The Yestermorrow of the Book

By McLuhan, Marshall | UNESCO Courier, May-June 1986 | Go to article overview

The Yestermorrow of the Book


McLuhan, Marshall, UNESCO Courier


The yestermorrow of the book

WHEN Gutenberg transformed the European manuscript into a new uniform and repeatable package, he ended the regime of oral scholastic philosophy and provided the means of retrieving the world of pagan authors.

At the same time that the new intensity of words as visual objects came into play against the old oral ground, words became visual counters in a new "objective' sense. The world of resonance and multi-levelled depth of verbal structures which had been the basis of the exegesis both of the sacred page and the Book of Nature, was suddenly muted by high visual stress.

New kinds of rational authority were substituted for the old resonance with its affinity for magic and metamorphosis.

Clearly, scholastic philosophy was a form of discourse that would not do in the new era. It was doomed, not because of its content or meaning, but because it was chatty, conversational discussion that took all manner of things into account at any given moment.

With the coming of print, specialism developed because the individual reader, by solitary effort, could speed over the superhighways of assembly-line printing without the company or comment of a group of fellow learners and disputants.

With the advent of telegraph and telephone and radio and TV as service environments, totally new figure-ground relationships have come into play. In science and in fiction, in art and in politics, the fact of audience involvement in all aspects of the social process has become an irresistible datum.

So far as the book is concerned, the mode and means of involvement of reader as co-author and of audiences as actors has been the symbolic or discontinuous form in poetry and painting, and music, in press and novel, and in drama. …

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