Saturday, June 4, 2011

PROBE : "Love" by MM




LOVE by Marshall McLuhan
Saturday Night Magazine, February 1967


“In order to have a highly industrialized or marketing life, you have to devise very superficial relationships for people.”

It (love – Ed.) means “encounter” in the sense of both impact and response. There has to be feedback.

And perhaps what was suspect about the old 19th-century liberal love for mankind was that it went out, as it were, toward mankind but wasn't too interested in any feedback or response or involvement. Whereas the new dimension is definitely able to take account of the feedback or response.

One of the effects of speedup in information-movement of all kinds – pictorial or verbal or personal – is that the moment of impact and the moment of response are the same. There’s no gap, no time-lag any more. This is what’s wrong with the Vietnam War. The responses that they and we make to the impact of bombs or aggression occur at the same moment as the aggression. There's no gap any more. You don't have any nice, comfortable period in which to think about it. You're involved in the responses the same moment you make the aggression.

Speedup of information-movement has the effect of putting the whole human Unconscious outside us as an environment - and thereby creating what appears in every way to be a crazy world. The Unconscious is a world where everything happens at once, without any connections, without any reasons at all. We're making the outside world just as crazy and mixed-up as our own Unconscious has always been.

The Unconscious includes all the experience of the human race. It's not private.

Using that kind of a world for an environment for the private encounters is very disturbing. You can no longer have the old private, separate, uninvolved sort of experience.

There isn't any place where it's possible, or any time at which it's possible, to have this merely isolated sense of private encounter. You know, "minding my own business", "it's just my business" and so on - none of this is possible any more.

Does this rule out private love or the privateness of love?

It does, indeed. Because love involves responsibilities no matter with whom the encounter occurs, a small child or an adult. The private – private in the sense of merely isolated or merely separate - isn't possible under conditions of electric circuitry and instant feedback. The newspaper world created a nice big private space in which to encounter the public. You met the world in your newspaper at some distance - a nice, comfortable distance. But the kind of speedup that has since taken place eliminates that time-lag between the event and the experience.

The sense of identity that had served for a long period as private won't work under our conditions. Kierkegaard was perhaps the first person to recognize this – or one of the first. The old sense of identity, of privateness, was a form of classification based on visual description: the sort of thing you still get in routine police descriptions of wanted people. Such marks of identity, cards of identity, won't work any more.

Hence the current obsession with sex rather than love?
Sex has come to take on rather terrifying new dimensions in responsibility of response and participation. The old form of identity was visual, classified. The new forms are totally involving. You can't have a more complete form of communication than sex. The word for it in Hebrew meant knowledge. To know. Knowledge. The highest mode of knowing in the Hebrew language was sex. And it's come to be that again in our time. Partly because of this new concern with the interface, the tactile involvement. Sex is the ultimate mode of interface. (lnterface, a term from chemistry, describes the way surfaces of substances rub against each other until a chemical reaction occurs. It's a kind of abrasion. It's tactile. And it disturbs the structure of the substances until they merge.)

At the reaction, the crisis of love, there's darkness - is this the ultimate knowledge?
No. It is the entire process that must be thought of as the knowledge. And that would include the whole period of courtship, all the preliminaries. It might take years.

What does the absence of privacy do to marriage?
Privacy in the old sense was a new invention. Philippe Aries, in The Centuries of Childhood, describes the rise of privacy for the family and childhood. There was no sense of privacy, no concept at all of child or family in our sense until the 17th century. In Shakespeare's period there was none. Neither family nor child nor individuals in a family thought of themselves as private. They thought of the household as a complete entity.

What about George Steiner's objection to pornography - that it violates the privateness of love?
I have a very simple way of handling the problem of pornography which I think goes pretty deep: that it is a fragmentation of sex. Any specialist approach to sex is pornographic, is obscene. Any fragmentary approach to any emotion at all is sentimental. Sentimentality consists in taking one aspect of an emotion and playing it up into a high key. Breaking it off from its total frame or its situation.

Give sex a visual orientation, pull it out of context into a merely visual setting, and it's pornographic. That's why nudity is less pornographic than semi-nudity. Nudity is not fragmentary, it's getting closer to the unified thing. Whereas any form of semi-clad condition is pornographic because it's incomplete and fragmentary.

This came to me quite unexpectedly when I was at my first "topless" restaurant in San Francisco. I didn't even know these places existed. And suddenly I was inside one with a group of friends. When you're surrounded by nudes you take them for granted in two minutes. It's quite strange how quickly you get used to them. One of the guys said to one of the gals serving us, "Can you have a drink with us?" She came back in a few minutes wearing a bra. Then, for the first time, she did look somewhat pornographic. But she said, “We can't have a drink with the customers unless we wear a bra."

