2014 will be the 50th anniversary of the publication of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, arguably the most important book on media published within the last half century. No doubt there will be conferences and symposia focusing on this great book.
Published on May 10, 2013 – This is a motion graphics project concerning Marshall McLuhan’s theory about technology and its influence on humanity. It was created by Walt Simpson using AfterAffects and Photoshop – for a Media Theory class at Savannah College of Art and Design. The video is from an interview of McLuhan in the 1960s, and the song is ‘Oh’ is from the album Polydistortion by the band GusGus. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tit_akHf8do
Media ecology “unplugged” is the theme of an upcoming convention in Grand Rapids hosted by Grand Valley State University.
The 14th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association, June 20–23, “unplugged” theme captures the wide span of environmental mediation prior to the wired and plugged-in revolution of mass media. This mediation includes architecture, literacy, urban design, transportation, art, and other discursive and non-discursive forms.
The “unplugged” theme also turns attention to recent and cutting-edge technologies that have de-tethered users from the plug. These include satellites, nanotechnology, robotics, genetic engineering, modern pharmacology, cell phones, Bluetooth, e-readers, solar cells, green technologies, neuroscience, and much more.
Featured speakers at the conference include Morris Berman, author of the Trilogy on Human Consciousness and The Twilight of American Culture; Lance Strate, former MEA president and author of The Binding Biases of Time; and Dominique Scheffel-Dunand, the director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology at the University of Toronto.
For more information contact convention coordinators:
Corey Anton, professor GVSU School of Communications firstname.lastname@example.org, author of Selfhood and Authenticity, winner of the 2004 Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Social Interaction, presented by the Media Ecology Association
Valerie V. Peterson, associate professor GVSU School of Communications email@example.com, whose recent publications include the book Sex, Ethics and Communication.
The online pre-registration deadline is May 15 to avoid price increase when paid at the conference. Student registration is discounted. Membership in the Media Ecology Association is open to anyone— faculty, students, business people, professionals—interested in exploring the interactions between media, communications, and culture.
The conference sponsors include the Provost’s Office, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Communications.
Detailed convention information available here: http://www.media-ecology.org/activities/index.html
Register online here: http://www.media-ecology.org/activities/index.html
The preliminary conference program is available here: http://media-ecology.org/activities/convention_program_2013.html .
James Cameron’s films, Hollywood blockbusters though they are, may also be read in terms of a Canadian sensibility that is prone to problematizing mankind’s relation to technology and communications media, as epitomized by Marshall McLuhan (see Babe 2000; Kroker 1984). The Terminator films are thus based on the idea of the nascent Internet as a nervous system becoming self-aware as the subject of technology and disposing of its human parasites. These dystopian visions have their utopian counterpart in The Abyss, the first major motion picture to use CGI (Computer-Generated Imagery) for “morphing” effects. With the benefit of hindsight, the story and imagery into which the appearance of this new technology was woven in this film beg to be interpreted as metaphors for the shift in consciousness attending the transition from the rigidity of analog technology to the fluidity of digital technology, a watershed that happens to hinge on the year of the film’s release: 1989, during the meltdown of Cold War blocks on the eve of the emergence of the Internet’s borderless global cyberspace.
McLuhan saw the creative artist as an “early warning system,” grasping and imaginatively portraying such shifts in the collective sensorium even ahead of their full unfolding in technology and culture. If we take seriously McLuhan’s assumptions, Cameron’s The Abyss can thus appear in retrospect as a mythic allegory of mutations then still around the corner. It uses Christian motifs to give narrative expression to the world-historical transformations of 1989 as kairos, as theological discourse refers to a moment of utopian opportunity for the revelation of the Kingdom of God within history —or beyond it as Apocalypse. For the end of the Cold War did, for a moment, hold the promise of a humanity freed from ideological and national divisions, to enjoy the peace dividends of unhindered free trade within a global village unified by new technologies.
Read the rest at Second Nature Journal: http://tinyurl.com/blwq4fz
Trailer for The Abyss (1989):
Artist Harry Clarke‘s 1919 illustration for “A Descent into the Maelström” by Edgar Allan Poe.
The role of the artist in regard to man and the media is simply survival, said Marshall McLuhan
BY C.S. MORRISSEY
“The entire internet is in a sense pornographic,” said the British writer Alain de Botton last year. The reason why is because “it is a deliverer of constant excitement which we have no innate capacity to resist, a system which leads us down paths many of which have nothing to do with our real needs.”
How long can you stay away from your smartphone? Or your tablet? Or your laptop? How well are you able to resist being online? Or to abstain from watching movies or television?
Do you feel like you are in control? Doesn’t our new technological environment make you feel like you are caught in the middle of a vast storm?
He grabs hold of what does not disappear. He hangs on to what he reasonably thinks can carry him out of the storm. He trusts a proven pattern of salvation t
Decades ago, the Canadian media analyst Marshall McLuhan thought about the ascent of modern media technology. He liked to use the story by Edgar Allen Poe, “A Descent into the Maelström,” to illustrate the condition that we are in.
“Poe imagines the situation in which a sailor, who has gone out on a fishing expedition, finds himself caught in a huge maelstrom or whirlpool. He sees that his boat will be sucked down into this thing,” recounted McLuhan, paraphrasing Poe’s story.
In order to survive, the sailor looks around and studies the action of the storm. He observes patterns and recognizes them for what they are. Sometimes things appear. Sometimes things disappear. By carefully noting the reality of certain recurring patterns, he is able to infer what is needed for his survival.
He grabs hold of what does not disappear. He hangs on to what he reasonably thinks can carry him out of the storm. He trusts a proven pattern of salvation that he was able to observe. And eventually he is saved.
“Pattern recognition in the midst of a huge, overwhelming, destructive force is the way out of the maelstrom,” said McLuhan. “The huge vortices of energy created by our media present us with similar possibilities of evasion or consequences of destruction. By studying the patterns of the effects of this huge vortex of energy in which we are involved, it may be possible to program a strategy of evasion and survival.”
Are you able to observe undeniable patterns in your interaction with technology? Perhaps it is easier to observe recurrent patterns in the behavior of those around you. In particular, are there common patterns to be observed in the emerging behavior of young people? When you walk into a coffee shop, for example, what do you see?
The next step we need to take with this knowledge, said McLuhan, is to acquire a deeper sensitivity to the meaning of the patterns we find in the technological reality of our transformed environment.
The most sensitive observers of these patterns will be artists. “The artist’s insights or perceptions seem to have been given to mankind as a providential means of bridging the gap between evolution and technology,” said McLuhan.
He saw a definite vocation for artists in our world: “The artist is able to program, or reprogram, the sensory life in a manner which gives a navigational chart to get out of the maelstrom created by our own ingenuity.”
