Marshall McLuhan y la ontología orientada a objetos (OOO)

por Erich Luna

Justo en estos días que estaba terminando de hacer los posts sobre McLuhan (¿El medio es qué?, Entrevista de Patrick Peyton (EWTN) a Marshall McLuhan, La temperatura de los medios, Narcóticos híbridos, Traductores y artistas), Levi Bryant ha escrito dos posts sobre McLuhan también (McLuhan, Space and Objects y Weird Media), ya que va a escribir un libro sobre medios con Ian Bogost (Weird Media and Tiny Ontology). De hecho me interesa mucho el proyecto, ver el potencial ontológico de McLuhan y el estudio de los medios desde la Object-Oriented-Ontology (OOO).

Bryant, en el primer post mencionado, empieza afirmando lo siguiente:

In my view, McLuhan is a privileged figure for developing an object-oriented theory of social, political, and cultural studies because he’s rather on the fringe of Continental theory, places all entities on equal footing (technologies, natural objects, theories, texts, etc., are all media for him), and is himself something of an object-oriented philosopher. McLuhan, I believe, will thus provide us with the means of unifying both the expressive dimension of cultural formations (contents, representations, signs, meanings, theories, etc) and the role of nonhuman entities such as technologies, nonhuman animate and inanimate actors, and so on.

Es interesante que Bryant piense en McLuhan como un filósofo orientado a objetos, alguien que trata entidades tan tradicionalmente diferentes, como tecnologías, objetos naturales, teorías, textos, etc., como medios. Basta ver el índice de la segunda sección de Comprender los medios de comunicación. Las extensiones del ser humano para darse cuenta que McLuhan tiene una concepción de los medios que es mucho más amplía, rica y profunda que la que nuestro sentido común suele tener.

Obviamente, sobre la idea de pensar en los medios como “extensiones del ser humano“, la aproximación será más cautelosa, ya que el antropocentrismo o el privilegio del ser humano es, como sabemos, un rechazo de la OOO a mucho de la filosofía contemporánea continental. Pero lo que sí se va a enfatizar y desarrollar es la idea de una concepción del medio como algo relativo o relacional. La idea básica es que los medios son objetos, pero cuando nos concentramos en la manera como un objeto extiende a otro en una forma determinada (pasamos de las extensiones del humano, al parecer, a las extensiones de los objetos).

In this regard, every media also simultaneously withdraws because the manner in which one object “uses” it to extend itself is such that it only plays on certain powers embodied in the object, “ignoring” the rest. McLuhan’s four laws of media help to illustrate this thesis. Each medium 1) enhances some aspect of an object, 2) displaces, obsolesces or diminishes other powers, 3) retrieves other modes of relation from the past, and 4) reverses into its opposite when taken to the limit.

Sobre estas leyes de los medios que McLuhan propone, Bryant resalta que es la relación entre “foreground” y “background” (no sé cómo traducirlo… entre el “primer plano” y el “fondo”) la que es importante en el pensamiento de McLuhan. Es una relación entre lo potencial o latente con lo actual que se manifiesta. El ejemplo que cita Bryant es el de la influencia que tuvo la escritura fonética para desarrollar la geometría.

McLuhan’s analysis of the origins of visual, geometrical space and the relation between this type of space and writing, are, I believe, of great significance for object-oriented ontology. The conception of objects that arises based on this unconscious conception of space is that of objects as fixed and self-identical entities that are fully present. In other words, geometric space leads to a conception of being where withdrawal is erased. For example, for the geometer all points on an infinite line are fully present, simultaneous, and actual even if we can’t directly perceive this line. Visual spatialized thought thereby “objectivizes” entities in the bad sense of erasing their withdrawal.

Antes de pasar a conectar brevemente esto con el segundo post, quería mencionar que en los comentarios Graham Harman menciona que McLuhan sí leyó algo de Husserl y Heidegger. Michael, autor del blog Effervescent Crucibles, enlaza una entrevista para mostrar que Derrida sí leyó a McLuhan. Esa había sido la duda de Tim Morton. La cita en cuestión es la siguiente:

P.B.: You’ve suggested we should stop thinking about various media – speech and writin – that we should stop thinking about them ethically and that the two media of language are beyond good and evil. This obviously puts you at variation with someone like Marshall McLuhan who talks about the medium in very ethical terms – “the microphone created Hitler” and so on.

J.D.: Mm… I think that there is an ideology in McLuhan’s discourse that I don’t agree with, because he’s an optimist as to the possibility of restoring an oral community which would get rid of the writing machines and so on. I think that’s a very traditional myth which goes back to… let’s say Plato, Rousseau… And instead of thinking that we are living at the end of writing, I think that in another sense we are living in the extension – the overwhelming extension – of writing. At least in the new sense… I don’t mean the alphabetic writing down, but in the new sense of those writing machines that we’re using now (e.g. the tape recorder). And this is writing too.

Siempre es interesante saber los referentes de estos grandes pensadores.

