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Lewis's first big success came with the publication of his novel Main Street , in which the central character, Carol Kennicott, is an idealistic city dweller who moves to a small town with her new husband. There she struggles with and finally accepts the narrow-mindedness and limitations of her environment. In Babbitt, which appeared two years later, real estate salesman George Follansbee Babbitt suspects that something is lacking in his well-ordered, up-to-date lifestyle, but by the end of the novel he has embraced it again.
In this excerpt from Chapter 8, Babbitt and his wife have planned a dinner party at which they hope to entertain and impress their guests. They intend to treat their friends to alcoholic beverages, which are illegal due to the passage of the Eighteenth Amendment in , which forbade the sale and purchase of liquor, but nevertheless accepted and expected. This passage chronicles Babbitt's journey into a seedy part of town to buy gin. The character of George Babbitt has come to symbolize the s, particularly its glorification of business values and of the businessman as a natural leader.
In fact, the name "Babbitt" has since been used to describe a type of person who, like the novel's title character, is not very cultured, does not think very deeply, and conforms strictly to his society's expectations. Some critics have found Babbitt's moments of deeper awareness and doubt unconvincing. They contend that such self-questioning reflects the distaste that intellectuals like Lewis, and certainly not the average person, felt for the common materialism and mindless boosterism of the United States during the s.
The fact that the Babbitts purchase their ice cream from Vecchia's suggests the presence of Italian immigrants in their town. During the s, newcomers from southern and eastern Europe were objects of scorn and suspicion due to their religious and cultural differences for example, most Italians were Catholic, while most U.
Although the Babbitts frequent an Italian-owned store, there are no recent immigrants among their social crowd. Remember, you have to dress. Think I'm going down to the office in my B.
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And you do have to put on your dinner-jacket! I tell you, of all the doggone nonsensical nuisances that was ever invented—". Three minutes later, after Babbitt had wailed, "Well, I don't know whether I'm going to dress or NOT" in a manner which showed that he was going to dress, the discussion moved on. Their delivery-wagon is broken down, and I don't want to trust them to send it by—". I'll be working my head off all day long, training the girl that's to help with the dinner—". Babbitt ordered yesterday by phone, and it will be all ready for you. He was surprised and blasted then by a thought.
He wondered whether Floral Heights dinners were worth the hideous toil involved. But he repented the sacrilege in the excitement of buying the materials for cocktails. Now this was the manner of obtaining alcohol under the reign of righteousness and prohibition:. He drove from the severe rectangular streets of the modern business center into the tangled byways of Old Town—jagged blocks filled with sooty warehouses and lofts; on into The Arbor, once a pleasant orchard but now a morass of lodging-houses, tenements , and brothels.
Exquisite shivers chilled his spine and stomach, and he looked at every policeman with intense innocence, as one who loved the law, and admired the Force, and longed to stop and play with them. He parked his car a block from Healey Hanson's saloon, worrying, "Well, rats, if anybody did see me, they'd think I was here on business. He entered a place curiously like the saloons of ante-prohibition days, with a long greasy bar with sawdust in front and streaky mirror behind, a pine table at which a dirty old man dreamed over a glass of something which resembled whisky, and with two men at the bar, drinking something which resembled beer, and giving that impression of forming a large crowd which two men always give in a saloon.
The bartender, a tall pale Swede with a diamond in his lilac scarf, stared at Babbitt as he stalked plumply up to the bar and whispered, "I'd, uh—Friend of Hanson's sent me here. Like to get some gin. The bartender gazed down on him in the manner of an outraged bishop.
We sell nothing but soft drinks here. The decayed and drowsy voice of the loafer, the agreeable stink of beer-dregs, threw a spell of inanition over Babbitt. The bartender moved grimly toward the crowd of two men. Babbitt followed him as delicately as a cat, and wheedled , "Say, Oscar, I want to speak to Mr. It was a beautiful card, an engraved card, a card in the blackest black and the sharpest red, announcing that Mr. George F. Babbitt was Estates, Insurance, Rents. The bartender held it as though it weighed ten pounds, and read it as though it were a hundred words long.
He did not bend from his episcopal dignity , but he growled, "I'll see if he's around. From the back room he brought an immensely old young man, a quiet sharp-eyed man, in tan silk shirt, checked vest hanging open, and burning brown trousers—Mr. Healey Hanson. Hanson said only "Yuh? I'm a great friend of Jake Offutt's.
Hanson answered by jerking his head to indicate the entrance to the back room, and strolled away. Babbitt melodramatically crept into an apartment containing four round tables, eleven chairs, a brewery calendar, and a smell. He waited. Thrice he saw Healey Hanson saunter through, humming, hands in pockets, ignoring him. By this time Babbitt had modified his valiant morning vow, "I won't pay one cent over seven dollars a quart" to "I might pay ten. Sinclair Lewis was particularly praised for his ability to mimic the everyday speech of U.
During the Roaring Twenties , the language spoken by ordinary Americans became increasingly colorful. Many of the slang words that entered the U. Some came from the world of Prohibition, and many from African American culture. Here are some examples. Big Apple, the: New York City. Shin dig: A party that is so crowded that one is in danger of getting kicked while dancing. This is the real stuff, smuggled from Canada. This is none o' your neutral spirits with a drop of juniper extract ," the honest merchant said virtuously. Course y' understand I'm just doing this anyway as a friend of Jake's.
I understand! He felt honored by contact with greatness as Hanson yawned, stuffed the bills, uncounted, into his radiant vest, and swaggered away. He had a number of titillations out of concealing the gin-bottle under his coat and out of hiding it in his desk. All afternoon he snorted and chuckled and gurgled over his ability to "give the Boys a real shot in the arm to-night.
After the publication of Babbitt, Lewis continued his exploration of the new culture of the United States with several acclaimed novels. In Arrowsmith , an idealistic scientist sees his dreams overwhelmed by commercial concerns. Elmer Gantry satirizes the evangelical religious leaders who were so popular in the s, while in Dodsworth an American businessman traveling in Europe finds his values tested and changed.
Lewis's popularity and influence were confirmed when, in , he became the first U. However, most commentators agree that after the end of the s the quality of his work began a steady decline. His short stories lacked the satire and realism that had enlivened his earlier novels, and they actually reflected the sentimentality that Lewis had once scorned. His last years were marked by restless travel, failed relationships, and alcoholism. He died in Rome in Fleming, Robert E. Sinclair Lewis: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. Hall, The Rise of Sinclair Lewis, — New York: Random House, Stevenson, Elizabeth.
Babbitts and Bohemians: The American s. New York: Macmillan, Accessed on June 17, Episcopal dignity: Like that of a high church official. Neutral spirits with a drop of juniper extract: Ingredients in the gin made by people in their own homes during Prohibition. Sinclair Lewis may have been the most popular novelist of the Roaring Twenties. In such best-selling works as Main Street and Babbitt , he captured many details of daily life while exposing the dullness, conformity, and hypocrisy of average, middle-class citizens of the United States.
