On the Current Interest in Marshall McLuhan


Sat. October 8, 2011

Discussion group with McLuhan experts Martin Baltes and Rainer Höltschl, and culture theorist Klaus Theweleit
In the ZKM_Lecture Hall, 6 pm, admission free

McLuhan was ridiculed by his colleagues at the University of Toronto as a pop-sociologist during the 50s because, in his capacity as professor of English literature, he occupied himself with advertising and comics, and even went as far as to equate them with art. In the late 60s and early 70s, and still envied by the same colleagues since, but by now a widely discussed figure, he featured on the front cover of Newsweek, in Playboy, on television shows and was consulted by politicians and pop stars, all of whom sought to find out what was really going on in the media: Indeed, Marshall McLuhan appeared to be the only person living on the planet capable of offering explanatory models for the emergence of the hippies, the beatniks, and the civil rights movement.

During the 80s McLuhan almost passed into oblivion – and was incessantly played down by the envious. During the 90´s, he all made a sudden reappearance in conjunction with the networking of PCs from which point on media discourse – which he founded and which seems to tower above all other discourses in terms of importance – would be unimaginable without McLuhan.

Today, the avant-gardist Marshall McLuhan, the founder of media theory who died in 1980 – is considered as an extravagant and lonely classic, as an unsurpassed expert of everyday culture, as virtuoso of ingenious text montages and constructor of a unique theory of knowledge. To his followers he is a visionary who anticipated the modern, electronic media world and coined such key terms as “global village” and the “medium as message”. Although written as early as the 60s, his main works, most especially “The Gutenberg Galaxy” and “Understanding Media”, have undergone an unparalleled renaissance since the development of the Internet and E-Mail, social media networks and smartphones. On the occasion of his 100th birthday this year, the ZKM is pursuing the question as to just how topical Marshall McLuhan’s theses really are, and the kind of influence he has on our thinking.

The two McLuhan experts and translators, Martin Baltes and Rainer Höltschl together with culture theorist Klaus Theweleit, discuss whether and how McLuhan’s lessons can today help us understand media, society or even ourselves.

Martin Baltes (*1965), studies in German literature, sociology, languages in Saarbrücken, Brest, and Freiburg. Editor of numerous publications on media theory and brand history, and especially on Marshall McLuhan.

Rainer Höltschl (*1961), author, translator and editor. Studies in literature and history in Vienna and in Freiburg, PhD. Numerous publications on McLuhan, translation of McLuhan interviews and essays. Editor of McLuhan anthologies.

Klaus Theweleit (*1942) lives as freelance author in Freiburg and teaches there at the Institute of Sociology. Lectureships in Germany, the USA, Switzerland and Austria, and, until 2008, professor of art and theory at The Karlsruhe Academy of Fine Arts Karlsruhe.   http://tinyurl.com/3nz3gmz

In collaboration with Orange Press

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