Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/2440/49671
Type: Thesis
Title: McLuhan’s unconscious.
Author: Rae, Alice
Issue Date: 2008
School/Discipline: School of History and Politics : Politics
Abstract: The proof set forward in this thesis is that the method of Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), which he came in the 1970’s to describe as ‘structuralist’, ‘phenomenological’ and even ‘metaphysical’, owes a heretofore unacknowledged debt to Sigmund Freud (1856-1939). Critics have thus far neglected the influence of nineteenth and twentieth century psychology in McLuhan’s work, although a wealth of biographical material supports the argument that McLuhan’s ‘metaphysical’ method is derived as much from psychoanalysis and analytical psychology (C.G. Jung) as from any of McLuhan’s acknowledged predecessors. Returning to the texts from which McLuhan gained his knowledge of psychology, I trace the influence of Freud, Jung and their disciples upon McLuhan, establishing McLuhan’s use of Freudian concepts and terminology in his first book The Mechanical Bride (1951), and his use of the psychoanalytic concepts of the ‘unconscious’, ‘trauma’ and ‘repression’ in the books that came after it. What McLuhan calls the ‘unconscious’ is more often named by him as Logos, ‘acoustic space’ or the ‘media environment’, and I trace the debts that these concepts owe not only to Freud and Jung but to Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, gestalt theory, art theory, Henri Bergson, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Wyndham Lewis, Siegfried Giedion, Harold Innis, the French symbolist poets of the late nineteenth century and the British modernists of the early twentieth. Despite his rejection of the Freudian argument, McLuhan, like Freud, conceptualizes pain or trauma as the ‘cause’ of transformations (i.e. processes) in the unconscious; but while for McLuhan, invoking St. Thomas Aquinas and Aristotle, technologies are ‘formal causes’ simultaneous with (or ‘preceded’ by) their effects, for Freud and his modern interpreter Jacques Lacan, trauma is ‘paradoxical’ in structure, presenting as both its own ‘cause’ and ‘effect’. Situating McLuhan in relation to French structuralism, I contrast McLuhan’s concepts of ‘figure’ (as cause) and ‘ground’ (as effects), elaborated in his last book Laws of Media (1988), to the concepts of the ‘signifier’ and the ‘signified’ in Ferdinand de Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics (1916), and critique McLuhan’s ‘tetrad’, the ideograph with which he illustrates media ‘effects’, in relation to the psychoanalytic concept of the signifier elaborated by Lacan. In reply to McLuhan’s maxim that ‘the medium is the message’, I conclude that technologies, insofar as they function as ‘formal causes’, are doubly ‘hidden’: firstly, because, as McLuhan says, they can only be grasped through their effects; and secondly because, as Lacan says, their effects can only be articulated when they manifest as ‘disturbances’ in the symbolic order, i.e., as fantasies of the Other’s jouissance (enjoyment). There are numerous stories about how McLuhan would frustrate his critics by refusing to take a ‘point-of-view’, and in fact his (psychoanalytic) technique of ‘putting on’ the audience as a mask, and his (deconstructivist) manner of changing perspectives as often as necessary, sit oddly with his championing of Logos. A comparison with Freud and Lacan finds McLuhan at a ‘paradoxical’ moment in the history of Western thought, poised between modernism and postmodernism, between structuralism and deconstructivism, and between metaphysics and psychoanalysis.
Advisor: McCarthy, Greg
Nursey-Bray, Paul Frederick
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) - University of Adelaide, School of History and Politics, 2008
Subject: McLuhan, Marshall, 1911-1980 Criticism and interpretation.
Freud, Sigmund, 1856-1939 Influence.
Keywords: McLuhan; Freud; Lacan; unconscious; metaphysics; psychology; psychoanalysis; structuralism
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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