An Unpublished Interview with Marshall McLuhan (1967) by Artist P. Mansaram

07Jan13

This informal interview was conducted in Toronto in 1967 by the Indian-Canadian artist P. Mansaram. In it McLuhan discusses issues such as the mutual influence of Western and Eastern cultures in our global village, especially the strong Eastern influence on Western culture in the 1960s, the tribalism of hippie culture in Toronto’s Yorkville district at that time, time and space in the Electric Age, the effects of TV on oral cultures, and other topics. My thanks to Mansaram and Scott McGovern for their asistance with the transcription of the interview…….AlexK

MM&Mansaram

 Marshall McLuhan & Mansaram at the opening of the latter’s “Rear View Mirror” exhibition at the Picture Loan Gallery in Toronto, 1974

McLuhan Interviewed by P. Mansaran (Toronto, 1967)

McLuhan – Well, don’t waste any time now. If there’s light and if there’s no rain, let’s get cracking!  So what do you want to talk about Mansaram? 

Mansaram – Well sir, you know about this East/West Happening?

McLuhan – Oh, yaa! Well, the simple fact of the matter is the whole world is an East/West happening, and while the Western world is going Oriental, the Oriental world is going Western. This has been going on for a century, and so what could be a bigger East/West happening than that?  See, all the Western artists have gone Oriental since Baudelaire, and all the painters, all abstract art is Oriental art. 

Mansaram – We are going to have this East/West Happening at the Isaacs Gallery [Toronto] sometime in October and it would be wonderful if you are there; but in the Technological Age, in your absence, I am sure this tape and the film will do the same magic.

McLuhan – Well, what are your own thoughts about the East/West Happening? How do you want to play it? 

Mansaram – We will have a gogo girl dancing and another girl in the cage doing a concert dance. They have similarities between them, as the classical dance has, and the Maharaja, the king and all the friends would watch the girl dancing; here in the bar, the other people are watching and drinking, all the same thing, a similarity. 

McLuhan – The village atmosphere, the Yorkville village atmosphere. 

Mansaram – We will have lots of hippies going around, walking around; it will be very informal.

McLuhan The hippie world is a world of abstract art, like Twiggy. This is Eastern, this is tribal, the African villager is a Twiggy-type and I see Negro girls dressed in Twiggy costumes; they look grand, they look more natural than Twiggy does, but the Twiggy costumes are tribal. They are returned to the well I would say, again oriental. Oriental society is based on the family, it is tribal. It is not broken up into individuals and separate individuals. Its groups and times and the return of the tribe are part of … are a twiggy world and part are a hippie world. The hippies are like gypsies; if you’ve ever seen a group of English gypsies, it’s exactly like Yorkville Street [Avenue]. The reason they like this sort of costume is – they think of it as a ritual. It’s not to be admired by the eye, it’s not to be a pictorial type thing; it’s involvement in a role. Remember the old artist of La Boheme? The artists of eighty years ago were all dressed as hippies. The whole artist community of Europe, the artistic movement of the 19th century was a hippie world, and they didn’t do that because they wanted to look funny. They simply did it because they wanted to feel involved. 

McLuhan – The desire to get involved … that is the reason for this costuming. They don’t think they are part of the middle-class world, our consumer world. So they want to get rid of all consumer-type patterns and those middle-class patterns which are visual; they want to get into this new mask. The new hippie attire is like the costumes of many parts of the world, is really like wearing a mask. It’s like putting on a mask, an image. And this mask wearing is an attempt to put on the audience. The new costume is a way of putting on a public, like putting on the outside society. It’s conventional in that sense. Now in our world there has been a big change in our society, so therefore the mask that has been worn by the TV generation is a corporate mask. The mask that was put on by the businessman in his business suit, this is the mask of the private individual. But the new mask, the new mask is corporate and it’s not private. And when you put on a corporate mask, you look very strange indeed in our middle-class society and so the oriental world has never had a middle-class, has never had a consumer culture, has never had markets in our sense, but only bazaars, bartering places. Never having had markets, never having had consumer goods, in our middle-class sense they have never felt the need to be individuals, or to look like private people, or look like corporate society. And so our own TV kids, now the teenagers, have rejected the middle-class pattern of consumer values and want to get involved within this tribal or group culture, which seems to them to make sense as depth, as a real commitment, a real involvement. 

