual detachment via the written page also gave the power of the second look, the moment of recognition. This released people from the bondage of the uncritical and emotionally involved life. It also fostered the cult of private competition and individual emulation in sports and politics. The quest for private power came quickly. | Today, the alphabet is being wiped out. It is being wiped out electrically. The Church does not know that its fate is tied to literacy; she never has known this. She has taken it for granted because she was born in the middle of literacy. (63)

The Church has never claimed to be a place of security in any ordinary psychological sense. Anyone who comes to the Church for that purpose is wrong: nothing of that sort is available in the Church. There never has been: it isn’t that kind of institution. At the speed of light, there is nothing but violence possible, and violence wipes out every boundary. Even territory is violated at the speed of light. There is no place left to hide. The Church becomes a Church of the soul. (64)

The new matrix is acoustic, simultaneous, electric — which in one way is very friendly to the Church. That is, the togetherness of humanity is now total. Everybody is now simultaneously in the same place and involved in everybody. The present Church demands an extreme unworldliness. But that’s easy now. It is easy to be unworldly. What it means, though, is that everything we’ve been accustomed to is obsolete now. (64-65)

8 “The Logos Reaching Across Barriers”: Letters to Ong, Mole, Maritain, and Culkin

Out of it has come modern science, with the possibility it offers for increasing the subjection of matter and impregnation of matter by spiritual forces…

Imagination concerns direct contact with divine archetypes whereas fancy is merely human and cognitive. … the imagination is a mode of divine union for the uncreated divine spark hidden in our corrupt clay…

Every new technology is an evolutionary extension of our own bodies. The evolutionary process has shifted from biology to technology in an eminent degree since electricity. Each extension of ourselves creates a new human environment and an entirely new set of interpersonal relationships. The service or disservice environments (they are complementary) created by these extensions of our bodies saturate our sensoria and are thus invisible. Every new technology thus alters the human sensory bias creating new areas of perception and new areas of blindness. This is as true of clothing as of the alphabet, or the radio. (70)

…the ancients attributed god-like status to all inventors since they alter human perception and self-awareness. (71)

The consequences of the images will be the image of the consequences.

When the Gutenberg technology hit the human sensibility silent reading at high speed became possible for the first time. Semantic uniformity set in as well as “correct” spelling. The reader had the illusion of separate and private individuality and of “inner light” resulting from his exposure to seas of ink. (71)

The speed-up of print permitted a very high development of bureaucratic centralism in church and state, just as the much greater speed-up of electricity dissolves the echelons of the organization chart and creates utter decentralism — mini-art and mini-state. Whereas the Renaissance print-oriented individual thought of himself as a fragmented entity, the electric-oriented person thinks of himself as tribally inclusive of all mankind. Electric information environments being utterly ethereal fosters the illusion of the world as a spiritual substance. It is now a reasonable facsimile of the mystical body, a blatant manifestation of the Anti-Christ. After all, the Prince of this World is a very great electrical engineer. (71-72)

May I suggest that just as the Roman clergy defected in the Gutenberg era on the illusion of the inner light, even greater numbers may be expected to defect under the mystical attractions of the electric light. Since our reason has been given us to understand natural processes, why have men never considered the consequences of their own artefacts upon their modes of self-awareness? … There is a deep-seated repugnance in the human breast against understanding the processes in which we are involved. Such understanding involves far too much responsibility for our actions. (72)

9 International Motley and Religious Costume

…costume is not so much “dressing up for” people as “putting on” the public. (75)

Nudity is not nakedness, since the nude expects to be seen whereas the naked person does not. In fact nakedness is the “put off” of all power and dignity and social being. This fact draws attention to clothing as equipment and technology and power. Clothing, indeed, is weaponry… (76)

…could it not be said that the religious who abandoned corporate costume in order to wear the private dress of the mere job-holder are abandoning their social function as much as any espionage agent? … The mere fact that many feel the need to abandon the costume of social service and corporate ministry in favour of the anonymity of mere dress, may be a token of the time when the hidden environment of the Mystical Body may once more have to resort to an invisible ministry. (77)

