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Backwards Up Niagara Falls: Space/Time, Image/Text and the Biases of Information
Unformatted Document Text:  25 relationship to space and time, historically – as part of the longue durée in which media systems and social formations emerge, expand and decline. The ‘materialist’ Innis provides us with a benchmark ‘grand narrative’ of human communication, one relatively free of the evolutionary or teleological determinism that underpins other grand narratives, and against which we can situate more local studies. It is worth repeating the central thesis of that narrative: that throughout human history communication media have been fundamental to the determination of the spatial and temporal dynamics that structure social organization, the characteristics of human knowledge, and the representational modes at the core of cultural experience. And that such ‘determination’ is not essential or absolute, but a historically contingent and dialectical affair, inviting and necessitating political, social and cultural counter-biases. The determination of historical dynamics by communication media is thus, according to Innis, necessarily open to alteration and remedy – no less in the age of information than in any other. Notes 1 This paper emerged from a presentation given at the 9 th Biennial Conference of the Israel Association for Canadian Studies, held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in July 2002, which focused, among other things, on the ‘Toronto School’ of communication theory. I would like to thank the organizers and participants for their comments and contributions, and particularly Menachem Blondheim for his advice and encouragement. 2 I’m overlooking here Judith Stamp’s marvellous book (1995) since she does not deal extensively with the question of new media. Her work - an attempt to read Innis and McLuhan as critics of modernity and counterparts of Adorno and Benjamin - is one of the most sophisticated and impressive recent commentaries on Innis. This article is necessarily

Authors: Frosh, Paul.
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relationship to space and time, historically – as part of the longue durée in which media
systems and social formations emerge, expand and decline. The ‘materialist’ Innis provides us
with a benchmark ‘grand narrative’ of human communication, one relatively free of the
evolutionary or teleological determinism that underpins other grand narratives, and against
which we can situate more local studies. It is worth repeating the central thesis of that
narrative: that throughout human history communication media have been fundamental to the
determination of the spatial and temporal dynamics that structure social organization, the
characteristics of human knowledge, and the representational modes at the core of cultural
experience. And that such ‘determination’ is not essential or absolute, but a historically
contingent and dialectical affair, inviting and necessitating political, social and cultural
counter-biases. The determination of historical dynamics by communication media is thus,
according to Innis, necessarily open to alteration and remedy – no less in the age of
information than in any other.
Notes
1
This paper emerged from a presentation given at the 9
th
Biennial Conference of the Israel
Association for Canadian Studies, held at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in July 2002,
which focused, among other things, on the ‘Toronto School’ of communication theory. I
would like to thank the organizers and participants for their comments and contributions, and
particularly Menachem Blondheim for his advice and encouragement.
2
I’m overlooking here Judith Stamp’s marvellous book (1995) since she does not deal
extensively with the question of new media. Her work - an attempt to read Innis and
McLuhan as critics of modernity and counterparts of Adorno and Benjamin - is one of the
most sophisticated and impressive recent commentaries on Innis. This article is necessarily


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