McLuhan Galaxy

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A repository of McLuhan-related news, conferences, events, books, articles, links & general information.
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The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein & the Discourse of Technology

Mon, 06/18/2018 - 7:58pm

What do Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, media theorist Marshall McLuhan and Canadian popular culture have in common? This is the question that Mark A. McCutcheon seeks to answer in his new book, The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein and the Discourse of Technology, published in 2018 by Athabasca University Press. In this unique and penetrating analysis, McCutcheon argues that Shelley’s 1818 novel essentially reinvented the word “technology” for the modern age, establishing its connections with ominous notions of man-made monstrosity. In the twentieth century, this monstrous, Frankensteinian conception of technology was globalized and popularized largely through Marshall McLuhan’s media theory and its numerous, diverse adaptations in Canadian popular culture. The Medium is the Monster establishes Frankenstein, and its various adaptations, as the originating intertext for a modern conceptualisation of technology that has manifested with a unique potency in Canadian pop culture, informing works as disparate as David Cronenberg’s Videodrome, William Gibson’s Neuromancer, the fiction of Margaret Atwood, and even electronic dance music. Furthermore, McCutcheon undertakes an incisive of analysis of how Frankensteinian constructions of technology have shaped real-world discussions of science and industry, an intertextual discourse which he sees as most powerfully encapsulated in the rhetoric associated with the Alberta tar sands industry.

Over the course of the interview, McCutcheon provides some fascinating insights into changing cultural attitudes towards technology, the influence of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, the novel’s relationship to McLuhan’s media theory, and the surprising scope of Shelley’s cultural impact. (Source:

About the Author

Mark A. McCutcheon is professor of literary studies at Athabasca University. His scholarly publications include articles on such subjects as Canadian popular culture, Frankenstein adaptations, and copyright policy in English Studies in CanadaDigital Studies/Le champ numériqueContinuum, and Popular Music, among other scholarly journals and books. Mark has also published poetry and short fiction in literary magazines like EVENTExistereCarousel, and subTerrain. Originally from Toronto, Mark lives in Edmonton. His scholarly blog is

 First Ed. 1818

From Mark McCutcheon’s Review of the Study

The year 2018 marks the 200th anniversary of the first edition of Mary Shelley’s gothic horror novel, Frankenstein. In the two centuries since its appearance, the book has taken on the mantle of a cultural touchstone, having been adapted, referenced, recapitulated, and retold in an apparently endless succession of books, movies, graphic novels, and other media. Itself loosely based on the Prometheus and Pygmalion myths, Shelley’s novel has become one of the most influential books in the western canon.

It is also a volume capacious enough to encompass a dizzying array of interpretive approaches. The text has been seen variously as a warning about humanity’s hubris in attempting to play God, a cautionary tale about the limits of scientific knowledge, and an early meditation on the nature of technology and industrialization. Literary critic Wendy Steiner writes that Shelley “was clearly horrified by the cold, overreaching adventurism of science, industrialism, colonization. Even art was not immune from dehumanization. … Frankenstein’s monster is a symbol of art as inhumane manufacture.”

Athabasca University professor of literary studies Mark A. McCutcheon extends this investigation – not altogether convincingly – in his new volume, which posits a kind of Venn diagram of influence among Shelley’s novel, the writing of media critic Marshall McLuhan, and Canadian pop culture, most especially in the realm of science fiction movies and literature………..

But his investigation of McLuhan’s influence on postmodernism and our current technology-besotted society is vigorous and provocative. It is also interesting to note the similarities between McLuhan and a current Canadian academic currently making waves in the popular culture. McCutcheon cites W. Terrence Gordon, who suggested that McLuhan was interrogating “the feminization of the North American male” in The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. When McCutcheon later refers to McLuhan’s “cult of personality as a maverick academic” and his status as a “theoretical guru,” it’s almost impossible not to make a comparison with Jordan Peterson. (Read the entire review at

Categories: Blog

Eric McLuhan’s Last Lecture: The Context & Event Described by His Son, Andrew McLuhan

Thu, 06/07/2018 - 1:41pm

Eric McLuhan at the18th Annual Convention, St. Mary’s College of California, Moraga, CA June 22–25, 2017
On Eric McLuhan’s ‘Media Ecology in the 21st Century’

By Andrew McLuhan

[Eric McLuhan’s last speech, ‘Media Ecology in the 21st Century,’ was delivered at El Nogal in Bogotá, Colombia, on May 17th, 2018. He died, suddenly, the following afternoon. The following remarks were written to introduce that speech when it’s published along with the speeches which Lance Strate and Sergio Roncallo-Dow gave that evening.]

ME21 — Introduction

Asked to travel to Bogotá, Colombia, to give an opening address at the Universidad de la Sabana’s launch of their doctorate program in communication, Eric McLuhan used the opportunity to make some comments regarding what he felt needed immediate (and overdue) attention in the area of media ecology, and to offer some advice to people wading into that field of study. He felt that those just starting out, especially as they are in Colombia, removed from what now constitutes a tradition in North America, have a great opportunity to make a fresh start; to avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes; to begin again.

Eric McLuhan was there when the idea of media ecology was born. Indeed, he maintained that he came up with the term while in New York City in 1967–68 helping his father Marshall McLuhan as he taught at Fordham, and that Neil Postman “ran with it.”

In the McLuhan school of media ecology, it is not simply an area of study, but an area of action, and this is what Eric wanted to get across in his speech. We have to be more than observers, we have to be agents of change. It’s been more than 50 years. Enough talk, time to act.

This activist stance, taken seriously — as it is meant to be taken — is not popular. It’s radical. It requires great changes in various cultures’ attitudes and habits, and it means a significant reduction of profits for technology companies and their shareholders. That is some of what we’re up against.

In a letter dated May 6, 1969, Marshall McLuhan wrote to Jacques Maritain:

“There is a deep-seated repugnance in the human breast against understanding the processes in which we are involved. Such understanding involves far too much responsibility for our actions. … Since we are doing these things to ourselves, there is no earthly reason for submitting to them unconsciously or irrationally.”[1]

My father was becoming bold in his statements. A devout and life-long Catholic, he was more willing to speak in public about his faith, especially as it related to his work. He had, in the last year or two since the publication of The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia and the Soul (BPS Books, 2015) spoken publicly a few times about his ideas for a ‘Catholic theory of communication,’ particularly when we traveled to Saskatoon where he gave the Keenan lecture at St. Thomas More College, University of Saskatoon, in November 2017.[2]

I had been traveling with my father for the last ten years or so. Because of his at-times fragile health, he needed someone with him who could assist in an emergency. It was during these trips that I began to get interested in ‘the family business,’ as it were. Hearing him talk, and in our own conversations during travel, I began to get an understanding of what it was all about. Understanding is addictive. My interest was cemented when I spent almost two years documenting and inventorying Marshall McLuhan’s personal library prior to its relocation to the Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto.[3]

Because of Eric’s advancing age and increasing difficulty with travel — he was 76 years old, and I had started to wheel him through airports in a wheelchair because he couldn’t walk very long distances — we had decided he would retire from traveling to speak in 2018. We had already committed to two engagements this year, Colombia and Germany[4], and decided to keep them.

In the tragedy and shock of my father’s death On Friday, May 18th while we were in Colombia, there was a surprising amount of beauty.

As Marshall tended to teach at Catholic institutions, so my father seemed to get invited to speak at Catholic institutions. Our last three trips were to St. Mary’s College in California (Keynote address to the Media Ecology Association’s annual conference), St. Thomas More College in Saskatoon (The 29th Michael Keenan Memorial Lecture), and La Universidad de la Sabana in Chia just outside of Bogotá, Colombia.

Eric took the opportunity to pray in the university’s two chapels and had been remarking on an abundance of roses, a sign he related to St. Theresa de Lisieux, who he had a particular fondness for.

It is a comfort to his family that Eric died while in the bosom of his faith; practising it with his characteristic devotion, feeling its real presence around him.

It is fitting that his last public address would be about looking forward to media ecology in the 21st century, entreating us to be bold, have courage, blaze new trails.

He went out with style and grace.

I will miss his presence, his wit, his obsession with all forms of puns, his humour. I will miss his instruction, his patience in answering my every question with their often-obvious answers. The world is poorer for the loss of his knowledge and skill. I will wish I paid closer attention. I will have to be content with what I was able to learn, and trust that it prepared me to go forward. I will treasure it all as well, and I am glad he left behind much on the record, for us all.

‘Media Ecology in the 21st Century’ is more than a wonderful speech; it is a map, a way forward.

The short and emotionally charged conclusion to the speech was written by hand while Eric waited to go on stage. He urges us to be bold, dares us to be radical, fortifies us with courage.

Let’s go — there’s little time to waste.

Andrew McLuhan
June 2, 2018.

[1] The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, edited by Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek (Stoddart, 1999).

[2] Eric McLuhan’s lecture ‘Catholicism and Communication: The Sensus Communis, Synesthesia and the Soul’ was recorded and is available on The McLuhan Institute’s YouTube channel.

[3] Marshall McLuhan’s library has recently been added to UNESCO’s Memory of the World registry.

[4] Our last trip together was to be in Germany this November (2018) at the Munster School of Design. A conference loosely organized around the 30th anniversary of the publication of Laws of Media: The New Science.


Marshall McLuhan & Young Eric McLuhan
Categories: Blog

2018 transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture by Megan Boler, Berlin

Tue, 05/29/2018 - 11:41am

transmediale Marshall McLuhan LectureFaisal Devji (left) in conversation with Megan Boler (right) at the 2018 Marshall McLuhan Lecture in Berlin

transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture by Megan Boler

30.01.2018, 18:30 at the Embassy of Canada, Berlin

The 10th-anniversary edition of the transmediale Marshall McLuhan lecture was delivered by Megan Boler, a professor in the Department of Social Justice Education at the University of Ontario. As a highly interdisciplinary scholar, Boler has focused on the social implications of technology, including the relations between media, democracy, and education. In her McLuhan lecture, Truth as Event: The Affective Politics of Belief, she talked about her latest research into how we entered the so-called “post-truth” era, in which “emotions matter more than facts in determining belief.” Boler asked how we arrived here and considered how media and spectatorship—particularly on social media—factor into constituting and producing the emotions that underlie belief and, in turn, constitute “truth.” What is the role of the artist, intellectual, and activist in this challenging political era? The talk provided an overview of the affective politics shaping our contemporary experience and concludes with the question as to how art and satire may function as public pedagogies to provide reality checks on the surreality of our times. The lecture was followed by a conversation with Faisal Devji, a historian whose work has dealt with ethics and violence in a globalized world.

The Marshall McLuhan Salon Exhibition Explorations in Anonymous History by Canadian artist David Clark was be opened after the lecture, at 20:00. (Source:

transmediale logo
Categories: Blog

Doors Open Toronto Features Marshall McLuhan’s Original, Restored Office at St. Michael’s College

Thu, 05/24/2018 - 11:27am

The photos above show Marshall McLuhan in his office at St. Michael’s College (1964), taken from the CBC documentary “McLuhan is the Message” (see video below).

Visitors wishing to view Marshall McLuhan’s Office are invited to attend this weekend, March 26 & 27 at the following times:

May 26 and 27, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.  St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto The 19th annual Doors Open Toronto presented by Great Gulf provides an opportunity to see inside more than 130 of the most architecturally, historically, culturally and socially significant buildings across the city. This year’s theme, “Film: The Great Romance” explores the city’s film and television industry. For the first time since decades, Marshall McLuhan’s original, restored office at St. Michael’s College will be open to public (free admission). St. Michael’s College featured sites for the weekend include also St. Basil’s Church, the Shook Common Room, the Kelly Library and the PIMS Library, one of the most substantial centres of medieval scholarship in North America. On both Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m., Professor Paolo Granata will present a lecture to the public titled A Playful Mind: Exploring the Genius of Marshall McLuhan.” The lecture will take a place in Fr. Madden Hall, Carr Hall, located at 100 St. Joseph Street. Throughout the Doors Open weekend, there will be food, refreshments and St. Michael’s clothing available for purchase. Background information: In the spring of 1946, Marshall McLuhan received an offer to teach at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto. From that time on, he would spend the rest of his life living and teaching in Toronto. McLuhan’s office was located in a Victorian House on the St. Michael’s campus, with unvarnished wooden floors that creaked and a door leading to the street on which McLuhan, ever sensitive to noise, hung a sign that read “slam gently”. According to his biographer Philip Marchand, McLuhan claimed this oxymoron communicated its message very effectively. Into this office, McLuhan piled his six or seven thousand books and a shabby chaise longue with a thin green mattress for his five or six daily naps. On the walls, he placed a crucifix, oddities such as a death mask of Keats, and his personal talisman, the oar he won from rowing at Cambridge University.
Categories: Blog

Remembering Eric McLuhan (1942 – 2018)

Sat, 05/19/2018 - 4:50pm

Dr. Eric McLuhan, Portrait by Michael McLuhan

Eric McLuhan (1942 – 2018) passed away suddenly on Thursday, May 17, after losing consciousness in his hotel room in Bogota, Columbia after an academic visit to the Universidad de la Sabana in Chía, 7 km north of Bogota. He had been invited to deliver the inaugural lecture for the Doctorate in Communication program at the university. Titled “Media Ecology in the 21st Century”, it was very well-received. He was a scholar and a religious humanist, continuing his scholarship, research and writing until the end.

His son Andrew who accompanied him tried but was unable to resuscitate him. Andrew announced today on his McLuhan Institute Facebook page that there would be a funeral for Eric McLuhan at 11:00 A.M. in Our Lady of Torcoroma in Bogotá, Colombia today. It is anticipated that the McLuhan family will hold a commemoration ceremony and celebration of Eric McLuhan’s life back in Canada.

Eric McLuhan’s passing is a deeply felt loss to the overlapping Marshall McLuhan community of interest and the Media Ecology Association to which he contributed. There is no question that he did more than anyone else to complete and extend his father’s work and legacy with a prodigious output of unfinished books begun by his father that Eric completed, original books on media and culture and edited volumes. These include:

  • City as Classroom (with Marshall McLuhan, Kathryn Hutchon), 1977
  • Laws of Media: The New Science (with Marshall McLuhan), U of Toronto Press, 1988
  • The Role of Thunder in Finnegans Wake, U of Toronto Press, 1997
  • Electric Language: Understanding the Present, Stoddart, 1998
  • The Human Equation, Book I: The Constant in Human Development and Culture from Pre-Literacy to Post-Literacy (with W. D. Constantineau), BPS Books, 2010
  • Media and Formal Cause (with Marshall McLuhan), NeoPoeisis Press, 2011
  • Theories of Communication (with Marshall McLuhan), Peter Lang, 2011
  • The Human Equation, Book II: The Science of Investigation (with W. D. Constantineau), BPS Books, 2011
  • The Human Equation, Book III: Know Thyself: Action and Perception (with W. D. Constantineau), BPS Books, 2012
  • The Human Equation, Book IV: Mime and Media I (with W. D. Constantineau), BPS Books, 2016 [Forthcoming]
  • The Human Equation, Book V: Mime and Media II (with W. D. Constantineau), BPS Books, 2016 [Forthcoming]
  • Cynic Satire, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015
  • The Sensus Communis: Synesthesia, and the Soul, BPS Books, 2015
  • The Lost Tetrads of Marshall McLuhan (with Marshall McLuhan), OR Books, 2017

Edited Books

  • Essential McLuhan (with F. Zingrone), Stoddart, 1995
  • Who Was Marshall McLuhan? (with F. Zingrone, W. Constantineau), Stoddart, 1996
  • The Medium and the Light: Writings on Religion by Marshall McLuhan, (With Jacek Schlarek) Stoddart, 1998
  • The Book of Probes (with W. Kuhns), Gingko Press, 2004
  • McLuhan Unbound, Gingko Press, 2005

A Short Biography of Eric McLuhan from his Personal Website

Dr. Eric McLuhan B.Sc., M.A., Ph.D.

  • B.Sc. – Communications, Wisconsin State University, 1972
  • M.A., Ph.D. – English Lit., University of Dallas, 1980, 1982

An internationally-known and award-winning lecturer on communication and media, Dr. McLuhan has over 40 years’ teaching experience in subjects ranging from high-speed reading techniques to literature, communication theory, media, culture, and Egyptology. He has taught at many colleges and universities throughout the United States, Canada and abroad.

In addition to co-authoring “Laws of Media” in 1988 and working closely for many years with his father, the late Marshall McLuhan, he has also been deeply involved in exploring media ecology and communications.

In 1980, with Roger Davies, Dr. McLuhan developed the Thinking and Writing workshops, and together they founded McLuhan & Davies Communications, Inc., to help business professionals with their writing and editing skills.

His research and thinking have been published in books, magazines, and journals covering topics such as media, communications, perception, and literature since 1964. He is currently researching the nature and structure of renaissances, including the one that now envelops us: the first global renaissance.

His most recent published work includes The Sensus Communis – Synesthesia, and the Soul(BPS Books, 2015), Cynic Satire (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015), and a third book in The Human Equation series (BPS Books, 2012). Several other books are currently in preparation. (Source:

Dr. Eric McLuhan receiving an Honorary Doctorate in Sacred Letters from St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto
Categories: Blog

The Gutenberg Card Deck: A Playful Guide to Book History & Print Culture

Thu, 05/10/2018 - 11:26am

Click on the image for an expanded view.

Designed by Paolo Granata, University of Toronto

Studying book history and print culture often requires a specialized terminology. Designed to honour the legacy of the German inventor Johannes Gutenberg, this 52-card deck is a guide to key terms, including illustrations and examples, used in printing history, bibliography, and textual scholarship. It’s also a deck of cards to play with – enjoy being the most bibliophilic poker player at the table! 

The Gutenberg Deck was designed by Professor Paolo Granata for the Elements of Material Bibliography and Print Culture course at St Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, and for his students of the Book and Media Studies program. BMS program is an interdisciplinary and historical investigation of the role of printing, books, reading, and electronic and digital media in cultures past and present.

In supporting this program, St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto aims to retrieve the intellectual legacy of Marshall McLuhan who, from the heart of its campus, inspired young minds and engaged the public in probing the never-ending processes of the Gutenberg Galaxy. The Gutenberg Deck will be available for sale in June 2018, that is, next month at the University of Toronto Bookstore (online and on site). See

Comment: The ever creative and scholarly Paolo Granata has followed up his The Medium board game, which also employs cards, with this new card deck which is an instructional medium for courses in bibliography, book publishing, or Gutenberg (print) culture. A deck of cards is a modest communication medium, but a medium nevertheless, most often used for entertainment, as in playing cards for bridge, poker or other card games. But they also have a use as personal instructional media for memorizing content such as dates, names and definitions or as flash cards for classroom drills. Paolo’s Gutenberg cards are both instructional and can be used as playing cards.

Paolo Granata designed this deck of playing cards to help students remember unique terms from Gutenberg (print) culture such as – recto, verso, plate, folio, quarto, etc – and the history of books and their publishing. Inspired by both flash cards and Marshall McLuhan’s Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line Card Deck (see, designed to stimulate problem-solving and thinking, in a manner that later came to be known as ‘thinking-outside-the-box’. The cards feature a picture of Johannes Gutenberg, the inventor of mechanical movable type, one side (recto) and a definition on the reverse (verso).

“Marginalia” appears on the 10 of diamonds, for example, and “codex” on the queen of spades. Gutenberg himself is the joker. Paolo gets students to correctly explain the words on the cards as they are played. This kind of experiential learning is a great way to get students to retain knowledge, as “repetitio est mater studiorum,” “repetition is the mother of learning. ” I strongly believe in the power of playfulness to inspire creativity and imagination,” says Paolo Granata.

Marshall McLuhan’s Distant Early Warning (DEW) Line Card Deck

Categories: Blog

The Medium Board Game, Based on Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Technology

Sat, 05/05/2018 - 7:52pm

Paolo Granata top centre & media scholar Andrey Miroshnichenko opposite him with 2 students

The Medium

A Marshal McLuhan Board Game

The Medium is a board game inspired by Marshall McLuhan, a thought-provoking game and teaching aid that encourages us to become aware of the media environment. It stimulates players to escape the maelstrom by recognizing the intended functions and side effects of any medium or technology. Presented by Prof. Paolo Granata and his students in Book and Media Studies Program at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, in partnership with the School of Design at George Brown College, The Medium illustrates Marshall and Eric McLuhan’s Laws of Media: the four constant rules that govern all human innovations – enhancing, obsolescing, retrieving, and reversal into. By playing in partners, The Medium stimulates a player’s cooperative, innovative, strategic and creative thinking skills, and it also provides a means to cultivate awareness regarding the implications of media and technology, on both individual and societal levels. Interested persons in the Toronto area are invited to attend a Testing Night for the game on Tuesday MAY 29th, 6:00 PM at 401 Games (518 Yonge St., Toronto). The game should be available for sale in the late summer or Fall. A notification will be posted here.


To understand McLuhan’s Laws of Media and how they can be applied to media and the kinds of insights that can be gained, see the following previous postings on this blog:  The Laws of Media – A Conceptual Tool for Understanding Media – Interview with Eric McLuhan on the Laws of Media – Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media Applied: Photography Flips into Snapchat – Marshall McLuhan’s 4 Laws of Media Applied to Innovation –
Categories: Blog

Announcement of a New Book & Forthcoming Conference on Frankenstein

Wed, 05/02/2018 - 6:12pm

The Medium Is the Monster: Canadian Adaptations of Frankenstein & the Discourse of Technology

About the Book: Technology, a word that emerged historically first to denote the study of any art or technique, has come, in modernity, to describe advanced machines, industrial systems, and media. McCutcheon argues that it is Mary Shelley’s 1818 novel Frankenstein that effectively reinvented the meaning of the word for modern English. It was then Marshall McLuhan’s media theory and its adaptations in Canadian popular culture that popularized, even globalized, a Frankensteinian sense of technology.

The Medium Is the Monster shows how we cannot talk about technology—that human-made monstrosity—today without conjuring Frankenstein, thanks in large part to its Canadian adaptations by pop culture icons such as David Cronenberg, William Gibson, Margaret Atwood, and Deadmau5. In the unexpected connections illustrated by The Medium Is the Monster, McCutcheon brings a fresh approach to studying adaptations, popular culture, and technology.

About the Author: Mark A. McCutcheon is Professor of Literary Studies at Athabasca University. His scholarly publications include articles on such subjects as Canadian popular culture, Frankenstein adaptations, and copyright policy in English Studies in CanadaDigital Studies/Le champ numériqueContinuum, and Popular Music, among other scholarly journals and books. Mark has also published poetry and short fiction in literary magazines like EVENTExistereCarousel, and subTerrain. Originally from Toronto, Mark lives in Edmonton. His scholarly blog is and he’s on Twitter as @sonicfiction. (Publisher’s Listing:

From the Introduction: The question that animates this book might at first sound like the start of a joke: what do modern technology, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and Canada have to do with one another? The short answer is “Marshall McLuhan,” and much of what follows will be devoted to explaining this punchline. I want to venture a twofold argument: first, that Shelley’s Frankenstein effectively “reinvented” the meaning of the word “technology” for modern English; and, second, that Marshall McLuhan’s media theory and its receptions, especially in Canadian popular culture, together constitute a tradition in adaptations of Frankenstein that has globalized this Frankensteinian sense of the word. So my two main tasks here are to provide a concrete account of the historical origins and transformation of the definitively modern word “technology” and, by closely reading Frankenstein and its Canadian adaptations, many of which also adapt McLuhan, to model new directions for adaptation studies.
I aim to show how Frankenstein, technology, McLuhan, and Canadian popular culture relate to one another, in historical and cultural contexts, and to explore the implications of this interrelation…

Download the Free eBook: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). It may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes, provided that the original author is credited. Download from here:


Reading Frankenstein: Then, Now, Next. A Celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818-2018) Symposium/Exhibit/Public Reading 26 October 2018 (

Categories: Blog

YouTube Realized McLuhan’s Vision of Education for the TV Generation

Wed, 04/25/2018 - 8:54pm

Marshall McLuhan with TV at a Monday Night Seminar

While most people don’t equate television and learning, in the mid-twentieth century, at least a few educators imagined that the two were an ideal match. Long before video-sharing platforms like YouTube existed, a minority of educators and futurists already foresaw a time when “television learning” would become the norm (as an example, consider how education is depicted in the futuristic 1967 short film, 1999 AD). Perhaps the most well-known champion of television learning, however, was media studies scholar Marshall McLuhan [But his attitude was far from one-sided positivism and he also had later doubts.]

Marshall McLuhan’s Vision of Education for the TV Generation

As McLuhan once remarked, “To expect a ‘turned on’ child of the electric age to respond to the old education modes is rather like expecting an eagle to swim. It’s simply not within his environment, and therefore incomprehensible.” His solution was to create education geared to the specific needs and sensory preferences of the television generation. In short, McLuhan believed that new technologies such as television could overcome the tedious nature of the current approach to education. In a 1969 interview with Playboy Magazine, McLuhan, who had six adult children at the time, was asked where he would educate his children if they were still school age. His response was clear: “Certainly not in our current schools, which are intellectual penal institutions. In today’s world, to paraphrase Jefferson, the least education is the best education, since very few young minds can survive the intellectual tortures of our educational system.”

So, what was McLuhan’s solution? According to McLuhan, it was not enough to put televisions in classrooms, which was something some of his peers were calling for at the time. Instead, he said, “We have to ask what TV can do, in the instruction of English or physics or any other subject, that the classroom cannot do as presently constituted.” According to McLuhan, what TV could do was “deeply involve youth in the process of learning, illustrating graphically the complex interplay of people and events, the development of forms, the multileveled interrelationships between and among such arbitrarily segregated subjects as biology, geography, mathematics, anthropology, history, literature and languages.” While this may sound shocking, McLuhan never viewed television as a passive medium for couch potatoes. For him, it was always an active medium.

So, what would McLuhan have thought of YouTube? It seems highly likely that McLuhan would have enthusiastically embraced YouTube as a platform and potential way to transform education. After all, it is not only global in scope, enabling anyone from anywhere in the world with access to a digital device and Internet to share videos on any subject, but also highly interactive. Unlike a textbook, for example, learners can make their own videos and upload and share them with other potential learners and leave feedback on what videos are and are not useful. On this basis, it seems likely that had McLuhan lived to see the launch of YouTube, he would have readily embraced it as a breakthrough educational technology. One might further speculate that McLuhan that would have eventually launched his own YouTube channel.

Early Research on YouTube’s Educational Benefits Was Mixed

To be clear, despite the fact that content-craving K-12 teachers and college professors quickly discovered YouTube (on a bad day, there is nothing like a YouTube video to fill up those unaccounted for minutes in one’s lesson plan), YouTube has also at times proven to be a highly controversial platform among educators.

On the one hand, there were YouTube’s early enthusiasts. Diane Skiba’s 2007 article in Nursing Education  exemplifies why many educators were ready and willing to embrace the platform as an educational tool. As Skiba observed over a decade ago, “If you want to engage students of the Net generation, you will want to explore this tool as an adjunct to your classroom or online teaching environments. For example, what will you do if tech-savvy learners submit video projects that they have created instead of traditional papers?” As Skiba emphasized, “This is not a far-fetched idea” since 57% of “online teens” already create content for the Internet. But Skiba wasn’t simply imagining YouTube as a way to enable students to produce video essays. As she also observed, “It is important to think about how tools like YouTube can be used to create a learning community,” since these new tools also allow students to replace passive learning with active participation.

Read the rest of this essay at

 McLuhan at the CBC in Toronto, January 1966
“Education must always concentrate its resources at the major point of information intake, we merely have to ask, from what sources do growing minds nowadays acquire most factual data? How much critical awareness is conferred at these points?” – McLuhan, M. (1955) “Communications and Communication Arts”, Teacher College Record. 57 (4), 104-110.
Categories: Blog

Linking Two Marshall McLuhan Archives in Toronto & Ottawa Virtually

Mon, 04/23/2018 - 7:11pm

Library and Archives Canada building in Ottawa

McLuhan read widely, often recording his thoughts on what he read in the margins and endpapers of his books. He also corresponded with a global intellectual and social network about his reading; sometimes, he would recommend a particular book, or simply mention one in passing.

Library and Archives Canada (LAC) holds McLuhan’s archives, while the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto (UTL) holds his personal research library. Although the two collections are now separate entities held by different institutions, the division between them is artificial: McLuhan originally kept them together in his office at the University of Toronto and his private residence, and they developed in conjunction with each other over the course of his life.

This page virtually reconnects these now physically separate collections.  Showing connections between McLuhan’s letters and annotations in his books provides new insight into the progression of his ideas from notes he wrote hastily as he read, to the polished final products presented in his published works.

Letters and Books

Below are selected pages from books in the McLuhan research library collection showing his handwritten annotations. Alongside these pages are letters from the archives in which he discusses these same books. Reading the letters and annotations together reveals his creative process, and illustrates the interconnected nature of the library and the archives.

James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses

James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses is Frank Budgen’s memoir of the time he spent with Joyce in Zurich while Joyce was writing Ulysses. The insight Budgen provides into Joyce’s use of sound and visual imagery in Ulysses influenced McLuhan’s developing ideas of visual and acoustic space.  In this letter to academic Michael Wolff, McLuhan refers to the value of Budgen’s book for his work on Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting, co-written with artist Harley Parker.

Note: To view images of the actual documents listed in all of the bulleted headings below that were linked between the two archives, go to the source document for this posting at the link at the end below.

  • Correspondence on James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses
  • Notes made in the book James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses

Preface to Plato

McLuhan confided his admiration for classicist Eric Havelock’s book Preface to Plato to Michael Wolff in the same 1964 letter in which he discussed James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses.  Havelock’s interpretation of the clash of oral and written cultures in ancient Athens still resonated with McLuhan when he wrote to the author in 1970.  McLuhan cited Preface to Plato both in the revised edition of Understanding Media and in From Cliché to Archetype.

  • Correspondence on Preface to Plato
  • Notes made in the book Preface to Plato

The Paper Economy

McLuhan recommended that editor and publisher William Jovanovich read social critic David T. Bazelon’s The Paper Economy for a collaborative project they had planned on the future of publishing.  In McLuhan’s interpretation, paper money was the “emperor’s old clothes” and electric circuitry was his “new clothes” (punned in his annotations in the book as old and new “close”).

  • Correspondence on The Paper Economy
  • Notes made in the book The Paper Economy

The Art of Memory

Recommending The Art of Memory by historian of the Renaissance Frances Amelia Yates to Jovanovich in relation to their collaborative project, McLuhan enthused that Yates “reopened some missing vistas in the history of western culture.” In particular, her discussion of Dante’s Inferno as a memory system, or memory theatre, sparked his imagination. The planned collaboration between McLuhan and Jovanovich, which they had provisionally entitled The Future of the Book, never materialized.

  • Correspondence on The Art of Memory
  • Notes made in the book The Art of Memory

Machina ex Deo

In an essay in the collection Machina ex Deo, historian Lynn White explored the spiritual transition of the western world from paganism to Christianity which allowed humanity to move from seeing itself as a part of nature to being able to exploit nature.  In this letter to anthropologist Edward Hall, McLuhan refers to White’s connection of the spread of Christian optimism with the technical innovation of the modern era.  He also drew upon White’s ideas in War and Peace in the Global Village, co-written with Quentin Fiore.

  • Correspondence on Machina ex Deo
  • Notes made in the book Machina ex Deo

The Step to Man

McLuhan recommended The Step to Man, published by the physicist John R. Platt in 1966, to future Nobel-prize winning scientist John Polanyi in 1974, for its insight on the history and philosophy of science. He remarked to Polanyi that he felt his own approach resembled scientific experimentation.

  • Correspondence on The Step to Man
  • Notes made in the book The Step to Man
Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto

Go to the source document to see images of the linked document:

Categories: Blog

McLuhan Salon #7: McLuhan Salon @ DigiFest, Toronto

Sat, 04/21/2018 - 12:17pm

McLuhan Salon @ DigiFest

Thursday, April 26th, 4:00 PM at Corus Quay

The McLuhan Salons are back!
And we are happy to team up with Toronto DigiFest for a panel on Media Arts and the Creative City, on Thursday, April 26th, 4:00 PM at Corus Quay (25 Dockside Drive, Toronto). 

Prior to 2018 Digifest Digital Pioneer Award, internationally celebrated media artist Norman White; concept designer Alex Mayhew; filmmaker/media artist Nyla Innuksuk and illustrator Guillaumit (France) join moderator Patrick Tobin for a panel discussion on how innovative thinking in media practices today will shape our creative cities tomorrow.

The event is free and open to the public. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Register Now

Premiere board game playtest at DigiFest!

The Medium is a board game inspired by the innovative thinker Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), one of the most charismatic and far-reaching intellectuals of the 20th century.

Presented by Prof. Paolo Granata and his students in Book and Media Studies Program at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, in partnership with the School of Design at George Brown College, this board game illustrates Marshall and Eric McLuhan’s Laws of Media (1988): the four constant rules that govern all human innovations – enhancing, obsolescing, retrieving, and reversal into.

By playing in partners, The Medium stimulates a player’s cooperative, innovative, strategic and creative thinking skills, and it also provides a means to cultivate awareness regarding the implications of media and technology, on both individual and societal levels.

Just wrap yourself up in the McLuhan’s Laws of Media and enjoy being the first to escape the vortex!

Categories: Blog

The Marshall McLuhan Papers in the George Gerbner Archive in the Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania

Sat, 04/14/2018 - 4:42pm

 George Gerbner (1919 – 2005)

George Gerbner was a professor of communication and originator of cultivation theory which examines the long-term effects of television, it’s primary proposition being that the images and ideological messages transmitted through popular TV media heavily influence perceptions of the real world.

Born in Budapest, Hungary, he emigrated to the United States in late 1939. He was the Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania (1964–1989) and presided over the school’s growth and influence in Communication Theory in academia.

Gerbner established the Cultural Indicators Research Project in 1968 to document trends in television content and how these changes affect viewers’ perceptions of the world. He coined the phrase mean world syndrome to describe the fact that people who watch large amounts of television are more likely to perceive the world as a dangerous and frightening place. (Wikipedia, full biography at

Although Gerbner is not mentioned in the biographies of Marshall McLuhan and there are no letters to or from Gerbner in the Letters of Marshall McLuhan (1987), their mutual interest in the effects of television at a time when television was at the height of its impact and influence probably led them to communicate. There are a few useful documents in this small collection, notably several of the letters, the short biography by University of Toronto President Claude Bissell, a draft of Laws of the Media: Structural and the other documents are not without interest.

The Marshall McLuhan Papers

Located online at )

  • Correspondence 03/14/1960 – 10/04/1977 George Gerbner, Marshall McLuhan, Edmund Brown, Arthur Hurst, Tom Cooper, Nathan Pletcher, Marrill Pannitt, Susan Schmidt, E.T. Hall. View Download
  • Correspondence From: George Gerbner
    To: Sandra Grilikhes, Carolyn Marvin, Merrill Panitt, Larry Gross, Robert Hornik, Klaus Krippendorff, Paul Messaris
    Date: March 22, 1983 View Download
  • Biography (1) Author unknown. View Download
  • Biography (2) Article Title: McLuhan, (Herbert) Marshall
    Journal Title: Current Biography
    Issue Date: 1967
    Pages: 270 – 273 View Download
  • Biography (3) Article Title: Herbert Marshall McLuhan
    Author: Claude T. Bissell
    Journal Title: Proceedings of the Royal Society of Canada
    Issue Number: 19
    Issue Date: 1981 View Download
  • Laws of the Media: Structural Approach A draft. Article Title: Laws of the Media: Structural Approach
    Author: Marshall McLuhan View Download
  • The Gospel According to McLuhan Article Title: The Gospel According to McLuhan
    Author: MAM
    Journal Title: The Pennsylvania Gazette
    Issue Date: June 1966
    Pages: 3 – 37 View Download
  • The McLuhan Galaxy Sent to George Gerbner as correspondence. From: Tom Cooper
    To: George Gerbner Article Title: The McLuhan Galaxy
    Author: Brian Winston
    Journal Title: Channels View Download

Categories: Blog

Hot & Cool in the MediaScene: A McLuhan-Style Art & Theory Project

Sat, 04/07/2018 - 11:16pm

(Click on the above box or any image for an expanded view)

Julia M. Hildebrand (Drexel University) and Barry Vacker (Temple University)


Anthropocene — Mediacene.

Layers of fossils — Layers of media technology.

Ways of living — Ways of seeing.

If we are in the Anthropocene, then how can we not be in the Mediacene? If technological civilization has transformed the eco-systems on its host planet, Earth, then how can mediated civilization have not transformed the ego-systems in its host species, human consciousness? If we have extended visual technologies into the tiniest particles, into our bodies, around the planet, and into deep space, then how can our visions have not been transformed?

Mediacene. Mediaseen. Media(S)cene.

We do not mean “Mediacene” in a strict scientific sense. Rather, we mean it as a techno-philosophical concept related to how media technologies make us see, and in turn, how we can see them. Hence, the playful term “Media(S)cene.” The goal is to creatively combine theory and art. Rather than explain, the goal is to explore, expand, explode.

As such, we are inspired by media theorist Marshall McLuhan, who claims that “Scientists make their discoveries as ‘artists,’ not specialists. Such scientists construct experiments as “works of art” to probe the environment.”[1] With the Media(S)cene, we want to present an imaginative probe into our contemporary media environment. It’s like McLuhan’s approach upgraded for the 21st century — “McLuhan 21.0.”

More concretely, the Media(S)cene is a model for a visual media ecology and a call for art for this media epoch, a project for this seeing, this accelerating media evolution — on Earth, in space, into the Hubble universe of the 21st century. Why? Because it’s the media epoch. We’re in it. There is no exit. We need a fresh understanding. We agree, theory needs art. Now.


1967 saw the publication of McLuhan’s classic art-text, The Medium is the Massage, exploring how media — human-made technologies — “massage” our senses, our ways of feeling, thinking, and being. Its original cover featured a woman wearing a LOVE-dress. Fittingly, that year also saw the release of the Beatles’ classic song, “All You Need is Love” — which was created as Britain’s contribution to Our World, the very first live international satellite television broadcast that literally reached around the globe. A prophetic forerunner to YouTube, Our World featured programming about everyday life in nineteen nations and reached 400–700 million people, the largest television audience ever up-to-that date. The program was broadcast on June 25, during the famed Summer of Love. As an expression of the utopian optimism of the moment, the Beatles performed “All You Need is Love” to close the broadcast.

Five decades later, it seems as if “All You Need is Like” in Our World that has media infrastructures and mobile technologies spanning the globe, further massaging our senses, ways of seeing, moving, doing, being. At the same time, our media technologies have extended deeper into outer space, making Our World seem like an utter speck amid the voids of the Milky Way and the expanding universe. We face the paradox of our civilization’s greatest discovery: The universe is vast and majestic, and our species is insignificant and might be utterly meaningless. We’ve found 2 trillion galaxies, but no aliens, no gods, and no universal meaning for human existence. Zero, nada, zip.

Is that why, every day most of us fill an empty hand with a mobile phone and fill our eyes with an electronic screen roaming that world? McLuhan’s “global village” jam-packed with online tribes vying for more followers, fans, but also feuds? Media massages that help us feel special in an immense universe? Our tech consolation for our cosmic insignificance? Media building, loving, liking, shaming, hating… sensory massaging to fill existential voids?

We are facing voids in the universe, our philosophies, our knowledge, and our everyday. We create theories, technologies, practices, and relationships that help us distract from, close in, or fill those voids. Yet, in the ever-expanding universe, the voids, too, are expanding. More massages, please!

By juxtaposing the LOVE with a VOID dress (and yes, of course, there is a smartphone), we want to zoom in on a macro-media-theory that connects the small with the big, the inner with the outer, the finite with the infinite. How we make that visible and how, in turn, we are affected by those visibilities. Media scenes and Media seen. The idea is to think about contemporary media massages on a larger scale. A big strata.


Our different ways of seeing span eons. Petroglyphs to photographs, movies to TVs, phones to drones, supercolliders to space telescopes — technologies of sight all now made visible on screens, made mobile and global via networks that traverse the planet, made interstellar by leaving the solar system and peering into deep space.

Extending from inside the human body, into society, across and above Earth’s surface and into outer space are layered networks of media technologies — a media strata. The contemporary physical layers are obvious: Fiber optics and phone lines are underground and under the oceans, while mobile phones are above ground and drones are in the air and satellites are in space; the Large Hadron Collider is buried underground, while the Hubble Telescope is orbiting the planet and Voyager has exited the solar system.

Within those media layers are other media layers spanning the planet, permeating our cities, propelling data through our devices. A central infrastructure is the Internet, within which is the World Wide Web, within which are social media. Data centers, data bases, software, code. Layers of tweets, timelines, and status updates. Cell towers and satellite dishes. Street lights, electric lights, and LED signs. There are platform layers, interface layers, address layers, and user layers. “Grids” on the surface, “Clouds” above, housing and being housed by Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon, the National Security Agency, and endless other firms and government agencies around the world.[2] Big strata, big data, big brother.

Read the rest of this excellent essay here:

Categories: Blog

The Reality TV POTUS: Amusing Ourselves to Death on Steroids

Wed, 04/04/2018 - 8:54pm

The celebrity has replaced the hero in our image-based politics—and now we’ve got one on steroids.