Far from our current misconception of artists as celebrities to be envied, McLuhan argued that artists have a much more serious role to play in society: “The role of the artist in regard to man and the media is simply survival.”
In other words, the fate of human society depends on the ability of artists themselves to perceive beauty, and then to help us train our eyes to see beauty. As Roger Scruton, the great British philosopher who recently visited Vancouver, puts it: “Culture counts.“
A renewed culture could allow us to escape the maelstrom, if artists could show us patterns of beauty that we hadn’t noticed before.
This is the reason why Scruton says that “culture is important“: “Without it we remain emotionally uneducated. There are consequences of fake culture that are comparable to the consequences of corruption in politics. In a world of fakes, the public interest is constantly sacrificed to private fantasy, and the truths on which we depend for our rescue are left unexamined and unknown.”
Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, put it this way in a famous speech of his own on beauty: “The encounter with beauty can become the wound of the arrow that strikes the soul and thus makes it see clearly, so that henceforth it has criteria, based on what it has experienced, and can now weigh the arguments correctly.”
In other words, a profound encounter with what is truly beautiful will not be a source of distraction or constant excitement. It will not look like today’s average internet use.
Instead, beauty will educate us in truth. Source of this article: http://tinyurl.com/c5hv9un
The video excerpt below is from the National Film Board of Canada film “McLuhan’s Wake” (2003). The excerpt from Poe is read by Eric McLuhan.
The brief was set by the Edinburgh based design agency ‘Elastic Creative’. My task was to express one of Marshall McLuhan’s many prophecies through a motion sequence.
“As the unity of the modern world becomes increasingly technological rather than a social affair, the techniques of the arts provide the most valuable insight into the real direction.” - McLuhan, M.
My concept echoes Marshall McLuhans philosophies on Art and Technology. He believed all forms of technology have grown from creative ideas. With this technology obsessed world, we need Art in order to evolve.
I was inspired by 1960s Sci-Fi movies and television programmes. Furthermore, I was strongly motivated by the title sequence work of the late, great Saul Bass. http://vimeo.com/65821738
Of course he called the “flipped classroom”, a recently devised pedagogy, something else: classroom without walls, city as classroom, little round schoolhouse. The point was to take learning out of classrooms into the information rich environments of the world beyond……..AlexK
“We have to realize that more instruction is going on outside the classroom, many times more every minute of the day than goes on inside the classroom. That is, the amount of information that is embedded in young minds per minute outside the classroom far exceeds anything that happens inside the classroom in just quantitative terms now.”
“In the future basic skills will no longer be taught in classrooms.” - McLuhan, M. (1966, April). Electronics & the psychic drop-out. THIS Magazine is about SCHOOLS. p. 38.
It seems odd to be reviewing Philip Marchand’s & Terrence Gordon’s biographies of Marshall McLuhan so long after they were first published; the former was published in 1989 & the latter in 1997, but this recent review from Canadian Literature Quarterly might be useful to those who have not read them. And it’s good to remind readers that they are still in print.
Book Review - A Shout Out to Marsh
- Terence W. Gordon (Author)
Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding. Stoddart Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
- Philip Marchand (Author)
Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger. Vintage Canada (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by E. Hamilton
Marshall McLuhan is probably the most influential Canadian communications theorist, and perhaps also the one most argued over. As an academic, he was often accused of being an intellectual vampire and an idiosyncratic researcher. He was, at times, labelled a doomsayer, a rampant technophile, and a media guru. What is perhaps most astounding about McLuhan was his mobility and the consequent reach of his ideas. The “global village” sells telecommunications companies and McLuhan himself was able to find an audience in the marketing managers of GE and IBM. Finding a controversial seat in the canon of theorists labelled “technological determinists,” McLuhan’s ideas have been used to promote notions of technological progress or, in a sinister variation, death by technology. That McLuhan’s theories of media open themselves to such a polarized field of interpretation, and that McLuhan became one of the most public intellectuals of this century, has resulted in a healthy debate about both the theories and the man.
One of the main confusions about McLuhan himself revolved around his own stance towards media and technology. Much of his writing can easily be read as formalist promotion, emphasizing, technological capability in terms of form, rather than explication of content. This, coupled with his belief that personal points of view were redundant in the face of the sensory altering power of the media, contributed to the wide array of readings to which he has been subjected. Both Gordon and Marchand stress this aspect of McLuhan’s writing, while also investing their own with it to some degree. Though Gordon’s treatment of McLuhan is perhaps more apologetic than Marchand’s, and though Gordon is far less equivocal in his stance towards the “father of communications studies,” each presents McLuhan’s life and work as a tray of more or less interrelated hors d’oeuvres, deferring interpretation to their readership. As far as their presentations of McLuhan’s work goes, this seems adequate, though for those familiar with that work it might seem redundant. So little differentiation exists between the two authors’ treatment of the texts that judgements of the two are hardly necessary, though Gordon has a tendency to become bogged down in his own brand of McLuhanesque expostulation.
The differences occur in the ways the authors relate that work to McLuhan’s life. Gordon’s account gives considerably more weight to McLuhan’s pedigree and early years (pre-Cambridge) than does Marchand, and constructs the early life as a kind of frontier epic. McLuhan’s forebears are all invested with one or another (or several in the case of his mother) facet of McLuhan, a narrative feature that tends to naturalize individual development and also to glorify and romanticize the family history. This tactic becomes much more plausible when Gordon writes of the tensions between McLuhan’s mother and father, but becomes rather dodgy in the depictions of McLuhan’s more distant relatives. Marchand rarely dwells too long on matters that may not directly be connected to McLuhan’s own development, or that may be said to constitute the intellectual “surround” for McLuhan’s work at various stages. Marchand’s discussion of McLuhan’s early years places great emphasis on the relationship between his mother and father, but does not merely leave as a sidebar. He uses it as a platform upon which to build connections to the future McLuhan of “50 Million Mama’s Boys” and The Mechanical Bride, as well as to discussions of McLuhan’s home life after his marriage. The result is not only the depiction of a figure with an integral history, but with a depth of conflicting attitudes, beliefs, paranoia and superstitions. Rather than subordinating the life to the ideas, or vice versa—ideas which are, generally speaking, respected and vital long after their inception—Marchand, integrates the ideas into the fabric of a life which is not always as pleasant or as easily digestible as some readers might like.
