Culture as Media: McLuhan & the stuff left behind in society’s wake

McLuhan’s conceptualization of ‘media’ is of great use for us to think about things and what is surprising is that the leaders of the object pact (in ‘material culture’, object-ontologies’, etc) do not care for him or his work even though it is directly pertinent to the topic. For my purposes it is clear that culture (the concepts and objects left behind in society’s wake – the products of social-(inter)action) is a medium as McLuhan described it and that “it is the medium that shapes and controls the scale and form of human association and action. The content or uses of such media are as diverse as they are ineffectual in shaping the form of human association. Indeed, it is only too typical that the “content” of any medium blinds us to the character of the medium”. [McLuhan, 2001:9]

Culture is the human medium & as such it ‘shapes and controls’ social-(inter)action rather than just providing ‘a canopy for the interpretative needs of the present’ (as Douglas & Isherwood put it).  This is the problem of culture: the relations of power are all skewed by time because the entire medium is history.  The ‘angel of history’ has tossed all of culture out into the garbage and our re-use of this refuse in entangled with the skeins of relations-of-power that led to the creation, survival, & availability of that culture. It is the pastness of culture that gives it that aura of force & authority that the ‘objectists’ have mistaken for an ‘agency’ (or worse ‘being’) because we are so entangled with pastness ourselves.  We need the past as medium because it provides us with an interpretive canopy for our ‘now’ and our living-through-time has shaped and controlled who we are.  It is therefore easy to read from us to it through this relation to the past and see the agency or being of objects (& concepts) as equivalent to people because rooted in pastness but this is not the case because culture was already a part of our ‘lived experience’; we have already dealt with.  The ‘objectists’ have read their entanglement with the past & the imbrication of culture with past as though it were culture that comes first (because it comes from the past) when, in fact, culture is the result of social-(inter)action and it is society that comes first.  People make (& continuously re-make) society & this is done with the medium of culture but that culture was made by society to be re-used by society & not the other way round. 






the rational is an aspect of culture born from social (inter-)action

“Concrete experiences and strong mental images give extra force and powers of resistance to value systems. Such experiences are rational arguments, in their way, though of course people with contradictory value systems can also feel that their convictions are born out by their personal experiences, as also by the way that observance of rituals or principles make them feel”
d’Avray, Medieval Religious Rationalities, p22

the social construction of space confronted by outsiders who have made it inside that space

“Perhaps the reason why immigrants worry settled people so much (and often so abstractly) is that the expose the relative nature of certainties inscribed in the soil”
Auge, Non-Places, p97

This is as pertinent to the current ‘problem’ of immigration in the industrial world as it is to the ‘wanderings’ of ‘the invasion period’ in the unraveling of the Roman Empire in the west during the 5th Century. ——————

the cultural rationality of convictions

If deception, ‘irrationality’, self-delusion, hegemony, the episteme, & the messy chaos of human action in the course of life-in-society work to create culture (that which is left in society’s wake, its conceptual and physical products, & which is then available to that self-same society as a ‘canopy for its interpretative needs’) then the use of this culture “further downstream in the delta of [its] reception” (d’Avray, MRR, p3) in the constitution of peoples convictions and values is not ‘irrational’ & nor is their holding to those convictions in the face of (seemingly devastating) counter-arguments becuase such values & convictions are result of experience (either “concrete experiences or simulacra of experiences” – d’Avray, MRR, p22). This holding on to values & convictions is the result of living in a society that uses these fragments of culture to think about itself and the rest of existence and where those fragments are inescapable aspects of life itself (the fragments mingle parataxically in the field called ‘doxa’, ‘common-sense’, ‘cultural systems’, ‘common knowledge’, ‘episteme’, etc). ——————