Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 7

Luke Murphy Paper #3 4/30/2012 Finding Marx and McLuhan in The Piano The Piano is a fascinating film which

tells a story of love and discontent amidst the colonial settling of New Zealand. If we view this film through the lens of Marshall McLuhan and simultaneously apply Marxist methodologies to studying society, we can get a deeper understanding of the film and contextualize it in a way that can elucidate a deeper understanding of the cultural processes that are depicted within the film. By doing so, we can see how two different cultures, which developed along two very different lines, came to clash. We can also see along what lines they were able to connect and merge. By applying this tandem contextualization, we can understand the social processes of cultures and the individuals which reside and operate accordingly. Marshall McLuhan was a communications analyst and as a philosopher of information technology. In his work, he has focused the practice western deconstruction, applying it to the technologies of communication of Western Civilization. In his one of his best known books, The Gutenberg Galaxy, McLuhan shows that the style and medium of communication appeals to the senses of the receiver of any given message. He furthers his argument by showing that the method in which a message appeals to the senses can transforms our understanding of the information that is sent. This transformation in understanding develops how we perceive, define, and interact within our environment. In a way, McLuhan is similar to Karl Marx and by looking at Marxs methodologies, we can get a better understanding of McLuhans ideas. Marx, in the Grundrisse, describes how

production is simultaneously consumption. He gives the example of a person eating food and simultaneously producing his body. This he calls productive consumption (Marx 1973, 90). Communities, industries, individuals, and any productive agent can be viewed in this way. He further elaborates this dialectic by adding the idea that distribution is the materialized shape of production, and ipso facto also consumption, within a given community. He then adds a fourth ingredient into this mix, which is exchange. Marx positions exchange as the interaction that occurs within the distribution, which allows production to be equal to consumption (Marx 1973, 94-99). For Marx, this dialectic is a one of the primordial universal laws, upon which his theories are built. Marx also elaborates, in Das Kapital, another manifestation of his dialectical method is the how he interprets and adapts Darwinian theory evolution. Darwin has interested us in the history of Natures Technology, i.e., in the formation of the organs of plants and animals, which organs serve as instruments of production for sustaining life. Does not the history of the productive organs of man, of organs that are the material basis of all social organisation, deserve equal attention?... Technology discloses mans mode of dealing with Nature, the process of production by which he sustains his life, and thereby also lays bare the mode of formation of his social relations, and of the mental conceptions that flow from them. (Marx 1906, 406) So in a way Marx begins to increase the complexity of his dialectic, by showing that production, and therefore consumption, distribution, and exchange, organically evolve with technology, social relations, mans relationship with nature, and mans mental conceptions. This is where, the Marx and McLuhan meet, they both see how technology affects social relations, and consequently these social relations affect mental conceptions. Also, in this thinking, they

both share a tendency to reject linear modes of thinking and causality. In The Piano, the movie starts out with our main character, Ada McGrath, who states, through an external monologue, that although she mute, she does not consider herself silent, because she has her piano through which she expresses herself. Already, we are presented with social relationships, which characterized by her silence. We also have the technological component vis-a-vis her piano. Then there is the mental conception, which functions with her relationship technology and her social relations, because she state in the introductory monologue that the voice speaking is the voice in her head. She mainly functions in what McLuhan calls the culture of the ear, although she is living in the visual culture of Western Europe. This will prove problematic as we progress along Marxs evolutionary track. "Rural Africans (in our case the Maori) live largely in a world of sounda world loaded with direct personal significance for the hearerwhereas the Western European lives much more in a visual world which is on the whole indifferent to him. Since the ear world is a hot hyperesthetic world and the eye world is relatively a cool, neutral world, the Westerner appears to people of ear culture to be a very cold fish indeed. (McLuhan 19) When we analyze her plan of survival, we can see that she is going to sustain herself through a marriage contract to Alisdair Stewart, a colonial pioneer on the island of New Zealand. Stewart is a most definitely in the world of the eye and there are many clues that we can point to as proof. First, we see Stewart stop the party of Maori that he has hired, in order to adjust his hair, completely concerned with his visual aesthetics. Once they arrive on the beach, Stewart immediately says that she is much smaller than he expected. His immediate interest is in her visual aesthetics.

