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Musing on a small piece of history - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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April 27th, 2007

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03:33 pm - Musing on a small piece of history
Looking at Warren Ellis page today, I ran into this fascinating discussion between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan from the late 60s, the clip didn't say, but from the mention of various events, I'm guessing 1969, or maybe 1970. Watch it, it's well worth seeing.

I was intrigued with how their ideas would hold up almost 40 years later. I was both amused and surprised, Mailer was definitely the more well-spoken and engaging of the two, but his mixture of technophobia and his more general existentialism felt (to me at least) like a historical artifact of the attitudes of people who lived through WWII as young adults, and more specifically of the US men of that age who fought in WWII. His ideas and general vision seemed to have no connection to either our present era or to my own life or experiences. I was impressed at his erudition, but beyond that, he seemed nothing more or less than the distilled essence of that very particular, and often shockingly blind generation of men. Having already heard a great deal of alleged wisdom from men of that generation, I was rather less than impressed in any overall sense.

McLuhan was a far more interesting case from my PoV – I've previously read material by and about him, but this was my first time hearing him speak. He spoke largely in sound bites, which is the earliest occasion of that sort of pattern of public discourse that I've encountered. He was obviously brilliant, and some of his sound bites were clearly quite profound. He understood the sort of mass media-driven world that was in the process of being created in the 1960s and early 70s far better than most people of his era, and even possessed some awareness of how electronic media could more of a force for fragmentation than unity – a process that did not become obvious until the era of widespread cable TV and the internet. However, he was also clearly far too much in love with his ideas and often seemed to have little ability to tell the difference between a good idea and one that is merely flashy-sounding but ultimately devoid of any worth. Odd, he came out as far less erudite than Mailer, and some of his pronouncements were of exceedingly dubious worth, but he also seemed to have a real understanding of he electronic media was affecting the world.

I was intrigued at the vastly different ways I ended up viewing the two of them - one as a well spoken and thoughtful man who was out of touch with the late 1960s no vision of the future that was not firmly rooted in the experience of WWII, and the other as erratic, brilliant, and occasionally only semi-comprehensible man who had amazing flashes of brilliance about the direction our world and our culture was headed, but who also had much difficulty separating the wheat of his ideas from the chaff. In any case, as someone who was a young child when that interview occurred, it was definitely an interesting piece of history for me.
Current Mood: thoughtfulthoughtful

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