McLuhan does not exactly come up smelling like roses in either account, though here again, Gordon seems to ally himself to McLuhan in ways that Marchand does not. Gordon certainly does not try to paint a flattering portrait of McLuhan, or to allow his readership to be entirely comfortable with him as a human being. Often, he comes off as having been petty, paranoid, somewhat gender-biased, solidly set in the intellectual cadre of his correspondent, Ezra Pound, and the New Critics. Though neither biographer attempts to pass judgement on McLuhan for his questionable beliefs or conspiracy theories, Marchand is much more successful at forcing his readership to confront these not only as quirks or idiosyncrasies, but as they inform the work for which McLuhan has become famous. For Gordon, these connections are quite loose, and there is always room for a salvage operation. But from Marchand, we learn not only that McLuhan was sympathetic to political fascism (though not necessarily to Hitler or Mussolini) and that he believed in a conspiracy of homosexuals, but that these aspects of McLuhan’s beliefs are not perhaps as inextricable from other aspects of the life as they might seem. Marchand seems to recognize and be able to reproduce the complexities that govern the shape and structure of a life, and to allow those to dictate the course of his story.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the biographies for most readers will be how various influences helped shape the thought that became McLuhan. Particularly interesting, and usually absent from a social science perspective on McLuhan’s theories, are the influences of Richards, Empson, Leavis and the New Criticism. Marchand weaves an almost seamless web of connections between the New Criticism and McLuhan’s later work on media and society, at least suggesting the logocentric and text-centred basis for much of McLuhan’s work. Gordon’s coverage also stresses these influences, though his discussion is more tentative than Marchand’s. In both cases, however, McLuhan’s literary background, and the influence of literary theory serve as a means through which researchers from outside literary studies can be pointed towards some useful resources.
Overall, while Gordon serves to points researchers towards areas of further reading, Marchand provides a framework through which McLuhan’s thought can be broadened and problematized in the context of a highly complex and often sad life. Gordon seems a little too much on side with McLuhan to present a portrait of him that could be as three-dimensional as that of Marchand. As resources for researchers looking to expand or realign an understanding of McLuhan’s theories, both texts serve as valuable touchstones. Source link: http://canlit.ca/reviews/a_shout_out_to_marsh
Philip Marchand - W. Terrence Gordon
“The medium is the message,” is an important phrase in the history of communication studies. Marshall McLuhan, the man who coined it, is widely regarded as that field’s father. But without the work of political economist and historian Harold Innis, McLuhan might never have pronounced those famous words. New research from Concordia University re-examines this relationship between the two media-studies pioneers, and argues that Innis deserves equal prominence in the evolving field of communications, as an entity separate from McLuhan’s dominant celebrity.William Buxton is a professor in Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies. | Photo by David Ward
In a recent article in theCanadian Journal of Communication Studies, William Buxton, a professor in Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies, argues that Innis and McLuhan, long viewed in tandem, should be de-coupled. “Innis was eclipsed by what we would now call McLuhan’s brand power,” explains Buxton, who argues that Innis’s ideas deserve to be considered on their own, not as a function of McLuhan’s work.
As a professor of political economy at the University of Toronto, Innis helped develop the theory of staples, which says that Canada’s culture and economy have been influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of “staples,” such as fur, fish, wood, wheat, metals and fossil fuels. Innis went on to write several seminal works on media and communication theory, which explore the role of media in shaping the culture and development of civilizations. These books, however, did not receive much acclaim when they were first published. Innis was well respected, but as an economist, not a media-studies scholar.
McLuhan, however, developed a strategy of building on Innis’ considerable reputation as a staples theorist in order to lend credibility to his own approach of looking at how media technologies exerted effects by virtue of their inherent properties. While this allowed McLuhan to help resurrect Innis as a pioneering figure in media studies, it came at the expense of leaving his own mark indelibly on the Innisian legacy to communication research. “The result has been the common tendency to view Innis as some sort of precursor to McLuhan, if not a junior partner in the tandem,” explains Buxton.
Despite McLuhan’s enthusiastic support, Innis’s books fell out of print. But this was not the only reason that Innis’ studies of media were largely initially ignored while McLuhan developed a considerable following.
McLuhan gained popularity thanks to a slim book with eye-catching graphic designs and tongue-in-cheek title: The Medium is the Massage. Widely published and read, the book allowed McLuhan to develop a kind of a celebrity status – something never afforded to Innis.
“By virtue of that book, a distinct McLuhan brand emerged,” says Buxton. “As a result, the work has important implications for how we understand McLuhan and his relationship to Innis.” Without a similar volume to popularize his work, the attention paid to Innis was not as widespread.
For Buxton, however, Innis deserves to be considered on his own. “We need to make better sense of a ‘de-McLuhanised’ Innis,” says Buxton. “Innis’s concept of communication should not be reduced to a form of media staple, but could be viewed more as an interactive process, inherently connected to the growth of civilization, the emergence of universities, and the advent of new forms of public.”
About the research: The article discussed is a revised version of a paper that was originally presented at a conference at Montreal’s Société des arts technologiques in April 2012, titled Innis, McLuhan, and the Media: Path to Enlightenment or Dead End?. The conference was organized by the Concordia/Université de Montréal/Université de Québec à Montréal Joint PhD Program in Communication. The paper appeared (along with four other revised papers from the conference) in a special issue of the Canadian Journal of Communication – Tracing Innis and McLuhan, edited by Buxton and Professor Thierry Bardini of Université de Montréal. A Standard Research Grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada funded the preparation of Buxton’s article.
A related volume, Harold Innis and the North: Appraisals and Contestations, edited by William Buxton, will be published this summer by McGill-Queens University Press.
• Cited study: The Rise of McLuhanism, The Loss of Innis-sense: Rethinking the Origins of the Toronto School of Communication. Canadian Journal of Communication, vol. 37, no. 4
• Concordia University’s Department of Communication Studies
• William Buxton’s proile on Research @ Concordia
• Harold Innis and the North: Appraisals and Contestations
This article can be found at http://tinyurl.com/b4tyavp
Photo: Marc J Chalifoux Photography
Yesterday Arts Habitat Edmonton was joined by supporters, special guests and neighbours to celebrate the grand opening the McLuhan House – a new historic resource and home for arts and ideas in the Highlands.
In 2012, Arts Habitat Edmonton purchased the house with assistance from the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Arts Council.
The acquisition of this house is a source of pride for Arts Habitat, whose goal is to provide sustainable space for Edmonton’s arts community.
“Arts Habitat Edmonton is thrilled to preserve this house in the Highlands, and to honour the legacy of its famous first inhabitant, Marshall McLuhan”, says Linda Huffman, Executive Director of Arts Habitat. “Arts and culture regenerations create diverse, inclusive and healthy communities. This new investment adds an historic resource to the city inventory and to this historic neighbourhood.”
The property was rezoned in January 2013, and is currently in line for Municipal Heritage designation. The House will now host small office, studio, and meeting spaces. An interpretive display on Marshall McLuhan highlights a one-of-a-kind McLuhan Family Portrait Collection. The new designations will allow for these uses, and also protect the exterior heritage features of the home.
The celebration included a presentation by Michael McLuhan, highlighting 54 unpublished photos of his father for the LIFE Magazine shoot in 1966 by Henri Dauman. The McLuhan TV Wall, on loan from the University of Alberta, is on display in an upstairs room.
