New Book Publication Announcement – Remediating McLuhan by Richard Cavell



The forthcoming publication of Remediating McLuhan by Richard Cavell was announced on this blog on October 3, 2016. See .

From Richard Cavell’s Introduction (pp. 9-12):

The McLuhan remediated in the following pages is the one who had become a cliché when Donald Theall wrote these words that presaged what eventually became a twenty-year decline in McLuhan’s reputation. Theall’s McLuhan was defined by the parameters of literary modernism, communications biases, hot and cool media and technological determinism. The publication of McLuhan’s Letters in 1987, and Philip Marchand’s biography in 1989, heralded a renaissance of interest in McLuhan that has continued unabated to the centennial conferences and confabulations of 2011 and beyond. While this current scholarly interest has assured McLuhan’s foundational status as media theorist—affirmed by Friedrich Kittler no less — it has by no means exhausted the import of his writings, in large part because his written body of work as a whole is rarely revisited, and because ‘media’ retains a largely communicational bias in much of what has been written about him.

An Overview of the Book’s Chapters

Section One – Re: Mediation

1.Beyond McLuhanism (pp. 19-26): The remediation of McLuhan—after a twenty year hiatus in which he was infrequently cited, often as ‘the infamous’—began in the wake of the publication of his Letters(1987) and Philip Marchand’s biography (1989). What these works suggested was that the ‘McLuhanism’ that had characterised critiques of the media theorist for the previous twenty years had failed to account for a thinker whose complexities extended beyond the remit of media triumphalism, utopian technologism, crypto-Catholic redemption, the ‘return’ to orality, naive globalism and, ultimately, techno-determinism. While these critiques reflected their moment, ‘McLuhanism’ also owed a great deal to McLuhan himself….

2.McLuhan and the Question of the Book (pp. 27-38): McLuhan’s reputation in the 1960s hinged to a considerable extent on his pronouncements about the book, which was considered the prime bulwark against the threat posed by television, and, more broadly, ‘the media’, a concept to which McLuhan was ineluctably connected. McLuhan’s comments about ‘the end of book culture’ (Counterblast[1969], p. 48) were thus not well-received, and he was excoriated by critics for his ‘assault’ on the book. Dame Rebecca West, in her 1967 presidential address to the English Institute in London, asserted that The Medium is the Massage was designed ‘to cheer illiterates on their way, and this…

Section Two – Embodiment as Incorporation

3. McLuhan and the Body as Medium (pp. 41-48): Contemporary media studies are said to be in crisis. The advent of the ‘new’ media has provoked the question of how the new media differ from the ‘old’, mass media. Some, such as Bernhard Siegert, have responded that there are no mass media.¹ Siegert’s argument is that what was massified in mediation were material objects, such as television sets, whereas mediation has more to do with transmission. Others, such as Eva Horn, push Siegert’s argument further, stating that ‘[t]here are no media’ (‘Introduction’, p. 1), and argue that a fixed concept of media has been superseded by the new media,…

4. McLuhan, Tactility, and the Digital (pp. 49-56): In 1967, Marshall McLuhan published one of the defining books of his career: The Medium is the Massage A classic example of remediation, this book not only played on one of McLuhan’s most famous utterances, ‘the medium is the message’, but also inverted the linear, sequential ‘rationality’ and causal determinism deriving from the book as medium. In The Medium is the Massage there are more illustrations than there is print, the book can be read in any order, and McLuhan de-authorises his own relationship to this book by producing it collaboratively. As a result, it can be argued that the…

5. Mechanical Brides and Vampire Squids (pp. 57-64): While there is much that divides Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) and Vilém Flusser (1920-1991), the confluence afforded by the prospect of discussing them together allows us to consider what I suggest is a central strand of connection, namely their tendency to understand media as embodied, which is to say, as having a relationship with bios.¹ This is a paradoxical dimension of their work, however, because the element of embodiment is configured according to a principle of alienation, such that the closer our relationship to media becomes, the further we get from the classic notion of the sovereign self. McLuhan had expressed…

Section Three – Empathic Media 

6. McLuhan: Motion: e-Motion Towards a Soft Ontology of Media (pp. 67-78): While media theorists would agree on few fundamentals intrinsic to their field of study—starting with the definition of ‘media’—they would no doubt concur that media have an epistemological dimension. Whether it be McLuhan’s notion of the media ‘environment’ (‘Educational Effects’, p. 402) or Kittler’s concept of a ‘discourse network’, it can be argued that the effects of media are cognate with the Foucauldian episteme: they ‘determine’² our situation because they function in a Heideggerian manner as the pre-condition of what we can know and say (die Sprache spricht, nicht der Mensch³) and they ‘are’ our situation (as Mitchell…