The mystic may have to take up the middle ground between gaudiness and poverty which is, or used to be, middle-class respectability. This is where “international motley” may be of some help in revealing a strategy of an anti-worldly kid. (77)

10 Electric Consciousness and the Church

A sense of private substantial identity — a self — is to this day utterly unknown to tribal societies. (80)

One of the amazing things about electric technology is that it retrieves the most primal, the most ancient forms of awareness as contemporary. There is no more “past” under electric culture: every “past” is now. And there is no future: it is already here. You cannot any longer speak geographically or ideologically in one simple time or place. (80)

The effect of TV on the young today is to scrub their private identities. The problem of private identity vs. tribal involvement has become one of the crosses of our time. (80-81)

I am myself quite aware that there is a great contrast between perceptual and conceptual confrontation; and I think that the “death of Christianity” or the “death of God” occurs the moment they become concept. As long as they remain percept, directly involving the perceiver, they are alive. (81)

Job was not working on a theory but on a direct percept. … All understanding was against him; all concept was against him. He was directly perceiving a reality, one revealed to him. (81)

Theology is one of the “games people play,” in the sense of its theorizing. But using direct percept and direct involvement with the actuality of a revealed thing — there need be no theology in the ordinary sense of the word. (81)

Christ is the medium and the message.

Concepts are wonderful buffers for preventing people from confronting any form of percept. Most people are quite unable to perceive the effects of the ordinary cultural media around them because their theories about change prevent them from perceiving change itself. (83)

The need for participation in group sand social forms always requires some code whether verbalized or in the form of costume and vestment, as a means of involvement in a common action. (83)

Things use to change gradually enough to be imperceptible; today the patterns of change are declaring themselves very vividly because of the speed at which they occur. That is what pollution comes from: pollution is merely the revelation of a situation changing at high speeds. (84)

…participation today is a universal pattern in which audience becomes active. There is no more audience in our world. On this planet, the entire audience has been rendered active and participant. (84)

Christianity definitely supports the idea of a private, independent metaphysical substance of the self. Where the technologies supply no cultural basis for this individual, then Christianity is in for trouble. When you have a new tribal culture confronting an individualist religion, there is trouble. (85)

…the Church as an institution has no relevant future. … Christianity — in a centralized, administrative, bureaucratic form — is certainly irrelevant. (85)

Myth is anything seen at very high speeds; any process seen at a very high speed is myth. I see myth as the super-real. The Christian myth is not fiction but something more than ordinarily real. (86)

11 “A Peculiar War to Fight”: Letter to Robert J. Leuver, C.M.F.

Going along with the total and, perhaps, motivated ignorance of man-made environments is the failure of philosophers and psychologists in general to notice that our senses are not passive receptors of experience. (91)

When a new problem becomes greater than the human scale can cope with, the mind instinctively shrinks and sleeps. (91)

There is no harm in reminding ourselves form time to time that the “Prince of this World” is a great P.R. man, a great salesman of new hardware and software, a great electrical engineer, and a great master of the media. It is His master stroke to be not only environmental but invisible, for the environment is invincibly persuasive when ignored. (93)

…affluence creates poverty, just as the public creates privacy… (93)

The principle of complementarity is indispensable to understanding the unconscious effects of technologies on human sensibility since the response is never the same as the input. This is the theme of The Gutenberg Galaxy where it is explained that the visually oriented person stresses matching rather than making in all experience. It is this matching that is often mistaken for truth in general. (93)

12 Religion and Youth: Second Conversation with Pierre Babin

…we teach catechism as though we were trying to get people to swallow a nut without first breaking the shell. (94)

I’ve noticed that the real goal of those who go to these gatherings isn’t obvious; it could be about isolating oneself by losing oneself in the crowd as much as it could be about satisfying any communal needs. | Another paradox: while our past spirituality was made up of external manifestations, like individual dress and designated places of worship, the new spiritual form seems to emphasize group and inner experience. (96)

Christianity is all about transforming the image we have of ourselves. (97)

Isn’t the real message of the Church in the secondary or side-effects of the Incarnation, that is to say, in Christ’s penetration into all of human existence? Then the question is, where are you in relation to this reality? (102)

In Jesus Christ, there is no distance or separation between the medium and the message: it is the one case where we can say that the medium and the message are fully one and the same. (103)

To say that the Word became flesh in Jesus Christ is the theological affirmation; it’s the figure (in the gestalt sense). But to say that Christ touches all men — beggars, hobos, misfits — is to speak of ground, that is to say, of the multitude of secondary effects which we have such great difficulty in perceiving. (104)

Part III Vatican II, Liturgy, and the Media

13 Liturgy and the Microphone

The Bible Belt is oral territory and therefore despised by the literati.