Part of what made Lewis such an effective chronicler of this era was his great skill in imitating the speech of ordinary people. Some critics felt that his harsh social criticism reflected his internal struggle between a desire for respectability and a yearning for deeper meaning and discovery. Almost all of Sinclair Lewis's fiction features characters and settings drawn from the midwestern setting he knew so well.
His mother died when he was six, and his father soon remarried. Lewis remembered his father, who sometimes allowed his son to accompany him when he visited patients, as stern and dignified, and he admired his dedication to hard work. Lewis felt an early dissatisfaction with small-town life. When he was only thirteen, he made an unsuccessful attempt to run away from home to become a soldier in the Spanish-American War Lewis grew into a tall, slim, book-loving young man with a face scarred by acne, a factor that no doubt contributed to his shyness.
In he enrolled in Yale University located in New Haven , Connecticut , where he felt like an outsider but contributed many stories, poems, and essays to various campus publications. During his first summer vacation, he sailed to England on a cattle boat, thus beginning a pattern of restless travel that would last his entire life. Lewis returned to Yale in the fall, but he left in and spent several months as a janitor at a utopian community based on the ideal of communal living, in which every member is equal run by the famous novelist Upton Sinclair — Despite all of his travels, however, he always felt the pull of his native Midwest.
As the s approached, U. For the first time in the nation's history, more people were living in towns and cities than on farms; the population was becoming more diverse as immigrants streamed in; and new developments in science, technology, and industry were dramatically altering the ways in which people lived, worked, and thought.
Literature was changing too, as some leading writers practiced a new kind of realism while others offered the comfort of romanticism, sentiment, and an escape from ordinary life. In his own writing, Lewis was influenced both by contemporary trends and by the great authors of the nineteenth century, such as Charles Dickens — and H.
Wells — The works of these authors feature a concern for social issues, satire, and sentimentality, qualities that would be evident in Lewis's writing as well. Having settled in New York in , Lewis began a period of experimentation and development, writing short stories in a conventional style marked by a light, humorous tone. After selling stories to such magazines as the Saturday Evening Post , he published his first novel, Our Mr. Like Lewis himself, the hero of this book ships out for England but eventually returns to an ordinary existence in the United States.
The Trail of the Hawk also involves a young man's quest for fulfillment. In The Job: An American Novel , the story of an ambitious young woman's experiences in work and love, Lewis attempted for the first time to re-create the speech of the salesmen he had encountered during his frequent travels. Generally, however, these early novels are not considered as accomplished as his later works.
The first of Lewis's truly distinguished novels appeared, very appropriately, in the first year of the s. Main Street centered on what Lewis would term "the village virus," meaning the negative effects of life in the stifling atmosphere of a small U. It takes place in Gopher Prairie, Minnesota, closely modeled after Lewis's hometown, where young, idealistic college graduate Carol Kennicott has gone to live after marrying an older doctor.
She has imagined Gopher Prairie as a charming village full of good-hearted folk, but she finds the actual town dreary and run-down and the people dull, ignorant, and hypocritical. They are not interested in her ideas about bringing culture and improvements to their town. Carol leaves for a year to live in Washington, D. Despite its harsh criticism of U. Readers were both shocked and fascinated by this new view of familiar places and people, and they rushed to buy the book.
Lewis became a literary celebrity, a stature he would maintain throughout the decade. He was particularly praised for his ability to accurately imitate the speech patterns of ordinary U. Main Street was soon followed by Babbitt , which most commentators consider Lewis's best work. The central character is businessman and booster someone who enthusiastically, and rather mindlessly, promotes mainstream culture George Follansbee Babbitt, the middle-aged, middle-class manager of a real-estate office in the fictional town of Zenith.
In detailed prose that paints a vivid picture of daily life in the s, Lewis tells the story of Babbitt's vague dissatisfaction with his conservative, proper life and his dreams of escape as he begins an extramarital affair and flirts with liberal political views. In the end, however, Babbitt returns to his wife and family, adhering once again to his old habits and views.
Though some critics question whether Lewis was successful in blending within one character the opposing strands of conformity and rebellion, Babbitt was as popular with readers as Main Street had been. Lewis was lauded for his portrayal of many of the major issues and themes of the s, including Prohibition the popular name for the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.
Constitution, which banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic drinks , consumerism, and the conflict between parents and children. In addition, the word "Babbitt" became a permanent part of the U. Lewis produced another unflattering portrayal of U. The title character is a brilliant medical researcher who struggles between his yearning for meaningful work and the demands of both his materialistic society and his own family. Lewis was named the winner of the Pulitzer Prize a prestigious yearly award for Arrowsmith , but he declined it on the grounds such awards were corrupting to writers.
Probably the main reason that Lewis declined the Pulitzer, however, was because he was still angry over the judges' failure to award it to Babbitt four years earlier. Lewis's next major novel offered an extremely negative view of the fundamentalism a form of Christianity that includes the belief that the stories in the Bible are literally true that had gained strength during the s. This was a time when many people, shaken by perceived threats to traditional values in their fast-moving society, turned to such dynamic and deeply conservative religious leaders as Aimee Semple McPherson —; see entry.
The title character of Elmer Gantry is a fraudulent evangelist someone who tries to persuade others to follow his or her own religious beliefs who engages in a series of deceptions, including adultery. Many readers were angered by the book, and a number of critics felt that Lewis's portrayal of Gantry was too extreme. After writing The Man Who Knew Coolidge , a series of monologues by a shallow, hypocritical character named Lowell Schmaltz another resident of Zenith , Lewis turned to the theme of the U.
In Dodsworth he chronicled the travels and soul-searching of the central character, a wealthy automobile manufacturer who travels through Europe with his wife and is stirred by the art and history he encounters there. By the end of the novel, Dodsworth has left his shallow wife and formed a relationship with a calmer, more serious woman, and he has made plans to become a builder of artistically designed homes. Lewis's success in capturing with accuracy and power both the material details and the deeper themes of the Roaring Twenties was confirmed in , when he became the first U.
In accepting this honor, Lewis praised a number of other promising young writers, including Ernest Hemingway — and William Faulkner — Those who expected Lewis to achieve new heights of accomplishment after the s were disappointed, however, for his career now began a steady decline.
During the remaining two decades of his life, Lewis seemed to run out of ideas and insights. His later work lacked the satire and realism of his earlier novels and became increasingly sentimental. Neither critics nor readers were enthusiastic about Ann Vickers , the story of a woman's search for fulfillment, or It Can't Happen Here , in which the United States is taken. Married to novelist Sinclair Lewis in , Dorothy Thompson was a talented and celebrated writer herself.
Her articles, radio broadcasts, and weekly newspaper columns made her one of the best-known journalists in the United States. Thompson was born in in Lancaster, New York. She was an adventurous and sometimes rebellious child who did not get along with her stepmother. Sent to live with her aunts in Chicago, Illinois, Thompson finished high school there and then attended Syracuse University in New York. She graduated in , determined to become a writer. In Thomson traveled to Europe.
