"The Centre is intended to supplement the present departments or their courses of instruction leading to degrees. It will foster a dialogue between the departments, the faculties, the Library and the Administration, in matters relating to cultural change resulting from technological innovation."
Marshall McLuhan (Draft Constitution, 1965)
“We become what we behold.” — Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 1994), 19
In Understanding Media, McLuhan diagnosed what he called the “Narcissus narcosis.” Narcissus’s name, he writes, “is from the Greek word narcosis, or numbness. The youth Narcissus mistook his own reflection in the water for another person. This extension of himself by mirror numbed his perceptions until he became the servomechanism of his own repeated image. The nymph Echo tried to win his love with fragments of his own speech, but in vain. He was numb. He had adapted to his extension of himself and had become a closed system.” As Narcissus misrecognized his own reflection as another, we misrecognize our extensions—our media, our technologies, our arts—as something other than ourselves, and thereby are numbed by them. For McLuhan, our technologies are indeed extensions of our selves. But this is a recursive relationship: “we become what we behold.” Our technologies are extensions of our selves; our selves are remade in the image of the technologies we use. In McLuhan’s scheme, every technology is a technology of the self.
The McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology will dedicate its programming in the 2022–23 academic year to investigating contemporary technologies of the self. A number of such technologies have seemed salient in recent years: the selfie and its revolutions in our practices of imaging and self-imaging; our constant presentations of self in everyday life online; the endless online avatars we create, from dating profiles to VR avatars to the advertising profiles platforms collect; the intimate biometric technologies of the “quantified self”; or, simply, the endlessly irritating rectangle in the Brady Bunch grid of a video call that shows us back to ourselves—that we hopefully have now mostly grown numb over the last two pandemic years.
Contemporary media technologies—especially but not only social media—do not cease to work on the self, making it sharable, marketable, valuable. Billions upon billions of dollars have been spent on making such online selves seem desirable, salutary, even necessary. But, as Jia Tolentino has written, “selfhood buckles under the weight of this commercial importance.” Something as small and tender as a self may not hold up to such pressure. Social media may be a paradigmatic technology of the self, but it may also be a technology that obliterates the self.
The programming for next year does not presume that McLuhan’s way of entering into these problems is still especially salient, nor even that it was particularly apt in its time. We welcome a very broad array of approaches, including those critical of or oppositional to McLuhan’s thought. That said, we do embrace the generality of the problem of technologies of the self, across many unanticipated or surprising domains.
Meanwhile, the generality of the problem of the contemporary technologized self does not mean that all selves are technologized in the same way, with the same technologies, to the same degree, with the same value, or by the same procedures. “Our Selfies, Our Selves” intimates that the crux of contemporary selfhood may lie in the familiar imaging genre of social media, but it does not stop there. More than anything else, this theme is dedicated to critical inquiry into the ways different selves and different kinds of selves are gathered together, dissipated, forced into being, shattered, unraveled, stabilized, valourized and monetized, lived through—in an age of an unprecedented technical and mediatic investment of the self.
Finally, we mean the playful reference to the classic feminist text, Our Bodies, Our Selves, as more than a mere reference. We take the problem of the self to be worked out most explicitly in theories, arts, and activism from those who are marginalized—women; queers; those who are trans, nonbinary, and/or gender-nonconforming; the disabled; migrants; people of colour; Black people; Indigenous people. For it is frequently those who are marginalized who must live with a self that structures of extraction and domination have made a problem.
The McLuhan Centre will host a number of programs dedicated to exploring the theme of Our Selfies, Our Selves. Programming includes:
an Artist-in-Residence, whose work substantially engages the question of the technologized self;
three Faculty Fellows, who will give public lectures offering critical accounts of technologies of the self;
three Graduate Fellows whose scholarly work engages in these questions;
six working groups with projects that touch on these questions;
and regular programming of Monday Night Seminars.
See below for open applications and check this page for more updates.
Artist in Residence
Our inaugural Artist in Residence will engage questions of the “technologized self” or “technologies of the self” in an exhibition of their work at the Coach House and will participate in the Centre's programming.
Applications close May 20, 2022.
This year we will be funding three graduate fellows whose scholarly work working on questions of contemporary or historical media and mediation, using humanistic or social scientific approaches.
Applications close May 31, 2022.
Internal Faculty Fellow
Our Internal Faculty Fellow (IFF) will join two External Faculty Fellows to conduct research, deliver a lecture and participate in programming that intersects with the annual theme and the work of the Artist in Residence.
Applications close May 31, 2022.
We are pleased to be funding six working groups who will carry out research under the annual theme and each organize one of the Centre's historic Monday Night Seminars.
Applications close June 15, 2022.