…auditory space means hearing from all directions at once… (107)

TV has the power to sue the eye as if it were an ear. (110)

This is the nature of acoustic space, which is constituted by its centre being everywhere and its margin being nowhere. Without the microphone the speaker is at a single centre, while with the microphone he is everywhere simultaneously — a fact which “obsolesces” the architecture of our existing churches. (110)

In a word, the mike makes worshippers demand an intimate and small group of participants. On the other hand, the microphone, which makes it so easy for a speaker to be heard by many, also forbids him to exhort or be vehement. The mike is indeed a cool medium. (112)

…the microphone is incompatible with vehement exhortation or stern admonition. To a public that is electrically participant in a completely acoustic situation, loudspeakers bring the sounds of the preacher from several directions at once. The structure of our churches is obsolesced by the multi-directional media speaker system, and the older distance between speaker and audience is gone. The audience is now in immediate relation with the speaker, a factor which also turns the celebrant around to face the congregation. These major aspects of liturgical change were unforeseen and unplanned and remain unacknowledged by the users of the microphone system in our churches. (114)

The electronic man starts with the effect desired and then looks around for the means to those effects, whereas the old visual culture had accepted all the available means as a kind of destiny or irreversible fate which drove him towards every-changing patters, regardless of the cost.

| Without attempting to evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of the visual world whose structure had dominated recent centuries, it is important to know that visual structure is not compatible with the free play of information and simultaneous patterns of experience. Under visual conditions, to have a goal or objective is by no means the same thing as anticipating effects. The builder of a church or a university may well begin with some idea of the effects he wishes to create, but at very high speeds of traffic and of both population and information movement the most august structures may cease to be service environments within a single life span. Even before such obsolescence occurs, those in charge of these services may inadvertently introduce subsidiary techniques which upset the entire structures. Thus, in this century the telephone has rendered the organization chart of many big businesses quite inoperative, and the microphone has introduced effects into the liturgy which nobody had expected or planned. (114-115)

One of the biggest paradoxes of our time is the universal disease of being unwanted. … The same electric means which involve us in others in depth, almost eliminating space and time in our lives — these same means also deprive us of most of what had been considered private identity and individuality in recent centuries. (115)

…loss of private identity means loss of strongly envisaged goals and objectives, accompanied by an eagerness to play a variety of roles in the lives of other people. The need to be “wanted” by others comes with loss of private identity and also of community. In a world of rapid movement and change, everybody is a nobody, … In liturgical terms, loss of identity means loss of clerical vocations, and moral permissiveness means loss of the need to go to Confession. (116)

14 Liturgy and Media: Do Americans Go to Church to Be Alone?

Is there an insoluble conflict between the role of the Church to change man and the power of the Greco-Roman rational culture to invent and hold him fixed? (118)

Home is for privacy all over the world, except in America. … the young are shedding the established forms of seeking privacy outside and community inside the house. (119)

America is becoming producer- rather than consumer-minded, and this relates to media on one hand, and to liturgy on the other. (120)

Speech is the encoded form of the collective perception and wisdom of countless men. Speech is not the area of theory or concept but of performance and percept. (123)

The U.S.A. is the only place in the world where Western man had literacy from the beginning. (127)

No preliterate man ever experienced the peculiar isolation and individuality of the Western literate man. The pre-Christian Hebrews did not have it. The Oriental does not have it now. (128)

Apart from those shaped by the phonetic alphabet, the universal condition of man has been corporate and tribal and family-oriented. (128)

For communication is change, and Christianity is concerned above all and at all times with the need for change in man. (128)

