Mark Stahlman (via RadioMail) (by way of Pit Schultz <>) on Sat, 14 Dec 96 02:30 MET

[Date Prev] [Date Next] [Thread Prev] [Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: nettime: "Wired?"


Just a small note on McLuhan (and Marcuse).  When asked if he was an
optimist or a pessimist, McLuhan responded, "An apolcalypsist."  (I don't
know what Marcuse said or if he was asked this question.)  What did McLuhan

There was perhaps only one predictable thing about McLuhan's daily schedule
-- he was at Mass every day.  As a extremely devout Catholic,
"apocalypsist" is hardly a figure of speech.  I believe that he meant it
literally.  As is the final judgement day, mark of the beast, four horsemen
and all.  I'm also convinced that he deliberately suppressed his
relgiousity and the theology behind his work because he believed
(correctly) that he would be percieved as a crank and never "launched" (by
the NY press) if he gave complete testimony.  Interested readers should
also refer to his letters to Ezra Pound about power in society for more
indications of his strategy of speaking in parables to confuse the censors.

I formed this view a few years ago and I tried it out last winter when I
visited Toronto and spent time with McLuhan's son Eric and his cohorts. 
They were senstitive and, it seemed to me, evasive -- but not correcting --
about the hypothesis.  I have subsequently been told that McLuhan's mentor
at Cambridge (and indeed many of his fellow "New Critics") was openly and
literally anticipating the Biblical apocalyse.  It appears that this topic
is also well covered in the various McLuhan lists on the Net.

So, the evidence mounts.  It would be historically accurate, it seems, to
view McLuhan as describing such concepts as the "Global Village" as the end
of time and, indeed, the institutionalization of evil in anticipation of
the Second Coming rather than the optimistic telling of good times to come.
 Remember, a true believer in the Apocalypse is enthusiatic about its
arrival.  It represents salvation.

Marcuse, on the other hand, was a participant in the Frankfurt School
project to undermine Western culture as a prelude to establishing Marxism
in the West.  Following Lukas' negative experience in the Budapest Commune
(Bela Kun, 1919), the Institute for Social Research was established to
promote  what some researchers refer to as "cultural pessimism" in order to
dismantle the belief in individuality, progress and, yes, God which were
judged to be permanent roadblocks to planting Marxism in the West.  Rather
a different effort than McLuhan's.

So, Marcuse was using "pessimism" as a weapon to breakdown society (and in
the process disquising his hopes that a Utopia could be constructed on its
ashes) while McLuhan was using an apparent "optimism " to get Tom Wolfe to
"launch" him and disquise his profound religious belief that the "electric
age" was the devil's work.  Sometimes what you see is not what you get.

Mark Stahlman
New Media Associates
New York City

P.S.  I've been told that McLuhan wrote only one book about religious
themes and that to this day it exists only in French -- reportedly to keep
it from his English speaking audience.  Has anyone seen (or possibly even
owns) this book?

*  distributed via nettime-l : no commercial use without permission
*  <nettime> is a closed moderated mailinglist for net criticism,
*  collaborative text filtering and cultural politics of the nets
*  more info: and "info nettime" in the msg body
*  URL:  contact: