McLuhan quotes Auden

Marshall McLuhan: New Media As Political Forms

Writing in Encounter (April, 1954), Auden discusses ”The Word and the Machine.” Poets today, he says, envy ”not the rich or the powerful but the scientists, doctors, machine designers, etc., for whose happiness our age seems designed as earlier ages were designed for great landowners, for these people enjoy the satisfaction both of meaningful work and of an unequivocal social position. When I am in the company of scientists, I feel like a curate who has strayed into a drawing-room full of dukes.”

A few years before, Mr. Auden’s colleague Stephen Spender was wanly asking why, when he met a communist, did he feel so small? Both having failed in the thirties to find a satisfactory lyrical idiom to glorify the machine might now unite in the matter of dukes. Or doesn’t it matter that the machine has now brought English noblemen to the pass of purveying homemade jam at the roadside? The fact of the matter is that Mr. Auden typifies our current failure to examine the forms of technology, past and present, as art forms. He concludes his essay:

Is there something in the essential natures of the machine and the Word which makes them incompatible, so that at the slightest contact with the former the Word turns into lifeless words? Is even the mechanical printing press, but for which I would never have been able to read the books that formed my life, nor for that matter be writing this article now, an evil? Sometimes I have an uneasy suspicion that it is.

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