By Arthur W. Hunt III • April 4, 2018

During the heat of the of the 2016 presidential campaign some thoughtful observers mused that if Donald Trump became president, the White House would become a TV reality show. The national news cycle should be sufficient evidence that this is exactly what’s happened.

We are now watching The Apprentice and Survivor in raw form whenever we turn on the TV. Our news feeds are comic strips highlighting the most bizarre presidential behavior ever witnessed in the history of the republic.

And it isn’t going to get better.

We have entered a new age of electronic politics unseen since the advent of commercial television 70 years ago. Celebrity power, an early byproduct of photography and cinema, has not diminished with new media, but has grown exponentially with it.………                                                                                   

McLuhan hypothesized that politicians who mastered the media of their day would be more successful than those who didn’t. Hitler had infused his tirades into the media of film and radio, these media being relatively new in his time. (To see Hitler now spitting and steaming on a screen is somewhat of an oddity for those of us more accustomed to a gentler style of discourse.) Here in America, FDR communicated to the American people with his fireside radio chats and Ronald Reagan mastered the medium of television.

Conversely, Richard Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960 because he did not master television. Nixon was not “cool” enough for TV, McLuhan said, because he came across looking like a railway lawyer there to swindle the little folks in town. Television demanded a smoother persona, like Kennedy’s, who came off as a reserved young sheriff. McLuhan suggested Nixon cool down his image—maybe grow sideburns.

Not to repeat the same mistake, Nixon appeared on Laugh-In when he ran again for president in 1968 and spouted the show’s renowned line: “Sock it to me.” Only Nixon ended the expression with an upward inflection, turning it into a question and ironically foreshadowing his political demise. (We should remember that it was print media that helped usher Nixon out of office.)……….

Still, circus tricks are one thing; political discourse is quite another. Social critic Neil Postman, McLuhan’s intellectual protégée, spent the last two decades of his life warning about what could happen in an image-driven information environment. In his book Amusing Ourselves to Death, Postman argued that the age of deep reading was unique to democracy, as it gave us “a sophisticated ability to think conceptually, deductively and sequentially; a high valuation of reason and order; an abhorrence of contradiction; a large capacity of detachment and objectivity; and a tolerance for delayed response.”     

Thus far the Trump presidency has exemplified exactly the opposite of these qualities. And it isn’t just the matter of the president shunning books. Like McLuhan, Postman knew very well that the medium is the message. The shift from a print-oriented culture to an image-oriented one threatens democracy because in order for the Great Experiment to work, it’s necessary that a certain degree of rationality be fostered among a reading public.

The tragedy of our times is the same as Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel Fahrenheit 451. Like the character Mildred we have been conditioned to the Wall Screen and the White Clown. Trump signals the unfortunate reality that we will now vote for the shrillest voice over all the others.

Arthur W. Hunt III is Professor of Communication at the University of Tennessee at Martin and author of  The Vanishing Word: The Veneration of Visual Imagery in the Postmodern World (2003) and Surviving Technopolis: Essays on Finding Balance in Our New Man-Made Environments (2013). (Source:

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan’s Fall Convocation Address, University of Alberta, November 20, 1971

Fri, 03/30/2018 - 7:51pm

Marshall McLuhan in academic garb, January 21, 1967, photograph by Yousuf Karsh (copyright Karsh Estate)

Marshall McLuhan’s Convocation Address, The University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

On this occasion on November 20th, 1971, he was awarded an Honorary LLD.

It is nice to be home. I left here when I was four and have vivid memories of Edmonton that I can date exactly. Having been born here, I have gradually fought my way East through smugness and smog familiarity breeds consensus. Diligent local research has actually uncovered the old homestead of the McLuhan’s (maybe it is the undercover wild-life agents who were responsible for excavating it). I haven’t seen it; perhaps I will get to see it before I go.

The sort of diagnosis that I have sometimes rendered of the situation in which we exist has often been challenged, as it were in the style of “Doctor, your diagnosis is different from all the other doctors,” to which one can only reply, “Well, the autopsy will show that I was right.” I am going to comment on the biggest disease of our time: being unwanted. The December issue of Playboy magazine is going to carry an article entitled “The Coming of the Psychopath.” It opens with the statement, “Psychopaths were once considered moral imbeciles; now they may be the only ones truly in tune with the times.”

We have moved into the age of the rip-off as a kind of a personal art form. What had formerly been [an] entrepreneurial way life in the 19th-century hardware world, the world of strip-mining and compulsive scrapping of resources has now become an art form, a psychological software pattern. The same pattern of shift from hardware to software has occurred in politics: instead of the political machines and policies, politics have moved to the age of public relations and image-making. Already in the 19th century, there has been the loss of human community by the speed up of transportation.

E. R. Leach, Anthropologist, in his Runaway World, describes how English communities were liquidated by the railway trains, leaving opportunities for whole communities to emigrate, and to, when all the cousins, uncles and aunts had left, leave the nuclear family stark and isolated. The plays of Ibsen are a familiar example. When groups of human figures are starkly presented to the audience minus any social ground or human community, this in a word is abstract art: figures without ground. Speed-up pushes all work and living towards specialism that is the dissolution of community.

The specialist, whether a workman or a scholar, looks for a place to fit into. He is a figure against the ground of the market. Unemployment has, itself, become a social ground for the figure of the welfare recipient. These situations, namely the stark human figure minus the social ground, whether Ibsen’s “Doll’s House” or Babbitt’s “America” or the specialist’s skills starkly outlined against the ground of unemployment, all of these are basically 19th-century images. What has happened today is that there is a new hidden ground of all human enterprises, namely a world environment of electric information, and against this new environment the old ground of 19th-century hardware, whether at school or factory, whether of bureaucracy or entertainment, stands out as incongruous.

The biggest contemporary disease, as the headline put it, is “being unwanted.” Everybody now grows up in accordance with old patterns of training which offer no means of relation or interface with the new information environment. Electric information has now become as indispensable to people as water to fish, but people cannot yet accommodate to this rarefied environment. A New Yorker cartoon showed two fish on the sand, one said to the other “this is where the action is.”

This is now a universal illusion: people now living in a new element of electric information still seek to find the action in the old solid element of specialist goals and education and job training. In the world of management and decision-making, the successful executive is an automatic drop-out. As he mounts the ladder of promotion, he quickly loses touch with the new surround of information as his work becomes more and more dependent on the advice of specialists. He, too, is a figure without a ground.

It is this situation that Ivan Illich addresses himself to in Deschooling Society. He is vividly aware of the irrelevance of current curricula, drills and certification. He knows that these can no longer help us relate to the new world, and he frankly appeals to the forms of preliterate, and even prenatal experience as models for the training now needed. As Coleridge said “If you wish to acquire a man’s knowledge, first start with his ignorance.” Illich is unaware, I’ll repeat: Illich is ignorant of the new all-inclusive “surround” of electric information which has enveloped man, but it is his instinctive response to this new ground that in some measure validates the figure-image he suggests for the new school. For example, he says “Since most people today live outside industrial societies, most people today do not experience childhood. In the Andes, you till the soil once you become useful: before that you watch sheep; if you are well nourished you should be useful by 11, and otherwise by 12.”

Illich relates this story: “Recently I was talking to my night-watchman, Marcos, about his 11-year-old son who works in a barbershop. I noted in Spanish that his son was still a nino. Marcos answered with a guileless smile, ‘Don Ivan, I guess you are right.’ I felt guilty for having drawn the curtain of childhood between two sensible persons.” What Illich has in mind, although he does not state it, is that childhood was unknown in the Middle Ages and was a renaissance invention that came in with printing, and is ending very rapidly now in the television age. The television child skips childhood, leaps into adulthood without benefit of schooling.

The electric environment has, in effect, restored us to a paleolithic stage of the hunter. The hunter is the man who must use all his faculties to read the total environment. In the electric age, by far the biggest human occupation has become man-hunting. It is the age of 007, espionage, and counter-espionage and of credit ratings; of the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. In a word, it is the age of the Cyclops. All that Ivan Illich postulates as an ideal state for education has already happened. The man-hunter and the job-hunter have succeeded the hunter and warfare and welfare merge in a way of life as completely as any Paleolithic or Stone Age society.