A number of families associated with the house were at the event: The McLuhan Family was represented by Michael, youngest son of Marshall and Edmonton cousin Stuart MacKay, the Husbands were represented by twins Fred and Margaret, now 83. They were the next family to live in the house, and still have stories to tell of the house and neighbourhood from the 1920’s. Doug and Cheryl Toshack and their daughter Tracy came. They bought the house in 1974. Their dream to preserve the house was fulfilled with its sale in 2012 to Arts Habitat.
Marshall McLuhan, who became a leading 20th century thinker, lived in this house one hundred years ago. His early years significantly influenced his long-term philosophical theories, including “the medium is the message” and the global impact of mass media, which went on to shape the international community.
The McLuhan Portrait Collection was made possible through generous donations from Michael McLuhan and the McLuhan Estate, with supporting narratives and genealogy compiled by McLuhan family cousin Stuart MacKay.
The McLuhan TV Wall, created by University of Alberta students and professors, displays documentary images and sounds of Marshall McLuhan’s many appearances on U.S. and Canadian television from the early 1950s to the late 1970s. The TV Wall was first exhibited at the Art Gallery of Alberta and has also been exhibited at the Edmonton International Airport.
EDMONTON – Famed philosopher Marshall McLuhan always cherished his Edmonton birthplace even though he moved away at age four, his son Michael said Thursday.
“I’m not sure if he came back that often, but he talked about Edmonton all the time when I was child,” McLuhan said.
“He loved the wide-open skies and would talk about being a Prairie boy … I just think he always held Edmonton very close to his heart.”
McLuhan, 60, was making his first visit to the city in which his father was born in 1911 to take part in the grand opening of the family home as an arts facility and historic site.
The communications theorist and literary critic who coined such phrases as “the medium is the message” lived in the Highlands two-storey until his family moved to Winnipeg in 1915.
With help from the city, Arts Habitat Edmonton bought the house for $475,000 last year from its longtime owners, and plans to do $75,000 in renovations.
The non-profit group has painted the Arts and Crafts-style structure’s interior with colours from when it was built in 1910 and put up family photographs from McLuhan cousin Stuart MacKay, who lives in Edmonton.
“The intention of buying it was to preserve the house in Highlands and also to honour the McLuhan mandate,” Arts Habitat project co-ordinator Katherine Kerr said.
There’s space for a studio in the garage and the three former upstairs bedrooms will be rented out as artist offices.
One of those spaces holds the McLuhan TV Wall, five screens running interviews with the famed philosopher, an episode of the Andy Griffith Show from the 1960s and closed-circuit video of the people who walk into the room.
Other versions of this installation have been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Edmonton International Airport.
“I think McLuhan was getting the sense of the all-pervasiveness of the television screen that people didn’t understand when they were watching these friendly, funny shows,” said University of Alberta Prof. Marco Adria, who helped assemble the display.
“This technology was bound to become us.”
In future, parts of the home will also be rented out for small events. It’s open for a public drop-in Friday from noon to 7 p.m.
Michael McLuhan, a photographer who lives with his wife north of Toronto near Owen Sound, presented for the opening 54 unpublished photos of his father shot by Henri Dauman for Life Magazine in 1966.
He described his dad, a longtime University of Toronto professor who died in 1980, as a classic workaholic.
“He would get up at four or five in the morning and start his reading. He would come home at six and frequently have his secretary in tow so he could dictate, sometimes while he was lying down.”
The McLuhan home in Winnipeg and the two in Toronto are in private hands. Michael is thrilled the Edmonton house, at 11342 64th St., will be available to the public.
Although he’s the executor of his father’s estate, he hasn’t read all his books, but said his complex ideas were discussed so much growing up that he doesn’t have to.
“I certainly appreciate it now more than when I was 15 … It was inculcated at a very young age around the dinner table. It was the wallpaper of our lives.” http://tinyurl.com/cknmadb
Photo by Alex Kuskis
The past two decades, beginning with the public’s use of the Internet in 1994 and continuing with the emergence of notebook computers, smart phones, tablets, e-readers, blogs, wikis, Twitter, and social media, has seen the most rapid evolution of communications and its impact on every aspect of society from commerce to education and from culture to government. Digital media are impacting every aspect of our lives, but they are more in control of us than we are of them. The ideas of Marshall McLuhan, scholar, social critic, literary critic, poet, and artist, can provide the kind of guidance we need, but sadly he is misunderstood by most. This book posits that McLuhan holds the key to our understanding of the new digital media. Marshall McLuhan was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. This book will set the record straight and provide a guide to and insights into the thinking of Marshall McLuhan. This book is the medium and Marshall is the message.
This book is an expansion of an earlier lecture by Bob Logan, the text of which was published on this blog here http://tinyurl.com/ce6noez .
