. Abstract
. Mcluhan's literary formation
. Beyond the traditional account of metaphor
. Moving environments
. Bibliography

Moving environments

In the Introduction to the Second Edition of Understanding Media, McLuhan affirms that his chapter regarding the 'cool' and 'hot' confused many readers unable to recognize the 'very large structural changes in human outlook' that were then happening (1964: viii). According to him, slang would offer immediate indications of changes in perception. Thus, when using the slang 'cool' and 'hot' to refer to specific types of media, McLuhan would be focusing wide changes happened in human perceptions and habits, which are reflected in language. His procedure seems to be in syntony with the one that will be adopted latter by Lakoff & Johnson, for they also sustain that we can discover metaphorical schemas that structure our thoughts and our actions, paying attention to the ordinary language. In McLuhan's conception, 'hot' and 'cool' seem to be no necessary definitions, but quite flexible heuristic tools, through which we could investigate the media as agents transforming environments. According to him, the hot technologies, such as books, create an environment were men act in a specialized and detached way. The cool technologies, such as TV, create an environment of deep participation.

The panorama, the reality, the atmosphere in which man acts are approached by McLuhan as things that change: 'environments are not passive wrappings but active processes' arising from different technologies (1964: viii). As he says in the beginning of the chapter The Medium is the Message, 'the personal and social consequences of any medium - that is, of any extension of us - result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves, or by any new technology' (1964: 23). The change in scale would be the result of the metaphorical action of the media, that is, the medium gives something of its own nature to the other things that he presents us, remodeling them. He gives two interrelated examples:

The railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheel or road into human society, but it accelerated and enlarged the scale of previous human functions, creating totally new kinds of cities and new kinds of work and leisure. This happened whether the railway functioned in a tropical or a northern environment, and is quite independent of the freight or content of the railway medium. The airplane, on the other hand, by accelerating the rate of transportation, tends to dissolve the railway form of city, politics, and association, quite independently of what the airplane is used for (1964: 24).

Examples like these are more solid counterparts of some witty passages in Understanding Media. For instance, McLuhan reproduces the following statement of General David Sarnoff (the pioneer of the American radio broadcasting): 'The products of modern science are not in themselves good or bad; it is the way they are used that determines their value' (McLuhan 1964: 26). And ironically puts against it this other one made by himself: 'Apple pie is in itself neither good nor bad; it is the way it is used that determines its value' (1964: 26). What seams comic maybe is in fact more serious. According to McLuhan, the most important considerations we can make in respect to the media is not about their content or application, but about the total changes they break out, because 'any technology could do anything but add itself on to what we already are' (1964: 26-27).

Later (in the chapter The Gadget Lover/ Narcissus as Narcosis) he would talk strangely about 'amputations', considering, as an example, wheel as an amputation of foot. Paradoxically, of course, it is an amputation in which the part to be extracted remains, being connected to what prolongs it. In this manner, amputation do not means that the part was annihilated, but that it was absorbed, reconfigured in a new atmosphere, in relation to which its old functions are completely outdated. At the same time that the new media opens new possibilities, it closes others. Thus, 'amputation' seems to refer to that simultaneous process of illumination and occultation that metaphors establish in a certain sense - a process that, according to McLuhan, would happen equally in the level of action of the media and the technologies. As certain metaphors become ingrained, the direction that they impress to things become taken as literal.

McLuhan goes so far as to consider our senses also a metaphorical media: 'our normal vision is upside down. Psychically we learn to turn our visual world right side up by translating the retinal impression from visual into tactile and kinetic terms. Right side up is apparently something we feel but cannot see directly' (1964: 172). This quotation reminds us the analysis that Richards does of the metaphor 'giddy brink'. According to McLuhan, to the student of media, 'the fact that normal right-side-up is a translation from one sense into another is a helpful hint about the kinds of activity of distortion and translation that any language or culture induces in all of us' (1964: 172).

In general terms, for McLuhan, to know is a process that engages the subject as a whole. It is a process that is in itself as important as the obtaining and the stock of information. In this way, he says 'our ability to apprehend galaxies and subatomic structures, as well, is a movement of our faculties that includes and transcends them' (1964: 46). To finish, we have to acknowledge that the work of McLuhan, his investigation of the action of the media as dynamics promoters of atmospheres, is also itself a dynamic process. According to Gordon, the wealth of information of Understanding Media challenges any summary: in face of the overload of information the mind would have to go through a method of 'patterns recognition' to understand the book. As well as Richards in its investigations, McLuhan uses 'probes', 'spiral drills' that 'perforate the numb crust of our perceptions' aiming to agitate and to shake, instead of wanting to reach, in a lineal activity, a definitive subject (Gordon 1997: 302).