“Love” by Marshall McLuhan, Saturday Night Magazine, Feb. 1967


LOVE by Marshall McLuhan
Saturday Night Magazine, February 1967

“In order to have a highly industrialized or marketing life, you have to devise very superficial relationships for people.”

It (love – Ed.) means “encounter” in the sense of both impact and response. There has to be feedback.

And perhaps what was suspect about the old 19th-century liberal love for mankind was that it went out, as it were, toward mankind but wasn’t too interested in any feedback or response or involvement. Whereas the new dimension is definitely able to take account of the feedback or response.

One of the effects of speedup in information-movement of all kinds – pictorial or verbal or personal – is that the moment of impact and the moment of response are the same. There’s no gap, no time-lag any more. This is what’s wrong with the Vietnam War. The responses that they and we make to the impact of bombs or aggression occur at the same moment as the aggression. There’s no gap any more. You don’t have any nice, comfortable period in which to think about it. You’re involved in the responses the same moment you make the aggression.

Speedup of information-movement has the effect of putting the whole human Unconscious outside us as an environment – and thereby creating what appears in every way to be a crazy world. The Unconscious is a world where everything happens at once, without any connections, without any reasons at all. We’re making the outside world just as crazy and mixed-up as our own Unconscious has always been.

The Unconscious includes all the experience of the human race. It’s not private.

Using that kind of a world for an environment for the private encounters is very disturbing. You can no longer have the old private, separate, uninvolved sort of experience.

There isn’t any place where it’s possible, or any time at which it’s possible, to have this merely isolated sense of private encounter. You know, “minding my own business”, “it’s just my business” and so on – none of this is possible any more.

Does this rule out private love or the privateness of love?
It does, indeed. Because love involves responsibilities no matter with whom the encounter occurs, a small child or an adult. The private – private in the sense of merely isolated or merely separate – isn’t possible under conditions of electric circuitry and instant feedback. The newspaper world created a nice big private space in which to encounter the public. You met the world in your newspaper at some distance – a nice, comfortable distance. But the kind of speedup that has since taken place eliminates that time-lag between the event and the experience.

The sense of identity that had served for a long period as private won’t work under our conditions. Kierkegaard was perhaps the first person to recognize this – or one of the first. The old sense of identity, of privateness, was a form of classification based on visual description: the sort of thing you still get in routine police descriptions of wanted people. Such marks of identity, cards of identity, won’t work any more.

Hence the current obsession with sex rather than love?
Sex has come to take on rather terrifying new dimensions in responsibility of response and participation. The old form of identity was visual, classified. The new forms are totally involving. You can’t have a more complete form of communication than sex. The word for it in Hebrew meant knowledge. To know. Knowledge. The highest mode of knowing in the Hebrew language was sex. And it’s come to be that again in our time. Partly because of this new concern with the interface, the tactile involvement. Sex is the ultimate mode of interface. (lnterface, a term from chemistry, describes the way surfaces of substances rub against each other until a chemical reaction occurs. It’s a kind of abrasion. It’s tactile. And it disturbs the structure of the substances until they merge.)

At the reaction, the crisis of love, there’s darkness – is this the ultimate knowledge?
No. It is the entire process that must be thought of as the knowledge. And that would include the whole period of courtship, all the preliminaries. It might take years.

What does the absence of privacy do to marriage?
Privacy in the old sense was a new invention. Philippe Aries, in The Centuries of Childhood, describes the rise of privacy for the family and childhood. There was no sense of privacy, no concept at all of child or family in our sense until the 17th century. In Shakespeare’s period there was none. Neither family nor child nor individuals in a family thought of themselves as private. They thought of the household as a complete entity.

What about George Steiner’s objection to pornography – that it violates the privateness of love?
I have a very simple way of handling the problem of pornography which I think goes pretty deep: that it is a fragmentation of sex. Any specialist approach to sex is pornographic, is obscene. Any fragmentary approach to any emotion at all is sentimental. Sentimentality consists in taking one aspect of an emotion and playing it up into a high key. Breaking it off from its total frame or its situation.

Give sex a visual orientation, pull it out of context into a merely visual setting, and it’s pornographic. That’s why nudity is less pornographic than semi-nudity. Nudity is not fragmentary, it’s getting closer to the unified thing. Whereas any form of semi-clad condition is pornographic because it’s incomplete and fragmentary.

This came to me quite unexpectedly when I was at my first “topless” restaurant in San Francisco. I didn’t even know these places existed. And suddenly I was inside one with a group of friends. When you’re surrounded by nudes you take them for granted in two minutes. It’s quite strange how quickly you get used to them. One of the guys said to one of the gals serving us, “Can you have a drink with us?” She came back in a few minutes wearing a bra. Then, for the first time, she did look somewhat pornographic. But she said, “We can’t have a drink with the customers unless we wear a bra.”

Pornography, then, is specialism in sex. You take one small aspect of it and push it up to high intensity. The same with emotion, any sort of emotion. Like in the newspaper where you see the grief of a mother photographed. This is ghastly and indecent, because you have the whole situation torn apart and just one little aspect pushed up to high intensity.

Read the rest at: http://tinyurl.com/3l4gfc7


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