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McLuhan and Symbolist Communication

The Shock of Dislocation

Series:

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 9: For a grammar of symbols: McLuhan, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Dante’s mark

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CHAPTER 9

For a grammar of symbols: McLuhan, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Dante’s mark

ABSTRACT

This chapter emphasizes McLuhan’s evaluation of the communicative impact of Blake, Swinburne, and the Pre-Raphaelites’ poetry, also interpreted in the light of Ruskin’s lesson. This particular interest allows him to find one of the main clues of media symbolism in which social actors are submerged in the age of mainstream information. McLuhan investigates this media symbolism in order to point out its simultaneity and complexity. Aestheticism cannot but inherit the ‘grammar of gesture’ immortalized by the movie camera. This is one of the possible models of the ‘shock of dislocation’ highlighted by McLuhan about artists’ ability to examine a situation through another one, to shape their own symbolism on the one constructed in ancient or modern times. This is what happens to Blake and Rossetti by means of Dante’s model, constantly referred to by McLuhan during his remarkable journey through mediality.

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