- Publication Date: September 24, 2013
- Paperback: 250 pages
- Publisher: Key Publishing House Inc (Sep 24 2013)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1926780523
- ISBN-13: 978-1926780528
- List Price: CDN $32.95
- Advance Reviews
“Misunderstandings occur with respect to McLuhan’s published ideas because he engaged in exploration rather than exposition, eschewed a point of view, worked from ground to figure and backwards from effects to causes, putting the onus on readers to fill in background information and construct their own understandings. The latter makes his writing a cool medium, demanding that readers fill in what is missing and arrive at their own conclusions. A reading of the totality of his intellectual output clarifies his intentions considerably”. - Alexander Kuskis, publisher of The McLuhan Galaxy blog, Gonzaga University, Canada
“In this slim volume, Robert K. Logan resituates the thought of Marshall McLuhan—fending off misunderstandings and misplaced critiques—by highlighting McLuhan’s three major influences, by reviewing the his five major ‘conceptual tools,’ and by summarizing four interrelated breakthroughs. In identifying the origin of some of McLuhan’s ideas and showing the relevance of McLuhan’s thought today, Logan does a great service to media ecology and McLuhan studies. He brings many of McLuhan’s insights to wider audiences and to contemporary situations.” —Corey Anton, Grand Valley State University, USA
“McLuhan Misunderstood is a courageous and brilliant guide to the exploration of the complex works of the famous Canadian scholar. Robert K. Logan—himself a close collaborator of Marshall McLuhan—offers a clear and comprehensive position about the most controversial topics in McLuhan’s work.” —Adriana Braga, Pontifical Catholic University, Brazil
“McLuhan Misunderstood reveals a secret that scientists know very well: any brilliant insight stems from a fallacy—misunderstanding leads to knowledge. By reversing McLuhan’s cryptic style, Robert K. Logan replays his mentor, explains what McLuhan explored, merges “two cultures” and definitely marshals a flurry of insights that allow us to understand McLuhan’s heuristic thinking as a way to reshape our brand new human ecology.” —Paolo Granata, University of Bologna, Italy
““Media determinist!” “Technophile!” “Luddite!” Marshall McLuhan has been misunderstood—even in contradictory ways—as few others. Robert Logan brilliantly sets the story straight as he grounds the contexts we need for a proper understanding of McLuhan. In a lucid, yet detailed fashion Logan explains McLuhan’s cryptic and capturing one-liners, including how his work predicted and even explains social media.” —Mogen Olesen, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
“Professor Robert Logan has devoted much of his late career to clarifying certain aspects of McLuhan’s general media theory. He is partly responsible for dissipating the charges of technological determinism that were laid upon McLuhan throughout the 1970s and 1980s. What’s more, Logan’s recent book does an incredible job upgrading McLuhan for the digital age. Although many of McLuhan’s insights were meant to interpret communication phenomena in the electronic age, Professor Logan convincingly shows that much of what the man had to say about TV could also be applied to today’s media environment, characterized by digital interactive media, fractured attention, and information overload. McLuhan Misunderstood: Setting the Record Straight proves that classic authors and their works are beyond categorization, irreducible to a single message, and inexhaustible in the possibilities of being; it demonstrates that McLuhan’s thought—much like the media of communication he sought to understand—is alive and in constant flux.” —Laureano Ralon, Figure/Ground Communication Blogger, Canada
“Understanding media is not easy. Back in the 1960s Marshall McLuhan opened our eyes up and expanded our vision of the media ecology. Understanding McLuhan has never been easy either (“I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say” said McLuhan. Just imagine the rest). Thanks to Bob Logan now we can get closer to a full understanding of McLuhan’s complex and amazing vision of contemporary culture.” —Carlos A. Scolari, Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain
“More than anyone else, Robert K. Logan has kept Marshall McLuhan’s thought alive over the generations. And now that the academic landscape seems finally ready for a thorough rereading of McLuhan’s work, we are deeply fortunate to have professor Logan still here with us to clarify and help us understand it. With stunning lucidity, scholarly precision and good humor, Bob Logan makes McLuhan’s thinking accessible to readers of the 21st century. His book impressively shows, and with apparent ease, how many of McLuhan’s ideas still hold relevance today. It is an essential introduction and an absolute must read for everyone interested in one of the most intriguing and provocative thinkers of recent intellectual history.” —Yoni Van Den Eede, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Belgium
“Not only does Bob Logan’s McLuhan Misunderstood not misunderstand McLuhan, and sets the record straight, but the book provides one of the best understandings of McLuhan around. Logan worked with Marshall McLuhan in the 1970s, and is one of the very few scholars who obtained his understanding of McLuhan not only from McLuhan’s writings and lectures, but from all-important conversations, the top of the line in the acoustic realm. This special savvy shows throughout the volume, and makes it required reading for all who seek to better understand the media of the 21st century.” —Paul Levinson, author of Digital McLuhan and New New Media, USARobert K. Logan, PhD is professor emeritus of physics at the University of Toronto, fellow of St. Michael’s College, and chief scientist at the sLab, OCAD University. He collaborated and published with Marshall McLuhan between 1974 to 1980. He is the author of a dozen books including one coauthored with McLuhan, The Future of the Library: An Old Figure in a New Ground as well as The Alphabet Effect (1984, 2004), The Sixth Language (2000, 2004), Understanding New Media (2011), and What Is Information? (2013).
Lives Lived: Richard Jan Osicki, 66
PATSY PEHLEMAN, The Globe and Mail, Published Wednesday, Apr. 10 2013
Philosopher, journalist, teacher, original thinker. Born Sept. 4, 1946, in Nottingham, England, died Oct. 29, 2012, in Winnipeg of cancer, aged 66.
Richard’s parents, Jan and Maria, were veterans of the Polish Army. During the Second World War, Maria was interned, and for both of them life was insufferable.
For Richard, this heritage would infuse his life. He felt that ethnicity influenced everything and everyone.
When peace came, the Osickis settled in England. They would eventually move to Montreal, where Richard graduated in philosophy and political science from the University of Montreal. Years later, when he had embraced Catholicism, the religion of his childhood, he added a masters of theology from Dayton University in Ohio.
Richard had three passions: communications, religion and teaching. He started his career as a radio documentary maker in Montreal and became, at 28, executive producer of the CBC program Identities. It was the early 1970s, the heyday of “multiculturalism.” The show was about the struggles, triumphs and politics of being a Canadian from somewhere else.
No Easter eggs or folk dancing for Richard. Stories were diverse: a Hungarian woman’s Montreal hair salon, an exploration of Swedish sexuality as it translated to Canadian life, an international accordion festival, and conversations with Josef Skvorecky and Henry Morgentaler.
Richard challenged everybody and everything. He loved to argue. He would encourage this quality in his journalism and religion students, suggesting they “try very hard to break through what is considered by those around you to be true or valuable.”
One uncompleted project was a TV documentary about residential schools from the perspective of those whose lives were enriched by them and the teaching nuns who were broken-hearted by the vilification of their life’s work.
Richard loved beautiful women, and married three. During the Identitiesera he wed Bernadette, an elegant and artistic Montrealer. Later he married Basia, the daughter of Polish friends of his parents. With Basia he adopted Tobi (Tobiasz) and they moved to Winnipeg in the mid-1990s. There, his spirituality turned to religion and he became spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Winnipeg and taught at St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba, as well as universities and colleges across North America.
The earlier marriages ended. But just four years before he died, he fell in love and married Dionisia, an ex-nun from the Philippines. They planned a future filled with ideas and projects based on Catholic faith.
Richard’s faith was hard-won. He was filled with questions until the moment of his death. He had become obsessed with the communication of faith and didn’t think churches and media did it well. He was inspired by Marshall McLuhan, who grew up in Winnipeg and was a devout Catholic, and felt there were lessons to be learned from McLuhan about how intellect and faith nurture each other.
He started the Marshall McLuhan Initiative five years ago. Working with St. Paul’s College, he hoped to establish a formal process for the study of how and why people communicate faith. The Marshall McLuhan Initiative lives on. http://tinyurl.com/blm4dsc
Patsy Pehleman was Richard’s friend and colleague.
In the 1960’s, long before anybody ever updated their Facebook page, posted their whereabouts on Twitter, uploaded images on Youtube, or exposed government secrets on WikiLeaks, one man made a series of pronouncements about the changing media landscape that resonate with the internet world we live in today.
You may have never heard of Marshall McLuhan, but you have probably heard his most widely quoted dictum: “The medium is the message.”
McLuhan was writing about the effects of the mass media on contemporary life and he was talking mostly about television. But his ideas had something of the prophetic – because in the tumult of today’s digital revolution, a lot of what McLuhan said has even more relevance now than it did then.
In this edition of the Listening Post, we look at how to read today’s media landscape, with the help of McLuhan, speaking to us 50 years ago.
