Monday, July 9, 2018

Art as Prophetic: Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan

Considering how the direction of some Western nations seem to be questioning the role of a liberal democracy (i.e., a nation founded upon individual rights), I wondered about the role of artist as a prophet rather than as only working as a poet.  A couple of thinkers from the past, Walter Benjamin and Marshall McLuhan, came to mind.  The quotations here are courtesy of

Walter Benjamin, 1892-1940

“It is well known that art will often – for example, in pictures – precede the perceptible reality by years,” wrote the philosopher Walter Benjamin in the 1930s. “It was possible to see streets or rooms (in paintings) that show all sorts of fiery colors long before technology, by means of illuminated signs and other arrangements, actually set them under such a light. Whoever understands how to read these semaphores in advance not only knows about currents in the arts but also about legal codes, wars and revolutions.”

Marshall McLuhan, 1911-1980

Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan offered a different metaphor with a similar point. “I think of art, at its most significant, as a DEW line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it,” he wrote in the sixties.

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