“…all I can say in this particular medium” by Mort Gerberg, published in ‘The New Yorker’, March 20, 1995, p. 66

The New Yorker: “Because I’ve already said all I can say in this particular medium.” by Mort Gerberg, March 20, 1995, p. 66. © Condé Nast.

From Mort Gerberg’s official website:

Mort Gerberg is a longtime cartoonist and author best known for his magazine cartoons in The New Yorker, Playboy and numerous other publications. He was voted as Best Magazine Cartoonist of 2007 and 2008 by the National Cartoonists Society, the international organization for professional cartoonists, and was a founding member and president of The Cartoonists Guild.

Gerberg has drawn several nationally-syndicated newspaper comic strips and has written, edited and/or illustrated 43 books for adults and children, including Cartooning: The Art and the Business, which has been the most respected instructional/reference work in the field for 28 years.

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Marshall McLuhan was a big fan of the fish and water metaphor when it came to explaining the relationship we have with our “electric information environment”: it is still useful, up to a certain degree, to illustrate the idea that media are not simply things, entities or institutions, but constitute instead a complex ecological environment in which we are immersed. The fish and water metaphor was used numerous times by McLuhan both in books and interviews. Here’s a short, non-exhaustive collection of such occurrences:

  • War and Peace in the Global Village by Marshall McLuhan, designed by Quentin Fiore, McGraw-Hill, 1968, p. 175:

    “[fish] have no anti-environment which would enable them to perceive the element they live in.”

  • Counterblast by Marshall McLuhan, designed by Harley Parker, Toronto: McClelland and Steward, 1969, p. 5:

    We live invested in an electric information environment that is quite as imperceptible to us as water is to fish.

  • “Education in the Electronic Age”, Interchange, Vol. 1, No. 4, 1970, p. 2 (PDF)

    The actual environment itself has the power of invisibility and of non-perceptibility. People never recognize their environment; that is why in business they have discovered in recent years they have to call people from outside, in order to see what the business is. Businessmen do not know what business they are in and never have known. You know there is an old saying (not so very old) : “We don’t know who discovered water, but we are sure it wasn’t a fish.” That is literally true. It is inconceivable that a fish could discover water or that anybody could discover anything that was totally surrounding his senses. That is the one thing you will never know.

  • “Interview with Marshall McLuhan”, L’Express, February 1972. Republished in e-compos, Vol. 14, No. 3, 2011.

    The ignorance zone is the environment, the zone in which you get immersed in the environment, like in the case of a fish in the water: water is what it is completely ignorant about.

  • “The Argument: Causality in the Electric World” by Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt, Technology and Culture, Vol. 14, No. 1, Jan. 1973, p. 1.

    Old ground rules and human perceptions are being transformed by this new resonant surround where nothing is stable but change itself. But like water to a fish, the environment we live in remains hidden. Only children and artists see “the emperor’s new clothes.”

[UPDATE–January 3, 2014] For a more thorough inquiry about the fish-didn’t-discover-water metaphor, see the Quote Investigator: “We Don’t Know Who Discovered Water, But We Know It Wasn’t a Fish”, December 23, 2013.

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