…as soon as men identified God with His creation they also glorify their own handiwork as extensions of God. The initial merging of God and His creatures may have begun with art and technology. (129)

Since theologians don’t seem interested, I feel impelled to ask whether the Church has any inherent and inseparable bond with the Greco-Roman tradition of civilization. (129)

…whereas the Church has through the centuries striven for centralism and consensus at a distance from the faithful, the electrical situation ends all distance and, by the same token, ends the numerous bureaucratic means of centralism. … A complete decentralism occurs which calls for new manifestations of teaching authority such as the Church has never before expressed or encountered. (134)

15 “Achieving Relevance”: Letters to Mole and Sheed

The electric transformation causes us to resist and to reject the old visual culture, regardless of its value or relevance. (137)

Obsolescence never meant the end of anything — it’s just the beginning. (139)

The electro-technical forms do not foster civilization but tribal culture. (139)

16 Liturgy and Media: Third Conversation with Pierre Babin

The multiple speakers simply bypassed the traditional distance between preacher and audience. The two were suddenly in immediate relation with each other, which compelled the priest to face the congregation. (144)

A language is the encoded form of the collective perceptions and wisdom of many people. And, poetry and song are the major means by which a language purifies and invigorates itself. (144)

Language is, as it were, the great organic and collective medium that assimilates and organizes the chaos of everyday experience. Language is the conscious organ of the auditory imagination where countless change and adjustments take place, much like the way dreams in the night purge daily experience. (145)

I have always considered that once people knew the Truth they could produce beautiful things, at least if they wanted to. (148)

Part IV Tomorrow’s Church

17 Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters

When we look at any situation through another situation we are using metaphor. (154)

…of the nineteeth century that its distinction lay not so much in the arrival at any particular discovery as in the discovery of the technique of discovery itself. (156)

Printing was as savage a blow to a long-established culture as radio, movies, and TV have been to the culture based on the printed book. (161)

…pre-literate societies based on a monopoly of the spoken word, are static, repetitive, unchanging. … writing is the translation of the vocal or audible into spatial form. Writing gives control over space. Writing produces at once the city. The power to shape space in writing brings the power to organize space architecturally. (161-162)

The empires of Alexander and the caesars were essentially built by paper routes. But today with instantaneous global communications the entire planet is, for purposes of inter-communication, a village rather than a vast imperial network. It is obvious that writing cannot have the same meaning or function for us that it had for earlier cultures. (162)

…any channel of communication has a distorting effect on habits of attention; it builds up a distinct form of culture. The printed page, for example, is extremely abstract as compared with the spoken word or with pictorial communication. The printed page created the solitary scholar and the split between literature and life which was practically unheard-of before printed books. The printed page fosters extreme individualism compared with manuscript societies. (163)

…the Protestant cannot but take a different view of the passing of the pre-eminence of the printed book, because Protestantism was born with printing and seems to be passing with it. There again, the Catholic alone has nothing to fear from the rapidity of the changes in the media of communication. But national cultures have much to fear. In fact, it is hard to see how any national culture as such can long stand up to the new media of communication. (163)

It is popular or unpopular to attack advertising. But it is unheard-of to take it seriously as a form of art. Personally I see it as a form of art. And like symbolist art it is created to produce an effect rather than to argue or discuss the merits of a product. (163)

What the advertisers have discovered is simply that the new media of communication are themselves magical art forms. All art is in a sense magical in that it produces a change or metamorphosis in the spectator. It refashions his experience. In our slap-happy way we have released a great deal of this magic on ourselves today. We have been changing ourselves about at a great rate like Alley Oop. Some of us have been left hanging by our ears from the chandeliers. (164)

It is interesting that poets and artists have none of the objections to technical innovation that most men experience. (164)

The movie reconstructs the external daylight world and in so doing provides an interior dream world. Hollywood means “sacred grove,” and from this modern grove has issued a new pantheon of gods and goddesses to fashion and trouble the dreams of modern man. (165)

One shouldn’t be astonished that the cinema has always felt the natural, unavoidable necessity to insert a “story” in the reality to make it exciting and “spectacular.”

