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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 10: Edgar Allan Poe: Symbolism as investigation


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Edgar Allan Poe: Symbolism as investigation


This chapter brings to the fore McLuhan’s acknowledgment of Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal influence. According to McLuhan, Poe is the first modern writer to find out that the mosaic pattern of telegraphic communication was soon to be molded by the typographic mind of readers, more and more involved in the semantic revolution fostered by the changes brought about by industrialization. Engaged in the study of mainstream media, McLuhan cannot neglect the role played by symbolist writers in representing the flashing overlaps of electric impulses that generate mainstream communications. Through the analysis of Poe’s essay The Poetic Principle, McLuhan has the opportunity to strengthen the criticism that led him to focus on the heuristic importance that symbolism acquires in the study of communicative evolution in the twentieth century. Poe is the prophet of the modernization of the literary medium, not only because he invented the detective story and symbolist poetry, but also because he displayed the aesthetic path leading to the ‘discovery of discovery’ highlighted by Poe.

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