While crossing the ocean on a ship, she met a group of Zionists, people who were working to establish a Jewish state in the Middle Eastern land of Palestine. Sheconvinced a news service to let her write an article on the subject, beginning her career as one of very few female journalists working in Europe. Thompson covered such stories as worker strikes in Italy and the Irish independence movement. Assigned to head the New York Evening Post 's Berlin office in , Thompson moved to Germany, where she would live for varying periods over the next nine years.
After several failed efforts, in she met and interviewed Adolf Hitler , leader of the Nazi Party. In the article Thompson wrote about Hitler for Cosmopolitan magazine, Thompson described him as unimpressive and incapable of ruling Germany. Over the next few years, Hitler gained more and more power, eventually becoming Germany's leader. This greatly alarmed Thompson. Her articles denouncing Hitler, and particularly his hatred for and harsh treatment of Jews, resulted in her being forced to leave Germany in Meanwhile, Thompson had married Sinclair Lewis in and given birth to a son two years later.
The relationship, however, grew strained under the pressure of two careers. The couple would divorce in She used this forum, as well as frequent radio broadcasts, to issue urgent warnings about the troubling developments in Europe, particularly the growing flood of refugees and the rising power of the Nazis. The next year, Thompson began writing a column for the Ladies Home Journal that would appear for the next twenty years.
She also wrote articles for such publications as the Saturday Evening Post and Foreign Affairs , building a reputation as one of the most influential U. Roosevelt on the refugee problem and reported on the war, also making radio broadcasts into Germany to urge its people to rebel against Hitler.
In the decades following the war she wrote about such issues as tensions between Arabs and Israelis, the women's movement, and the dangers of nuclear weapons. She died in In his subsequent novels—including Gideon Planish , Cass Timberlane , Kingsblood Royal , and The God-Seeker —Lewis tried unsuccessfully to breathe life into such themes as fraudulent charity organizations, marriage, and racial prejudice.
Meanwhile, Lewis's personal life also disintegrated as he succumbed to alcoholism and restless wandering. He had married journalist Dorothy Thompson in having divorced his first wife and fathered another son, Michael, born in ; the two were divorced in Naturally, therefore, a hot medium like radio has very different effects on the user from a cool medium like the telephone.
A cool medium like hieroglyphic or ideogrammic written characters has very different effects from the hot and explosive medium of the phonetic al-Whet. The alphabet, when pushed to a high degree of abstract visual intensity, became typography. The printed word with its specialist intensity burst the bonds of medieval corporate guilds and monasteries, creating extreme individualist patterns of enterprise and monopoly.
But the typical reversal occurred when extremes of monopoly brought back the corporation, with its impersonal empire over many lives. The heavy and unwieldy media, such as stone, are time binders. Used for writing, they are very cool indeed, and serve to unify the ages; whereas paper is a hot medium that serves to unify spaces horizontally, both in political and entertainment, empires.
Any hot medium allows of less participation than a cool one, as a lecture makes for less participation than a seminar, and a book for less than dialogue. With print many earlier forms were excluded from life and art, and many were given strange new intensity.
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But our own time is crowded with examples of the principle that the hot form excludes, and the cool one includes. When ballerinas began to dance on their toes a century ago, it was felt that the art of the ballet had acquired a new "spirituality. The role of women had also become fragmented with the advent of industrial specialism and the explosion of home functions into laundries, bakeries, and hospitals on the periphery of the community. Intensity or high definition engenders specialism and fragmentation in living as in entertainment, which explains why any intense experience must be "forgotten," "censored," and reduced to a very cool state before it can be "learned" or assimilated.
The Freudian "censor" is less of a moral function than an indispensable condition of learning. Were we to accept fully and directly every shock to our various structures of awareness, we would soon be nervous wrecks, doing double-takes and pressing panic buttons every minute. The "censor" protects our central system of values, as it does our physical nervous system by simply cooling off the onset of experience a great deal.
For many people, this cooling system brings on a lifelong state of psychic rigor mortis, or of somnambulism, particularly observable in periods of new technology. An example of the disruptive impact of a hot technology succeeding a cool one is given by Robert Theobald in The Rich and the Poor.
When Australian natives were given steel axes by the missionaries, their culture, based on the stone axe, collapsed. The stone axe had not only been scarce but had always been a basic status symbol of male importance. The missionaries provided quantities of sharp steel axes and gave them to women and children. The men had even to borrow these from the women, causing a collapse of male dignity. A tribal and feudal hierarchy of traditional kind collapses quickly when it meets any hot medium of the mechanical, uniform, and repetitive kind.
The medium of money or wheel or writing, or any other form of specialist speedup of exchange and information, will serve to fragment a tribal structure. Similarly, a very much greater speed-up, such as occurs with electricity, may serve to restore a tribal pattern of intense involvement such as took place with the introduction of radio in Europe, and is now tending to happen as a result of TV in America.
Spear technologies detribalize. The nonspecialist electric technologie retribalizes.
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The process of upset resulting from a new distribution of skills is accompanied by much culture lag in which people feel compelled to look at new situations as if they were old ones, and come up with ideas of "population explosion" in an age of implosion. Newton, in an age of clocks, managed to present the physical universe in the image of a clock. But poets like Blake were far ahead of Newton in their response to the challenge of the clock. Blake spoke of the need to be delivered "from single vision and Newton's sleep," knowing very well that Newton's response to the challenge of the new mechanism was itself merely a mechanical repetition of the challenge.
Blake saw Newton and Locke and others as hypnotized Narcissus types quite unable to meet the challenge of mechanism. Yeats gave the full Blakean version of Newton and Locke in a famous epigram:. Locke sank into a swoon; The garden died; God took the spinning jenny Out of his side. Yeats presents Locke, the philosopher of mechanical and lineal associationism, as hypnotized by his own image. The "garden," or unified consciousness, ended. Eighteenth-century man got an extension of himself in the form of the spinning machine that Yeats endows with its full sexual significance.
Woman, herself, is thus seen as a technological extension of man's being. Blake's counterstrategy for his age was to meet mechanism with organic myth. Today, deep in the electric age, organic myth is itself a simple and automatic response capable of mathematical formulation and expression, without any of the imaginative perception of Blake about it. Had he encountered the electric age, Blake would not have met its challenge with a mere repetition of electric form.
For myth is the instant vision of a complex process that ordinarily extends over a long period. Myth is contraction or implosion of any process, and the instant speed of electricity confers the mythic dimension on ordinary industrial and social action today. We live mythically but continue to think fragmentarily and on single planes. Scholars today are acutely aware of a discrepancy between their ways of treating subjects and the subject itself. Scriptural scholars of both the Old and New Testaments frequently say that while their treatment must be linear, the subject is not. The subject treats of the relations between God and man, and between God and the world, and of the relations between man and his neighbor-all these subsist together, and act and react upon one another at the same time.
