Monday 3 November 2008

Lecture Two: The Future Is What Happens After You’re Dead

‘We’re all living in a science-fiction world today – and why not?’ – science-fiction writer Kim Stanley Robinson, in conversation with KH, 2005

‘Tomorrow is our permanent address.’ Marshall McLuhan

We connect Herbert Marcuse with Marshall McLuhan: the second lecture in the Bright Labyrinth series deals with how notions of history and progress have altered since we entered the 21st century.

Herbert Marcuse was a radical German philosopher and activist. Marshall McLuhan was a conservative Canadian media theorist. Both were concerned with the possibility of transcendence in an increasingly mediated mass society. Both also published highly influential books in the same year. From their first appearance in 1964, Marcuse’s 'One Dimensional Man' and McLuhan’s 'Understanding Media' had a profound effect on the emergent counter-culture in the United States. When anti-war protestors started chanting ‘The Whole World Is Watching’ in the face of public displays of police brutality at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, their statement echoed ideas that McLuhan and Marcuse would have understood and expressed in different yet complementary ways.

In tune with their times and commenting closely upon them, McLuhan and Marcuse used the rhetoric of science-fiction and futurity to express their ideas, both seeing in the theories of Lewis Mumford, the historian of science and technology, the starting point for acute social criticism. By the time of his death, Marshall McLuhan – the man responsible for introducing into mass consciousness such flashcard concepts as ‘the global village’ and ‘the medium is the message’ – had been largely forgotten, his writings on the media either dismissed or discredited. Rereading McLuhan in the digital regime, particularly in relation to Marcuse’s social theories, reveals many useful tools and insights for approaching today’s new digital media. In the process we also hope to expose – with a little help from Andy Warhol, Susan Sontag and some trashy science-fiction movies – the radical political thinker in Marshall McLuhan and the sophisticated media commentator in Herbert Marcuse.

Suggested reading:

Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man Routledge Classics, London (2002)
Herbert Marcuse, One-Dimensional Man: Studies in the Ideology of Advanced Industrial Society, Routledge Classics (2002)
Marshall McLuhan and David Carson, The Book of Probes, Ginko Press, California (2003)
Stephen Amidon on Marcuse’s 'One Dimensional Man', New Statesman November 27, 2000
The essays ‘The Imagination of Disaster’ and ‘Notes on “Camp”’ from Against Interpretation and Other Essays by Susan Sontag (1966)
The chapter ‘Pods and Blobs’ from the book Seeing is Believing: How Hollywood Taught Us to Stop Worrying and Love the Fifties by Peter Biskind (1983)
The Introduction and first chapter ‘Chronologies and Fin de Siecle’, from Apocalypses: Prophecies, Cults and Millennial Beliefs Through the Ages by Eugen Weber (2000)

Related viewing:

McLuhan on YouTube and discussing the 1976 presidential debates on the Today show.
The Future is Not What It Used to Be, a film by Mika Taanila
Andy Warhol, Other Voices, Other Rooms, The Hayward Gallery 7 Oct – 18 Jan

Lecture 2, MACD 2.00pm Wednesday, November 5, see Google Calendar for details.

1 comment:

PlagueDream said...

For those of us who can't make it, do you expect that there will be a podcast/video/transcript of the lecture series at some point?