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Visualand Acoustic Space
I \ 4 A B S H A L M c L UH A N L

e in elementary school,Jacques Lusseyran was accidentally blinded.He ': himself another in worldot collision points. longercouldhe and pressure No .is way through ordinary "neutral" the worldof reflected light.lt was the same mentthat we are all born into but now it came to him demandino exolora-

Sounds the sameindividuality light. had as Theywereneither inside outnor -rae.butwerepassing through Theygaveme my bearings space me. in and withthings. wasnotlikesignals theyfunctioned like rJt rneintouch lt that but 'ecres... Butmostsurprising all wasthe discovery soundsnevercamefrom of that :.e pointin spaceand neverretreated themselves. into Therewasthe sound, marshall mcluhan . 67

its echo,and anothersoundintowhichthe tirst soundmeltedand to whichit had givenbidh,altogether endlessprocession sounds. . . an of Blindness workslikedope,a factwe haveto reckon with. I don'tbelieve there is a blind man alive who has not felt the dangerof intoxication. Ljke givingsuddenand oftendisdrugs,blindness heightens certainsensations, turbingsharpness the sensesof hearingand touch.But,mostof all, like a to drug, it develops inner as againstouter experience, and sometimes to excess. . .1 We, who live in the world of reflectedlight, in visual space, may also be said to be in a state of hypnosis. Ever since the collapse of the oral tradition in early Greece, beforethe age of Parmenides, Westerncivilizationhas been mesmerized by a pictureof the universeas a limitedcontainerin which all things are arranged according the vanishingpoint,in Iineargeometric to order.The intensity this of conceptionis such that it actually leads to the abnormal suppressionoI hearing and touch in some individuals.(We like to call them "bookworms.") Most of the informationwe rely upon comes through our eyes; our technologyis arrangedto heightenthat effect. Such is the power of Euclideanor visual space that we can't livewith a circleunlesswe souareit., But this was not always the expectedorder of things. For hundreds of thousands of years, mankindlivedwithouta straightline in nature.Objectsin this world resonated with each other. For the caveman.the mountainGreek.the lndian hunter (indeed,even for the latter-daylvlanchuChinese),the world was multicentered and reverberating. was gyroscopic.Lite was like being insidea sphere,360 lt degrees withoutmargins; swimming underwater; balancing a bicycle. or on Tribal life was, and still is, conductedlike a three-dimensional chess game; not with pyramidal priorities.The order of ancient or prehistorictime was circular,not progressive. Acoustic imaginationdwelt in the realm ol ebb and flow the /ogos. For one day to repeat itself at sunrisewas an overwhelmingboon. As this world began to fill itself out lor the early primitive,the mind's ear graduallydominatedthe mind's eye. Speech,before the age of Plato,was the gloriousdepositoryof memory. Acoustic space is a dwellingplace for anyone who has not been conquered by the one-afa-time, uniformethos oI the alphabet.lt exists in the Third Worldand vast areas of the Middle East, Russia,and the South Pacific.lt is the Indiato which Gandhi returnedafter twenty years in South Africa, bringingwith him the knowl edge that Westernman's penchantlor fragmentation would be his undoing.There are no boundariesto sound. We hear from all directionsat once. But the balance belween inner and outer experiencecan be precise. lf our eardrumswere tuned any higherwe wouldhear molecules colliding the air or the roaringrushof our in own blood. Sound comes to us from above, below,and the sides. As Lusseyran says, it passes through us and is rarely limited by the density of physicalobjects. Most naturalmaterialsact as a tuning fork. The human baby cannot move out into the environmentuntil sound teaches depth-which the child adapts to the demandsof Euclideanor visual space later on. Each of these modalitiesis a sensorypreferenceol the culture.Forthe society that accepts it, that modality, whetheracousticor visual,is the foundationon which it recognizesits own perceptionof sanity.But we wish to advancean idea that you, the reader,won't in all probability, initiallyaccept.And that is for severalthousand 68 . audioculture

years,at least,man'ssensorium. or his se ol ptumb. The term sensus communis in Cicero, as seeing,hearing. tasting, smelling, tc and orner. tt was the Latin definitionof man in and psychicenergy were constantand dist areas.3In such a conditionit is rather d arrangement,trouble always occurs when rage ot energy and receivesmore stimulus €rn man that would be the visual state.