The Hebrew and Eastern mode of thought tackles problem and resolution, at the outset of a discussion, in a way typical of oral societies in general. The entire message is then traced and retraced, again and again, on the rounds of a concentric spiral with seeming redundancy. One can stop anywhere after the first few sentences and have the full message, if one is prepared to "dig" it.
This kind of plan seems to have inspired Frank Lloyd Wright in designing the Guggenheim Art Gallery on a spiral, concentric basis. It is a redundant form inevitable to the electric age, in which the concentric pattern is imposed by the instant quality, and overlay in depth, of electric speed. But the concentric with its endless intersection of planes is necessary for insight.
In fact, it is the technique of insight, and as such is necessary for media study, since no medium has its meaning or existence alone, but only in constant interplay with other media. The new electric structuring and configuring of life more and more encounters the old lineal and fragmentary procedures and tools of analysis from the mechanical age. More and more we turn from the content of messages to study total effect. Kenneth Boulding put this matter in The Image by saying, "The meaning of a message is the change which it produces in the image.
Strangely, there is recognition of this matter of effect rather than information in the British idea of libel: "The greater the truth, the greater the libel. The effect of electric technology had at first been anxiety. Now it appears to create boredom. We have been through the three stages of alarm, resistance, and exhaustion that occur in every disease or stress of life, whether individual or collective. At least, our exhausted slump after the first encounter with the electric has inclined us to expect new problems.
However, backward countries that have experienced little permeation with our own mechanical and specialist culture are much better able to con- front and to understand electric technology. Not only have backward and nonindustrial cultures no specialist habits to overcome in their encounter with electromagnetism, but they have still much of their traditional oral culture that has the total, unified "field" character of our new electromagnetism.
Our old industrialized areas, having eroded their oral traditions automatically, are in the position of having to rediscover them in order to cope with the electric age. In terms of the theme of media hot and cold, backward countries are cool, and we are hot. The "city slicker" is hot, and the rustic is cool. But in terms of the reversal of procedures and values in the electric age, the past mechanical time was hot, and we of the TV age are cool.
The waltz was a hot, fast mechanical dance suited to the industrial time in its moods of pomp and circumstance. In contrast, the Twist is a cool, involved and chatty form of improvised gesture. The jazz of the period of the hot new media of movie and radio was hot jazz. Yet jazz of itself tends to be a casual dialogue form of dance quite lacking in the repetitive and mechanical forms of the waltz.
Cool jazz came in quite naturally after the first impact of radio and movie had been absorbed. In the special Russian issue of Life magazine for September 13, , it is mentioned in Russian restaurants and night clubs, "though the Charleston is tolerated, the Twist is taboo. The cool and involved form of the Twist, on the other hand, would strike such a culture at once as retrograde and incompatible with its new mechanical stress. The Charleston, with its aspect of a mechanical doll agitated by strings, appears in Russia as an avant-garde form.
We, on the other hand, find the avantgarde in the cool and the primitive, with its promise of depth involvement and integral expression. The "hard" sell and the "hot" line become mere comedy in the TV age, and the death of all the salesmen at one stroke of the TV axe has turned the hot American culture into a cool one that is quite unacquainted with itself.
America, in fact, would seem to be living through the reverse process that Margaret Mead described in Time magazine September 4, : "There are too many complaints about society having to move too fast to keep up with the machine. There is great advantage in moving fast if you move completely, if social, educational, and recreational changes keep pace. You must change the whole pattern at once and the whole group together-and the people themselves must decide to move. Margaret Mead is thinking here of change as uniform speedup of motion or a uniform hotting-up of temperatures in backward societies.
We are certainly coming within conceivable range of a world automatically controlled to the point where we could say, "Six hours less radio in Indonesia next week or there will be a great falling off in literary attention. Whole cultures could now be programmed to keep their emotional climate stable in the same way that we have begun to know something about maintaining equilibrium in the commercial economies of the world. In the merely personal and private sphere we are often reminded of how changes of tone and attitude are demanded of different times and seasons in order to keep situations in hand.
British clubmen, for the sake of companionship and amiability, have long excluded the hot topics of religion and politics from mention inside the highly participational club. In the same vein, W.
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Auden wrote, ". In the Renaissance, as print technology hotted up the social milieu to a very high point, the gentleman and the courtier Hamlet-Mercutio style adopted, in contrast, the casual and cool nonchalance of the playful and superior being. The Iago allusion of Auden reminds us that Iago was the alter ego and assistant of the intensely earnest and very non-nonchalant General Othello. In imitation of the earnest and forthright general, Iago hotted up his own image and wore his heart on his sleeve, until General Othello read him loud and clear as "honest Iago," a man after his own grimly earnest heart.
Throughout The City in History, Lewis Mumford favors the cool or casually structured towns over the hot and intensely filled-in cities. The great period of Athens, he feels, was one during which most of the democratic habits of village life and participation still obtained. Then burst forth the full varietv of human expression and exploration such as was later impossible in highly developed urban centers. For the highly developed situation is, by definition, low in opportunities of participation, and rigorous in its demands of specialist fragmentation from those who would control it.
For example, what is known as "job enlargement" today in business and in management consists in allowing the employee more freedom to discover and define his function. Likewise, in reading a detective story the reader participates as co-author simply because so much has been left out of the narrative. The open-mesh silk stocking is far more sensuous than the smooth nylon, just because the eye must act as hand in filling in and completing the image, exactly as in the mosaic of the TV image.
Douglas Cater in The Fourth Branch o f Government tells how the men of the Washington press bureaus delighted to complete or fill in the blank of Calvin Coolidge's personality. Because he was so like a mere cartoon, they felt the urge to complete his image for him and his public. It is instructive that the press applied the word "cool" to Cal.
In the very sense of a cool medium, Calvin Coolidge was so lacking in any articulation of data in his public image that there was only one word for him. He was real cool. In the hot s, the hot press medium found Cal very cool and rejoiced in his lack of image, since it compelled the participation of the press in filling in an image of him for the public. By contrast, F. Quite in contrast, Jack Paar ran a cool show for the cool TV medium, and became a rival for the patrons of the night spots and their allies in the gossip columns.
Jack Paar's war with the gossip columnists was a weird example of clash between a hot and cold medium such as had occurred with the "scandal of the rigged TV quiz shows. Nearly traffic violators watched a police traffic accident film today to atone for their violations.
Two had to be treated for nausea and shock Whether the hot film medium using hot content would cool off the hot drivers is a moot point. But it does concern any understanding of media. The effect of hot media treatment cannot include much empathy or participation at any time. In this connection an insurance ad that featured Dad in an iron lung surrounded by a joyful family group did more to strike terror into the reader than all the warning wisdom in the world.