McLuhan – So, I think the problem about the East/West Happening is that it is very difficult to find a difference between the East and West. The West is so eager to appear Eastern in everything and is so keen on the inner trip. In the Electric Age, by the way, in the Electric Age the whole world is taking the inner trip; because of the circuit, the feedback, the electric technology is psychedelic. So the Western world is going Eastern in that sense of inner trip. Well, the old West used to be outer exploration, all was the outer world. Now it’s the inner world and the coach with the six insides, as Joyce called it.  But the psychiatrist coach is an inner trip and so are many other forms of entertainment in our society and I rather feel the East/West happening draws attention to the fact that the East and West are becoming extraordinarily like each other in our global village. 

Mansaram – I see. You feel we all will become a global village one day? 

McLuhan – I think it is now. I don’t think it’s going to happen in the future, it’s now. 

Mansaram – I see. But it makes people more aware, I think, for understanding of East and West.  Do you think? I personally feel that this kind of East and West happening will help a great deal on a larger scale. 

McLuhan – Well, I don’t know what you are planning to do about the fact that great obsession in the East is time. In the new Electric Age, the fourth dimension is the all-important one – time. Space is not important when you can move information at instantaneous speed; space doesn’t matter, but time does. So time is becoming the obsession of the Western world, just as it is in the Orient. So our poets and our philosophers in the past century have been writing a very oriental-type poetry. Mr. Eliot is regarded in India as a great figure and he not only studied oriental philosophy, he wrote oriental poetry. And James Joyce was likewise profoundly an inner trip man and understood the Oriental modes thoroughly. But he wasn’t doing that because he liked the Orient; he was doing it because he felt the West was already becoming oriental. Well, that is a very important point. Our artists do not admire the Orient at all. They are simply beginning to feel and think orientally. Yes, it isn’t out of any regard for the East that they are doing this. It is because of the change in our environment. 

McLuhan – Well, I think we’ve just about done it. 

Mansaram – I would just like to say what we are planning to do there: we will have speeches. If you are there, we will have a live speech by you and a hippie leader, by a theosophist and by a Buddhist monk. And then we will have music, taped music where it shows the influence of Western [music] on Indian light music, which has been influenced by the Western music. 

McLuhan – I see, light music. 

McLuhan – Our light music is being profoundly [influenced] by the Orient, [as in] the Beatles. But in tribal countries there is no melody, there is no repeating melody in the musical form; it is based on rhythm, on tactile beat, touch. Now melody is disappearing from Western music. In the highbrow world, it disappeared some time ago; but in the new electronic music, in the new popular music, oriental insistence on beat, which follows the speech patterns. Oriental music follows the patterns of human speech, so do the Beatles, and not only do they follow the patterns of human speech, they follow the patterns of Cockney and Liverpool lower-class speech and not upper class speech.  They stay with the lower-class speech, like jazz. See, back in the nineteen-twenties,   jazz followed the patterns of ordinary, ignorant, vulgar, speech – the world of Gershwin.  The word jazz means to yatter, jazz just means to yatter and the jazz men of the twenties were following speech patterns and not following melody patterns at all. But basically, beat was speech – this is what gave them their power. Now oriental music still stays very closely tied to speech. African music is very closely tied to human speech. It doesn’t break away into the abstract following of story lines or melodic lines. So, you say in the popular music in India, now they are beginning to play melodies? 

Mansaram – They are, yes.  And also we will be showing some parts of films, like Indian films and Western films, Indian films which have practically no story line. 

