Only Art Can Save Us From Ourselves: The McLuhan Institute (A Film by ZORA)

A friend of mine (shoutout Reggie) has a company (Eternal) where they’re big on “empowering artists.” This resonates with me deeply.

The McLuhan Galaxy is vast, it contains multitudes. Marshall McLuhan’s interests in engineering and in poetry and literature curiously led him toward interest in the structure of culture and technology, particularly the nature and effects of human innovation as it reshapes humans and cultures individually and socially.

“We begin with effects and work back to causes.” This is the method of the detective in fiction since Poe at least, and it is a primary McLuhan method as well.

As founder and director of The McLuhan Institute (est. 2017), and inheritor of not only a rich and singular intellectual and investigatory tradition but of a vast and eclectic archive of artifacts, part of my job is custodial. But I am not interested in monuments or museums for the
simple sake of preservation – I am interested, and it is my voluntary duty and privilege, in preserving the past in service of the present and future. The work Marshall McLuhan began, which Eric McLuhan continued, is useful to us today as we struggle to make sense of the world
around us, to take some control over our lives as they are increasingly mediated and shaped by our technologies, these extensions of ourselves.

In that case, the work is not only useful, it’s vital, and probably deserves more attention and support.

As Pound said in ‘ABC of Reading,’ “the artist is the antennae of the race.” Out there on the frontier of sensation, ahead of the rest of us whose senses atrophy as they age, they first experience the effects of new technologies, they attempt to express them for the rest of us. This art is not for decoration or aesthetic enjoyment – that is merely the literal level. This art is
giving us a taste of what we’re in for.

Bringing together Poe, Pound, and McLuhan, we have an opportunity to get ahead of the seemingly inevitable chain of ‘efficient causality’, of effects proceeding helplessly from causes, – to anticipate effects and make different design choices to avoid or at least mitigate them. This brings us into the world of ‘media ecology,’ where we’re not content to pollute our environment and suffer the consequences in our ignorance.

A large part of this opportunity consists in empowering artists, these canaries in our techno-environmental coalmine. Part of my job, as I see it, is to facilitate the creation of new works of art that might help us make sense of what’s going on, and make different choices going forward. This is the basis of the arts program I’m building here at The McLuhan Institute.

I’m really grateful to all the people who have pitched in to help get The McLuhan Institute this far. As we descend ever deeper into the technological vortex, it’s easy to give in to fear, to despair. But all around us, if we take a deep breath and look, there are signs of life and lift. Together, we can change, we are changing, the way we do things. Things are looking up.