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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 4: The dawn of symbolist communication: McLuhan, Dante, and the ‘dolce stil novo’


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The dawn of symbolist communication: McLuhan, Dante, and the ‘dolce stil novo’


This chapter overviews McLuhan’s assessment of medieval lyricists. If symbolist poets are the clever and original interpreters of the shift to the electric era, in the same way the lyricists of the dolce stil novo are seen as the gifted observers of a cultural age marked by the advent of the vulgar language and communal societies. The ruin of medieval civilization depended also on the decay of Thomism, which proposed a religious, mystic explanation of existence, too sophisticated to vehicle a message of faith and knowledge at the same time. Dante’s humanism was partly based on Thomist sensitivity, which provided him with all the interpretative keys he needed to plumb the immanent depths of Christian mysteries. In fact, McLuhan’s approach to modernity is characterized by awareness of the increasing impact of communication not only on social relationships, but also on the definition of social actors’ introspections, including poets and writers.

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