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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 12: The memory is the message: Cicero, T. S. Eliot, and the rhetorical spirals


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The memory is the message: Cicero, T. S. Eliot, and the rhetorical spirals


This chapter sets out to illustrate the primacy of the study of memory in McLuhan’s sociological research. Memory is fundamental to understand the development of both communication and cultural studies in their complexity. This is why McLuhan turns memory into an interpretative key to study symbolism. It is precisely in this artistic movement that the sociologist finds the opportunity to overcome irrational and linear representative practices of modernity, shaped by metropolitan reticular sensitivity. McLuhan’s interpretation of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Four Quartets delves into the fractures of communicative models to underline that the linear connection of events is swept away from daily life, declined according to the communicative requirements of the interactive society. McLuhan refers to T. S. Eliot as one of the three most significant writers of the twentieth century, together with James Joyce and Ezra Pound. Their endeavor concerns a profound renewal of language, which they vivisect to express the social shifts of the electric revolution.

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