can cause thought and feeling to sepa nrng down of one or two sensory inpu

As psychologists understand senserat

red (as police interrogators everyw electricshockscreate sharp peaks r uncriticalconviction. Without being aware of it, North Amen

assautt one sense, a triba on like downprisoners putting by themin ce s, wndow covers-is painted white.

ves the restof it. By neglecting cuttu ear nrerarchies the left side of the brain. I of ,e only linearconceptualization is accep Euclidand Newtonfixed Westernman s ithe horizon.4 neurosurgeon As Josep of the left hemisphere underlies langu mrsphere of.the brain,which is princjparry ( artisticand holisticquality,graspsthe retat 6 not boundup witha rigidsequence ( ot iJ and Newtonthereforeis a substitution ( h is alwayscomposed multi-sensual of e Everything life after the Greekswas re( in Swift's island of Laputa.Thouaht had No thesis was acceptableunlessall r po'nt of view, which is th€

for themselves. Western manthink

lf you thinkof everyhumansenseas c,

a space where there can only be oft a camera. Light focused on th will not occupy the same place at th€ ) see an object right side up, on a plan€ wnen perspectjve(or the vanishingpdr us a point of view since it promotest

ortwoin frontof thepage_weletm to

I wouldalmostseemthat the veryphys tirerything in sequence-that in rs o is is,

marshall mcluhan

years,at least,man'ssensorium, his seat of perceptive or balance, has beenout of olumb. The term sensus communisin Cicero'stime meant that all the senses. such hearing, tasting, as seeing, smelling, touch,weretranslated and equallyintoeach o$er. lt was the Latindefinition man in a healthynatural of state,when physical ard psychicenergy were constantand distributedin a balancedway to all sense In afeas.3In such a conditionit is rather difficultto hallucinate. any cultural troublealwaysoccurswhen only one sense is subjected a barto anangement, .age of energyand receives morestimulus than all the others.For modernWestc'.n man that would be the visual state. As psychologists understand senseratios, overstimulation understimulaand Sleeping may be regarded a as bn can causethoughtand feelingto separate. on drnmingdown of one or two sensoryinputs.Hypnosis, the other hand, is a Seadv assaulton one sense, like a tribal drumbeat.Moderntorturersin Chile by them in cellswhereeverything-walls, furniture, Eeak down prisoners putting Communist interrogators fensils, windowcovers-is paintedwhite.In Vietnam, (as policeinterrogators that unexpected everywhere) beatingsand alscovered a 3|dom electricshockscreate sharp peaks of floatinganxietyand subsequently conviction. EdV uncritical Without being aware of it, North Americans have created the same kind of for themselves. Westernman thinkswith onlv one oart of his brainand

the restof it. By neglecting culture, ear whichis toodiffuse thecategori for
hierarchies the left side of the brain.he has lockedhimselfinto a oosition of is only linearconceptualizationacceptable. Euclid and NewtonfixedWestern man'sbody in rigidspaceand oriented him the horizon.'Asneurosurgeon JosephBogenputs it, the linearsequential of the left hemisphere underlies language and analytical thought. The right of the brain,whichis principally concerned with pattern recognition of artisticand holisticquality,graspsthe relationship betweendiverseparts readily rs not boundup witha rigidsequence deductions. intellectual of The legacy of

andNewton therefore a substitutionperspective qualitative is of for thinking, is alwavs comDosed multi-sensual of elements. EveMhing lifeafter Greeks reduced theuniform thehomogin the was to and
Swift'sislandof Laputa. Thoughthad to have a beginning, middle,and a end. No thesis was acceptableunlessall ideas were interconnected project to of e'x-t-e-n-d-e-d ooint of view.which is the interiorstructure the essav.we aoo. li you think of every humansenseas creatingits own space,then the eye a soacewherethere can onlv be one thinoat a time.The eve acts as a a camera. Light focused on the back of the eye ensures that two will not occupythe same placeat the same time. The mind teachesthe to see an objectrightside up, on a planeand in perspective space.As chilpoint)arrives-when we learnto focus (or when perspective the vanishing rth or two in lront of the page-we learnto read and write.The phoneticalphagves us a pointof viewsinceit promotes illusion removing from the of oneself @tect. n wouldalmostseem that the very physiology the eye promotes idea ot the eveMhingis in sequence-thatis, in its properplace,at the propertime,and marshall mcluhan . 69

