From “Understanding Media”
by Marshall McLuhan
Clocks: The Scent of Time
Writing on Communication in Africa, Leonard Doob observes: "The turban, the sword and nowadays the alarm clock are worn or carried to signify high rank." Presumably it will be rather long before the African will watch the clock in order to be punctual.
Just as a great revolution in mathematics came when positional, tandem numbers were discovered (302 instead of 32, and so on), so 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. Such a sense of impatience, or of time as duration, is unknown among non-literate 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. Processed in this uniform way, time is separated from the rhythms of human experience. The mechanical clock, in short, helps to create the image of a numerically quantified and mechanically powered universe. It was in the world of the medieval monasteries, with their need for a rule and for synchronized order to guide communal life, that the clock got started on its modern developments. Time measured not by the uniqueness of private experience but by abstract uniform units gradually pervades all sense life, much as does the technology of writing and printing. Not only work, but also eating and sleeping, came to accommodate themselves to the clock rather than to organic needs. As the pattern of arbitrary and uniform measurement of time extended itself across society, even clothing began to undergo annual alteration in a way convenient for industry. At that point, of course, mechanical measurement of time as a principle of applied knowledge joined forces with printing and assembly line as means of uniform fragmentation of processes.
The most integral and involving time sense imaginable is that expressed in the Chinese and Japanese cultures. Until the coming of the missionaries in the seventeenth century, and the introduction of the mechanical clocks, the Chinese and Japanese had for thousands of years measured time by graduations of incense. Not only the hours and days, but the seasons and zodiacal signs were simultaneously indicated by a succession of carefully ordered scents. The sense of smell, long considered the root of memory and the unifying basis of individuality, has come to the fore again in the experiments of Wilder Penfield. During brain surgery, electric probing of brain tissue revived many memories of the patients. These evocations were dominated and unified by unique scents and odors that structured these past experiences. The sense of smell is not only the most subtle and delicate of the human senses; it is, also, the most iconic in that it involves the entire human sensorium more fully than any other sense. It is not surprising, therefore, that highly literate societies take steps to reduce or eliminate odors from the environment. B.O., the unique signature and declaration of human individuality, is a bad word in literate societies. It is far too involving for our habits of detachment and specialist attention. Societies that measured time scents would tend to be so cohesive and so profoundly unified as to resist every kind of change.
Lewis Mumford has suggested that the clock preceded the printing press in order of influence on the mechanization of society. But Mumford takes no account of the phonetic alphabet as the technology that had made possible the visual and uniform fragmentation of time. Mumford, in fact, is unaware of the alphabet as the source of Western mechanism, just as he is unaware of mechanization as the translation of society from audile-tactile modes into visual values. Our new electric technology is organic and nonmechanical in tendency because it extends, not our eyes, but our central nervous systems as a planetary vesture. In the space-time world of electric technology, the older mechanical time begins to feel unacceptable, if only because it is uniform.
Modern linguistics studies are structural rather than literary, and owe much to the new possibilities of computers for translation. As soon as an entire language is examined as a unified system, strange pockets appear. Looking at the usage scale of English, Martin Joos has wittily designated "five clocks of style," or five different zones and independent cultural climates. Only one of these zones is the area of responsibility. This is the zone of homogeneity and uniformity that ink-browed Gutenberg rules as his domain. It is the style-zone of Standard English pervaded by Central Standard Time, and within this zone the dwellers, as it were, may show varying degrees of punctuality.
Edward T. Hall in The Silent Language discusses how "Time Talks: American Accents," contrasting our time-sense with that of the Hopi Indians. Time for them is not a uniform succession or duration, but a pluralism of many kinds of things co-existing. "It is what happens when the corn matures or a sheep grows up…. It is the natural process that takes place while living substance acts out its life drama." Therefore, as many kinds of time exist for them as there are kinds of life. This, also, is the kind of time-sense held by the modern physicist and scientist. They no longer try to contain events in time, but think of each thing as making its own time and its own space. Moreover, now that we live electrically in an instantaneous world, space and time interpenetrate each other totally in a space-time world. In the same way, the painter, since Cezanne, has recovered the plastic image by which all of the senses coexist in a unified pattern. Each object and each set of objects engenders its own unique space by the relations it has among others visually or musically. When this awareness recurred in the Western world, it was denounced as the merging of all things in a flux. We now realize that this anxiety was a natural literary and visual response to the new nonvisual technology.
