Light Through McLuhan

McLuhan suggests that 'the Eastern integrity of the interval' may be contrasted to 'the Western integrity of the object'.1

In fact he says that these attitudes denote two different cognitive processes, which he dubs 'making' and 'matching'.

He connects both to the Greek notion of mimesis, arguing that 'at least two ... versions of mimesis', i.e. the visual (matching) and the acoustic (making), have been described by philosophers in the Western tradition.2

'Most studies of mimesis ... proceed on the assumption of [mimesis as the] matching [of] inner and outer', McLuhan says, but 'E. H. Gombrich's Art and Illusion and Eric Havelock's Preface to Plato' are exceptions to this rule.3

As Havelock explains, 'Plato's choice of the word mimesis [in the Republic] to describe the poetic experience.... focuses initially not on the artist's creative act but on his power to make the audience identify almost pathologically ... with ... what he is saying'.4

'Aristotelian mimesis', meanwhile, says McLuhan, quoting from the Physics, Book II, Chapter VIII, and De Anima, Book III, Chapter VII, 'is a kind of recap of natural processes, whether of making sense via cognition or of making a house by following the lines of Nature'; McLuhan connects this with the Vichian concept of ricorso and James Joyce's 'millions of repetitions of the cognitive labyrinth'.5

Aristotle says in the Poetics that 'Imitation [mimesis] is natural to man from childhood, one of his advantages over the lower animals being this, that he is the most imitative creature in the world, and learns at first by imitation.'6

Gombrich, however, finds ambiguity in this definition.

Writing on the history of Greek art, Gombrich describes a 'gradual accumulation of corrections due to the observation of reality' so that 'making was replaced by the matching of reality through the new skill of mimesis [described by Aristotle]'.7

Gombrich comments that 'We mistake the character of this skill [of 'matching'] if we speak of the imitation of nature. Nature cannot be imitated or "transcribed" without first being taken apart and put together again.'8

The concept of 'making', meanwhile, while also found in Gombrich's book, is derived from Book X of Plato's Republic, where Plato contrasts 'making' - the 'making' of objects by our senses, which he compares to the making of a piece of furniture - to mimesis (imitation).

Gombrich presents 'a brief formula' that 'making comes before matching': 'Before the artist [or child] ever wanted to match the sights of the visible world he wanted to create things in their own right.'9

McLuhan elaborates these concepts - 'making' and 'matching' - to argue that they represent 'a polarity that is inherent in consciousness as such'.10