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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 5: ‘The Machiavellian mind’: The symbolism of the establishment


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‘The Machiavellian mind’: The symbolism of the establishment


According to McLuhan, the power deriving from the exchange of information is confirmed by Machiavelli’s diplomatic experience, disclosed in his correspondence, writings, and discourses. The traces of his lesson, illustrated in this chapter, are extremely evident in McLuhan’s work, pivoted on the causal nexus between communicative innovation and social agency. McLuhan has the intuition to connect the delegation and fragmentation of executive administration to the empowerment of the symbolic meaning of power, aptly emphasized by Shakespeare in some of his dramas. This is what really captures the imagination of men, who are always what they behold, as Blake states in his poems. King Lear’s intention to share his power, but not his prestige, is no exception. He is more and more empowered by the symbolic meaning of his crown. By announcing his plan, ‘he is expressing a politically daring and avant-garde intent for the early seventeenth century’, handed down to posterity by McLuhan through the incarnation of the Machiavellian mind.

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