McKenna on McLuhan: Reading VS Looking
"Reading is not looking. Reading is an entirely different kind of behavior. As a child you learn what an ‘e’ looks like—what a printed lower case ‘e’ looks like. After seeing 20, 100, 10,000 times, you know what it looks like. You have an expectation of the gestalt of the lower case ‘e’ and nobody opens a book and looks at print, unless there’s some extraordinary abstract discussion going on…Similarly with television, television is a very low resolution media. I mean these are little pieces of light, pixels flying back and forth, and the must be looked at. They cannot be read. And it’s an extraordinarily engaging process. That’s why it creates an entire different set of social biases than print does."
"I think that what’s happening and I think that this would be McLuhan's take is that all of these new media that attempt to suppress the appurtenances of media are in fact having the effect of returning us to an archaic sensory ratio. And McLuhan was onto this. He is the one who coined the phrase 'electronic feudalism' and he felt that we were headed back toward a medieval sensory ratio because he saw television as like manuscript, but I think had he lived in the era of VR, psilocybin, HDTV, and implants he would have seen we're not reaching back to the medieval—that was simply a stepping stone to the archaic and that we are going beyond the entire domain of scribal humanity and actually reaching back to a shamanic feeling tone kind of thing. And all of the breakdown of linearity that you see in the 20th Century: abstract expressionism, dada, jazz, rock and roll, nonfigurative painting, LSD, all of these things on one level can be seen, as I've said, as harking back to the archaic. But on another level what they can be seen as are new behaviors emerging as the cloud of print-constellated constipation if lifted. It's breaking down.”
"A prefect media is an invisible media and print is the least invisible of all media. I mean print is an incredible Rube Goldberg invention for conveying information.”
"That a word is a structure. A written word is a structure therefore no nomad would ever do such a thing. Interesting. I think he’s saying, ‘Reading is not seeing.’ And those who read do not see even when they lift their eyes from their books. They carry the attitude of print into the world. They read. They attempt to read nature and you can’t read nature. You must LOOK at nature. You must SEE nature."
"And he says (Huxley now, in the book The Art of Seeing) the way to overcome—and I think this is very, very, very intelligent and simple advice—Huxley said the way to overcome the print bias, and God knows, he was a Cambridge educated gentleman steeped in the traditions on English literacy and intellectualism, is freehand drawing. Draw. Train your eye. Draw nudes. Draw seashells. Draw insects and plants. Go into nature and train the eye to see and you will cease to read the world.”
"You know this conflict that we get between men and women, and between people which we call the head-heart conflict is really a reading-seeing conflict. It isn’t a head and heart. It is that readers and seers cannot relate to each others emotional life because they seem to come from such different worlds…The permission to abstract from nature that print created is why we have such a terrible culture crisis.”
“The medium is the message, means that the medium is the thing which is making the difference. Every discussion you ever hear since the 60s about TV, is it good, is it bad, terrible, wonderful, always the discussion hinges around what’s on TV. People say, “well, television is terrible, it just shows violence”, and then somebody else says, “No, television is wonderful, those nature shows and news from far away, and masterpiece theater”. This is a stupid argument. What McLuhan meant by the media is the message, is he meant that it doesn’t matter what you put on TV, TV is TV, it has an intrinsic nature, and whether you’re showing National Geographic specials or slasher movies, TV will do what it does. It has certain qualities, just like driving a car or skiing, certain muscles are going to be exercised, perceptual systems enhanced, others suppressed. And it’s very hard for us to understand this, because we have accepted this media so thoroughly into our life, that in fact it is shaping our values systems in ways which are very hard for us to measure or even detect.”
"I mean, television, for example, it’s a drug. It has a series of measurable physiological parameters that are as intrinsically its signature as the parameters or heroin, are its signature. You sit somebody down in front of a TV set and turn it on. Twenty minuets later come back. Sample their blood pressure. Their eye movement rate. Blood is pooling in their rear end. Their breathing takes on a certain quality. The stare reflex sets in. they are thoroughly zoned on a drug. And when you think about the fact that the average American watches six and a half hours of television a day. Imagine if a drug had been introduced in 1948 we all spent six and a half hours per day on average watching."
"And the one thing about drugs in their defenses is that it’s very hard to diddle the message. A drug is a mirror but television isn’t a mirror. Television is a billboard and anybody that pays their money can put their message into the trip. This is an extraordinary insidious situation. What McLuhan wanted to become I think was the founder of a general new sophistication about media, and he was essentially parodied to death by guess what? Media. They made of him an icon of cultural incomprehensibility. Not since Einstein have you been programmed in advance to believe, you ain’t going to understand this guy. And that’s what they said about McLuhan and consequently his message and his insight failed. We will have to reinvent McLuhan around the turn of the century, because we are producing forms of media of such interactive power and potential social impact, that we’re going to have to go back and rethink all of this."
Marshall McLuhan: "I heard what you were saying! You know nothing of my work! You mean my whole fallacy is wrong. How you got to teach a course in anything is totally amazing!"