Negative Dialogues: A Study of Harold Innis and Marshall Mcluhan in the Light of the Negative Dialectics of Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin

Dissertation, University of Toronto (Canada) (1991)

Abstract
This thesis offers an interpretation of the communications studies of Harold Innis and Marshall McLuhan as a distinctive materialist reading of theoretical concerns similar to those explored by two Frankfurt school theorists, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin. It argues that, although the Canadian and European schools represent philosophical traditions that appear difficult to reconcile, they can be understood as having developed, in response to the positivist traditions they both sought to resist, comparable variants of an epistemology that Adorno termed "negative dialectics", viz., a way of defining objectivity that supersedes the dichotomy of positivism and scepticism. It also argues that Innis' and McLuhan's work remains significant because it fits into a broad, philosophically aware view of communication and consciousness as simultaneous elements of human productivity, and shows how that productivity, as developed in the West, underpins western reason. ;Chapter 1 situates all four theorists in the context of critical literatures on modernity and traces the development of a new epistemology based on the dynamic qualities of dialogue. It then links the two schools thematically by broadening the category of dialectic to include dialogue. It argues that both sets of theorists were concerned with retrieving from that concept, negative elements such as non-determinism and ambiguity, elements long suppressed in western thought. Chapter 2 traces early influences on Innis' thinking, explores his political economy, and shows his early attempts to define a negative dialectic. Chapter 3 explores Innis' communications works. It portrays his concepts of space and time, and his studies of communicative forms of theoretical tools for the study of consciousness. Chapter 4 traces early influences on McLuhan's thought; it presents his philosophical framework as an historicised version of Thomism. It ends by comparing McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride with Innis' work on the press, and Adorno's and Benjamin's critiques of the culture industry. Chapter 5 focuses on McLuhan's early communications studies, specifically, The Gutenberg Galaxy, and argues that a sharp distinction needs to be made between the early historical writings and later ones, which became progressively more static. Chapter 6 attempts a dialogue between all four theorists on the subject of oral communication. It argues that each school has developed a distinctive bias, and that each would benefit from being read, in the spirit of negative dialectics, in the light of the other
Keywords McLuhan, Marshall   Innis, Harold Adams   Adorno, Theodor W   Benjamin, Walter   Communication   Critical theory   Philosophy, Modern
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ISBN(s) 0315692472
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