All of us, throughout our lives, belong to multiple corporate entities: the mother, the family, the community, the city, the nation, the empire, the world, the church, the faith. Usually we are already incorporated into these entities without our consent, although some we must choose to enter. As we grow, we may gain the ability to incorporate others—as mothers, or as heads of families, or as leaders in business or politics—but at no point can we claim autonomy.
The powers that hold these corporate entities together vary, and may include blood, race, geography, familiarity, or religious conviction, but they always depend upon and exercise their influence through forms of media, broadly conceived. Marshall McLuhan conceived of media as “extensions of man,” and we may expand upon this idea by conceiving of media as extensions of man that make possible the formation of corporate entities, or Persons made of persons. The development of electronic media has created a Global Village (to borrow McLuhan’s term) consisting not of individuals but of corporate multimedia entities, and the continuing expansion and refinement of electronic media will ultimately result in the development of the Global Person, in and through which all of humanity may be united as a corporate whole.
McLuhan did not use the term Global Person, but he certainly spoke of such an entity, as in this comment from his famous 1969 Playboy interview: “Psychic communal integration, made possible at last by the electronic media, could create the universality of consciousness foreseen by Dante when he predicted that men would continue as no more than broken fragments until they were unified into an inclusive consciousness” (262). Here, McLuhan seems to be speaking not of an interconnected Global Village but of the soul of a Global Person. As McLuhan’s reference to Dante suggests, this idea of a universal “inclusive consciousness” has little to do with New Age globalism. Indeed, McLuhan continues with reference to another historical precedent: “In a Christian sense, this [“Psychic communal integration”] is merely a new interpretation of the mystical body of Christ; and Christ, after all, is the ultimate extension of man.” The distinctly (though perhaps not exclusively) Catholic concept of the Mystical Body of Christ, which McLuhan as a devout Catholic convert would have known well, should be of great significance to any Catholic thinker grappling with the spiritual implications of the new media. Although McLuhan was speaking, as he always did in public, from a self-consciously non-moral and non-religious perspective, his reference to the Mystical Body of Christ points to the possibility of a Catholic cultural criticism that would address the powerfully incorporative nature of electronic media.
To be continued in “Mystical bodies Part 2 – The Mystical Body of Christ and the mystical body of anti-Christ”
For anyone who has doubts regarding the influence of Catholicism on McLuhan, see my earlier post on McLuhan as a Right Thinker or Read Mercer Schuchardt’s excellent article “The Medium is the Messiah: McLuhan’s Religion and its Relationship to His Media Theory” in the online journal Second Nature (April 1, 2013).
McLuhan, Marshall. “Playboy Interview – A candid conversation with the high priest of popcult and metaphysician of media.” Rpt. From Playboy (March 1969). Essential McLuhan. Eds. Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone. Concord, Ontario: Anansi, 1995. 233-69.