It is a question that arises in connection with capital punishment. Is a severe penalty the best deterrent to serious crimes With regard to the bomb and the cold war, is the threat of massive retaliation the most effective means to peace? Is it not evident in every human situation that is pushed to a point of saturation that some precipitation occurs? When all the available resources and energies have been played up in an organism or in any structure there is some kind of reversal of pattern. The spectacle of brutality used as deterrent can brutalize.
Brutality used in sports may humanize under some conditions, at least. But with regard to the bomb and retaliation as deterrent, it is obvious that numbness is the result of any prolonged terror, a fact that was discovered when the fallout shelter program was broached.
Marshall McLuhan, 1964
The price of eternal vigilance is indifference. Nevertheless, it makes all the difference whether a hot medium is used in a hot or a cool culture. The hot radio medium used in cool or nonliterate cultures has a violent effect, quite unlike its effect, say in England or America, where radio is felt as entertainment. A cool or low literacy culture cannot accept hot media like movies or radio as entertainment. They are, at least, as radically upsetting for them as the cool TV medium has proved to be for our high literacy world. And as for the cool war and the hot bomb scare, the cultural strategy that is desperately needed is humor and play.
It is play that cools off the hot situations of actual life by miming them. Competitive sports between Russia and the West will hardly serve that purpose of relaxation. Such sports are inflammatory, it is plain. And what we consider entertainment or fun in our media inevitably appears as violent political agitation to a cool culture. One way to spot the basic difference between hot and cold media uses is to compare and contrast a broadcast of a symphony performance with a broadcast of a symphony rehearsal.
Two of the finest shows ever released by the CBC were of Glenn Gould's procedure in recording piano recitals, and Igor Stravinsky's rehearsing the Toronto symphony in some of his new work. A cool medium like TV, when really used, demands this involvement in process. The neat tight package is suited to hot media, like radio and gramophone. Francis Bacon never tired of contrasting hot and cool prose.
Writing in "methods" or complete packages, he contrasted with writing in aphorisms, or single observations such as "Revenge is a kind of wild justice. The principle that distinguishes hot and cold media is perfectly embodied in the folk wisdom: "Men seldom make passes at girls who wear glasses. Dark glasses, on the other hand, create the inscrutable and inaccessible image that invites a great deal of participation and completion.
Again, in a visual and highly literate culture, when we meet a person for the first time his visual appearance dims out the sound of the name, so that in self-defense we add: "How do you spell your name? Another vantage point from which to test the difference between hot and cold media is the practical joke.
The hot literary medium excludes the practical and participant aspect of the joke so completely that Constance Rourke, in her American Humor, considers it as no joke at all. To literary people, the practical joke with its total physical involvement is as distasteful as the pun that derails us from the smooth and uniform progress that is typographic order. Indeed, to the literary person who is quite unaware of the intensely abstract nature of the typographic medium, it is the grosser and participant forms of art that seem "hot," and the abstract and intensely literary form that seems "cool.
Johnson, with a pugilistic smile, "that I am well-bred to a degree of needless scrupulosity. Johnson was right in supposing that "well-bred" had come to mean a white-skirted stress on attire that rivaled the rigor of the printed page. On the other hand. So the hotting-up of one sense tends to effect hypnosis, and the cooling of all senses tends to result in hallucination. The agreement to establish a direct communication link between Washington and Moscow for emergencies was signed here yesterday by Charles Stelle of the United States and Semyon Tsarapkin of the Soviet Union The link, known as the hot line, will be opened within sixty days, according to U.
It will make use of leased commercial circuits, one cable and the other wireless, using teleprinter equipment. The decision to use the hot printed medium in place of the cool, participational, telephone medium is unfortunate in the extreme. No doubt the decision was prompted by the literary bias of the West for the printed form, on the ground that it is more impersonal than the telephone. The printed form has quite different im plications in Moscow from what it has in Washington. So with the telephone. The Russians' love of this instrument, so congenial to their oral traditions, is owing to the rich nonvisual involvement it affords.
The Russian uses the telephone for the sort of effects we associate with the eager conversation of the lapel-gripper whose face is twelve inches away. Both telephone and teleprinter as amplifications of the unconscious cultural bias of Moscow, on one hand, and of Washington, on the other, are invitations to monstrous misunderstandings. The Russian bugs rooms and spies by ear, finding this quite natural. He is outraged by our visual spying, however, finding this quite unnatural. The principle that during the stages of their development all things appear under forms opposite to those that they finally present is an ancient doctrine.
Interest in the power of things to reverse themselves by evolution is evident in a great diversity of observations, sage and jocular. Alexander Pope wrote. Vice is a monster of such frightful mien As to be hated needs but to be seen; But seen too oft, familiar with its face, We first endure, then pity, then embrace.
A caterpillar gazing at the butterfly is supposed to have remarked. At another level we have seen in this century the changeover from the debunking of traditional myths and legends to their reverent study. As we begin to react in depth to the social life and problems of our global village, we become reactionaries. Involvement that goes with our instant technologies transforms the most- "socially conscious" people into conservatives. When Sputnik had first gone into orbit a schoolteacher asked her second-graders to write some verse of the subject.
One child wrote:. With man his knowledge and the process of obtaining knowledge are of equal magnitude. Our ability to apprehend galaxies and subatomic structures, as well, is a movement of faculties that include and transcend them. The second-grader who wrote the words above lives in a world much vaster than any which a scientist today has instruments to measure, or concepts to describe.
Yeats wrote of this reversal, "The visible world is no longer a reality and the unseen world is no longer a dream. Associated with this transformation of the real world into science fiction is the reversal now proceeding apace, by which the Western world is going Eastern, even as the East goes Western.
Joyce encoded this reciprocal reverse in his cryptic phrase:. The title of his Finnegans Wake is a set of multi-leveled puns on the reversal by which Western man enters his tribal, or Finn, cycle once more, following the track of the old Finn, but wide awake this time as we re-enter the tribal night. It is like our contemporary consciousness of the Unconscious. The stepping-up of speed from the mechanical to the instant electric form reverses explosion into implosion.
In our present electric age the imploding or contracting energies of our world now clash with the old expansionist and traditional patterns of organization. Until recently our institutions and arrangements, social, political, and economic, had shared a one-way pattern. We still think of it as "explosive," or expansive; and though it no longer obtains, we still talk about the population explosion and the explosion in learning.
In fact, it is not the increase of numbers in the world that creates our concern with population. Rather, it is the fact that everybody in the world has to live in the utmost proximity created by our electric involvement in one another's lives. In education, likewise, it is not the increase in numbers of those seeking to learn that creates the crisis.
Our new concern with education follows upon the changeover to an interrelation in knowledge, where before the separate subjects of the curriculum had stood apart from each other. Departmental sovereignties have melted away as rapidly as national sovereignties under conditions of electric speed. Obsession with the older patterns of mechanical, one-way expansion from centers to margins is no longer relevant to our electric world.
Electricity does not centralize, but decentralizes. It is like the difference between a railway system and an electric grid system: the one requires railheads and big urban centers. Electric power, equally available in the farmhouse and the Executive Suite, permits any place to be a center, and does not require large aggregations.