…neo-realism, it seems to me, is to have realized that the necessity of the “story” was only an unconscious way of disguising a human defeat, and that the kind of imagination it involved was simply a technique of superimposing dead formulas over living social facts. Now it has been perceived that reality is hugely rich, that to be able to look directly at it is enough; and that the artist’s task is not to make people moved or indignant at metaphorical situations, but to make them reflect (and, if you like, to be moved and indignant, too) on what they and others are doing, on the real things, exactly as they are. (166)

The cinema’s overwhelming desire to see, to analyse, its hunger for reality, is an act of concrete homage towards other people, toward what is happening and existing in the world. And, incidentally, it is what distinguishes “neo-realism” from the American cinema. (167)

…human perception is literally incarnation. (169)

I suggest that our faith in the Incarnation has an immediate relevance to our art, science, and philosophy. Since the Incarnation all men have been taken up into the poetry of God, the Divine Logos, the Word, His Son. But Christians alone know this. And knowing this, our own poetry, our own power of incarnating and uttering the world, becomes a precious foretaste of the Divine Incarnation and the Evangel. We can see how all things have literally been fulfilled in Christ, especially our powers of perception. And in Christ we can look more securely and steadfastly on natural knowledge which at one and the same time has become easier and also less important to us. (169)

18 The Christian in the Electronic Age

Chapter 8 The Church of Tomorrow. When time and space have been eliminated by electric communication, the Church becomes one as never before. (177)

19 Wyndham Lewis: Lemuel in Lilliput

Basically, then, a society which is hostile to art is hostile to life and to reason. (193)

20 The God-Making Machines of the Modern World

The revolutionary situation which faces us would appear to have suggested to Lindberg that the man-made machine is the new universe for the making of gods. And whereas the machine of nature made whatever gods it chose, the machines of man have abolished Nature and enable us to make whatever gods we choose. perhaps a better way of saying this would be to suggest that modern technology is so comprehensive that it has abolished Nature. The order of the demonic has yielded to the order of art. (198)

21 Confronting the Secular: Letter to Clement McNaspy, S.J.

22 Tomorrow’s Church: Fourth Conversation with Pierre Babin

The new vocation is hard to visualize: it is above all an inner requirement. Not that long ago, we had the idea of a unique goal or calling in life. However, young people can no longer accept this. They refuse to apprentice themselves for a career designed to last a whole lifetime. They want to have more than one vocation. And our entire sense of time is changing. (205)

We are still discussing things on a hardware level, with rigid formulas, and we forget the essential, the software, our inner-directed attention to Jesus Christ. Also, instead of unity, we risk even more fragmentation. The solution in no way consists of reintroducing Protestant elements inspired by the Gutenberg revolution into the Catholic Church. We should aim for another kind of unity. (208)

When ordinary language is used at Mass, thanks to the mike the congregation and the speaker merge in a kind of acoustic bubble that encompasses everyone, a sphere with centres everywhere and margins nowhere. Without a microphone, the orator is located in a single spot; with the mike, he comes at you from everywhere at once. These are the real dimensions of acoustic oneness. (208)

The Westernization of the Church, the fact that it was founded on a Greco-Roman base, therefore visually oriented, meant that from the outset ninety percent of the human race was excluded from the Church. Only a very small portion of people alive at the time had access to Christianity. Today, thanks to electric information, the speed of communication, satellites, Christianity is available to every human being. For the first time in history, the entire population of the planet can instantly and simultaneously have access to the Christian faith. (209)

— VIA —

Reading McLuhan is no easy task. So, many of the notes that I’ve given here are provocations worth considering, interpreting, and deconstructing, more than actually “understanding” (though there is plenty that is captivating). There is also much to disagree with, and push back on. Regardless, the value of engagement and mental churning is worth it. If faith, e.g. “religion” (i.e. “the light”) is to shine, we must be willing to ask questions of the other forms of light that are monopolizing our humanity. It is to this task that McLuhan takes us. I’m truly grateful for his work and the ways in which new intellectual and spiritual refractions are illuminated which, without a “McLuhan,” may have remained invisible.