J. Z. Young, in Doubt and Certainty in Science, explains how electricity is not something that is conveyed by or contained in anything, but is something that occurs when two or more bodies are in special positions. Our language derived from phonetic technology cannot cope with this new view of knowledge. We still talk of electric current "flowing," or we speak of the "discharge" of electric energy like the lineal firing of guns. But quite as much as with the esthetic magic of painterly power, "electricity is the condition we observe when there are certain spatial relations between things." The painter learns how to adjust relations among things to release new perception, and the chemist and physicist learn how other relations release other kinds of power. Less and less, in the electric age, can we find any good reason for imposing the same set of relations on every kind of object or group of objects. Yet in the ancient world the only means of achieving power was getting a thousand slaves to act as one man. During the Middle Ages the communal clock extended by the bell permitted high coordination of the energies of small communities. In the Renaissance the clock combined with the uniform respectability of the new typography to extend the power of social organization almost to a national scale. By the nineteenth century it had provided a technology of cohesion that was inseparable from industry and transport, enabling an entire metropolis to act almost as an automaton. Now in the electric age of decentralized power and information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time. In this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability, of rhythms. This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet.
It is a necessary approach in understanding media and technology to realize that when the spell of the gimmick or an extension of our bodies is new, there comes narcosis or numbing to the newly amplified area. The complaints about clocks did not begin until the electric age had made their mechanical sort of time starkly incongruous. In our electric century the mechanical time-kept city looks like an aggregation of somnambulists and zombies, made familiar in the early part of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land.
On a planet reduced to village size by new media, cities themselves appear quaint and odd, like archaic forms already overlaid with new patterns of culture. However, when mechanical clocks had been given great new force and practicality by mechanical writing, as printing was at first called, the response to the new time sense was very ambiguous and even mocking. Shakespeare's sonnets are full of the twin themes of immortality of fame conferred by the engine of print, as well as the petty futility of daily existence as measured by the clock:
When I doe count the clock that tels the time,
And see the brave day sunck in hidious night….
Then of thy beauty do I question make
That thou among the wastes of time must goe.
In Macbeth, Shakespeare links the twin technologies of print and mechanical time in the familiar soliloquy, to manifest the disintegration of Macbeth's world:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time.
Time, as hacked into uniform successive bits by clock and print together, became a major theme of the Renaissance neurosis, inseparable from the new cult of precise measurement in the sciences. In Sonnet LX, Shakespeare puts mechanical time at the beginning, and the new engine of immortality (print) at the end:
Like as the waves make towards the pibled shore,
So do our minuites hasten to their end,
Each changing place with that which goes before,
In sequent toil all forwards do contend….
And yet to times in hope, my verse shall stand
Praising thy worth, dispight his cruell hand.
John Donne's poem on "The Sun Rising" exploits the contrast between aristocratic and bourgeois time. The one trait that most damned the bourgeoisie of the nineteenth century was their punctuality, their pedantic devotion to mechanical-time and sequential order. As space-time flooded through the gates of awareness from the new electric technology, all mechanical observance became distasteful and even ridiculous. Donne had the same ironic sense of the irrelevance of clock-time, but pretended that in the kingdom of love even the great cosmic cycles of time were also petty aspects of the clock:
Busy old fool, unruly Sun,
Why dost thou thus
Through windows, and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?
Saucy, pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school-boys, and sour prentices,
Go tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices,
Love, all alike, no season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.
Much of Donne's twentieth-century vogue was due to his challenging the authority of the new Gutenberg age to invest him with the stigmata of uniform repeatable typography and with the motives of precise visual measurement. In like manner, Andrew Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress" was full of contempt for the new spirit of measurement and calculation of time and virtue:
Had we but world enough and time,
This coyness, lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk, and pass our long love's day….
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes, and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart,
For lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.
