Unreal Nature

September 9, 2016

By Hacking the Universe into Visual Segments

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:24 am

… The ear is hypersensitive. The eye is cool and detached.

This is from ‘Clocks: The Scent of Time’ found in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man by Marshall McLuhan (1964, 1994, 2003):

… great cultural changes occurred in the West when it was found possible to fix time as something that happens between two points. From this application of visual, abstract, and uniform units came our Western feeling for time as duration. From our division of time into uniform, visualizable units comes our sense of duration and our impatience when we cannot endure the delay between events.

[line break added] Such a sense of impatience, or of time as duration, is unknown among nonliterate cultures. Just as work began with the division of labor, duration begins with the division of time, and especially with those subdivisions by which mechanical clocks impose uniform succession on the time sense.

As a piece of technology, the clock is a machine that produces uniform seconds, minutes, and hours on an assembly-line pattern.

… Historians agree on the basic role of the clock in monastic life for the synchronization of human tasks. The acceptance of such fragmenting of life into minutes and hours was unthinkable, save in highly literate communities. Readiness to submit the human organism to the alien mode of mechanical time was as dependent upon literacy in the first Christian centuries as it is today.

[line break added] For the clock to dominate, there has to be the prior acceptance of the visual stress that is inseparable from phonetic literacy. Literacy is itself an abstract asceticism that prepares the way for endless patterns of privation in the human community. With universal literacy, time can take on the character of an enclosed or pictorial space that can be divided and subdivided.

[line break added] It can be filled in. “My schedule is filled up.” It can be kept free: “I have a free week next month.” And as Sebastian de Grazia has shown in Of Time, Work and Leisure, all the free time in the world is not leisure, because leisure accepts neither the division of labor that constitutes “work,” nor the divisions of time that create “full time” and “free time.” Leisure excludes time as a container.

… It was not the clock, but literacy reinforced by the clock, that created abstract time and led men to eat, not when they were hungry, but when it was “time to eat.”

Mircea Eliade, professor of comparative religion, is unaware, in The Sacred and the Profane, that a “sacred” universe in his sense is one dominated by the spoken word and by auditory media. A “profane” universe, on the other hand, is one dominated by the visual sense. The clock and the alphabet, by hacking the universe into visual segments, ended the music of interrelation. The visual desacralizes the universe and produces the “nonreligious man of modern societies.”

… Primitive man lived in a much more tyrannical cosmic machine than Western literate man has ever invented. The world of the ear is more embracing and inclusive than that of the eye can ever be. The ear is hypersensitive. The eye is cool and detached. The ear turns man over to universal panic while the eye, extended by literacy and mechanical time, leaves some gaps and some islands free from the unremitting acoustic pressure and reverberation.

My most recent previous post from McLuhan’s book is here.

-Julie

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