Ahora bien, entando al segundo post, debo recordar que Bryant tiene como referente el libro Laws of Media (1988, obra póstuma) de McLuhan. Yo he leído, como ya dije, Comprender los medios de comunicación. Las extensiones del ser humano (1964). No sé si las ideas claves hayan variado mucho, pero de hecho espero poder leer más libros de McLuhan. En todo caso, Bryant inicia el segundo post retomando el concepción de McLuhan de medio:

The first thing to note is just how weird McLuhan’s concept of media is. Ordinarily when we think of media– or, at least, when I think of media –we think of artifacts that are transmitted through various devices such as film, television, books, and radio. McLuhan thoroughly explodes the myopia of this conception of media. McLuhan’s famous thesis is that media are “extensions of man”. Anything that extends man is, according to McLuhan, a medium. Already we sense that what constitutes media is not whether a medium transmits content, but whether or not it extends man in some way or another.

Lo que le interesa a Bryant es la idea de como los objetos son medios en tanto extienden otros objetos y en tanto producen diferentes efectos en base a como se van relacionando (“coupling”). Este proyecto de pensar los medios desde la OOO ve en McLuhan un potencial muy importante. Y por eso parece afirmarse que, a pesar de que McLuhan habla de “las extensiones del ser humano“, ello no implica un antropocentrismo tradicional o simple. McLuhan, desde la perspectiva de Bryant, no da una verdadera o efectiva primacía (¿ontológica?) al ser humano.

On the one hand, insofar as couplings of the human and various mediums produce something new, there is no longer any single index to what the human is. At best we can speak of local manifestations of the human produced as a result of these couplings and the practices they render possible. Moreover, the “causality” here is not one way. It is not simply that media extend man, but ratherhumans often extend media.

Los objetos extienden al ser humano y ello hace difícil decir qué es, ya que se dan siempre cambios. Pero, al mismo tiempo, el ser humano extiende a los objetos (en Comprender los medios de comunicación se hablaba de “servir” a los medios. Cfr., Narcóticos híbridos). El ejemplo del “grass” que pone Bryant es sintomático al respecto.

If there’s some plausibility to the analysis in point three– and I confess there’s hyperbole here –there is no reason to suppose that media are extensions of man. Rather than being extensions of man media are extensions of any other object. What McLuhan thus offers is not a technique or method for analyzing media in the restricted sense, but a general ontology of translation or what takes place when objects couple with one another. Mediology, to use Vitale’s term, is the analysis of queer couplings and the effects they produce, regardless of whether or not humans are involved.

El diagnóstico final de Bryant sobre el potencial de McLuhan para nuestra época, y para el proyecto de una ontología orientada a objetos que estudie los medios, me entusiasma bastante:

Contemporary critical theory is divided, in broad strokes, between two schools of thought and practice. On the one hand, we have those variants of theory focused on content and the analysis of the semiotic. On the other hand, we have that school of theory that focuses on historico-material conditions such as the role played by new communications technologies, by writing, by the factory, etc. What McLuhan’s weird, promiscuous, conception of media offers is a way of thinking the ecology of these objects together. And here, above all, we encounter Bogost’s concept of the unit, where it becomes possible to think these media not simply as couplings of different objects, but as genuinely productive of new units or objects. For in the interplay of these queer couplings what we get are the emergence of new objects such that semiotic actors rebound back on the technologies that engender them, producing new units and pushing these units to overturn themselves becoming something else, and technologies and nonhuman actors generating unheard of social and semiotic units in the form of new forms of thought, new theory, new signs, new styles, new collective, and so on. Chinese rice production generates an entirely new form of human collective, as does Final Fantasy. This promiscuous and weird ecological ontology of weird couplings thus provides us with a new critical theory directed at composition rather than critique.


1. Laureano Ralon hace una entevista a Eric McLuhan.

1.1 Harman, Bryant y Bogost escriben al respecto.

2. Levi Bryant da su interpretación sobre la conocida tesis de McLuhan, “el medio es el mensaje”, en relación a su onticología y a la obra de Bogost Unit Operations:

This is one way of understanding McLuhan’s notorious aphorism that the medium is the message. What McLuhan wanted us to notice is not so much the content of media, what they express in their representational dimension, but rather how media affect new operations in users of media. We should look to the medium itself, says McLuhan, to understand the message. In a striking example in Laws of Media, McLuhan points out that few people would dowse a child in gasoline and light a match. However, many have no compunctions about pushing a button in an airplane to release incendiary devices on civilians doing exactly the same thing. The firebombing of Dresden depicted in harrowing detail by Kurt Vonnegut comes to mind. And this really is the point. Somehow this medium– the airplane, bombs, buttons, etc. –changes our way of relating to one another. These media afford new operations, new local manifestations (the act of the bomber), that didn’t before appear in the world. One way of understanding local manifestation is thus in terms of unit operations. What operations take place as a result of the deterritorialization of certain units and their reterritorialization on other units?