Marvell merged the rates of exchange with the rates of praise suited to the conventional and fashionably fragmented outlook of his inamorata. For her box-office approach to reality, he substituted another time-structure, and a different model of perception. It is not unlike Hamlet's "Look on this picture and on that." Instead of a quiet bourgeois translation of the medieval love code into the language of the new middle-class tradesman, why not a Byronic caper to the farther shores of ideal love?
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Here is the new lineal perspective that had come to painting with Gutenberg, but that had not entered the verbal universe until Milton's Paradise Lost. Even written language had resisted for two centuries the abstract visual order of lineal succession and vanishing point. The next age after Marvell, however, took to landscape poetry and the subordination of language to special visual effects.
But Marvell concluded his reverse strategy for the conquest of bourgeois clock-time with the observation
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.
He proposed that his beloved and he should transform themselves into a cannonball and fire themselves at the sun to make it run. Time can be defeated, as it were, by reversal of its characteristics if only it be speeded up enough. Experience of this fact awaited the electronic age, which found that instant speeds abolish time and space, and return man to an integral and primitive awareness.
Today not only clock-time, but the wheel itself, is obsolescent and is retracting into animal form under the impulse of greater and greater speeds. In the poem above, Andrew Marvell's intuition that clock-time could be defeated by speed was quite sound. At present the mechanical begins to yield to organic unity under conditions of electric speeds. Man now can look back at two or three thousand years of varying degrees of mechanization with full awareness of the mechanical as an interlude between two great organic periods of culture. In 1911 the Italian sculptor Boccioni said, "We are primitives of an unknown culture." Half a century later we know a bit more about the new culture of the electronic age, and that knowledge has lifted the mystery surrounding the machine.
As contrasted with the mere tool, the machine is an extension or entering of a process. The tool extends the fist, the nails, the teeth, the arm. The wheel extends the feet in rotation or sequential movement. Printing, the first complete mechanization of a handicraft, breaks up the movement of the hand into a series of discrete steps that are as repeatable as the wheel is rotary. From this analytic sequence came the assembly-line principle, but the assembly line is now obsolete in the electric age because synchronization is no longer sequential. By electric tapes, synchronization of any number of different acts can be simultaneous. Thus the mechanical principle of analysis in series has come to an end. Even the wheel has now come to an end in principle, although the mechanical stratum of our culture carries it still as part of an accumulated momentum, an archaic configuration.
The modern clock, mechanical in principle, embodied the wheel. The clock has ceased to have its older meanings and functions. Plurality-of-times succeeds uniformity-of-time. Today it is only too easy to have dinner in New York and indigestion in Paris. Travelers also have the daily experience of being at one hour in a culture that is still 3000 b.c., and at the next hour in a culture that is 1900 a.d. Most of North American life is, in its externals, conducted on nineteeth-century lines. Our inner experience, increasingly at variance with these mechanical patterns, is electric, inclusive, and mythic in mode. The mythic or iconic mode of awareness substitutes the multi-faceted for point-of-view.
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. 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. 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 times as a container. Once time is mechanically or visually enclosed, divided, and filled, it is possible to use it more and more efficiently. Time can be transformed into a labor-saving machine, as Parkinson reveals in his famous "Parkinson's Law."
The student of the history of the clock will find that a totally new principle entered with the invention of the mechanical clock. The earliest mechanical clocks had retained the old principle of the continuous action of the driving force, such as was used in the water clock and in the water wheel. It was about 1300 a.d. that the step was taken of momentarily interrupting rotary movement by a crown rod and balance wheel. This function was called "escapement" and was the means of literally translating the continuous force of the wheel into the visual principle of uniform but segmented succession. Escapement introduced the reciprocal reversing action of the hands in rotating a spindle forward and backward. The meeting in the mechanical clock of this ancient extension of hand movement with the forward rotary motion of the wheel was, in effect, the translation of hands into feet, and feet into hands. Perhaps no more difficult technological extension of interinvolved bodily appendages could be found. The source of the energy of the clock was thus separated from the hands, or the source of information, by technological translation. Escapement as a translation of one kind of wheel space into uniform and visual space is thus a direct anticipation of the infinitesimal calculus that translates any kind of space or movement into a uniform, continuous, and visual space.
