“From Cliché to Archetype”: McLuhan discovers Zolla, Conference Paper


Elémire Zolla (1926-2002)

International Conference

Labyrinths of the Mind. Vision of the World: Exploring Elémire Zolla’s Spiritual Quest and Legacy

May 29-30-31 2012, Montepulciano (Italy) – www.elemirezolla.org/en

Paper: “From Cliché to Archetype”: McLuhan discovers Zolla by Paolo Granata – University of Bologna,  Thursday May 31, 2012

In 1968, The Eclipse of the Intellectual, an English translation by Raymond Rosenthal of Elémire Zolla’s famous work, first appeared in the United States. Shortly after, in 1970, Marshall McLuhan published From Cliché to Archetype, a provocative book in some ways, co-authored with the Canadian scholar Wilfred Watson and presented as a sort of thesaurus of critical thinking. Within this book, Zolla – with eight long quotations – plays a significant role.

This paper will probe the influence of Zolla on McLuhan, and thereby draw together, for the first time, two ‘intellectuals’ who are both difficult to categorize and who were capable of perceiving, from the very words that the mass culture has appropriated for itself, the symptoms of a numbness to critical thinking generated by the ambiguous nature of clichés. Both seek to cope with this anesthetic effect by appealing to the evocative power of the archetypes hidden beneath a modernity dulled by, as well as overcroweded with, clichés. In short, McLuhan discovers in Zolla a dissonant voice in the ‘global theater’, a refined commentator who allows him to grasp a series of archetypes associated with a literary sensibility that deeply connects the two writers: Mallarmé, Joyce, Pound, Poe, Yeats, among others.

For these reasons, in celebration of the centenary of McLuhan’s birth, we can consider the renowned Canadian thinker a lucid interpretor of Elémire Zolla’s spiritual quest.

PAOLO GRANATA is professor of Digital Catalogues for Cultural Heritage at the Post-Graduate School for Art and Historic Heritage at the University of Bologna. Since 2008 he has also taught Multimedia for Cultural Heritage at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna. In 2001 he authored the book Arte in Rete, the first rational guide on the art resources on the web ever published in Italy. Since 2005 he has worked for the research programme on Italian video art “Videoart Yearbook. L’annuario della videoarte italiana”, promoted by the Department of Visual Arts of the University of Bologna. His latest book, Arte, estetica e nuovi media, (2009), is a summary of his work for an interdisciplinary approach to new media. Currently he is a McLuhan Centenary Fellow at the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto.

Elémire Zolla (1926-2002) was an Anglo-Italian polymath writer, historian of ideas, metaphysical thinker, and spiritual seeker. He has a unique place in twentieth-century religious, comparative, and cultural studies. www.elemirezolla.org/en/life

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