This reverse pattern appeared quite early in electrical "labor-saving" devices, whether a toaster or washing machine or vacuum cleaner. Instead of saving work, these devices permit everybody to do his own work. What the nineteenth century had delegated to servants and housemaids we now do for ourselves. This principle applies in toto in the electric age. In politics, it permits Castro to exist as independent nucleus or center. It would permit Quebec to leave the Canadian union in a way quite inconceivable under the regime of the railways.
The railways require a uniform political and economic space. On the other hand, airplane and radio permit the utmost discontinuity and diversity in spatial organization. Today the great principle of classical physics and economics and political science, namely that of the divisibility of each process, has reversed itself by sheer extension into the unified field theory; and automation in industry replaces the divisibility of process with the organic interlacing of all functions in the complex. The electric tape succeeds the assembly line. In the new electric Age of Information and programmed production, commodities themselves assume more and more the character of information, although this trend appears mainly in the increasing advertising budget.
Significantly, it is those commodities that are most used in social communication, cigarettes, cosmetics, and soap cosmetic' removers that bear much of the burden of the upkeep of the media in general. As electric information levels rise, almost any kind of material will serve any kind of need or function, forcing the intellectual more and more into the role of social command and into the service of production.
It was Julien Benda's Great Betrayal that helped to clarify the new situation in which the intellectual suddenly holds the whip hand in society. Benda saw that the artists and intellectuals who had long been alienated from power, and who since Voltaire had been in opposition, had now been drafted for service in the highest echelons of decision-making.
Their great betrayal was that they had surrendered their autonomy and bad become the flunkies of power, as the atomic physicist at the present moment is the flunky of the war lords. Had Benda known his history, he would have been less angry and less surprised. For it has always been the role of intelligentsia to act as liaison and as mediators between old and new power groups.
Most familiar of such groups is the case of the Greek slaves, who were for long the educators and confidential clerks of the Roman power. And it is precisely this servile role of the confidential clerk to the tycoon-commercial, military, or political-that the educator has continued to play in the Western world until the present moment.
In England "the Angries" were a group of such clerks who had suddenly emerged from the lower echelons by the educational escape hatch. As they emerged into the upper world of power, they found that the air was not at all fresh or bracing. But they lost their nerve even quicker than Bernard Shaw lost his. Like Shaw, they quickly settled down to whimsy and to the cultivation of entertainment values. In his Study o f History, Toynbee notes a great many reversals of form and dynamic, as when, in the middle of the fourth century A.
Such a moment marked new confidence born of saturation with Roman values, and it was a moment marked by the complementary Roman swing toward primitive values. As Americans saturate with European values, especially since TV, they begin to insist upon American coach lamps, hitching posts, and colonial kitchenware as cultural objects. Just as the barbarians got to the top of the Roman social ladder, the Romans themselves were disposed to assume the dress and manners of tribesmen out of the same frivolous and snobbish spirit that attached the French court of Louis XVI to the world of shepherds and shepherdesses.
It would have seemed a natural moment for the intellectuals to have taken over while the governing class was touring Disneyland, as it were. But they reckoned without understanding the dynamics of the new media of communication. Marx based his analysis most untimely on the machine, just as the telegraph and other implosive forms began to reverse the mechanical dynamic.
The present chapter is concerned with showing that in any medium or structure there is what Kenneth Boulding calls a "break boundary at which the system suddenly changes into another or passes some point of no return in its dynamic processes. One effect of the static photo had been to suppress the conspicuous consumption of the rich, but the effect of the speed-up of the photo had been to provide fantasy riches for the poor of the entire globe.
Today the road beyond its break boundary turns cities into highways, and the highway proper takes on a continuous urban character. Another characteristic reversal after passing a road break boundary is that the country ceases to be the center of all work, and the city ceases to be the center of leisure.
In fact, improved roads and transport have reversed the ancient pattern and made cities the centers of work and the country the place of leisure and of recreation. Earlier, the increase of traffic that came with money and roads had ended the static tribal state as Toynbee calls the nomadic food-gathering culture. Typical of the reversing that occurs at break boundaries is the paradox that nomadic mobile man, the hunter and food-gatherer, is socially static.
On the other hand, sedentary, specialist mad is dynamic, explosive, progressive. The new magnetic or world city will be static and iconic or inclusive. In the ancient world the intuitive awareness of break boundaries as points of reversal and of no return was embodied in the Greek idea of hubris, which Toynbee presents in his Study of History, under the head of "The Nemesis of Creativity" and "The Reversal of Roles. It was as if the Greeks felt that the penalty for one break-through was a general sealing-off of awareness to the total field.
Waley translation -there is a series of instances of the overheated medium, the overextended man or culture, and the peripety or reversal that inevitably follows:. He who stands on tiptoe does not stand firm; He who takes the longest strides does not walk the fastest. He who boasts of what he will do succeeds in nothing; He who is proud of his work achieves nothing that endures.
One of the most common causes of breaks in any system is the cross-fertilization with another system, such as happened to print with the steam press, or with radio and movies that yielded the talkies. Today with microfilm and micro-cards, not to mention electric memories, the printed word assumes again much of the handicraft character of a manuscript. But printing from movable type was, itself, the major break boundary in the history of phonetic literacy, just as the phonetic alphabet had been the break boundary between tribal and individualist man.
The endless reversals or break boundaries passed in the interplay of the structures of bureaucracy and enterprise include the point at which individuals began to be held responsible and accountable for their "private actions. Centuries later, when further explosion and expansion had exhausted the powers of private action, corporate enterprise invented the idea of Public Debt, making the individual privately accountable for group action. As the nineteenth century heated up the mechanical and dissociative procedures of technical fragmentation, the entire attention of men turned to the associative and the corporate.
In the first great age of the substitution of machine for human toil Carlyle and the Pre-Raphaelites promulgated the doctrine of Work as a mystical social communion, and millionaires like Ruskin and Morris toiled like navvies for esthetic reasons. Marx was an impressionable recipient of these doctrines. Most bizarre of all the reversals in the great Victorian age of mechanization and high moral tone is the counter-strategy of Lewis Carroll and Edward Lear, whose nonsense has proved exceedingly durable.
While the Lord Cardigans were taking their blood baths in the Valley of Death, Gilbert and Sullivan were announcing that the boundary break had been passed. The Greek myth of Narcissus is directly concerned with a fact of human experience, as the word Narcissus indicates. It is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own extended or repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain.
He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system. Now the point of this myth is the fact that men at once become fascinated by any extension of themselves in any material other than themselves. There have been cynics who insisted that men fall deepest in love with women who give them back their own image.
Be that as it may, the wisdom of the Narcissus myth does not convey any idea that Narcissus fell in love with anything he regarded as himself. Obviously he would have had very different feelings about the image had he known it was an extension or repetition of himself.