Parkinson, sitting on the fence between the mechanical and the electric uses of work and time, is able to provide us with real entertainment by simply squinting, now with one eye, now with the other, at the time and work picture. Cultures like ours, poised at the point of transformation, engender both tragic and comic awareness in great abundance. It is the maximal interplay of diverse forms of perception and experience that makes great the cultures of the fifth century b.c., the sixteenth century, and the twentieth century. But few people have enjoyed living in these intense periods when all that ensures familiarity and security dissolves and is reconfigured in a few decades.
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." Lewis Mumford makes a telling observation when he says that the abstract mechanical time-sense of the Renaissance enabled men to live in the classical past, and to tear themselves out of their own present. Here again, it was the printing press that made possible the re-creation of the classic past by mass production of its literature and texts. The establishment of a mechanical and abstract time pattern soon extends itself to periodic alteration of clothing styles, much in the same way that mass production extends itself to periodic publication of newspapers and magazines. Today we take for granted that the job of Vogue magazine is to alter the dress styles as part of the process of its being printed at all. When a thing is current, it creates currency; fashion creates wealth by moving textiles and making them ever more current. This process we have seen at work in the section on "Money." Clocks are mechanical media that transform tasks and create new work and wealth by accelerating the pace of human association. By coordinating and accelerating human meetings and goings-on, clocks increase the sheer quantity of human exchange.
It is not really incongruous, therefore, when Mumford associates "the clock and the printing press and the blast furnace" as the giant innovations of the Renaissance. The clock, as much as the blast furnace, speeded the melting of materials and the rise of smooth conformity in the contours of social life. Long before the industrial revolution of the later eighteenth century, people complained that society had become a "prose machine" that whisked them through life at a dizzy pace.
The clock dragged man out of the world of seasonal rhythms and recurrence, as effectively as the alphabet had released him from the magical resonance of the spoken word and the tribal trap. This dual translation of the individual out of the grip of Nature and out of the clutch of the tribe was not without its own penalties. But the return to Nature and the return to the tribe are under electric conditions, fatally simple. We need beware of those who announce programs for restoring man to the original state and language of the race. These crusaders have never examined the role of media and technology in tossing man about from dimension to dimension. They are like the somnambulistic African chief with the alarm clock strapped to his back.
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."
Historically, however, Eliade is useful in recounting how, before the age of the clock and the time-kept city, there was for tribal man a cosmic clock and a sacred time of the cosmogony itself. When tribal man wanted to build a city or a house, or cure an illness, he wound up the cosmic clock by an elaborate ritual reenactment or recitation of the original process of creation. Eliade mentions that in Fiji "the ceremony for installing a new ruler is called 'creation of the world.' " The same drama is enacted to help the growth of crops. Whereas modern man feels obligated to be punctual and conservative of time, tribal man bore the responsibility for keeping the cosmic clock supplied with energy. But electric or ecological man (man of the total field) can be expected to surpass the old tribal cosmic concern with the Africa within.
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.
The Printed Word: Architect of Nationalism
“You may perceive Madam,” said Dr. Johnson with a pugilistic smile, “that I am well-bred to a degree of needless scrupulosity.” Whatever the degree of conformity the Doctor had achieved with the new stress of his time on white-shirted tidiness, he was quite aware of the growing social demand for visual presentability.
Printing from movable types was the first mechanization of a complex handicraft, and became the archetype of all subsequent mechanization. From Rabelais and More to Mill and Morris, the typographic explosion extended the minds and voices of men to reconstitute the human dialogue on a world scale that has bridged the ages. For if seen merely as a store of information, or as a new means of speedy retrieval of knowledge,typography ended parochialism and tribalism, psychically and socially, both in space and in time. Indeed the first two centuries of printing from movable types were motivated much more by the desire to see ancient and medieval books than by the need to read and write new ones. Until 1700 much more than 50 per cent of all printed books were ancient or medieval. Not only antiquity but also the Middle Ages were given to the first reading public of the printed word. And the medieval texts were by far the most popular.
Like any other extension of man, typography had psychic and social consequences that suddenly shifted previous boundaries and patterns of culture. In bringing the ancient and medieval worlds into fusion—or, as some would say, confusion—the printed book created a third world, the modern world, which now encounters a new electric technology or a new extension of man. Electric means of moving of information are altering our typographic culture as sharply as print modified medieval manuscript and scholastic culture.
