Postmodern Display: Staging the Mind of Marshall McLuhan – The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan

14Apr17

Marshall McLuhan’s influence has reverberated through all of the arts, but especially visual arts, literature and music to some degree. The following is an academic article analyzing the staging of the Multi-media Alt-Rock Opera  The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, Music by Baffin Island Party, Script by Michael Charrois, first staged April 27, 2000 in Edmonton, Alberta. The video of one of the performances follows immediately below:-

Robin C. Whittaker, University of Ottawa
Abstract

Creatively commingling the life and theories of Canadian media icon Marshall McLuhan may yield robust material for negotiating and staging postmodern performance. This article considers certain of McLuhan’s theories that have parallels to influential postmodern theoretical constructions and the ways in which these parallels are ripe for performance. It considers the uneasy relationship between dramaturgies and dialectics, and deals with frequent criticisms leveled at postmodern thought, including a hectic rejoicing over consumerism, a cacophony of signs, and the dangers of incorporating into performance the mixed-media environments inherent to McLuhanism and postmodernism alike. Finally, the article considers the potential for mixed-media performance to engage with social objectives linked to producing alternative theatre. But it begins and ends by asking the question: Do artists who attempt to stage theory risk allowing the theory to distract from and overwhelm the performance? In order to probe these effects, the sprawling Edmonton science-fiction “Alt-Rock Opera,” The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, is offered as a case study.

Just two paragraphs of the essay are reproduced below, specifically the 3rd and 5th. Read the full article at https://goo.gl/R6qWts .

3 It is the intention of this paper to “probe” the display of inherent theatrical elements behind the theories of Canada’s eminent media icon, Marshall McLuhan, with special attention to post-modern and mixed-media production aesthetics.4 Michael Charrois and The Baffin Island Party Band’s”Alt-Rock Opera,”The Illumination of Marshall McLuhan, provides a test case for the display of theory and performance. It is my contention that in drawing from relations between McLuhan’s theories and theories of postmodernism as they relate to issues of “human performance” and “mediatized performance,” an improved understanding will arise with respect to how postmodern theatre presences (and absences) its own conceptions, performances and receptions; that is, how postmodern theatre displays. By way of conclusion, co-op and “low budget” mixed-media performance in the postmodern context are considered as potential forms of material protest against the theatre”establishment.” Illumination serves as a particularly apt test case for exploring “McLuhan” in performance because it represents him biographically and through his theories, both in the play’s dramaturgical structure and in the production’s mise en scène.

Character: “McLuhan” and His Potential for and in Postmodern Performance5

5 McLuhan’s work had, for some time, fallen off the map of “legitimate” scholarship. During much of the 1970s and even into the 1980s, many scholars shunned McLuhan’s writing as trivial, misguided and worse.6 But as poststructuralist criticism gained greater prominence, some scholars began to see McLuhan—in the rear-view mirror—as one who, as Glenn Willmott vigorously attests,“provides a precedent” to the “more performative, subjective, and textual-poetic critical practices”of postmodern scholarship, with his “ongoing critique of abstraction or generalization from particularity” (xii). In situating McLuhan as (the) one who is “valuable to critical ideology today as an unprecedented and unrepeated experiment—a self-experiment—in the postmodern powers of criticism, and the search for a historically adequate form or medium for those powers” (xv), Willmott argues that McLuhan was not only a pre-postmodern critic, but in fact was the postmodern experiment personified. Theory was more than an abstract structuring principle in his life: theory was embodied in the lived life of the man himself.

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