05 June 2021

McLuhan—Kicking the Cigarette Machine

Marshall McLuhan
"The Corpse as Still Life"
pp. 104-106
in The Mechanical Bride
(2002 Gingko Press edition) [orig. 1951]
A generation later Edgar Allan Poe hit upon this principle of "reconstruction," or reasoning backwards, and made of it the basic technique of crime fiction and symbolist poetry alike. Instead of developing a narrative straight forward, inventing scenes, characters, and description as he proceeded, in the Sir Walter Scott manner, Poe said: "I prefer commencing with the consideration of an effect." Having in mind the precise effect first, the author has then to find the situations, the persons, and images, and the order which will produce that effect and no other.

That, for example, is the way T.S. Eliot composes his poems. Each is slanted to a different effect. So that it is not something his poems say but something that they do that is essential about them. And the same is true of most significant painting and poetry since Poe and Baudelaire. Yet the baffled sections of the audience still seem to expect such work to deliver some message, some idea or other, and then they kick the cigarette machine, as it were, when it won't deliver the peanuts. (106)

Kicking the Cigarette Machine
MUST enter the lexicon!


"David's crit was totally unfair. The BFA-1s kept kicking the cigarette machine and the instructor just sat there and let it happen."

"The notices for Julia's gallery opening were super positive, although the local newspaper critic kicks the cigarette machine pretty hard at the end of his blurb. He despises artists but also knows that as a professional he has a job to do."

"Bob was really looking forward to getting feedback on his chamber concerto, but the guest clinician from State University just kicked the cigarette machine and watched the clock. I think he has a dual appointment in Composition and Music Business."

"Working in the entertainment industry is fine, but forget going to screenings with your co-workers. Anything nonlinear and those bastards will be kicking the cigarette machine til they're on crutches."

"I wouldn't bother going to ITEC this year. It's just going to be a bunch of orchestra cats carefully disassembling the cigarette machine, scribbling PEANUTS on each pack, and then trying to sell it to you at the merch table."

All of that being as it is...

This reconstruction business is pretty hilarious. How's this working out for y'all? Still got a lot of
baffled sections of the audience

That's weird. I mean, you so totally
ha[d] in mind the precise effect first
and then you had the totally righteous notion to
find the situations, the persons, and images, and the order which will produce that effect and no other.
So weird that this hasn't worked at all even though you
everything so carefully. Sounds kind of like Taleb's economic forecasters trying to unfry an egg or unmelt an ice cube. Well...at least artists' b.s. can't cause entire banking systems or state pension funds to collapse. Actually, maybe it's better that we can't know exactly how our artworks will be received. Then we can do what we want and not have to think that we're total failures if even one person doesn't "get" it. I mean, bro, that's actually kind of twisted to be so hung up on whether other people "get" you. It's like you need their approval, or you want to control them, or you don't think you're good enough without them. Just do your work bro! Let the brain mappers do the reverse engineering, and be thankful that you lived before they finished
the life right out of everything and every body.

But do use the cigarette machine metaphor every time life gives you a chance to do so.

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