In preliterate society warfare and welfare are one in the same form of life. As we move into the age of etherealization discerned by Toynbee and stressed by Buckminster Fuller, we do more and more with less and less. Man himself becomes discarnate data, a sort of disembodied spirit coexisting and functioning simultaneously in diverse locations, whether by telephone or by television: on the telephone, you are there, they are here. We traverse eons of human development in minutes and live in an inclusive present which assumes all pasts and futures they are all one.

The Anthropologist, E. S. Carpenter, has expressed his experiments in New Guinea in which, by the use of photographs and movies made on the spot, he carried these very paleolithic people through countless centuries of evolutionary cultural development in a few hours. It is not only the academic or scientific specialist who finds himself in a freakish position in a world of instant information. The service environments available to ordinary persons, whether of travel or general consumer services, far exceed the power of any private wealth to provide for itself. The richest men have become hotel hermits, unable to find any more conspicuous means of consumption than those that are adapted to their personal or commercial security.

If personal wealth has become a comic and frustrating encumbrance in a world of universal public services, the school and university are in an equally paradoxical situation insofar as they are committed to providing packaged information on a wide variety of subjects. Today the micro-dot library has general access to every kind of information. It is quite independent of our educational programs. This new electric access to information has suddenly cast the audience in the role, not as spectator or consumer, but as explorer and investigator. The immediate need and future of education is not in the dissemination of knowledge, but of ignorance. The open university of the U.K. made the ordinary mistake of putting the old curriculum and old classroom on the new T.V. media.

The immediate need is for these media to bring, to the microphone and the studio, people from every field of knowledge and endeavour to explain to the public – not their knowledge, but their ignorance; not their expertise, but their hang-ups; not their breakthroughs, but their breakdowns. The university and school of the future must be a means of total community participation, not in the consumption of available knowledge, but in the creation of completely unavailable insights. The overwhelming obstacle to such community participation in problem-solving and research at the top levels is the reluctance to admit and to describe, in detail their difficulties and their ignorance. There is no kind of problem that baffles one or a dozen experts that cannot be solved at once by a million minds that are given a chance simultaneously to tackle a problem. The satisfaction of individual prestige, which we formerly derived from the possession of expertise, must now yield to the much greater satisfactions of dialogue and group discovery.

The task yields to the task force. If Ivan Illich is unaware of the new electric ground, or environment, which has rendered obsolete the ancient figures of curriculum and classroom, there is another circumstance relating to the American educational process which he ignores to his cost. He is a European unacquainted with the basic North American fact that we, alone, in the world, go outside for privacy, and inside for community. Europeans, on the other hand, go outside for community and inside for privacy. For North Americans to be at home is to have open house. For Europeans, to be “chez nous” is to be incommunicado. North Americans go out to dine or to shows to be alone. Europeans do the same things for the opposite reasons. They wish to socialize, to dialogue, to be observed. North Americans are unable to “put on the public” when they go out, unable to conduct symphonies.

This syndrome reverses every feature of education as process. The American institution serves opposite ends to European ones, just as does American business. We go out to work to the office to be alone. The ultimate privacy for us is the motorcar. By the same token, the traffic jam affords a kind of inviolable solitude unreachable by telephone from home or office. Parallel to this, may not the bureaucratic jams of administrative congestion afford refuge from the urgent pressures of educational process?

A friend, a professor of History, was recently driving down a one-way street the wrong way in New York, and a policeman stopped him and said: “Where do you think you are going?” My friend apologized, and the cop said: “What do you do?” “Oh, I’m a professor of history” “Oh, a professor eh? Well, go ahead, Do the best you can”. Thanks very much.  (Source:

Categories: Blog

Artists as Radar or “the Antennae of the Race”

Sun, 03/18/2018 - 8:10pm

Marshall McLuhan wrote in his Introduction to the Second Edition of  Understanding Media:

“The power of the arts to anticipate future social and technological developments, by a generation and more, has long been recognized. In this century Ezra Pound called the artist ‘the antennae of the race’. Art as radar acts as ‘an early alarm system,” as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic, contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression. If an art is an ‘early warning system,’ to use the phrase from World War II, when radar was new, art has the utmost relevance not only to media study but to the development of media controls. 

When radar was new it was found necessary to eliminate the balloon system for city protection that had preceded radar. The balloons got in the way of the electric feedback of the new radar information. Such may well prove to be the case with our existing school curriculum, to say nothing of the generality of the arts. We can afford to use only those portions of them that enhance the perception of our technologies, and their psychic and social consequences. Art as a radar environment takes on the function of indispensable perceptual training rather than the role of a privileged diet for the elite”. – Gordon, W.T. (2003). Understanding Media Critical Edition. Corte Madera, CA: Gingko Press, p. 16


By Darren Wershler, Concordia University, Montreal   – Dec. 10, 2010

 “Artists,” wrote Ezra Pound, “are the antennae of the race.”{{1}} In the introduction to the 2nd edition of Understanding Media, so does Marshall McLuhan, who updates and expands the metaphor:

Art as radar acts as an ‘early alarm system,’ as it were, enabling us to discover social and psychic targets in lots of time to prepare to cope with them. This concept of the arts as prophetic contrasts with the popular idea of them as mere self-expression. If an art is an ‘early warning system,’ to use the phrase from World War II, when radar was new, art has the utmost relevance not only to media study but to the development of media controls.

When radar was new it was found necessary to eliminate the balloon system for city protection that had preceded radar. The balloons got in the way of the electric feedback of the new radar information.{{2}}

As Friedrich Kittler, one of McLuhan’s most successful contemporary intellectual heirs, puts it, “Information technology is always already strategy or war” {{3}}. War elicits new forms of communications, retrofits old ones for its own purposes, and violently blasts existing media landscapes into drastic new forms, producing unexpected juxtapositions.

World War II, in fact, was the force that put Marshall McLuhan in contact with two of the leaders of the early 20th century avant-gardes: Pound and Wyndham Lewis. McLuhan met Lewis while teaching in St. Louis in 1943, and maintained a close working friendship over the next two years, while both were living in Windsor, Ontario. McLuhan and Hugh Kenner traveled to St Elizabeths Hospital in Washington D.C. in 1948 to meet Pound, where he was incarcerated for putting his “poet-as-antenna” aphorism into practice, producing radio broadcasts in support of Mussolini’s fascist government during WWII. McLuhan had read Pound with enthusiasm while a student, long before the war, and corresponded with him for several years after. By the time McLuhan joined the faculty at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto in 1946, he was in all likelihood the only expert on modernist poetry at the time in all of Ontario {{4}}. McLuhan biographer Philip Marchand notes that in later years, McLuhan always credited the poets of the modernist avant-gardes as “the real inspiration for his media studies” {{5}}.

Contemporary journalism and popular culture, when it thinks about McLuhan at all, tends to see him from the wrong end of the telescope, positioning him as a technologist and a futurist rather than as someone deeply invested in language and literary tradition. In the masthead of its first issue in March 1993, Wired magazine declared McLuhan its “patron saint,” and for many commentators, this marked McLuhan’s return to a position of public legitimacy after the indifference that his works faced for much of the 70s and 80s. The first actual article on McLuhan in Wired (4.01, Jan 1996), Gary Wolf’s “The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool,” describes him as scholar, teacher, social, political, and economic analyst … but there’s no mention of poets or poetry anywhere”… (Read the rest at )

[[1]]Pound, Ezra. ABC of Reading. New York: New Directions, 1934. 73.[[1]]
[[2]]McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964. xi.[[2]]
[[3]]Kittler, Friedrich A. Discourse Networks 1800/1900. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1990. 371.[[3]]
[[4]]Marchand, Philip. Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger: A Biography. 1st MIT Press ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1998[[4]]
[[5]]Ibid., 41.[[5]]

Darren Wershler (aka Darren Wershler-Henry) is the Concordia University Research Chair in Media and Contemporary Literature (Tier 2), the co-founder of the Concordia Media History Research Centre (MHRC), and the director of the Residual Media Depot. Darren is the author or co-author of 12 books, and is currently working on THE LAB BOOK: Situated Practice in Media Studies, with Lori Emerson and Jussi Parikka.

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McLuhan Salon #6: Libraries as Media Spaces: Technology, Debate, Equity

Wed, 03/14/2018 - 5:36pm

We will explore the “massive revolution” over the past 15 years in how libraries operate, including their role as a neutral space to exchange ideas. No longer just book depots with “shushing” librarians, public libraries are in fact lively and interactive spaces that contend with issues of relevance to us all with accessible technology, focusing on diversity and equity in neutral public spaces and platforms for discussion and debate. 

