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Rainer Leschke (Siegen) Giedion and Explorations: Transatlantic Influences on the Toronto School

McLuhan’s concern with an economy of the senses is well known, as is his emphasis on their relation to mediatic forms and transitions. It follows that it should not be difficult to combine McLuhan’s notion of a sensory economy together with an analysis of a media-system’s functions –and in principle at least, to found a science of media (Medienwissenschaft) on that basis. But such an undertaking has yet to be ventured, and the potentially fertile ground presented by the senses remains conspicuously fallow. This paper explores why this is the case, and considers what might be gained or lost through different approaches to McLuhan’s work and to media studies themselves.
German media studies have at their origins the retrieval of mediality and technology that was forgotten in cultural scholarship (Kulturwissenschaften). But whereas such a retrieval is currently enacted in media studies through a mélange of scientific metaphors and borrowed Heideggerian profundity, an equally substantial forgetting of the senses has itself fallen into forgetfulness. And it is this lacuna that media studies, however configured, needs to address. 
McLuhan’s work in this connection, however, is less helpful than it is ambivalent or aporetic. On the one hand, McLuhan outlines a tightly circumscribed dynamic of sensory intensities regulated through mediatic forces, and on the other, he celebrates the variegated adventures of a nearly universal concept of mediality. The former is characterized by a relentlessly normalized and normalizing bipolarity or multistability, whereas the latter takes the form of the exploits of a figure larger than life, in which the stakes are never anything less than earth shattering.
Given these two divergent possibilities –of the logic of the senses or the drama of media history-- the choice of German media studies is not surprising: Only a more colourful and readily interpretable mediatic technics was seen as compatible with cultural scholarship. The obscurity of the senses, roughly shaded as they are in McLuhan’s work, did not hold out same promise for interpretive expropriation. Media technology is conjoined with cultural scholarship under a singular disciplinary imperative –that of interpretive appropriation. And so we have, as long as we have undertaken media studies in German-speaking Europe, been interpreting technology. In contradistinction, the second possibility, that other disciplinary configuration adumbrated by McLuhan in the space between aesthetics and technology, is still relegated to academic silence, or left (as McLuhan would have it) to the flashes of insight provided by the artist-as-hero. But despite itself, German media studies finds itself revisiting its choice between a sensory economics and mediatic narratives. And since technohermeneutics has recently been declared dead, the logic of the senses, however conceived, is now having its last stand.