McLuhan’s Maelstrom Metaphor for Survival in Our Technological Environment
Artist Harry Clarke‘s 1919 illustration for “A Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe
From Arthur Kroker’s Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis/McLuhan/Grant (1984), p. 62 :
“The essential aspect of McLuhan’s technological humanism is that he always remained a Catholic humanist in the Thomistic tradition: one who brought to the study of technology and culture the more ancient Catholic hope that even in a world of despair (in our “descent into the maelstrom” with Poe’s drowning sailor) that a way out of the labyrinth could be found by bringing to fruition the “reason” or “epiphany” of technological society. McLuhan’s thought often recurred to the sense that there is an immanent moment of “reason” and a possible new human order in technological society which could be captured on behalf of the preservation of “civilization.””
Full text available at http://goo.gl/vqtib3
An Excerpt (Last 2 Paragraphs) From “A Descent Into the Maelstrom” by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)
Poe’s story provides McLuhan with a metaphor for saving ourselves from the maelstrom of electronic technologies and their hidden environments by using perceptional pattern recognition. The story describes how a deep sea fisherman saves himself from death, as he is sucked into a giant whirlpool or maelstrom, by observing which debris sinks or rises in the torrent of the whirlpool. Lashing himself to a water cask, the type of debris that he has seen to rise, he is lifted out of the whirlpool and is saved.
“I no longer hesitated what to do. I resolved to lash myself securely to the water cask upon which I now held, to cut it loose from the counter, and to throw myself with it into the water. I attracted my brother’s attention by signs, pointed to the floating barrels that came near us, and did everything in my power to make him understand what I was about to do. I thought at length that he comprehended my design –but, whether this was the case or not, he shook his head despairingly, and refused to move from his station by the ring-bolt. It was impossible to force him; the emergency admitted no delay; and so, with a bitter struggle, I resigned him to his fate, fastened myself to the cask by means of the lashings which secured it to the counter, and precipitated myself with it into the sea, without another moment’s hesitation.
“The result was precisely what I had hoped it might be. As it is myself who now tell you this tale –as you see that I did escape –and as you are already in possession of the mode in which this escape was effected, and must therefore anticipate all that I have farther to say –I will bring my story quickly to conclusion. It might have been an hour, or thereabout, after my quitting the smack, when, having descended to a vast distance beneath me, it made three or four wild gyrations in rapid succession, and, bearing my loved brother with it, plunged headlong, at once and forever, into the chaos of foam below. The barrel to which I was attached sunk very little farther than half the distance between the bottom of the gulf and the spot at which I leaped overboard, before a great change took place in the character of the whirlpool. The slope of the sides of the vast funnel became momently less and less steep. The gyrations of the whirl grew, gradually, less and less violent. By degrees, the froth and the rainbow disappeared, and the bottom of the gulf seemed slowly to uprise. The sky was clear, the winds had gone down, and the full moon was setting radiantly in the west, when I found myself on the surface of the ocean, in full view of the shores of Lofoden, and above the spot where the pool of the Moskoe-strom had been. It was the hour of the slack –but the sea still heaved in mountainous waves from the effects of the hurricane. I was borne violently into the channel of the Strom and in a few minutes, was hurried down the coast into the ‘grounds’ of the fishermen. A boat picked me up –exhausted from fatigue –and (now that the danger was removed) speechless from the memory of its horror. Those who drew me on board were my old mates and dally companions –but they knew me no more than they would have known a traveller from the spirit-land. My hair, which had been raven-black the day before, was as white as you see it now. They say too that the whole expression of my countenance had changed. I told them my story –they did not believe it. I now tell it to you –and I can scarcely expect you to put more faith in it than did the merry fishermen of Lofoden.
The entire story is available at http://goo.gl/zroHX1 .
See an essay on the technological maelstrom on this blog here: https://goo.gl/xDnlpg .
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