Mon, Oct 19, 2009
I think the conception of artists and writers as solely content creators could be rethought in McLuhan's terms. This seems to me an illusion created by the very "self," as artist, that Kundera begins with.
The artist and writer and the software designer are very similar. The self-selfless difference associated with the mediums arises from the tendencies of the mediums to conceal or reveal their creators. Software design lends itself naturally to imperceptibility of both the software and the designer. Successful software is ideally self-concealing. In order to bypass preoccupation with the most immediate medium, the software for example, the medium must make itself invisible. The user is then able to engage with the content or other mediums that the software makes available. Imagine playing Xbox with full awareness of the hand's engagement with the controller...it would be nearly impossible. It is this (necessarily) dulled sense of the medium itself that McLuhan brings to the forefront, though the Xbox example is a rather trivial one.
Art (and writing subsumed under it) in the capitalist world, on the other hand, props up its authors and devalues their work as pure content. The artist's name becomes a commodity more valuable than any of his or her pieces. (The photography of Louise Lawler examines artwork and its dependence on context.) The reification of the artist's persona, although useful for marketing, ultimately acts to the detriment of the potential of their work. "To reward and to make celebrities of artists can, also, be a way of ignoring their prophetic work, and preventing its timely use for survival" (
). Art introduces novel frameworks (mediums) for thought, similar to software design, but this merit is often overlooked.
"The medium is the message" does not mean that the medium is the terminal message, a truth of sorts, but that the message is composed of more mediums, and within those more mediums. Gregory Bateson states felicitously, "what is on the paper map is a representation of what was in the retinal representation of the man who made the map; and as you push the question back, what you find is an infinite regress, an infinite series of maps. The territory never gets in at all. […] Always, the process of representation will filter it out so that the mental world is only maps of maps, ad infinitum" (Gregory Bateson via wikipedia). This medium in a medium in a medium model is one of self-similarity across scales, where the "content," which is shifting in my mind to mean something like "truth," is always deferred. McLuhan grants a special privilege to art, though, that imputes to it an awareness of media itself: "I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties" (