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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 7: Pope and Leopardi: The (symbolic) fall-out of the typographic world


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Pope and Leopardi: The (symbolic) fall-out of the typographic world


This chapter highlights Alexander Pope’s impact on McLuhan’s theorization. McLuhan himself explains why the study of The Dunciad may be useful to media sociologists. ‘Pope’s Dunciad indicts the printed book as the agent of a primitivistic and romantic revival. Sheer visual quantity evokes the magical resonance of the tribal horde’ (McLuhan 1962: 288). Thus, the book risks becoming a visual device, incapable of stimulating fantasy and imagination and subject to the action of print. In advance of the ‘reasoning spectre’ beheld by Blake, the Dunciad celebrated by Pope discloses the pitiless effects of the typographic fall-out, fully aware of the symbolic and experiential shifts connected to the speedup of productive processes. Through his caricatures, Pope shows all his knowledge of the relations building the literary sphere, just as Leopardi does at the beginning of the nineteenth century, taking to heart Pope’s lesson and stimulating Walter Benjamin’s analysis of the work of art in the age of its technical reproducibility.

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