Thuistezien 163 — 31.01.2021

Dr. Richard Cavell
Marshall McLuhan Symposium

Dr. Richard Cavell is a media theorist and Professor of English at The University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. His work has often examined the ideas of his mentor Marshall McLuhan – the influential Canadian philosopher and media theorist – but from a unique stand point, by considering him as a ’spatial theorist’ that explored how changes in media have altered our understanding of space and time.

Speaking about McLuhan in his talk ’McLuhan and Composed Theatre’ – which took place in 2017 at the Royal Art Academy of The Hague, as part of the symposium ’Feedback #1: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts’ Cavell describes McLuhan’s conversational style in which each sentence would be on a separate topic, a conscious methodology that would break from the restrictions of traditional linearity. Cavell seems to explore a similar approach in his talk, as he moves quickly from one idea to the next in his exploration of McLuhan’s work, and as he complements it with thoughts from contemporary writers and thinkers. It proves a complex and far-reaching overview of many of McLuhan’s ideas, presented in a fascinating presentation that offers a new perspective into the work of the much studied and discussed media theorist.

The jumping off point for Cavell's conversation is rooted in one of McLuhan’s central observations: McLuhan emphasised the transition from written text and print media, into electronic media, television, and now the internet – which in many ways McLuhan is credited for having anticipated in his writing. His hypothesis was that a text-based world is one that is visually and linearly minded, influenced by the fact that a printed text is static, remains unaltered and is consumed by separate individuals. The rise of electronic media on the other hand creates a society that is aurally minded and non-linear in its thinking – at least relative to the strict linearity of written text. As electronic media is collectively consumed and in constant flux, for McLuhan it leads to what he called the ’global village’: a new type of social organization that is similar in many ways to that of aural traditions that existed before the rise and ubiquity of print media. The question then becomes: how does this affect us and our perception of our surroundings when we exist in an interconnected, all-encompassing and fully immersing aural world?

Text: James Alexandropoulos - McEwan