Pornography, then, is specialism in sex. You take one small aspect of it and push it up to high intensity. The same with emotion, any sort of emotion. Like in the newspaper where you see the grief of a mother photographed. This is ghastly and indecent, because you have the whole situation torn apart and just one little aspect pushed up to high intensity.

Could one aspect be a symbol of the whole thing?
You can fill it in. That's what is pornographic or sentimental about it. It is your completion from the fragment that constitutes the obscenity. Whereas it's the same, you see, with clothing. Clothing is itself a form of obscenity insofar as it induces you to undress the person psychically. You're using the clothing in that sense as a symbol of the whole thing. Clothing is fragmentary. It's a way of stepping up to high intensity one aspect only of sex. Any aspect of dress can be used by the wearer as a weapon. All through Finnegans Wake, clothing is handled as weaponry.

Weaponry itself is a stepping up, you see, the extension of the hand or the arm. Weaponry is an exaggerated stepping up of one aspect of the human body in order to make you a more aggressive, dangerous person. Clothing is like the caveman's club or any other weapon: the stepping up, in the interest of aggression, of just one aspect of the human being.

Pornography is the result, then, of the aggressive stepping up of one aspect of sex or one aspect of the human body?
Now, there is another aspect. Ornament is not clothing. Ornament is a way of accentuating some natural physical possession. Like perfume. Perfume is intended ideally to accentuate B.O., not to eliminate it; not to wipe it off but to bring out the particular quality of one's own fragrance. To that extent, it's ornament and creates involvement. This is not understood in our highly visual culture. We think of perfume, not as a necessary resource in love and involvement, but just as weaponry for mowing down the enemy.

Is the wholeness of love something like traditional marriage?Yes! And there, you see, love is something that involves ALL the activities of a human life. It is not limited to the act of sex at all. The act of sex is an essential that suffuses all the other acts, cooking, dressing the family, and so on. These are principal forms of communication. By the way, it's curious that on TV the bill is mostly paid by those forms of consumer commodity that are primary communication forms – like detergents, cleaners, cigarettes and food stuffs. The principal things used in communication between people are still paying the communication bill. On TV, on radio, it's rather mysterious why so much of the bill should be paid by so few of the human products.

The mediaeval code of Courtly Love held that love was not possible between married partners. Why?
This again was related to a specialism. They had begun to specialize in certain emotions and sentiments that were too diffused in the married life. They had begun to specialize in terms of age. You see, it's like our discovering today that education is not for the young but for the whole period of life, continuing indefinitely. Well, when you take love that way, not limited to a small span of years but as the whole of human life, you can see where the Courtly Code came from. It was a way of extracting maximum thrills, kicks, out of one little period of life. The idea of children would have made the whole thing ridiculous. It was a pornographic form of emotional specialism. As much as any burlesque house, Courtly Love was a specializing in one kind of emotion.

When marriage becomes environmental and totally surrounding, filling every aspect of life, an anti-environment can make it more vividly aware again. The mistress or the Courtly Love idea makes sense as an ANTI-environment. Courtly Love, the whole idea of the extramarital love, was a deliberate creating of an anti-environment to make the environment itself more enjoyable. But it was a pretty destructive and desperate sort of strategy

The artist is engaged constantly in building anti-environments. (And, by the way, the Courtly Love people were engaged in making love itself into an art form.) The artist is engaged typically in creating situations and images that will vivify or revivify the ordinary scene. The ordinary scene tends to dull and numb the sensibilities. If you think of art as primarily concerned with perception and awareness, you can easily see why, when ordinary routinized forms tend to numb awareness, the role of art is to keep faculties alert.

When you apply this to sex you can see that the anti-environments can be quite bizarre and quite alluring. Perhaps that's the whole problem of monogamy as compared to the Oriental solution of polygamy. In the Oriental use of multi-femininity, the feminine is used deliberately as an anti-environment to keep the faculties stepped up. I don't know whether the Western world is heading in that direction or not…

To go back to that business of identity. The old cards of identity will no longer serve, but we are now compelled, à la Kierkegaard, to take this inner trip and encounter the self in its primal, inner state. This kind of identity is built on a quest of a somewhat arduous kind. The old external trappings of identity were a good deal easier to come by than this inner quest. All the art of the past century, all the drama, all the poetry has been concerned with the quest for identity by this inner trip. I don't think LSD is a very satisfactory way of achieving this inner encounter of identity. I think it's probably, on the whole, an anodyne. But you can see that the attractions of the LSD trip, the inner trip, are related to the fact that it appears like this arduous inner quest for the Real Me. Yes! The stripping off of all the traditional and acquired forms of identity!