Beatrice Warde has recently described in Alphabet an electric display of letters painted by light. It was a Norman McLaren movie advertisement of which she asks:
Do you wonder that I was late for the theatre that night, when I tell you that I saw two club-footed Egyptian A's… walking off arm-in-arm with the unmistakable swagger of a music-hall comedy-team? I saw base-serifs pulled together as if by ballet shoes, so that the letters tripped off literally sur les pointes … after forty centuries of the necessarily staticAlphabet, I saw what its members could do in the fourth dimension of Time, "flux," movement. You may well say that I was electrified.
Nothing could be farther from typographic culture with its "place for everything and everything in its place."
Mrs. Warde has spent her life in the study of typography and she shows sure tact in her startled response to letters that are not printed by types but painted by light. It may be that the explosion that began with phonetic letters (the "dragon's teeth" sowed by King Cadmus) will reverse into "implosion" under the impulse of the instant speed of electricity. The alphabet (and its extension into typography) made possible the spread of the power that is knowledge, and shattered the bonds of tribal man, thus exploding him into agglomeration of individuals. Electric writing and speed pour upon him, instantaneously and continuously, the concerns of all other men. He becomes tribal once more. The human family becomes one tribe again.
Any student of the social history of the printed book is likely to be puzzled by the lack of understanding of the psychic and social effects of printing. In five centuries explicit comment and awareness of the effects of print on human sensibility are very scarce. But the same observation can be made about all the extensions of man, whether it be clothing or the computer. An extension appears to be an amplification of an organ, a sense or a function, that inspires the central nervous system to a self-protective gesture of numbing of the extended area, at least so far as direct inspection and awareness are concerned. Indirect comment on the effects of the printed book is available in abundance in the work of Rabelais, Cervantes, Montaigne, Swift, Pope, and Joyce. They used typography to create new art forms.
Psychically the printed book, an extension of the visual faculty, intensified perspective and the fixed point of view. Associated with the visual stress on point of view and the vanishing point that provides the illusion of perspective there comes another illusion that space is visual, uniform and continuous. The linearity precision and uniformity of the arrangement of movable types are inseparable from these great cultural forms and innovations of Renaissance experience. The new intensity of visual stress and private point of view in the first century of printing were united to the means of self-expression made possible by the typographic extension of man.
Socially, the typographic extension of man brought in nationalism, industrialism, mass markets, and universal literacy and education. For print presented an image of repeatable precision that inspired totally new forms of extending social energies. Print released great psychic and social energies in the Renaissance, as today in Japan or Russia, by breaking the individual out of the traditional group while providing a model of how to add individual to individual in massive agglomeration of power. The same spirit of private enterprise that emboldened authors and artists to cultivate self-expression led other men to create giant corporations, both military and commercial.
Perhaps the most significant of the gifts of typography to man is that of detachment and noninvolvement—the power to act without reacting. Science since the Renaissance has exalted this gift which has become an embarrassment in the electric age, in which all people are involved in all others at all times. The very word "disinterested," expressing the loftiest detachment and ethical integrity of typographic man, has in the past decade been increasingly used to mean: "He couldn't care less." The same integrity indicated by the term "disinterested" as a mark of the scientific and scholarly temper of a literate and enlightened society is now increasingly repudiated as "specialization" and fragmentation of knowledge and sensibility. The fragmenting and analytic power of the printed word in our psychic lives gave us that "dissociation of sensibility"which in the arts and literature since Cezanne and since Baudelaire has been a top priority for elimination in every program of reform in taste and knowledge. In the "implosion" of the electric age the separation of thought and feeling has come to seem as strange as the departmentalization of knowledge in schools and universities. Yet it was precisely the power to separate thought and feeling, to be able to act without reacting, that split literate man out of the tribal world of close family bonds in private and and social life.
