06 June 2021

McLuhan—The Great Withholding

Marshall McLuhan
"Woman in a Mirror"
pp. 80-81
in The Mechanical Bride
(2002 Gingko Press edition) [orig. 1951]
This ad employs the same technique as Picasso in The Mirror. The differences, of course, are obvious enough. By setting a conventional day-self over against a tragic night-self, Picasso is able to provide a time capsule of an entire life. He reduces a full-length novel (or movie) like Madame Bovary to a single image of great intensity. By juxtaposition and contrast he is able to "say" a great deal and to provide much intelligibility for daily life. This artistic discovery for achieving rich implication by withholding the syntactical connection is stated as a principle of modern physics by A.N. Whitehead in Science and the Modern World.
In being aware of the bodily experience, we must thereby be aware of aspects of the whole spatio-temporal world as mirrored within the bodily life. ...my theory involves the entire abandonment of the notion that simple location is the primary way in which things are involved in space-time.
Which is to say, among other things, that there can be symbolic unity among the most diverse and externally unconnected facts and emotions.

The layout men of the present ad debased this technique by making it a vehicle for "saying" a great deal about sex, stallions, and "ritzy dames" who are provided with custom-built allure.

Debased because of all the sex? Or because the "syntactical connection" is throttled rather than teased?

Working title for my next record:
"The Syntactical Connection, Withheld."


McLuhan, ibid
"Magic the Changes Mood"
pp. 85-87
In Music Ho! Constant Lambert argues that syncopation in modern music is the symbolist technique of getting cosmic coverage by omission of syntactical connections... That, of course, is the literal Greek sense of "symbol"—the putting together of two unconnected things. (85)
We confess ignorance of the Lambert character and, in any case, find this totally unconvincing vis-a-vis "syncopation," which is sort of comically not at all like the Picasso ruse, not even a little bit. We really wish people would stop saying so. To get syncopation you must first have a grid, which is the epitome of "spatial location" and the antithesis of spatio-temporal relativity. Syncopation per se is pure syntax, actually. It's precisely the opposite of what these two proto-hipsters have jointly decided it is. It's more like Mondrian than Picasso. Too literal? Whatever "cosmic coverage" is, it sounds like a second-order effect. Syncopation is first-order, granular, atomic.

The passage keeps going:
The abrupt apposition of images, sounds, rhythms, facts is omnipresent in the modern poem, symphony, dance, and newspaper. Jazz, Lambert suggests, derives from Debussy via New York, rather than from Africa. True or not, it is easy to see that the basic techniques of both high and popular arts are now the same. (85-87)
Adorno said something similar to the last sentence. But I wish the deriving of things didn't have to be such a black-and-white "rather than" situation. Are we really doing this again? Is it so hard to accept that more than one thing can be true? (Yes, apparently.)

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