Wednesday, December 20, 2006

From the Kenyon Review: On Steiner's 'New Literacy'

Lance Strate and his recent book, Echoes and Reflections: On Media Ecology as a Field of Study, get a nice mention from Jerry Harp in the current Kenyon Review online discussing a George Steiner essay that appears in their Winter, 2007 issue.

I think Harp is wrong to conflate Jacques Derrida's deconstructionism with Marshall McLuhan's famous aphorism "the medium is the message." My reading of McLuhan is that he was very concerned with the demeaning of meaning that the electronic media represent and which Derrida's work celebrates. Though McLuhan was pegged as a "media guru," implying that he was in favor of the changes being wrought by the new media, he was not necessarily an advocate of the brave new world that electronic media were creating. If anything, McLuhan believed we must understand how new technology upsets our existing sensory balance so that we can devise methods to counteract it.

Most misunderstood, perhaps is McLuhan's meaning of the term "global village." Common understanding has been that a "global village", whether brought about by television, or more recently by the World Wide Web will somehow result in a era of good feeling and common understanding. As McLuhan and Neil Postman have both pointed out, the increase in communication seems to have resulted in more people returning to tribal norms as a source of identity, which often has lead to an increase in violence and intolerance.

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