Typography was no more an addition to the scribal art than the motorcar was an addition to the horse. Printing had its "horseless carriage" phase of being misconceived and misapplied during its first decades, when it was not uncommon for the purchaser of a printed book to take it to a scribe to have it copied and illustrated. Even in the early eighteenth century a "textbook" was still defined as a "Classick Author written very wide by the Students, to give room for an Interpretation dictated by the Master, &c., to be inserted in the Interlines" (O.E.D.). Before printing, much of the time in school and college classrooms was spent in making such texts. The classroom tended to be a scriptoriumwith a commentary. The student was an editor-publisher. By the same token the book market was a secondhand market of relatively scarce items. Printing changed learning and marketing processes alike. The book was the first teaching machine and also the first mass-produced commodity. In amplifying and extending the written word, typography revealed and greatly extended the structure of writing. Today, with the cinema and the electric speed-up of information movement, the formal structure of the printed word, as of mechanism in general, stands forth like a branch washed up on the beach. A new medium is never an addition to an old one, nor does it leave the old one in peace. It never ceases to oppress the older media until it finds new shapes and positions for them. Manuscript culture had sustained an oral procedure in education that was called "scholasticism" at its higher levels; but by putting the same text in front of any given number of students or readers print ended the scholastic regime of oral disputation very quickly. Print provided a vast new memory for past writings that made a personal memory inadequate.
Margaret Mead has reported that when she brought several copies of the same book to a Pacific island there was great excitement. The natives had seen books, but only one copy of each, which they had assumed to be unique. Their astonishment at the identical character of several books was a natural response to what is after all the most magical and potent aspect of print and mass production. It involves a principle of extension by homogenization that is the key to understanding Western power. The open society is open by virtue of a uniform typographic educational processing that permits indefinite expansion of any group by additive means. The printed book based on typographic uniformity and repeatability in the visual order was the first teaching machine, just as typography was the first mechanization of a handicraft. Yet in spite of the extreme fragmentation or specialization of human action necessary to achieve the printed word, the printed book represents a rich composite of previous cultural inventions. The total effort embodied in the illustrated book in print offers a striking example of the variety of separate acts of invention that are requisite to bring about a new technological result.
The psychic and social consequences of print included an extension of its fissile and uniform character to the gradual homogenization of diverse regions with the resulting amplification of power, energy, and aggression that we associate with new nationalisms. Psychically, the visual extension and amplification of the individual by print had many effects. Perhaps as striking as any other is the one mentioned by Mr. E. M. Forster, who, when discussing some Renaissance types, suggested that "the printing press, then only a century old, had been mistaken for an engine of immortality, and men had hastened to commit to it deeds and passions for the benefit of future ages." People began to act as though immortality were inherent in the magic repeatability and extensions of print.
Another significant aspect of the uniformity and repeatability of the printed page was the pressure it exerted toward "correct" spelling, syntax, and pronunciation. Even more notable were the effects of print in separating poetry from song, and prose from oratory, and popular from educated speech. In the matter of poetry it turned out that, as poetry could be read without being heard, musical instruments could also be played without accompanying any verses. Music veered from the spoken word, to converge again with Bartok and Schoenberg.
With typography the process of separation (or explosion) of functions went on swiftly at all levels and in all spheres; nowhere was this matter observed and commented on with more bitterness than in the plays of Shakespeare. Especially in King Lear, Shakespeare provided an image or model of the process of quantification and fragmentation as it entered the world of politics and of family life. Lear at the very opening of the play presents "our darker purpose" as a plan of delegation of powers and duties:
Only we shall retain
The name, and all th' addition to a King;
The sway, revenue, execution of the rest,
Beloved sons, be yours: which to confirm,
This coronet part between you.
This act of fragmentation and delegation blasts Lear, his kingdom, and his family. Yet to divide and rule was the dominant new idea of the organization of power in the Renaissance. "Our darker purpose" refers to Machiavelli himself, who had developed an individualist and quantitative idea of power that struck more fear in that time than Marx in ours. Print, then, challenged the corporate patterns of medieval organization as much as electricity now challenges our fragmented individualism.
The uniformity and repeatability of print permeated the Renaissance with the idea of time and space as continuous measurable quantities. The immediate effect of this idea was to desacralize the world of nature and the world of power alike. The new technique of control of physical processes by segmentation and fragmentation separated God and Nature as much as Man and Nature, or man and man. Shock at this departure from traditional vision and inclusive awareness was often directed toward the figure of Machiavelli, who had merely spelled out the new quantitative and neutral or scientific ideas of force as applied to the manipulation of kingdoms.