This event aims to present the most modern and cutting-edge view of what libraries do and how they serve their communities in 2018 and is presented in partnership with Prof. Paolo Granata’s Readers and Readerships course and his students in the Book and Media Studies Program at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto.

This event (2:30 to 4:00 PM) will be held in the Atrium of Toronto Reference Library and no tickets are required. Join us!

Click on the image for an expanded view.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018
Toronto Reference Library (789 Yonge St, Toronto)

2:30 – 4:00 PM – Panel and discussion

With Toronto’s City Librarian Vickery Bowles; Manager of Cultural and Special Event Programming at the TPL Gregory McCormick; Book and Media Studies program director Paolo Granata; and other guests.

This event is free and open to the public. It will be held in the Atrium of Toronto Reference Library and no tickets are required.

* * * * * * * * * *
The McLuhan Salons series is an initiative of the St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, in conjunction with the Estate of Marshall McLuhan and several high-level academic and cultural institutions, and generously supported by the William and Nona Heaslip Foundation.

Curators: Paolo Granata, University of St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto; David Nostbakken, McLuhan Fellow at the McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology.

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Canadian News Photographer Robert Lansdale: McLuhan Seminar at the Coach House Series (1973)

Mon, 03/05/2018 - 6:51pm

The whole series of these photos was taken on April 15, 1973 at Marshall McLuhan’s Coach House, known as the Centre for Culture & Technology at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto (Click on each image for an expanded view.)

 Eric McLuhan

You can see the entire series of 63 items from which these 7 photos are taken from here

ABOUT ROBERT LANSDALE: As a press photographer during the 1950’s Robert Lansdale MPA HLM of Etobicoke, ONT., was assigned by the Toronto Star to shoot the first Grey Cup game ever played in Vancouver, British Columbia. All the film was processed in a makeshift darkroom under the stadium with pictures wire-photo’d immediately to Toronto for that day’s editions. By the time the game was over and all the dressing room activities had been covered, there was only an hour left before Bob was scheduled to catch a plane back to Toronto. Getting to the plane on time was no problem, but taking all the negatives with him to make original prints for the Monday papers WAS a problem.
“Somehow you remember stories , not by date, but by the new equipment you’ve just started to use. I had just bought my first Hasselblad camera, plus a 240mm telephoto lens, when I was sent to Ottawa to cover the visit of President Eisenhower to Canada. I was in the side balcony of the House of Commons to photograph Mr. Eisenhower as he addressed the House. After the first five minutes there isn’t much different to record so I was searching for anything else of interest. Along the top of the wall is a sculpted frieze that runs around the whole room. At the far end of the Chamber, it changed into a little balcony, decorated with two giant winged cherubs. There, in the arms of the carved innocents, were two CIA bodyguards with high power rifles. I swung round my Hasselblad with the telephoto and snapped off two exposures then returned before the other photographers caught on to my scoop.The Star ran the two pictures across an inside page: Eisenhower speaking at the dais beside the snipers and their guardian angels!” Read the entire bio here

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Call for Papers: The Future of Reading & Media. A Bilingual Design-Meets-Science-Conference at the Münster School of Design in Germany

Sat, 03/03/2018 - 5:24pm

Location: MSD – Münster School of Design, Leonardo-Campus 6 – Münster, Germany
MSD – Münster School of Design

Date/Time:  30. November – 01. December/All Day

Keynote Speakers: Derrick de Kerckhove, Lars Elleström, Eric McLuhan and Göran Sonesson

In the era of the so-called digitalization, a variety of multimodal technologies have a great impact on the structural dimension of media and the media use of the recipient. This development has already had an enormous influence on the consumer culture, in which the relation of analog and digital media, as well as their creative, technological and sociocultural interdependence, has not been not sufficiently investigated.

So, it seems to be very important to connect aspects of design, mediality and technology with aspects of media reception to formulate productive hypotheses for academic and creative work areas. The technologization could be described as a trigger mechanism for a variety of media transformations and user dynamics, which means, that analog media are still widely spread (e.g. newspapers, magazines, books etc.) but that production methods and manners of use have changed under the influence of digitalization (e.g. digital design, digital print, digital reading, interactive apps etc.) and finally, that in some cases analog media seem to be totally replaced by digital concepts (e.g. online news portals, social media, immersive media technology, etc.).

Therefore, the different media research projects have to correlate analog and digital forms to determinate limits and possibilities of analog and digital mediality. The different topics for the conference „FURE+ The Future of Reading and Media“ are very open with an interdisciplinary character and they are addressing analog and digital strategies in modern design, recent conditions of media reception in the print sector, the influence of digital reading devices on reading processes, typography in the context of digital and user-centered design, three-dimensional media in the context of virtual reality, digital image and text overlaps of reality with Augmented Reality or finally, perceptual synchronizations of media inputs and haptic, tactile, audio-visual or proprioceptive user experiences (e.g. enhanced e-books, smartphones, interactive apps, Augmented Reality reading apps for tablets etc.).

Recent media developments refer to specialized design processes, technologies and different perceptual dynamics of the user, so that it seems to be important and necessary to focus on different cross-references for an effective understanding of recent and future media. Therefore, the conference will be a forum for an interdisciplinary discussion in the range of creativity, production aesthetics, media science and other academic and scientific sectors, which are related to design, technology and media understanding.

Topics could include or address:

* the current or new role of print in the context of digitalization

* the process of reading in the context of analog and digital media

* the impact of digitalization on typography and scripture

* the relation between text and digital media

* the limits and possibilities of display technologies for images and texts

* the cognitive and bodily processes of reception or perception of media

* the technological impact on media, communication, culture, creativity and design

* the development of methods and concepts for the understanding of analog and digital media

* the history of media understanding in the range of analog and digital media

* the anthropology, phenomenology, or semiotics of analog and digital text and image media

All talks will be 30 minutes in duration plus Q&A time. Please send an abstract with a maximum of 800 words, a title of your submission, a short biography and contact details to Prof. Dr. Lars C. Grabbe via email: The deadline is March 22, 2018. Submissions will be reviewed, applying following criteria: relevance of the topic, theoretical foundation, clarity of data, adequacy of the used method(s), and matching to the overall conference topics. The conference languages are German and English. (Source: )

Münster School of Design

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Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre to Stage Controversial Play That Depicts Marshall McLuhan During His Final Year

Tue, 02/27/2018 - 1:31pm

The February 22, 2018 issue of the Toronto Globe & Mail newspaper reports that a play by Canadian playwright Jason Sherman titled The Message that had originally been scheduled for their 2003 – 04 season is one of the seven Canadian plays to be staged during their upcoming 2018-19 season.

It had originally been shelved because of the opposition, including possible legal action, by Marshall McLuhan’s widow, Corinne.  The play speculatively depicts Marshall’s condition after a massive stroke he suffered in 1979. Biographer Philip Marchand described his condition thus: “Ten days after he entered St. Michael’s Hospital he underwent surgery to help restore circulation of blood to his brain. Two weeks after the operation he walked out of the hospital. He eventually regained almost complete physical mobility – but his ability to write had been annihilated.” He was paralyzed on his right side. “Worst of all, he could no longer speak, except for a few odd phrases. ” (Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, p. 281).

It is understandable that the McLuhan family would be pained by an actor fictionally depicting their husband, father and grandfather in an enacted state of relative helplessness. When I contacted Michael McLuhan to inquire about whether the Estate would oppose this latest plan for staging, he provided the following statement that represents the views of the family: “Marshall’s widow, Corinne McLuhan, was appalled when she became aware of and read the script. In no way does the Estate endorse or sanction this production.” However, the family has chosen not to oppose production on this occasion.

For readers with a Globe & Mail subscription or online access past their paywall, the Globe’s article can be found here  Jason Sherman has written extensively for the stage, radio, and television. His plays include Remnants (A Fable); It’s All TruePatienceReading HebronThe RetreatThe League of NathansAn Acre of Time, and Three in the Back, Two in the Head, which won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama. He served as executive story editor and writer on the TV series ReGenesis, earning Gemini and Canadian Screenwriting Award nominations. For CBC Radio he wrote “National Affairs,” “Irving Invectus,” and “Graf,” for which he received the Canadian Screenwriting Award for radio drama. He is currently working on several television, radio and film projects. He lives in Toronto. [Sherman is Tarragon’s current playwright-in-residence, a position he held to much applause for most of the 1990s.] (Source: ) A More extensive biography is available in the Canadian Theatre Encyclopedia:   

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