Blog of the AMM

McLuhan: Statement by the AMM

The following statement by the AMM was added as a comment to a post, Marxism and McLuhan, about Marshall McLuhan by 'Roobin' on Lenin's Tomb
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This discussion is an important and interesting one, and I’m grateful to Roobin for initiating it. I agree with Doloras LaPicho that Ray has an agenda, and an unpleasant one at that. In saying that Roobin “hasn’t done enough research” because he thinks Marshall McLuhan wasn’t part of the 60s counter-culture, he’s wielding some kind of big stick which is utterly inappropriate here. Refusing to think beyond the already known because you might become a ‘reactionary’ (or worse, a ‘postmodernist’) is a theological position, not a dialectical one.The great omission I sense in this discussion – both in Roobin’s original blog and the comments – is the absence of any consideration of the avantgarde as a reaction to the mass culture industry. Roobin says “We exist, in a similar way, in a state of media saturation, to the point where we do not regard the effects such media have upon us.” Now, ‘the Marxist’ knows the answer to this: ideology critique. But isn’t there a certain idealism in thinking mere thought can free us from our chains?

Marshall McLuhan was not simply “a friend of Wyndham Lewis”, his whole concept of the media sprang from Vorticism, the Modern Art movement Lewis initiated in response to Marinetti’s Futurism. An early work of McLuhan was Counter-Blast, explicitly referencing the Vorticist journal Blast. Looked at in this way, Modern Art is neither defence of elite culture (as it was for Ezra Pound and TS Eliot), nor an R&D department for capitalist money-making (as it is for Jon Savage and Simon Reynolds): it is a direct assault on media saturation. Ideology critique on a visceral level. By laying out purple, apocalyptic prose in newspaper headline-font Blast revealed the limits of both ‘poetry’ and newspapers. Marxism is nothing if not an assault on bourgeois separations like ‘poetry’ and ‘news’, ‘economics’ and ‘literature’, terms which demarcate who in society has the authority to hold opinions or feel authentically: Capital is a critique of Political Economy written by someone drunk on the phrases of Goethe and Shakespeare, who would immediately respond (along with his daughter Eleanor) to Henryk Ibsen’s devastating attack on bourgeois sexual hypocrisy (the same Ibsen who inspired James Joyce’s life-long subversion of bourgeois morality). At the AMM (Association of Musical Marxists), we take it as axiomatic that great artistic explosions versus media saturation (from Punk to Free Improvisation, from Bob Cobbing’s Writers’ Forum to 2000AD) are fully part of the struggle our class is waging against the bourgeois order. If you do not understand this, and cling to the idea of Marxism as a limited ‘political’ specialism, you will forever be puzzled by people like McLuhan and all those who understand that art is about truth, and that bourgeois ideology cannot withstand the truth. Unfortunately, at the moment, it looks as if ‘Marxists’ who attempt to build organisations using (undeclared) sources of capital, paid employees and advertorial strategies (and utter disdain for artistic experience without the seal of establishment and/or commercial approval) cannot withstand this truth either.

AMM (Association of Musical Marxists)

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