in linearrelationship. kindof mentality prompted The that Shakespeare's Lear King to dividehis kingdom amonghis daughters, abstract to himself from the medieval perceptionthat Englandwas containedin himsellis more modernthan tribal.What we are sayingis that the humaneye appears be the fatherof linearlogic.lts to very nature encouragesreasoningby exclusion:somethingis either in that space or it isn't. The constraintsof Western logic are tied to our sense of sequentialrelationships-logic made visual.The middleground,howeveraccounted initially, for is eventuallyexcluded. lt is either-or.lf your culture nurturesyou to favor the eye, your brain has difficulty giving equal weight to any other sense bias. You are trappedby visualonly assumptions. centuries, Japanese, For the unlikeWesterners, have treasuredthe pictorialspace betweenobjects in a painting,the ma; and have viewed such space as more dominantthan all objectsportrayed.Like the yin/ yang complementarity wave/particlein atomic physics. of Anyonewho has been involvedin gestalt,or studiedprimitivesocieties-once he or she gets over the impulse to measure these societies with Western templates-is aware that either-oris not the only possibility.Both-andcan also exist. Peoplewho have not been exposedto the phoneticalphabet,that is, the "uncivipossibilities once.EdmundCarpenter lized,"can easilyentertain two diametric at pointedout to us that the Inuits,or the Eskimos, cannotvisualize two dimenin sions. lf they are asked to draw the animalsthey hunt on a flat surface,the result-to our eyes-is often grotesque.But ask them to draw the same Iigure on, let us say, the roundedsurfaceof a walrus tusk, and the etched drawingwill take on three-dimensional as you rollthe tusk in yourfingers. life that world of [. . . . H]ere we have a clue to the mentalityof the pre-literate, oral traditionthat we eventuallyleft behind about the end of the Hellenicperiod. lt is the mentality the multitude, as Yeatsput it:everything of or happening once,in at a stateof constant flux. Forthe genuinely tribalman thereis no causality, nothing occurringin a straightline. He turns aside from the habit of construing things chronologically-not because he can't, but as Edmund Carpentersays, because he doesn'twantto. Carpenter advisesus that the Trobriander lslanders only recognize now,the eternal present. Bronislawlvlalinowski and Dorothy Lee, who studied these people, discoveredthat they disdained the concept of why Europeanman to them priorities, makingpastand futuredistinctions. was hungup on the ideaof setting of "To the Trobriander, events do not tall of themselvesinto a pattern of cause and effect as they do for us. We in our cultureautomatically and seek relationships, see not essence.We express relationshipmainly in terms of cause or purpose . . . ."5 The Trobriander only interestedin experiencing currentessenceof a person is the or object. He is interestedin his yams, his stone knife, his boat, as those objects are today. There is no such thing as a "new" or an "old" boat, a bloomingyam or a decayed one. There is no past or future, only the essence of being that exists now.The Trobriander, the lnuit,directly like experiences senseof timelessness, a so he is never botheredby such questionsas "who createdthe creator."The Englishlanguage,in fact most Westernlanguages, suggeststhroughits tense structurethat realitycan only be containedin the conceptof a past, a present,and a futurewhich ratherincongruously impliesthat man is capable,like a god, of 70 . audioculture

standing outside time continuum. the The [e In the priority-setting propensityfor qua to summarize. visualspacestruclure _ c|.:"|( phoneticliteracy.tt is a spi :]:-o-,ol raled or abstracted from all other sens conrrnuous. which is to say that it is infinite wnat the early Greek geometersreferr (abstractfigureswith fixed boundaries, trnk no visiblegrounds), homogeneous (unitom unchangeable). is llke the ..mlnd.s lt eye , ne thinking of literate Western people, so extslenceitself. Acoustjc space structureis the nalura Dynon-literate people. is likethe,.mind,s lt ( mtes the thinking of preljterate and post. a6 much acousticpower as a Watusi matin n0.1l,lrom:gelegustts resonant ano Inrerp olsly related with centers everywhere and unrcattons engineer Barrington Neviht nor exptanaflonbut js made manilest

visualspacestruclures ,"y o" l"ln . rny, at the sametime,as complem yet,

cerrain in . -O-":3"i9n"j]V, persons histor betruly bicultural. When saybicuttu we
menicians,the earliestculturalbrokers

it were,in bothvisual acoust and .as nrdeaway Tocqueville Americ or in blessedi.

