Spatial Metaphor in the Work of Marshall McLuhan by Gordon Gow

On the one hand, as Theall has suggested, metaphor is the medium through which McLuhan strikes a responsive chord with his readership - it serves as a rhetorical, pseudo-synectic device to inspire reader participation. On the other hand, metaphor is also a message in the work of Marshall McLuhan. Inspired by the views of Cambridge luminary I. A. Richards, McLuhan identified metaphor as a basic operating principle of communication technology: "All media," he proclaimed, "are active metaphors in their power to translate experience into new form" (McLuhan, 1964b, p. 64).3 "The spoken word," for instance, wrote McLuhan, "was the first technology by which man was able to let go of his environment in order to grasp it in a new way" (p. 64). McLuhan believed that the spoken word in effect performs a metaphorical operation by translating sensation into utterance. Most significantly, however, he suggested that the formal properties of speech not only package and deliver experience but necessarily transform that experience in the process. Hence his notion that we let go of environment in order to grasp it in a new way - speech transforms consciousness and our way of getting at the world. According to McLuhan, it is this translation process that makes media "active metaphors" and that engenders new modes of awareness in mind and, eventually, in culture.