Innovation and Visualization: Trajectories, Strategies, and Myths

By Amy Ione | Go to book overview

Chapter 2
Prelude

To parody the words of Anaxagoras, ‘… all things were
together, till the Homeric system came and arranged them.’

Gilbert Murray, Five Stages of Greek Religion

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), an English professor and literary critic, is likely to be among the first thinkers mentioned in contemporary studies of media and communication. His status as a visionary is so well established today that it is easy to forget how novel his ideas were when first presented midway into the twentieth century. McLuhan himself provides some insight into this in the introduction he added to the second edition of his seminal book Understanding Media. Here he tells us that the need for a new introduction only became apparent after many who first read the book misunderstood his proposal that the medium is the message.9 Seeking to fill out his position, McLuhan cites Eric Havelock’s Preface to Plato (Havelock 1963); a publication that appeared contemporaneously and similarly argued that environments are not passive wrappings but active processes.10


1. The Homeric World

Preface to Plato was an excellent choice for conceptualizing an environment as an active process, despite recent criticism of some of its conclusions.11 More problematic is that the book looks at the roots

9 McLuhan defines this as follows: “The medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves—result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology.” (McLuhan 1964: 23)

10 Havelock notes in The Muse Learns to Write that “McLuhan, whose groundbreaking book The Gutenberg Galaxy eventually appeared contemporaneously with my own Preface to Plato, … saw at once that there was an unstated partnership between these two works and later continued to acknowledge it with a generosity for which I shall always be grateful.” (Havelock 1988: 13)

11 Havelock is one of a number of writers (e.g., Jack Goody, Ian Watts, Walter Ong and Herold Innis) who have argued that the “Greek revolution” links to the

-23-

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