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McLuhan and Symbolist Communication

The Shock of Dislocation


Andrea Lombardinilo

With an interview with Derrick de Kerckhove.

Symbolism as a parataxis, as a «jazz of the intellect»: this is the starting point of this research, inspired by a socio-literary interpretation of Marshall McLuhan’s mediology and developed from a diachronic and exegetic perspective. According to the Canadian sociologist, the footsteps that led to this electric era can be traced through the study of certain writers and poets, whose symbolism provides a number of sociological hints foreshadowing our media modernity. This book aims to investigate the role of symbolism in McLuhan’s sociological research, by outlining how the study of memory and the analysis of literary tradition are fundamental to understanding the complex development of communication and cultural studies. The research presented here focuses on the function of symbols as interpretative keys for the study of media carried out by McLuhan. It is exactly in this artistic movement that the sociologist finds the opportunity to analyse the representative practices (irrational and linear) of modern men, shaped by the reticular patterns of the mind. From this perspective, McLuhan identifies the creative process that lies at the root of symbolist poetry, identified as «a disposition, a parataxis, of components that draws a particular intuition through precise links, but without a point of view, that is a linear connection or sequential order».

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Chapter 2: Catholic humanism and modern letters: Symbolic interaction according to McLuhan


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Catholic humanism and modern letters: Symbolic interaction according to McLuhan


This chapter sheds light on McLuhan’s reflection on a major turning point in the history of humanity: Christianity – which has influenced the history of Western civilizations for 2,000 years. It is not surprising that one of the longest and most relevant essays written during his first research years is entitled ‘Catholic humanism and modern letters’ (1954). McLuhan’s thesis, supported by the authority of Maritain and Haecker, is that this process is necessary to understand the ‘mental facts’ of consumer society, in which social actors have to build their own identity. There is no act, gesture, or thought that is not born from ‘a certain particular idea’ that allows men to shape their own representation according to the conventions of social interaction. Every time scholars have the chance to study the past, they prove how valid this assumption is in regard to Western civilizations.

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