Prof. Richard Cavell is the author of McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography (2002; 2003; UTP “Classic” 2005; digital publication 2007), the first book to articulate the spatial turn in media studies and McLuhan’s foundational role within it. Professor Cavell is also editor of Love, Hate and Fear in Canada’s Cold War (2004; digital 2007), co-editor (with Peter Dickinson) of Sexing the Maple:A Canadian Sourcebook (2006), co-editor (with Imre Szeman) of the special double issue of the Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies (2007) on “Cultural Studies in Canada,” creator of the website spectersofmcluhan.net, and has published more than 70 chapters, articles and reviews. His work has been translated into French, Italian, German, Romanian and Japanese. Professor Cavell has been a faculty member of the universities of Padua and Bologna, and has given invited lectures in such venues as the University of Bologna on the occasion of its 900th anniversary; the Royal Geographical Society; the Sorbonne; the McLuhan Salon of the Canadian Embassy.
The central strand unifying Professor Cavell’s research interests is spatial production, which he studies in a broad cultural context. He is currently preparing a co-edited volume (with Norman Friesen) titled Media TransAtlantic, which articulates the connections between Canadian and German media theories, and is co-founder (with Geoffrey Winthrop-Young) of MeRG.e, the Media Research Group at the University of British Columbia.
RETOUCHING McLUHAN – THE MEDIUM IS THE MASSAGE
Conference Keynote Abstract
Topic: McLuhan, Tactility, and the Digital
Fingers are digits and so are numbers. My paper takes its point of departure from this metaphorical confluence to enquire into the relationship between tactility and the digital.
“Tactility” was McLuhan’s term for the senses in interplay which, he theorized, was definitive of the electronic era. McLuhan deployed tactility to identify the involving qualities of electronic culture, as opposed to the abstract qualities of print culture. Yet the involvement promised by electronic media was purchased at a considerable price, since it occurred paradoxically as the product of gaps: as Derrida noted, McLuhan was prescient in theorizing tactility as co-existing with the prohibition of touch.
If the visual world is the product of connected spaces, then the tactile world is one of disconnection―you cannot determine sequence with your fingers. My paper draws extensively on McLuhan’s chapter about “Number” in Understanding Media; as he writes there, “number is an extension … of … our sense of touch” (107). In theorizing the shift from the eye of print culture to the ear of audile-tactile space, McLuhan was theorizing the shift from the “matching” of analogue culture to the tactile “making” of digital culture. Digital culture is in this sense processual as well as paratactic, and this conjoins it, rhetorically, with the culture of orality. My paper unpacks this hybrid notion in order to interrogate the nature of digital media.