McLuhan, Baudrillard and Cultural Theory

Course Description

For better and for worse, a McLuhan renaissance is in full swing. I provide a theoretical and historical context for understanding this second coming by examining the debates of the 1960s and 1970s in France and Québec concerning the effects of McLuhanism. The bridge between McLuhanism then and now is established through a close examination of the key postmodern vector of transmission in the writings of Jean Baudrillard. McLuhanism’s latency period in the 1980s corresponds to the pop intellectual phenomenon known as the Baudrillard Scene. The McLuhan renaissance is an effect of postmodern cultural theory tied to the emergence of new information technologies in general and to Baudrillard’s appropriations, distortions, and dissemination of concepts taken from McLuhan such as participation, reversibility, speed, the ‘tribal’, the mass, models of historical phases, and most importantly, implosion. For McLuhan and Baudrillard are the masters of implosion.

Course Outline

In my introductory lecture I sketch out some of the main features of the McLuhan renaissance and the approach I will develop.

Lectures 2, 3, and 4 deal with McLuhan’s French revolution in terms of its relation to the problems of écriture and the end of the book, the class struggles around who may claim whom as an intellectual, and the rhetorical practices of legitimation tied to figuring McLuhan not only as a structuralist, but as a postmodernist before the letter.

Lectures 5, 6, and 7 bear upon specific relationships between concepts employed by McLuhan and in what way they are seized upon by Baudrillard. I will conclude this course of lectures with a series of reflections on the formative roles played by McLuhan and Baudrillard in the rise of cultural theory as fiction.

A running bibliographic commentary will be posted. Some familiarity with the writings of both McLuhan and Baudrillard is presupposed, as is some knowledge of the central themes of postmodernism, although key concepts will be explained and contextualized along the way. This series of lectures offers, then, a critical contextualization and examination, rather than a celebration, of closely related pop intellectual phenomena by drawing upon a diverse range of French and English source materials. A reading knowledge of French is not necessary, although it would prove to be useful for those undertaking independent research into the bibliographic materials.

Lectures

  1. Introduction

    For better and for worse, a McLuhan renaissance is in full swing. Although most of his books are out of print and his journals such as The Dew-Line Newsletter and Explorations have acquired rare book status in some quarters, Marshall McLuhan, a thinker of the end of the book, is at home in today’s electronic environments, where he has been firmly and very much posthumously ensconced, and elevated to the status of, in some instances, a saint.

  2. The End of the Book and the Beginning of Television

    The "cyclone," to use Pierre-Yves Pétillon's (1969) term, that hit Paris in the mid-1960s was not referred to on a familiar first name basis, like most North American storms. This wind tore through the capital, rustling the pages of academic and popular publications, and ruffling the feathers of Parisian intellectuals and cultural animateurs alike.

  3. Mac

    There was a moment, or many of them, in the French reception of the writings of McLuhan, in which his views were revealed to be a trompe l’oeil splashed across the mediascape. As the gaze of his admirer’s shifted after an initial wide-eyed fixation, they noticed that McLuhan’s views did not move with their own. These views appeared as something other than they seemed, or rather they now seemed to be something else, to paraphrase Jacques Lacan.

  4. Before the Letter

    It is commonplace to find mention of the relationship between the writings of McLuhan and Barthes in both French and English (primarily North American and British) reflections on popular culture. One could catalogue an impressive inventory of reminders of the parallel concerns of The Mechanical Bride (1951) and Mythologies (1957).

Gary Genosko 's Bio

Dr Gary Genosko is the author of Baudrilliard and Signs (1994) and the editor of The Guattari Reader (1996). He has published widely on topics in semiotics, psychoanalysis, communication and cultural studies. At present he is working independently. Send comments or questions to Gary Genosko: genosko@mist.lakeheadu.ca