McLuhan started out his professional career as a Canadian professor of literature but is referred to today as one of the greatest media theorists of all time.
After the release of his best-selling book Understanding Media in the ’60s, he became a regular speaker on media discourse, credited for coining terms including the ‘Global Village’.
His central argument – that the technologies we use to take in information, i.e., the media, become extensions of who we are and exert a powerful influence over us - make his work just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago, and with the growth of social networking sites, McLuhan’s predictions on the changing media landscape have proved accurate.
To discuss the cultural icon and his legacy, we talk with Charles Miller of the BBC College of Journalism; Adel Iskander, a media scholar at Georgetown University; Jaeno Kang, a media sociologist from SOAS, and Toby Miller, a media scholar at London’s City University.
Thanks to the advent of the internet and other new technologies, the 21st century has been heralded as a bright and promising digital era, but that notion has attracted a number of critics, most notably, writer and researcher, http://tinyurl.com/cwgxpu4.
Morozov has warned not to buy into the popular theory that the internet is helping to democratise authoritarian regimes. He argues, instead, that it is being used as a tool to control, supress and spy on citizens.
As the author of two books on the subject, The Net Delusion and To Save Everything, Click Here, Morozov’s work is seen as a powerful alternative to the mainstream discourse on the digital age.
In the second half of the show, Evgeny Morozov sits down with Listening Post host, Richard Gizbert to discuss the work of Marshall McLuhan and the digital era in which we live. http://tinyurl.com/cwgxpu4 Evgeny MorozovContributing Editor, Foreign Policy; Syndicated Columnist; Author, The Net Delusion
There is no question that Marshall McLuhan’s ideas are misused and abused, often by those who have never read him closely or even at all. Blameworthy are business executives, advertisers, politicians and tech types who utter banalities about “the medium is the message”, the “global village”, hot versus cool mediums and other ill-understood ideas.
This is just an abstract of this article, which faculty and university students will need to source at their university libraries. The only alternative for those without access to an academic library is to purchase it at a rediculous price – one article for the cost of a book. No open source scholarship here, just for-profit publishing……….AlexKNew Political Science
- DOI: 10.1080/07393148.2012.754666 - Edward Comora, pages 1-18
April 1st, 2013 – The new online journal Second Nature officially launches today and plans to be the definitive place for critical thinking about technology and new media in light of the Christian tradition, with written articles, images, videos, poetry, and links.
The journal’s co-founders are Benjamin Robertson, Brantly Millegan, and Read Mercer Schuchardt. Robertson and Millegan both studied under Schuchardt, Associate Professor of Communication at Wheaton College (IL). Robertson and Millegan serve as the journal’s Editors, and Schuchardt is the Chairman of the Editorial Board. The other members of the Editorial Board are: Juliette Aristides, Eric Brende, Peter K. Fallon, Geraldine Forsberg, T. David Gordon, Shane Hipps, Arthur W. Hunt III, Eric McLuhan, and Brett T. Robinson. The board members represent a wide range of academic and professional backgrounds, denominational affiliations, and interests in the subject. For bios and pictures, see the journal’s About page.
The idea of the journal came about after Millegan wrote the article ‘Of Mics and Men‘, and couldn’t find a proper publication in which to publish it. In talking to Robertson and Schuchardt, they decided to form Second Nature. “Everybody knows new technologies like the Internet and smartphones are radically transforming our world, ” Millegan said. “So what does the Christian tradition have to offer to help us to think critically about these powerful tools, their meaning and their proper use? That’s one of the driving questions of the journal.”
The journal is now accepting submissions, which may come in the form of written pieces, images, or videos. While submissions should adhere to the general boundaries set by the journal’s description, there is no religious affiliation required for those submitting pieces. See the journal’s Contact page for full submission guidelines.
For launch, the journal has six published pieces: one painting and five written articles, on topics ranging from the eight characteristics of mass audiences created by electronic media, to how the Internet is reuniting families previously kept apart as a result of other technological innovations. The journal plans to publish a new piece every few weeks, bridging the publication schedule between a quarterly journal and a weekly website.
The journal also has a blog, which will be updated weekly with relevant news or other items of interest related to the journal’s topic. Examples of recent blog posts include: an article about an Italian priest who recently smashed a TV on the altar of his church during Mass to remind his parishioners to not become enslaved to technology; pictures from a new tumblr that gives life advice from machines; and a set of videos in which a person tests to see why people are comfortable with security cameras recording them but get very nervous when a person holding a camera does the same thing.
The journal hopes to eventually offer an annual print edition, conferences, and seminars.
All questions, comments, media inquiries, and submissions should be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The quote “We become what we behold. We shape our tools and then our tools shape us” is often mistakenly attributed to Marshall McLuhan. It does NOT appear in “Understanding Media”, as Wilson Miner confidently asserts in the presentation below, indeed it does not appear in any published work by McLuhan at all. The quote was actually written by Father John Culkin, SJ, a Professor of Communication at Fordham University in New York and friend of McLuhan. But though the quote is Culkin’s, I would argue that the idea is McLuhan’s, as it comes up in an article by Culkin about McLuhan: Culkin, J.M. (1967, March 18). A schoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan. Saturday Review, pp. 51-53, 71-72. The idea presented in the quote is entirely consistent with McLuhan’s thinking on technology in general.Photos of Father John Culkin and Marshall McLuhan
This excellent 38 minute presentation by digital product designer Wilson Miner is titled “When We Build” and weaves together a discussion about Marshall McLuhan, Steve Jobs, the things we design and build, cars, computers, art and design. It is well worth watching and listening to.
About Wilson Miner http://wilsonminer.com/
The Tetrad: a dialectical model of media ecology theory Author: Gerrit Verstraete - 3/28/2013 McLuhan designed the tetrad to provide a scientific basis for media observations. The tetrad applies to all media and human artifacts, a phenomenon that is universal and simultaneous. Into the complex of this paper is introduced the proposition that scientific research as applied to media can also be applied to art, design and new media (ADN), with research that goes beyond the science of investigating “reciprocal interplay of observable and generalized data” (Dict.1975) to include the intuitive and methodological processes of the creation of art. Media ecology theories support the idea that the tetrad can be a dialectical model for examining art, design and new media to determine the validity of such theoretical support.
This paper explores media ecology theories to demonstrate that critical thought remains subject to the biases of the artist and the viewer. Many expressions of art, design and new media are created as an explicit or implicit voice of the artist’s reflection of the biases of his or her work. Media ecology studies examine these biases with an aim to understand how communications media, including the forms of art, design and new media, help create the environment in which people and society interact and how the arts in general play a major role is such interaction.
In this paper I will focus primarily on the making of art as the principal subject for applying McLuhan’s Laws of Media to art’s relationship to technology and new media. Original source: http://tinyurl.com/cy7jrnu .