7. Re-Mediating the Medium (pp. 79-88): It is entirely appropriate to be considering Marshall McLuhan’s work at the Moderna Museet¹ in the context of the ‘post-medium condition’ since this museum has an intimate connection to one of McLuhan’s most provocative comments about the nature of art. Writing inThe Medium is the Massage(1967), McLuhan (with Quentin Fiore and Jerome Agel) superimposed his notion that ‘art is anything you can get away with’ over an image of Nikki de Saint Phalle’s monumental She: A Cathedral, photographed in its Moderna Museet installation of 1966. This 82 foot / 28 metre-long sculpture contained music rooms, a cinema and…

Section Four – Determining Technology

8. McLuhan, Turing, and the Question of Determinism (pp. 91-96): Marshall McLuhan arrived at Cambridge University in the fall of 1934. He enrolled at Trinity Hall (Marchand, Marshall McLuhan, p. 38) and remained there until the summer of 1936, when he received his Bachelor’s degree, having ‘set the foundations for almost all of his subsequent intellectual work’ (Marchand, p. 41). By extraordinary coincidence, Alan Turing, then a Fellow of King’s College, was at the same time ‘supplement[ing] his fellowship by supervising undergraduates in next-door Trinity Hall’ (Hodges, Alan Turing, p.5). Their paths quite possibly crossed, although John Polanyi, who knew them both, states that McLuhan, ‘sadly’, never spoke of Turing.²…

9. Angels and Robots (pp. 97-106): In the mid-1970s, Marshall McLuhan proposed to revisit his foundational text, Understanding Media, in order to address the generation that had experienced the transition from visual space to acoustic space—from the space produced by print media to the space produced by electronic media. Whereas visual space was abstracting, monological and eye-bound, argued McLuhan, acoustic space was involving, dialogical and multi-sensual. What, asked McLuhan, were the implications of this massive shift? The question is no less pertinent now that the move into the electronic regime has advanced so considerably, with the spatial element having become crucial to an understanding of…

Section Five – Being Mediated

10. Marshall McLuhan’s Echo-Criticism (pp. 109-114): ‘Environment’ was the term employed by McLuhan in his elaboration of the way in which media attained epistemic status, becoming, in effect, the frame of reference for a given historical period. Although environmental groups such as Greenpeace (Dale, McLuhan’s Children) take McLuhan as their progenitor, insofar as he provided them with a paradigm for the mediatics of environmentalism, McLuhan’s ‘environment’ differed radically from theirs in that he rejected their notion of ‘nature’.¹ Media had become the new environment in his argument, and media would be the only way out, through the creation of anti-environments. The gestalt dynamic of environment and…

11. McLuhan and the Technology of Being (pp. 115-124): As the terms ‘Facebook’ and ‘YouTube’ suggest, we are increasingly experiencing our being via technologies of mediation; if Facebook implies an extension of corporeality, YouTube more complicatedly points towards an extension of our conscious self. Brian Rotman has expressed this phenomenon as a process of ‘becoming beside ourselves’, which suggests the displacement of fixed notions of being by processual notions of becoming, and the way in which these processes are taking us beyond defined notions of selfhood—from the self to the ‘selfie’. McLuhan’s media theory pertains directly to this increasingly relational sense of being emerging from the mediascape through…

12. The Tragedy of Media: Nietzsche, McLuhan, Kittler (pp. 127-148): Friedrich Kittler asserts provocatively in Gramophone Film Typewriter that Nietzsche heralds media philosophy in his statement “[o]ur writing tools are also working on our thoughts” (quoted p. 200). This reference to Nietzsche opens a significant historical and critical avenue onto media philosophy as practiced not only by Kittler but also by McLuhan, despite the fact that McLuhan’s media philosophy emerged from a rhetorical tradition that was only partly related to the philosophical tradition in which Kittler saw himself to be the mediatic heir of Nietzsche.² Yet this philosophical tradition is key to the emergence of media philosophy as a discourse…

Coda: On the 50th Anniversary of Understanding Media (pp. 149-152): The 26 chapters that comprise the second half of Understanding Media proclaim for media a cultural impact equal to that of the alphabet, while suggesting that to understand the alphabet as a medium asserts a claim to a new philosophical paradigm—amedia philosophy. The seven opening chapters of the book propose media as the trivium and quadrivium of a post-humanistic epistemology.¹ Behind the alphabetic quotient hovers the digital as a universal mode of translation. And the subtitle places mediation in complex relationship to the bios.

Published by: Amsterdam University Press   –   ISBN: 9789089649508   –   Release date: 15-10-2016   –   Edition: Hardback   –   Pages: 202   –   Series: Recursions   (Source: )

See for Richard Cavell’s biography.

richard-cavell Richard Cavell


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