method accountins theEs of to :jl:lilil werelikewise Greeks,


The phonetic alphabet underlies ot v\f all rrnad gonethrough Greeks the and Roa of the Renaissance,Westernsensr

linguistic specialism producedI of print. Orality wound down slou


sandingoutsidethe time continuum. The hubrisof Western man mightvery well propensity quantitative - ,r the priority-setting for reasoning . . .] [. To summarize,visual space structureis an artifactof WesterncivilizationcrereC by Greek phonetic literacy.lt is a space perceivedby the eyes when separe:ed or abstractedfrom all other senses. As a constructol the mind. it is whichis to say that it is infinite, CE trnuous, divisible, extensible, featurelessand rat the early Greek geometersreferredto as physis. lt is also connected withfixedboundaries, linkedlogically sequentially having and but l-stract figures (uniform r /is ble grounds), homogeneous everywhere), static(qualitatively and rcrangeable). lt is like the "mind'seye" or visualimagination which dominates Westernpeople,some of whom demandocularprooffor a€ ihinkingof literate itself. Acoustic space structure the naturalspaceof nature-in-the-raw is inhabited 'on-literate people. is likethe "mind'sear" or acoustic lt imagination domithat the thinkingof pre-literate and post-literate humansalike (rock video has 'ruch acoustic poweras a Watusimatingdance).lt is boih discontinuous and romogeneous. resonantand interpenetrating processesare simultanelts and boundaries nowhere.Like music,as lv relatedwith centerseverywhere .nunications putsit,acoustic engineer Barrington Nevitt spacerequires neither nor explanation is made manifest but throughits cultural content. Acoustic visualspace structures may be seen as incommensurable, historvand like

ty,yet,at thesame time, complementary, artandscience biculturas like or
personsin history certain Occasionally, havebeen in the rightplaceand time When we say bicultural meanthe fortuneto have a foot a€trulybicultural. we . as it were,in bothvisualand acoustic space,likeHemingway his Cuban in hideawayor Tocqueville America.lvlarcoPolo was such a one. The in icians, earliest the cultural brokers between Eastand West,havingbrought o-'eiform methodof accounting the Egyptians to and the phonetic alphabet to G'eeks,were likewise blessed. -re phonetic alphabet underlies of Western all linguistic development.6 the By : had gonethrough Greeksand Romans the and reasserted itselfin the print :Jre of the Renaissance, Western senseratioshad beenfirmlyaltered. The gave a new birthto the alphabet a modeof representation as havingnei. sualnor semantic meaning. Egyptian ideographs, instance, for were directly to padicular sensuous soundsand actions, with uniquegraphicsigns.On ::rer hand,the nratrix the Greekalphabet of couldbe usedto translate alien ges back and forthwithout changing form and number(twentyjour) the of :'ginal alphabeticcharacters. becamethe first means of translation lt of edgefrom one cultureto another. The readerin the processbecamesepaspeakerand the particular sensuous event.The oral tradi"om the original gaveway :':he earlyGreekdramatists, the pre-Socratics, Sophocles, of and to the writtenPan-European traditionand set the emotional and ;'adually postureof the West in concrete,as it were. We were "liberated"forever :-e resonating magicof the tribalwordand the web of kinship. -'e history the Western of worldsincethe time of Aristotle has beena story producedby the flat, uniform,homogeneous .r'easing linguistic specialism :ationof print.Orality wounddown slowly. The scribal(or manuscript) curmarshall mcluhan . 71