Download paper from here http://tinyurl.com/cy7jrnuRead about him here: http://hastac.org/users/gerritverstraete
Theatre Junction GRAND is proud to present the world première of Sometime between now and when the sun goes Supernova, the latest creation from Artistic Director and founder, Mark Lawes. This inspired and original multidisciplinary performance explores the subject of hybrid identities resulting from new modes of communication in an accelerated world. Inspired by Marshall McLuhan’s theories on media, the scientific writings on the origin of consciousness by Julian Jaynes, and Douglas Coupland’s tales for an accelerated culture, springs a work where fragments of living memories, bodies and hard drives collide in brilliant orange and purple. An artificial light illuminates a BBQ and a neon green lawn in the backyard of a suburban home. We are sometime “after” or sometime “before” in a time-space capsule – a movie set that recalls a hangover from last night’s party: tin foil, beer bottles, an old TV, a mattress, a Marilyn Monroe figurine, fried chicken bones, a Kurt Cobain t-shirt. There are flashes in the night – eyes, animal’s eyes, shining like knives. http://tinyurl.com/bvofoeg*** By Stephen Hunt, Calgary Herald March 5, 2013 How do you stage life in an accelerated cultute?
That’s one of the questions Theatre Junction artistic director Mark Lawes grappled with when he settled in for a three-month residency in Paris in the summer of 2012. It was there where Lawes launched the company’s newest performance creation, Sometime between now and when the sun goes supernova, which has its world premiere Wednesday night at Theatre Junction Grand.
And while he found himself looking out at the City of Lights for inspiration, Lawes also turned to two of the savviest contemporary media critics of the past five decades for inspiration, who — perhaps not by accident — are Canadian: Douglas Coupland and the late Marshall McLuhan, the author of Understanding Media.
What’s remarkable is that Lawes reports that, reading it almost 50 years after its 1964 publication, McLuhan still seems relevant.
“You read Understanding Media and it’s like, wow,” Lawes says. “You wrote that 50 years ago? It’s right there today. It still reads really well — it’s a great, great book.”
When Understanding Media was published in 1964, media was two channels, a pair of rabbit ears and CBC Radio.
In 2013, we have plowed so far past 500 channels that the term channels almost seems like a slice of quaint nostalgia. We’re living in a world so wired that the conversation is underway about how, exactly, our media-saturated world is changing the ways in which our brains work.
Or, as Company of Resident Artist Raphaele Thiriet says, (referencing Coupland), “The concept that new medias are modifying our psychology and how we are interacting with each other in society.”
What Lawes — and the rest of the Company of Resident Artists, who joined him in Paris for several weeks — discovered was that a wired world is not a warmer world.
“There is one study that we read,” he says, “that the kind of multi-tasking society that we live in now is diminishing the part of our brain that can have empathy.
In other words, while we may be more connected than ever by our technological devices, we’re also more emotionally disconnected from each other than ever.
“Our empathy (for each other) is diminishing,” Lawes says. “Because our brain is needing to be used in so many different kinds of ways, it’s not only affecting maybe our physiological selves, but our cultural selves, as well … how we tell stories, (and) how we interact with each other.”
However, the next order of business was a challenge: namely, how does one theatricalize that idea?
There were other writings, too, by Julian Jaynes, who writes about the nature of consciousness, and a photographer named Larry Sultan, who photographed the scenes at a series of houses in the San Fernando Valley in the early 2000s, where cash-strapped homeowners rented out their homes as sets for porn shoots.
There were scientists, too — a Quebec neurologist in particular — doing residencies of their own, who would share potluck dinners with the artists and (literally) brainstorm with them about their project.
Lawes enlisted longtime collaborators Thiriet and musician Chris Dadge, and brought in some new voices, namely dancers Luc Bouchard-Boissonneault and Melina Stinson, as well as French filmmaker Alexander Mehring, to create an interdisciplinary piece exploring the idea.
“We’re using a lot of different mediums, as we have (in the past),” Lawes says. “A lot more video than we have before,,,(and, additionally,) we’re trying to put the body in kind of a contrast to the screen,” he adds, physicalizing it through dance.
All of which raises a question: is it possible to dance an idea?
“Yes,” says Stinson. “If you can feel something, then you can dance it just like you can project an emotion or thought or intention.”
Not so fast, says Quebec native Bouchard-Boissonneault.
“For me, dancing an idea is probably first an idea (that) brings some emotion or sentiment (feeling),” he says. “And this sentiment is so a dancer is empathetic about this emotion.
“That is the body thing about dancing,” he adds. “You embody this emotion, so you can show it, but just (an) abstract idea? I don’t think I could dance (that) — but a result of an idea that brings empathy? That, I can dance.”
Set in a kind of suburban dreamscape, replete with a lush fake lawn of a set, the question remains whether audiences will have any empathy for the lives unfolding in Sometime between now and when the sun goes supernova.
After all, while Theatre Junction shows are smart, they aren’t very narratively-driven. They’re more like wandering into someone else’s dream and having a visit for a couple hours.
Not that that deters Lawes.
“You can try to express that unnameable part of an idea through dance,” he says, “or, I don’t know — a mood, light, sound, video — music works that way, too.”
Might seem odd to some, but think how Marshall McLuhan sounded back in 1964, publishing a book pondering about the overwhelming impact experiencing pop culture through a screen figured to have on everyone.
“At the time (he published Understanding Media), he wasn’t even considered an intellectual,” Lawes says. “They thought he was a quack! (Some of the critics wrote things like), this guy’s teaching at university? Media studies? At university? This guy is not serious!”
PREVIEW: Theatre Junction Grand presents Sometime between now and when the sun goes supernova at Theatre Junction Grand through March 16, 608 1st S.W. - theatrejunction.com - http://tinyurl.com/asboaos
Marshall McLuhan was a committed Christian. How did he come to his faith and did it influence his ideas? And has his work any meaning for the Church today?
Producer: Margaret Coffey
- Listen to the audio here – Download audio
- Read the transcript of the interview here – show transcript
This program was first broadcast on 17th July 2011.
Nina Sutton: Would you call yourself a very religious man?
Marshall McLuhan: I don’t know. I am I hope a very real, practising, believing Christian, I try to be.
Margaret Coffey: Marshall McLuhan, the man himself, on ABC Radio National’s Encounter – and here he’s a man of faith, and of religion.
Marshall McLuhan: I have no problems incidentally about being religious – no, I don’t find any conflicts.
Margaret Coffey: I’m Margaret Coffey, welcoming you to the program.
The Medium Is the Massage: Electric circuitry has rudely thrust us into a world that is quite unusual and quite unlike any previous world and for which no previous model of perception will serve.
Margaret Coffey: We’re marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of the man who made it popular to think about the effect of the media on our lives, either as individuals and in societies.
