… To act without reacting, without involvement, is the peculiar advantage of Western literate man.
This is from ‘Number: Profile of the Crowd’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):
… The power to translate knowledge into mechanical production by the breaking up of any process into fragmented aspects to be placed in a lineal sequence of movable, yet uniform, parts was the formal essence of the printing press. This amazing technique of spatial analysis duplicating itself at once, by a kind of echo, invaded the world of number and touch.
Here, then, is merely one familiar, if unrecognized, instance of the power of one medium to translate itself into another medium. Since all media are extensions of our own bodies and senses, and since we habitually translate one sense into another in our own experience, it need not surprise us that our extended senses or technologies should repeat the process of translation and assimilation of one form into another. This process may well be inseparable from the character of touch, and from the abrasively interfaced action of surfaces, whether in chemistry or crowds or technologies.
[line break added] The mysterious need of crowds to grow and to reach out, equally characteristic of large accumulations of wealth, can be understood if money and numbers are, indeed, technologies that extend the power of touch and the grasp of the hand. For numbers, whether of people or digits, and units of money would seem to possess the same factual magic for seizing and incorporating.
… Apply, however, this infinite uniform process to finding the length of an arc, and all that need be done is to inscribe in the arc a sequence of rectilinear contours of an increasing number of sides [to reach the calculus].
… The miracle-maker, the sheer function of the infinitely fragmented and repeatable, became the means of making visually flat, straight, and uniform all that was nonvisual: the skew, the curved, and the bumpy. In the same way, the phonetic alphabet had, centuries before, invaded the discontinuous cultures of the barbarians, and translated their sinuosities and obtusities into the uniformities of the visual culture of the Western world.
[line break added] It is this uniform, connected, and visual order that we still use as the norm of “rational” living. In our electric age of instant and non-visual forms of interrelation, therefore, we find ourselves at a loss to define the “rational,” if only because we never noticed whence it came in the first place.
This next is from ‘The Written Word: An eye for an Ear’:
Prince Modupe wrote of his encounter with the written word in his West African days:
The one crowded space in Father Perry’s house was his bookshelves. I gradually came to understand that the marks on the pages were trapped words. Anyone could learn to decipher the symbols and turn the trapped words loose again into speech. The ink of the print trapped the thoughts; they could no more get away than a doomboo could get out of a pit.
… consciousness is regarded as the mark of a rational being, yet there is nothing lineal or sequential about the total field of awareness that exists in any moment of consciousness. Consciousness is not a verbal process. Yet during all our centuries of phonetic literacy we have favored the chain of inference as the mark of logic and reason.
… Only alphabetic cultures have ever mastered connected lineal sequences as pervasive forms of psychic and social organization. The breaking up of every kind of experience into uniform units in order to produce faster action and change of form (applied knowledge) has been the secret of Western power over man and nature alike.
… The auditory sense, unlike the cool and neutral eye, is hyper-esthetic and delicate and all-inclusive. Oral cultures act and react at the same time. Phonetic culture endows men with the means of repressing their feelings and emotions when engaged in action. To act without reacting, without involvement, is the peculiar advantage of Western literate man.