It is, perhaps, indicative of the bias of our intensely technological and, therefore, narcotic culture that we have long interpreted the Narcissus story to mean that he fell in love with himself, that he imagined the reflection to be Narcissus! Physiologically there are abundant reasons for an extension of ourselves involving us in a state of numbness.
Medical researchers like Hans Selye and Adolphe Jonas hold that all extensions of ourselves, in sickness or in health, are attempts to maintain equilibrium. Any extension of ourselves they regard as "autoamputation," and they find that the autoamputative power or strategy is resorted to by the body when the perceptual power cannot locate or avoid the cause of irritation. Our language has many expressions that indicate this self-amputation that is imposed by various pressures. We speak of "wanting to jump out of my skin" or of "going out of my mind," being "driven batty" or "flipping my lid.
While it was no part of the intention of Jonas and Selye to provide an explanation of human invention and technology, they have given us a theory of disease discomfort that goes far to explain why man is impelled to extend various parts of his body by a kind of autoamputation. In the physical stress of superstimulation of various kinds, the central nervous system acts to protect itself by a strategy of amputation or isolation of the offending organ, sense, or function. Thus, the stimulus to new invention is the stress of acceleration of pace and increase of load.
For example, in the case of the wheel as an extension of the foot, the pressure of new burdens resulting from the acceleration of exchange by written and monetary media was the immediate occasion of the extension or "amputation" of this function from our bodies. The wheel as a counter-irritant to increased burdens, in turn, brings about a new intensity of action by its amplification of a separate or isolated function the feet in rotation. Such amplification is bearable by the nervous system only through numbness or blocking of perception.
This is the sense of the Narcissus myth. The young man's image is a self-amputation or extension induced by irritating pressures. As counter-irritant, the image produces a generalized numbness or shock that declines recognition. Self-amputation forbids self-recognition. The principle of self-amputation as an immediate relief of strain on the central nervous system applies very readily to the origin of the media of communication from speech to computer.
Physiologically, the central nervous system, that electric network that coordinates the various media of our senses, plays the chief role. Whatever threatens its function must be contained, localized, or cut off, even to the total removal of the offending organ. The function of the body, as a group of sustaining and protective organs for the central nervous system, is to act as buffers against sudden variations of stimulus in the physical and social environment. Sudden social failure or shame is a shock that some may "take to heart" or that may cause muscular disturbance in general, signaling for the person to withdraw from the threatening situation.
Therapy, whether physical or social, is a counter-irritant that aids in that equilibrium of the physical organs which protect the central nervous system. Whereas pleasure is a counter-irritant e. Both pleasure and comfort are strategies of equilibrium for the central nervous system. With the arrival of electric technology, man extended, or set outside himself, a live model of the central nervous system itself. To the degree that this is so, it is a development that suggests a desperate and suicidal autoamputation, as if the central nervous system could no longer depend on the physical organs to be protective buffers against the slings and arrows of outrageous mechanism.
It could well be that the successive mechanizations of the various physical organs since the invention of printing have made too violent and superstimulated a social experience for the central nervous system to endure. In relation to that only too plausible cause of such develop ment, we can return to the Narcissus theme. For if Narcissus is numbed by his self-amputated image, there is a very good reason for the numbness. There is a close parallel of response between the patterns of physical and psychic trauma or shock. A person suddenly deprived of loved ones and a person who drops a few feet unexpectedly will both register shock.
Both the loss of family and a physical fall are extreme instances of amputations of the self. Shock induces a generalized numbness or an increased threshold to all types of perception. The victim seems immune to pain or sense. Battle shock created by violent noise has been adapted for dental use in the device known as audiac. The patient puts on headphones and turns. The selection of a single sense for intense stimulus, or of a single extended, isolated, or "amputated" sense in technology, is in part the reason for the numbing effect that technology as such has on its makers and users.
For the central nervous system rallies a response of general numbness to the challenge of specialized irritation. The person who falls suddenly experiences immunity to all pain or sensory stimuli because the central nervous system has to be protected from any intense thrust of sensation. Only gradually does he regain normal sensitivity to sights and sounds, at which time he may begin to tremble and perspire and to react as he would have done if the central nervous system had been prepared in advance for the fall that occurred unexpectedly.
Depending on which sense or faculty is extended technologically, or "autoamputated," the "closure" or equilibrium-seeking among the other senses is fairly predictable.
It is with the senses as it is with color. Sensation is always per cent, and a color is always per cent color. But the ratio among the components in the sensation or the color cars differ infinitely. Yet if sound, for example, is intensified, touch and taste and sight are affected at once. The effect of radio on literate or visual man was to reawaken his tribal memories, and the effect of sound added to motion pictures was to diminish the role of mime, tactility, and kinesthesis. Similarly, when nomadic man turned to sedentary and specialist ways, the senses specialized too. The development of writing and the visual organization of life made possible the discovery of individualism, introspection and so on.
Any invention or technology is an extension or self-amputation of our physical bodies, and such extension also demands new ratios or new equilibriums among the other organs and extensions of the body. There is, for example, no way of refusing to comply with the new sense ratios or sense "closure" evoked by the TV image. But the effect of the entry of the TV image will vary from culture to culture in accordance with the existing sense ratios in each culture.
In audile-tactile Europe TV has intensified the visual sense, spurring them toward American styles of packaging and dressing. In America, the intensely visual culture, TV has opened the doors of audile-tactile perception to the nonvisual world of spoken languages and food and the plastic arts. As an extension and expediter of the sense life, any medium at once affects the entire field of the senses, as the Psalmist explained long ago in the th Psalm:. Their idols are silver and gold, The work of men's hands. They have mouths, but they speak not; Eyes they have, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not; Noses have they, but they smell not; They have hands, but they handle not; Feet have they, but they walk not; Neither speak they through their throat.
They that make them shall be like unto them; Yea, every one that trusteth in them. The concept of "idol" for the Hebrew Psalmist is much like that of Narcissus for the Greek mythmaker. And the Psalmist insists that the beholding of idols, or the use of technology, conforms men to them. What they have, says Blake, is "the spectre of the Reasoning Power in Man" that has become fragmented and "separated from Imagination and enclosing itself as in steel. But he insists that these technologies are self-amputations of our own organs. When so amputated, each organ becomes a closed system of great new intensity that hurls man into "martyrdoms and wars.
To behold, use or perceive any extension of ourselves in technological form is necessarily to embrace it. To listen to radio or to read the printed page is to accept these extensions of ourselves into our personal system and to undergo the "closure" or displacement of perception that follows automatically. It is this continuous embrace of our own technology in daily use that puts us in the Narcissus role of subliminal awareness and numbness in relation to these images of ourselves. By continuously embracing technologies, we relate ourselves to them as servomechanisms.
That is why we must, to use them at all, serve these objects, these extensions of ourselves, as gods or minor religions. An Indian is the servo-mechanism of his canoe, as the cowboy of his horse or. Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology or his variously extended body is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology. Man becomes, as it were, the sex organs of the machine world, as the bee of the plant world, enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms.