McLuhan – Well, you know that Fellini and Bergman and so on are getting rid of the story line in the Western movies. 

Mansaram – The film medium itself was influenced by the West in the East. And now no story line is coming back to the West. It’s very interesting.  

McLuhan – It’s coming back to the West yeah, but the East has never had a story line in  film? 

Mansaram – They never had a story line in the film. 

McLuhan – How do they, how do they arrange the situations or scenes?  Without a story line the stress tends to fall on what?

Mansaram – Entertainment mainly. 

McLuhan – I know, but the situation, the anecdote, aphorism, the observation, the gag?  

Mansaram – Yes, the gag. 

McLuhan – Funny stories, funny observations? 

Mansaram – The gag is one thing and secondly, music and dance and circus overtake everything else. One more element may sound rather weird, according to you. In India especially, the kiss is not allowed, it is not permitted. So just to say that X is in love with Y, a boy is in love with a girl, he’ll dance, he’ll sing poetry, and in the end, just to show that he is in love, he will sometimes … just go. Where in the West, they’re showing in a second the whole thing … 

McLuhan – I was just trying to remember something about the history of the kiss in Western literature and culture, but it’s a very complicated thing really and it had different meanings at different times. As a matter of fact at the present time, I should think that the kiss in the Western world has lost a great deal of its personal and private qualities. It is almost like handshaking. It’s sentimental and erotic meaning seems to me to be changing so much right today. However … 

Mansaram – You were saying, you were saying something about Newsweek asking you something. 

McLuhan – When I arrived here, they were phoning me to ask my opinion on what the effect on education and entertainment would be of this new means of  playing film right on your home TV set, using it as you might a home projector. But it would be almost like turning the TV set into a gramophone, where you could put your own platters right on your own set. Of course it will have a huge effect. But what would you say would be the effect of television in India if it ever comes?

Mansaram – They’ve started experimentally in New Delhi. 

McLuhan – I should think the effect of TV in India will be rather startling, because … I’m pretty sure the present Negro problems on this continent are directly related to TV and  electric involvement. The Negro senses power in this electric environment. Well, in the old environment of the highly literate liberal society, he felt excluded, he felt left out. In this new electric environment he is turned on, he feels power, he is with it. And they are tribal, these new electric forms. Movies are not a very tribal form, still belong to the new mechanical literacy. But India has had a great deal to do with movies. But I could pretty confidently suggest that the effect of TV in India would be very much the same as the effect on the Negro here. 

Mansaram – Yes, I think the effect is tremendous, because of a lot of the population …  lots of people could watch on TV and relate, because they can’t read or write and they still could get the news from TV. 

McLuhan – You see, in TV you’re just sitting there being x-rayed in depth, and this goes fine with people who like to live in depth. And you see, in our highly literate society we deliberately live superficially on one plane. But the  new generation, the TV generation, is in the habit of living in depth and when they go out, they go out into the middle-class world that is still organized in the old visual way and then they feel left out, excluded, unwanted. 

About Av Isaacs & Isaacs Gallery:-

 

Av Isaacs, art dealer extraordinaire. Photo Peter Power. Courtesy Av Isaacs.

In a career that has spanned more than 50 years, Isaacs has discovered and supported some of the greatest Canadian artists of the later 20th century, including Michael Snow, Joyce Wieland, Greg Curnoe and Mark Prent. Although Isaacs started out modestly in 1950 with a framing and art supply business, by the 1960s, the shop had morphed into the Isaacs Gallery, Toronto’s most cutting-edge art venue, where he’d stage avant-garde concerts and poetry readings in addition to often controversial art shows. The Isaacs Gallery carried on at various locations until 1991.

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One Response to “An Unpublished Interview with Marshall McLuhan (1967) by Artist P. Mansaram”

  1. Tekst stworzony przez Autora w 100% oddaje to co było tematem tekstu. Me zdanie jest takie samo.


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