were ture of the NliddleAges was inherentlyoral/auralin character' Manuscripts meanttobereada|oud'ChurchchantryschooISWeresetuptoensureora|fideIity. qualityof the Ancients' off siphoned the auraltactile technology The Gutenberg and establishedheretoforeunknownstandardsfor pronunsystemizedlariguage, therewas no suchthingas bad-grammar' typography Before and meaning. ciation Afterthe publicbeganto acceptthe book on a mass basisin the lourteenth and fifteenth centuries-and on a scale where literacy mattered-all knowledge of the that could not be so classifiedwas tucked away into the new "unconscious" tne myth, there to be resurrectedlater as the RomanticReaction' iotf tate and Marconi But since Worid War I and the advent of those technicalwavesurfers the power of the spokenword' have been and Edison,the rumblesof aural-tactility, the ethos heard.James Joyce in Finneganswake, celebratedthe tearing apart ol He and titrn raOio, (televisio;), recording. couldeasilyseethatGoebbels oiprint Oy were a new tribal echo And you may be sure that and his iadio loudspeakers teletextthe the emergingmediumssuch as the satellite, computer, data base' corporations,such as ITT' GTE' and multi-carrier videoLxi and the international of the niaf, *iif intensifythe attack on the printed word as the "sole" container twentyjirst century' public mentality,without being aware ol it of course By the most printed matter will have been transferredto somethinglike an ideographlc and visual microiicheas only part of a numberof data sourcesavailablein acoustic if word and imagecan be understood we realbetween new interplay modes.This psychically united[ ] to two brainsstraining be ize that our skullsreallycontain

The Politict


.;l'.:'::; 1963)' Brown' (Boston: Little' Cameron It And 1. Lusseyran, Ih ere WasLight' Elizabeth pp.23-24,4A-49 . Muftay(Lon' of in " i e. rv corntord, of "Thelnvention Space,"Essays Honour Gilbeft pp 1936), 215-235 and Allen Unwin, donr "" teligious pruto'.disciples' inlluenced an earlier by was i. br"".Llr"i"i"g, inioudh man a-nd lhe struclured kosmos Inluseo s of (a thal usaoe /oqos pri;itiveutterance lheword) The sense.Heraclilusi cosmrcFtag' ;;i;; ;;lefr t; wor|oorderor common #i";;;il Press'1954) pp 70' 396'403 universitv camoridge ;";;;",;. a;"ff;ts. (irt (London: Press'1951)' Umversity (London: Oxtord pireandCommuncatilons iit E ni"", H".f J f of of wasan embodiment lhe slructure lhp ot o /6. :ct"ro ""i" slructure mans speech savs The andleeling(nvenllo ot as theory' an inierchange bolhthought |.n"torical Iuorri. for the becarne academic-anchor the medieval menora anopronuntia) etocutio, dispositio, " ts De Crcero, Orclorc' E-W Sutton TulliLrs Ma;cus consult tor trivium; a tormot summaiion pp 1967)' 97-109 Press, University Harvard anJH. Ract<tram lCambridge: ot The 4. Cornlord, Invention Space p 219 car Edmund between exchange lrom pr'"""nl:Summarized an extended s. ir'r" essay first.drall of discussion Carpenlels "i"inuf Mcluhanduring student a o"ni"|.und Marshall ol universitv l-iii;;i<iftlh;;sh at Language." ihe centre tor culture and rechnology' "Also. Explorctions of codifications Reality," and Nonlineal Lee, cf.-Dorotht "Lineal Toronlo. pp. An in Comnunication: Anthology' 136-154' ' in lot tnstitute Studies Educa' Lil "originsoi Western etacy in Ontario 6. EricHavelock, p 1971), 43 Series tlon,l\,4onograph no 14 (Totonto:

Theodor Adorno(1903-1969) was dm Germanphilosophers the 2othcenr of furt Schoolfor Socia!Research,Adom contemporaryculture and societv arm irrationality. With the rise of Hl er, Ado coreagues were exiled in the Uniteo pecutiarpositjonof ljving in Hollywooo ture industry,"which he came to see i control. Music figures centrally in Ado serves as one of the few forces oi re{ accomplished pianjst,Adorno studied( a lifelongadvocatefor Schoenberq,s n Hanns Eisler(tg9B_1962)st;died relectedcontemporaryclassicalmusic positionof populistworker,ssonqs. r Brecht. Like Adorno. Eislerfled Hitlers Duringhis ten yearsthere,he compo 1947.Eisler becamethe firstHo wood Committee Un-American on Acti;ities spent the rest of his life jn East Germa posed. Composing for the F,Ims was first pu alone, due to Adorno,sfear of politicatr crnema, soundand musicshouldplaya and action.In this shortexcerpl, at the ences betweenauditoryand visual per( aboutthe politics hearing of and listenr

function musicin the cinemais o^E of function musicundercondition of

culture 72 . audio

hannseisler& theod

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