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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 3: ‘The oral traditions of aphoristic learning’: McLuhan and Senecan symbolism


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‘The oral traditions of aphoristic learning’: McLuhan and Senecan symbolism


This chapter elucidates Seneca’s legacy on McLuhan. In McLuhan’s view, Seneca’s symbolism represents an incredibly fruitful research source, especially for the study of the nexus between oral and written culture. The communication revolution of Seneca’s time may be interpreted as the consequence of the functional shift driven by the need to connect written signs and oral meanings. From this perspective, the aphoristic symbolism shaped by the Spanish philosopher shows a new semiotic conception of the social environment, which it is the task of language to define. McLuhan is interested in the educational role that Seneca played in later centuries, especially in the Middle Ages, when his prose became the paradigm of good writing, because of the particular communicative features of his frenetic, compendious aphorisms. As a result, Seneca will be read as the symbol of the Catholic humanist, destined to decrypt the number of signs and meanings that form the complexity of society and culture.

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