Shakespeare's entire work is taken up with the themes of the new delimitations of power, both kingly and private. No greater horror could be imagined in his time than the spectacle of Richard II, the sacral king, undergoing the indignities of imprisonment and denudation of his sacred prerogatives. It is in Troilus and Cressida, however, that the new cults of fissile, irresponsible power, public and private, are paraded as a cynical charade of atomistic competition:
Take the instant way;
For honour travels in a strait so narrow
Where one but goes abreast: keep, then, the path;
For emulation hath a thousand sons
That one by one pursue: if you give way,
Or hedge aside from the direct forthright,
Like to an enter'd tide they all rush by
And leave you hindmost…
The image of society as segmented into a homogeneous mass of quantified appetites shadows Shakespeare's vision in the later plays.
Of the many unforeseen consequences of typography, the emergence of nationalism is, perhaps, the most familiar. Political unification of populations by means of vernacular and language groupings was unthinkable before printing turned each vernacular into an extensive mass medium. The tribe, an extended form of a family of blood relatives, is exploded by print, and is replaced by an association of men homogeneously trained to be individuals. Nationalism itself came as an intense new visual image of group destiny and status, and depended on a speed of information movement unknown before printing. Today nationalism as an image still depends on the press but has all the electric media against it. In business, as in politics, the effect of even jet-plane speeds is to render the older national groupings of social organization quite unworkable. In the Renaissance it was the speed of print and the ensuing market and commercial developments that made nationalism (which is continuity and competition in homogeneous space) as natural as it was new. By the same token, the heterogeneities and noncompetitive discontinuities of medieval guilds and family organization had become a great nuisance as speed-up of information by print called for more fragmentation and uniformity of function. The Benvenuto Cellinis, the goldsmith-cum-painter-cum-sculptor-cum-writer-cum- condottiere, became obsolete.
Once a new technology comes into a social milieu it cannot cease to permeate that milieu until every institution is saturated. Typography has permeated every phase of the arts and sciences in the past five hundred years. It would be easy to document the processes by which the principles of continuity, uniformity, and repeatability have become the basis of calculus and of marketing, as of industrial production, entertainment, and science. It will be enough to point out that repeatability conferred on the printed book the strangely novel character of a uniformly priced commodity opening the door to price systems. The printed book had in addition the quality of portability and accessibility that had been lacking in the manuscript.
Directly associated with these expansive qualities was the revolution in expression. Under manuscript conditions the role of being an author was a vague and uncertain one, like that of a minstrel. Hence, self-expression was of little interest. Typography, however, created a medium in which it was possible to speak out loud and bold to the world itself, just as it was possible to circumnavigate the world of books previously locked up in a pluralistic world of monastic cells. Boldness of type created boldness of expression.
Uniformity reached also into areas of speech and writing, leading to a single tone and attitude to reader and subject spread throughout an entire composition. The "man of letters" was born. Extended to the spoken word, this literate equitone enabled literate people to maintain a single "high tone" in discourse that was quite devastating, and enabled nineteenth-century prose writers to assume moral qualities that few would now care to simulate. Permeation of the colloquial language with literate uniform qualities has flattened out educated speech till it is a very reasonable acoustic facsimile of the uniform and continuous visual effects of typography. From this technological effect follows the further fact that the humor, slang, and dramatic vigor of American-English speech are monopolies of the semi-literate.
These typographical matters for many people are charged with controversial values. Yet in any approach to understanding print it is necessary to stand aside from the form in question if its typical pressure and life are to be observed. Those who panic now about the threat of the newer media and about the revolution we are forging, vaster in scope than that of Gutenberg, are obviously lacking in cool visual detachment and gratitude for that most potent gift bestowed on Western man by literacy and typography: his power to act without reaction or involvement. It is this kind of specialization by dissociation that has created Western power and efficiency. Without this dissociation of action from feeling and emotion people are hampered and hesitant. Print taught men to say, "Damn the torpedoes. Full steam ahead!"