Can you love somebody fully before you have encountered the self?
I am not sure. Kierkegaard went through this agony all his life and didn't ever bring himself to the encounter with the other person on the same terms he had encountered himself. He felt he wasn't equal to it. He didn't want to get that deeply involved in another life. And here the responsibilities for these encounters can become quite terrifying. The repercussions. What it means to the other person can become absolutely terrifying if you allow your thoughts to really probe. The whole change in our world has been from the package to the probe, from accepting a conveniently wrapped-up package to dropping it in favour of the profound probing of reality. It would be somewhat the difference between giving someone a present from the department-store and spending a whole year devising one artistically for just that person on that occasion. It presents a hair-raising difficulty. Or rather a hair-removing difficulty - it makes my hair fall out, to think about it!

You've been emphasizing the responsibility in love.Which is another way, I suppose, of saying the RESPONSE. This being a two-way thing, not a one-way thing. A complete circuit feedback.

Can people bear very much responsibility?I don't know. I think it would slow down the pace of a good many lives if they realized the consequences of most of their actions....

Well, it might not do any harm!

Do you agree with the Freudians that love carries a corresponding charge of hatred?
I'm not too sure how to handle that side of Freud. But you can see that any demands made on anybody can rouse resentment. Merely giving can be very flattering and satisfying. But when it becomes a matter of demand, insistence, rights, it’s different. For example, the youngsters today are inclined to reject their parents. The whole parental system seems to them repressive. They regard themselves as Negroes, as third-class citizens, and they regard the whole domestic setup as one of repression. A completely illegitimate way of making all sorts of behavioural demands on them. It's an involuntary reaction, in the sense that it's a response that seems to be based on a large environmental change. On the new environment into which we have moved electrically.

All right - let's say you put the Unconscious outside, instead of having a visually orderedexternal world with little routines and jobs all laid out rationally. Instead of that, you have a completely haphazard, "Happening" kind of world. When you put the Unconscious outside, the whole world becomes a Happening. It ceases to be an ordinary place of work or play. This is a terribly involving situation and I think people do resent it. It makes far greater demands of them than they feel it should.

The traditional European resentment of marriage itself was based on these grounds - that it made far too many demands on both man and woman. But we've heard a great deal about that in our own time, haven't we? That women's rights have been violated by marriage. Too many demands! I think that resentment can arise even in love situations once the love thing becomes a demand, an assertion of rights. I think this must have created a great deal of hatred.

The new word for love is depth. It's involvement in depth instead of just these casual relationships. Depth, involvement, can create all sorts of resentment. Very naturally. And don't we admire these Latin countries where love is so demanding and so total and so passionate? We envy them. But we, we have devised this fragmentary, specialist, superficial form of human encounter and relationship which enables us to get on with really practical things. Whereas they, by absorbing themselves in depth in these relationships, are quite deprived of the energies necessary for conducting a practical life - industrially or in terms of the market or anything like that.

In order to have a highly industrialized or marketing life you have to devise very superficial relationships for people. Because otherwise you're going to siphon off all the energies necessary to keep the market going. The Orientals are not inclined to siphon off their emotional and psychic energies in that way. They're just not geared to that sort of living.

But in the electric time as we become more depth-oriented, our energies are being pulled out of the marketplace. The Western world, in this sense, is going Oriental in depth and most of its values are shifting into the spiritual domain.

Oh heavens, material values may APPEAR to be very highly developed at the present time! But I think that the whole underpinning of the whole material culture of the Western world has been shot away by the electric age. Oh, yes! We're moving inward in depth, and all these outer commitments to large buildings and large marketing efforts and large material enterprises - I don't think the Beat generation is inclined to give very much attention to those things! I think you can take the Beats as a pretty good indication of this withdrawing of energy from the visible, material scene. They don’t give a damn about appearances any more.

They're more capable of love?

Oh, yes! Absolutely! And lovers don't give a damn about appearances at any time in human history! So we're moving out of the world of appearances. This is what Harvey Cox means by the "secular city". The secular city was the visible, material city from which we could have a great deal of detachment. It apparently didn't demand much involvement.

The new city is one that demands a mystical participation in the whole enterprise.

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