McLuhan, Marshall - The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man

Notes - Garnet Hertz
Updated 20 May 2006

General Thoughts

"Gutenberg Galaxy", written in 1962, argues that the invention of the printing press has revolutionized Western Society by transforming it into a scattered collective of alienated individuals, disconnected from the consequences of their actions.

NOTE: the page numbers listed below are from "Essential McLuhan", not directly from The Gutenberg Galaxy. It would be nice to clean this up.


[99-EM] {technological determinism, social, social change, media} Far from being deterministic, however, the present study will, it is hoped, elucidate a principal factor in social change which may lead to a genuine increase in human autonomy.

[100-EM] {tool, sense, extension, ratio, sense-ratio, media} Man the tool-making animal, whether in speech or in writing or in radio, has long been engaged in extending one or another of his sense organs in such a manner as to disturb all of this other sense and faculties.

[100-EM] {sense, extension, ratio, media, balance, sense-ratio, equilibrium} The inevitable drive for "closure," "completion," or equilibrium occurs both with the suppression and the extension of human sense or function.

[100-EM] {media, change, disturbance, transition} [media change is described here as "disturbances"]

[101-EM] {media, systems theory, open system, systems, closed system, private, extended} [private senses are described as open systems, extended senses are described as closed systems]

[113-EM] {alphabet, text, visual, media, visuality, textuality} [alphabet described as being visual]

[114-EM] {africa, west, north america, america, europe, eye, ear, visual, aural, hot, cool, media} [Africans are described as living in a "hot" and hyperesthetic ear-world, while Westerners are described as living in a "cool" and neutral eye-world.]

[117-EM] {oral, acoustic, aural, alphabet, phonetic, schizophrenia} From that magical resonating world of simultaneous relations that is the oral and acoustic space there is only one route to the freedom and independence of detribalized man. That route is via the phonetic alphabet, which lands men at once in varying degrees of dualistic schizophrenia.

[119-EM] {media, letters, alphabet, sense-ratio, sense, ratio, interiorization, mind} Does the interiorization of media such as letters alter the ratio among our senses and change mental processes? ... If a technology is introduced either from within or from without a culture, and if it gives new stress or ascendancy to one or another of our senses, the ratio among all our senses is altered.

[120-EM] {media, sense-ratio, sense, ratio, numb, identity, intensity} But any sense when stepped up to high intensity can act as an anesthetic for other senses... The result is a break in the ratio among the senses, a kind of loss of identity.

[123-EM] {manuscript, print, audio, haptic, tactile, visuality, visual} ...manuscript culture is intensely audile-tactile compared to print culture; and that means that detached habits of observation are quite uncongenial to manuscript cultures, whether ancient Egyptian, Greek, or Chinese or medieval. In place of cool visual detachment the manuscript world puts empathy and participation of all the senses.

[127-EM] {global village, electronic, communication, network} The new electronic interdependence recreates the world in the image of a global village.

[127-EM] {noosphere, de Chardin, sense, network, computer, surveillance} This externalization of our senses creates what de Chardin calls the "noosphere" or a technological brain for the world. Instead of tending towards a vast Alexandrian library the world has become a computer, an electronic brain, exactly as in an infantile piece of science fiction. And our senses have gone outside us, Big Brother goes inside.

[130-EM] {ecology, sensorium, extension, sense-ratio, senses, ratio, media} My suggestion is that cultural ecology has a resonably stable base in the human sensorium, and that any extension of the sensorium by technical dilation has a quite appreciable effect in setting up new ratios or proportions among all the senses.

[134-EM] {film, cinema, television, tv, cartoon, audio, haptic, tactile, camera, eye} For with film you are the camera and the non-literate man cannot use his eyes like a camera. But with TV you are the screen. And TV is two-dimensional and sculptural in its tactile contours. TV is not a narrative medium, is not so much visual as audile-tactile. That is why it is empathetic, and why the optimal mode of TV image is the cartoon. [Double-check the transcription of this quote.]

[135-EM] {extension, sense-ratio, sense, translation, interior, interiorization} When technology extends one of our senses, a new translation of culture occurs as swiftly as the new technology is interiorized.

[137-138-EM] {sense-ratio, culture, cultural, change, exterior, external, western, Durkheim, sensory separation, visual, visuality, vision} A theory of cultural change is impossible without knowledge of the changing sense ratios effected by various externalizations of our senses. ...from the invention of the alphabet there has been a continuous drive in the Western world towards teh separation of the senses, of functions, of operations, of states emotional and political, as well as of tasks -- a fragmentation which is terminated, thought Durkheim, in the anomie of the nineteenth century. It is the three-dimensional world of pictoral space that is, indeed, an abstract illusion built on the intense separation of the visual from the other senses.

[138-EM] {tribal, literacy, alphabet, vision, visuality, visual} The detribalizing of the individual has, in the past at least, depended on an intense visual life fostered by literacy, and by literacy of the alphabetic kind alone.

[138-EM] {text, audio, voice, vision, visual, visuality, eye, dictation} ...all reading in the ancient and medieval worlds was reading aloud. With print the eye speeded up and the voice quieted down.

[138-EM] {biomimetics, biomimetic, technology}

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