We also learn that the only way through which Ada will directly communicate with Stewart is through the written word. For McLuhan, the phonetic alphabet is especially important, because it takes audible language and translates it to a visual media. This technology, the phonetic alphabet, gives a greater emphasis to the eye, thus the visual world, and obscures all other sense modes. McLuhan argues that the phonetic alphabet has dramatically manipulated the way the man of western civilization sees the world. (McLuhan 23) It is as if Stewart can only read Ada. It is as though she has never arrived, and they are still communicating through letters. Stewart, completely indoctrinated in the culture of the eye, which has arisen from the technology of the phonetic alphabet. Stewart is completely incapable of sensing Ada, in any other way but through this cultural framework. Juxtaposed against the colonial and literate Stewart, we have the illiterate George Baines, who has more easily taken to the Maori way of life. Baines is firmly entrenched within the oral culture of the ear. When we see Ada playing the piano on the beach, we become acutely aware of Baines affinity for music. It becomes the centerpiece of their relationship. Baines can hear Ada express herself through the piano in a way Stewart cannot. We can realize the through baines what McLuhan means by hot media. Not only does Baines truly hear the music, but he enjoys seeing the music made. This is a multi-sensory experience, which includes both the eye and the ear, eventually escalating to his sense of smell when he smells her jacket. This also includes his sense of touch when he begins to touch her. One could even argue that his enjoyment includes taste. We see this in the scene in which we find Stewart spying on the oral sexual encounter between Ada and Baines. Also, the movie gives clues as to the culture in which Baines operates. First, Baines is bilingual giving him greater mobility within the social field. Also, we learn that Baines is not

literate. He is untouched by the print media bias that isolates the eye as the sole sensory organ. This absence of this technology has allowed Baines to adapt to life in New Zealand along different lines. His social relations to the Maori are completely different because of this absence of technology. His mental conceptions as well. We see a scene which shows Baines mediating a trade between Stewart and the Maori, and afterwards, Stewart questions, What do they want the land for. They dont cultivate it. They dont burn it back, nothing. I, mean, how do they even know that it's theirs. At this, Baines takes pause. For Stewart, ownership means physically altering the land, so that it is visually different. We even see this later when he physically alters Ada. For the Maori, the land was the reliquary of their ancestors, a land rich with stories of the past. Communication for the oral culture is a complete sensory experience. This event even shows us how the Maori and Baines have a completely different relationship to nature, than that of Stewart. This scene is a very important scene, because it also marks a definite split between the oral culture and the visual culture, regarding their modes of production, consumption, distribution, and exchange. Stewart fails to trade with the Maori because he does not have the multiple sensory perspective that is required to truly understand the values which are embedded within the Maoris land. Stewart simply cannot grasp it. Sense there is no understanding of value, the exchange that Stewart offers falls flat when he grossly undervalues their property. Both cultures are using the land to produce different things, and therefore consume different things. For Stewart, land is simply a vulgar commodity, for Baines and the Maori it is a multi-sensory communication device, or an oral story. Also, we can see how production and consumption is conceived of differently in the production of the play, which the Europeans put on for their Maori guests. A basic aspect of any

literate audience is its profound acceptance of a passive consumer role in the presence of book or film. But an African audience (Maori audience) had had no training in the private and silent following of a narrative process...They like to participate... (McLuhan 38) As McLuhan points out, this is probably due to the educational process of oral culture, which is heavily centered around roleplaying. When we look toward the end of the film, we see Ada, who had kept her distance from the Maori culture, finally take the plunge so to speak, into the multi-sensory, hot environment of the oral culture of the ear. In a way, the piano opened up a line of communication which allowed her access to the oral culture, and by throwing herself overboard, she actively participates in a complete multi-sensory experience. We see her finally saved and surrounded by the Maori. She had to give up her dependence upon her communicative technology in order to fully transition into a world that was constructed upon completely different social relations, mental conceptions, and relations to nature. At the very end of the film, we see her with a metal finger, her new technology, which makes a clicking sound against her new piano. Her mental conceptions have shifted away from the individualistic expression afforded by the piano, to a more wholistic existence. Now when she expresses herself in her social relationships, it is not in an attempt at a linear line of communication between individuals, but is a participatory activity within an expressive community. In her imaginative flashback, we see she that she has a place in the natural landscape and her community, her relation to that place in nature is her part of a greater story.

Works Cited Marx, Karl. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr and, 1906. Print.

Marx, Karl. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973. Print. McLuhan, Marshall. The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of the Typographic Man. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. 1962. Print.