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Visual and Cultural Theory - Essay Example

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Historical Media Transitions in McLuhan’s (1962, 1995) “Prologue: The Gutenberg Galaxy” 16 August 2013 The history of human communication affects the history of media. The debate on the development and effects of both histories cannot be detached, however, from the discourse on the binary between literate and non-literate societies…
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Visual and Cultural Theory
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Download file to see previous pages This essay analyses and determines the main ideas and historical and cultural contexts of the prologue of McLuhan’s The Gutenberg Galaxy, while using studio practices to explain McLuhan’s key ideas. Two secondary materials are also used to explore McLuhan’s text, Morrison’s (2001) article, “The Place of Marshall McLuhan in the Learning of His Time” and Scannell’s (2007) book, Media and Communication. The main ideas of McLuhan’s (1995) The Gutenberg Galaxy emphasise the importance of the medium as the message, while Morrison (2001) asserts the role of technology in expanding human functions. Scannell (2007) supports the cultural transitions that occurred, using McLuhan’s idea of a “global village” (p.135). McLuhan describes the effects of transitioning from an oral to a writing society wherein he argues that literacy expands important human functions, but with limitations, and that the electronic age has produced the retribalisation of human society, and these ideas have a connection to the transition from soundless to sound films, where the latter films exhibit both opportunities and limitations for expressing and extending human thoughts and practices. McLuhan (1995) criticises the devaluation of oral societies, including their oral practices. His text responds to the historical underestimation of the value of oral practices and the vitality of oral societies. He cites the work of Albert B. Lord, The Singer of Tales, who continued the work of Milman Parry. Parry hypothesised that his Homeric studies could prove that oral and written poetry did not share similar patterns and uses (McLuhan, 1995, p.90). Parry’s work had been initially snubbed by the academe because of the prevailing belief that literacy is the basis of civilisation. Morrison (2001) describes the difficulties of Parry in getting his study approved in Berkeley during the 1920s. See Appendix A for research notes on the primary and secondary texts used. The Berkeley faculty represents the general belief that literacy and civilisation are directly related: The notion that high literacy is the normative state of language and civilization, and that its only alternative is the fallen state of illiteracy, and hence darkness and ignorance, seems to occupy the vital center of humanistic studies with remarkable energy and intensity. (Morrison 2001, para.6). The key idea is that by assuming that literacy is the most important sign of civilisation, it automatically discriminates against studies on oral practices and societies that would suggest otherwise. McLuhan responds to the historical underrepresentation of oral studies in the humanities and history in general. He wants to address this underrepresentation through his own analysis of the electronic age, and how it goes back to oral traditions of earlier times. McLuhan demonstrates that history is incomplete when it does not provide enough space for the description and analysis of oral societies and practices. Aside from filling the gap of literature on oral practices, McLuhan (1995) supports the idea that oral societies have a richer connection with all of their senses, while the written text has produced a limited visual society because it suppresses auditory functions. He highlights literature that explores the vitality of oral practices, where oral societies are rich civilisations, perhaps even richer than writing ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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