The machine world reciprocates man's love by expediting his wishes and desires, namely, in providing him with wealth. One of the merits of motivation research has been the revelation of man's sex relation to the motorcar. Socially, it is the accumulation of group pressures and irritations that prompt invention and innovation as counter-irritants. War and the fear of war have always been considered the main incentives to technological extension of our bodies. Indeed, Lewis Mumford, in his The City in History, considers the walled city itself an extension of our skins, as much as housing and clothing.
More even than the preparation for war, the aftermath of invasion is a rich technological period; because the subject culture has to adjust all its sense ratios to accommodate the impact of the invading culture. It is from such intensive hybrid exchange and strife of ideas and forms that the greatest social energies are released, and from which arise the greatest technologies.
That is 62 times the existing gold supply of the world. The principle of numbness comes into play with electric technology, as with any other. We have to numb our central nervous system when it is extended and exposed, or we will die. Thus the age of anxiety and of electric media is also the age of the unconscious and of apathy.
But it is strikingly the age of consciousness of the unconscious, in addition. Apparently this could not have happened before the electric age gave us the means of instant, total field-awareness. With such awareness, the subliminal life, private and social, has been hoicked up into full view, with the result that we have "social consciousness" presented to us as a cause of guilt-feelings. Existentialism offers a philosophy of structures, rather than categories, and of total social involvement instead of the bourgeois spirit of individual separateness or points of view.
In the electric age we wear all mankind as our skin. Moving pictures, gramophone records, radio, talking pictures. Most of this civil war affects us in the depths of our psychic lives, as well, since the war is conducted by forces that are extensions and amplifications of our own beings. Indeed, the interplay among media is only another name for this civil war" that rages in our society and our psyches alike.
The crossings or hybridizations of the media release great new force and energy as by fission or fusion. There need be no blindness in these matters once we have been notified that there is anything to observe. It has now been explained that media, or the extensions of man, are "make happen" agents, but not "make aware" agents. The hybridizing or compounding of these agents offers an especially favorable opportunity to notice their structural components and properties.
This type of observation can be extended systematically to all media: "As the printing press cried out for nationalism, so did the radio cry out for tribalism. The fact that they do interact and spawn new progeny has been a source of wonder over the ages. It need baffle us no longer if we trouble to scrutinize their action. We can, if we choose, think things out before we put them out.
Plato, in all his striving to imagine an ideal training school, failed to notice that Athens was a greater school than any university even he could dream up. In other words, the greatest school had been put out for human use before it has been thought out. Now, this is especially true of our media. They are put out long before they are thought out. In fact, their being put outside us tends to cancel the possibility of their being thought of at all. Everybody notices how coal and steel and cars affect the arrangements of daily existence. In our time, study has finally turned to the medium of language itself as shaping the arrangements of daily life, so that society begins to look like a linguistic echo or repeat of language norms, a fact that has disturbed the Russian Communist party very deeply.
Wedded as they are to nineteenth-century industrial technology as the basis of class liberation, nothing could be more subversive of the Marxian dialectic than the idea that linguistic media shape social development, as much as do the means of production. In fact, of all the great hybrid unions that breed furious release of energy and change, there is none to surpass the meeting of literate and oral cultures.
The giving to man of an eye for an ear by phonetic literacy is, socially and politically, probably the most radical explosion that can occur in any social structure. This explosion of the eye, frequently repeated in "backward areas," we call Westernization. With literacy now about to hybridize the cultures of the Chinese, the Indians, and the Africans, we are about to experience such a release of human power and aggressive violence as makes the previous history of phonetic alphabet technology seem quite tame.
That is only the East side story, for the electric implosion now brings oral and tribal ear-culture to the literate West. Not only does the visual, specialist, and fragmented Westerner have now to live in closest daily association with all the ancient oral cultures of the earth, but his own electric technology now begins to translate the visual or eye man back into the tribal and oral pattern with its seamless web of kinship and interdependence.
We know from our own past the kind of energy that is released, as by fission, when literacy explodes the tribal or family unit. What do we know about the social and psychic energies that develop by electric fusion or implosion when literate individuals are suddenly gripped by an electromagnetic field, such as occurs in the new Common Market pressure in Europe?
Make no mistake, the fusion of people who have known individualism and nationalism is not the same process as the fission of "backward" and oral cultures that are just coming to individualism and nationalism. It is the difference between the "A" bomb and the "H" bomb. The latter is more violent, by far. Moreover, the products of electric fusion are immensely complex, while the products of fission are simple.
Literacy creates very much simpler kinds of people than those that develop in the complex web of ordinary tribal and oral societies. For the fragmented man creates the homogenized Western world, while oral societies are made up of people differentiated, not by their specialist skills or visible marks, but by their unique emotional mixes.
The oral man's inner world is a tangle of complex emotions and feelings that the Western practical man has long ago eroded or suppressed within himself in the interest of efficiency and practicality. The immediate prospect for literate, fragmented Western man encountering the electric implosion within his own culture is his steady and rapid transformation into a complex and depthstructured person emotionally aware of his total interdependence with the rest of human society.
Representatives of the older Western individualism are even now assuming the appearance, for good or ill, of Al Capp's General Bull Moose or of the John Birchers, tribally dedicated to opposing the tribal. Fragmented, literate, and visual individualism is not possible in an electrically patterned and imploded society. So what is to be done? Do we dare to confront such facts at the conscious level, or is it best to becloud and repress such matters until some violence releases us from the entire burden? For the fate of implosion and interdependence is more terrible for Western man than the fate of explosion and independence for tribal man.
It may be merely temperament in my own case, but I find some easing of the burden in just understanding and clarifying the issues. On the other hand, since consciousness and awareness seem to be a human privilege, may it, not be desirable to extend this condition to our hidden conflicts, both private and social? The present book, in seeking to understand many media, the conflicts from which they spring, and the even greater conflicts to which they give rise, holds out the promise of reducing these conflicts by an increase of human autonomy.
Let us now note a few of the effects of media hybrids, or of the interpenetration of one medium by another. Life at the Pentagon has been greatly complicated by jet travel, for example. Every few minutes an assembly gong rings to summon many specialists from their desks to hear a personal report from an expert from some remote part of the world.
Meantime, the undone paper work mounts on each desk. And each department daily dispatches personnel by jet to remote areas for more data and reports. Such is the speed of this process of the meeting of the jet plane, the oral report, and the typewriter that those going forth to the ends of the earth often arrive unable to spell the name of the spot to which they have been sent as experts. Lewis Carroll pointed out that as large-scale maps got more and more detailed and extensive, they would tend to blanket agriculture and rouse the protest of farmers. So why not use the actual earth as a map of itself?
We have reached a similar point of data gathering when each stick of chewing gum we reach for is acutely noted by some computer that translates our least gesture into a new probability curve or some parameter of social science.