The Medium Is the Massage: The new feeling that people have about guilt is not something that can be privately assigned to some individual but is rather something shared by everybody in some mysterious way.
Margaret Coffey: And he was a man of whom it is also said:
Michael W. Higgins: It is difficult actually to identify him as either conservative Catholic or liberal Catholic. If they think of him at all as Catholic which is not largely the case I think and that is most unfortunate I think because it is to miss one of the major components of his thinking and is constitutive of his life, they tended to think of him as conservative: regular practising Catholic of the old way, fairly conventional, came into the church as he says himself in his twenties on his knees…
Marshall McLuhan: I had no religious yearnings or needs of any sort but I was quite aware of the claims of the church and I wanted to know what the claims were about.
Margaret Coffey: This Encounter shifts McLuhan out of that confining box, to complicate things, not to simplify them. And it’s necessary. At the big Barcelona McLuhan fest in May, no-one talked about McLuhan’s faith. Sociologist Chiara Giaccardi was there from the Catholic University of Milan.
Chiara Giaccardi: I was quite impressed to notice that McLuhan’s Catholic identity was not mentioned at all. And I think this is a very crucial point for the misunderstanding of McLuhan’s thought, because faith for McLuhan is the ground against which the figure of the work can be understood.
Margaret Coffey: Thirty-five years ago Marshall McLuhan was speaking to a journalist:
Nina Sutton: Nina Sutton. I’m an Anglo-French journalist.
Margaret Coffey: Nina Sutton is speaking from Paris…
Nina Sutton: My encounter with Marshall McLuhan took place in the fall of ‘75. I’d published a book in French about the Watergate scandal – my publisher was eager to have another book by me. He suggested, because that was all the rage at the time, that I do what we called a book interview with someone. You would do an in-depth interview and write the book in the first person and then the person interviewed would sign it. So I said Marshall McLuhan.
The Medium Is the Massage: If you take a sentence like the medium is the message which is very misunderstood..
Nina Sutton: …because the guy was very famous then – the man who had said the media is the message…
The Medium Is the Massage: The medium is the message, the medium is the message, right. From his little office in Toronto he had taken a whole generation by the scruff of the neck and said look at this problem …
Nina Sutton: And I flew to Toronto and spent a month there.
The Medium Is the Massage: …just made a certain kind of awareness…
Nina Sutton: And then, instead of finding the flashy media guru I was expecting I am met by this totally serious, tweed clad, English looking, professor of literature.
Marshall McLuhan: I have no problems incidentally about being religious – no, I don’t find any conflicts.
Margaret Coffey: Marshal McLuhan speaking out of the Canadian National Library and Archive.
Nina Sutton: You have no problem in belonging to the church?
Marshall McLuhan: None whatever. No. But you see I am a convert.
Nina Sutton: I myself had been trained at the Sorbonne and I was a pure product of French university teaching: I was rational, ideological, committed, certainly leaning to the left if not the ultra-Left.
Marshall McLuhan: By the way, converts come in through the back door of the church. Coming in through the back door is coming in through the effects of the church, and not through its teachings. When you come in the front door you have first to swallow all the doctrines and all the teachings, which is what happens to the kids you see in school.
Nina Sutton: Meanwhile there was a constant stream of visitors from all over the world because he was incredibly famous. So he would give seminars and lectures – I attended some, not all of them because my rational mind had great time coping.
Marshall McLuhan: I had learnt my religion at the upper level before I found anything down there at all. I had no religious yearnings or needs of any sort but I was quite aware of the claims of the church and I wanted to know what the claims were about. I became aware that the church had had an enormous effect in shaping Western man. I became aware of what the church claimed to be.
Nina Sutton: He had converted to Catholicism a long time before we met and he was a real true believer. And we discussed several times. And coming from a very Catholic country I had some very definite ideas about you know the unpleasant role that the church could play in a country etc.
Marshall McLuhan: Now I had no religious belief at that time at all. I was an agnostic. But I finally decided that if the church is what it says it is, you are also told how to test that hypothesis and you are told to knock and knock and knock and demand to be shown.
Nina Sutton: But then that last encounter really moved me. I don’t know whether you can picture him now, but he was easily flippant, pretending to not mind, and to not think you know. Suddenly that last day we were sitting in that little office, attic shaped sort of little office that he had at the top of his institute.
Marshall McLuhan: …you are told to knock and knock and knock and demand to be shown…
Nina Sutton: And he actually believed in grace you see.
Marshall McLuhan: …that, if it is what it says it is, it also says that you will be given the means of knowing.
Nina Sutton: So for about an hour, without admitting to it, he tried to convince me to knock on God’s door.
Marshall McLuhan: …if it is what it says it is, it also says that you will be given the means of knowing.
Nina Sutton: …all you have to do Nina is knock and he will answer. And I was absolutely moved because it was so uncharacteristic and it came from such a deep place in him.
Margaret Coffey: Nina Sutton. Here’s a missing piece from a common McLuhan image.
Michael W. Higgins: My name is Michael W. – William – Higgins. I am the vice-president for mission and Catholic identity of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut. I am the past president of two Canadian universities…
Margaret Coffey: Michael Higgins is talking to me from New Brunswick, Canada. He met McLuhan in the seventies, when he was a post-grad student.
Michael W. Higgins: Mass was held at the collegiate Church at the University of St Michael’s College which was known as St Basil’s. [Note: St Michael's is a Catholic College, part of the University of Toronto. McLuhan taught in Catholic institutions throughout his academic career].And Mass would be held every day at 12.10 and sometimes he would abbreviate his class or he would leave immediately after his class because the Eucharist meant a lot to him.
He saw it as largely undamaged by the shift from a visual world, a Gutenbergian world, to an electric world, an acoustic world, that so many other things changed and were in flux but there was something about the nature of the Mass… He was a daily communicant. It was like Teilhard’s notion of the Mass as the centre of the world or the great writings of David Jones, the artist, who understood the centrality of the Eucharist.
The Medium Is the Massage: And so on and so on and so on.
You know the most favourable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the Mass. Where is A, it precedes B, B follows A and precedes C. Writing was an embalming process that froze language. It eliminated the art of ambiguity and made puns the lowest form of wit.
Michael W. Higgins: I also encountered him on several occasions subsequently. He was a lector at Mass at Holy Rosary Parish – he lived in Wychwood Park which is a kind of an exclusive enclave in downtown Toronto and this was his local parish. One of the things which struck me there was his remarkable and quite predictable ability at mispronouncing every name in the English language. This great communications guru would often would often get the name wrong, mispronounce it, if he was reading the first lesson he would read the second lesson, thereby driving the priest crazy or he would read the Gospel, thereby confounding the liturgy for the day. I was always quite struck by this.
Margaret Coffey: It seems Marshall McLuhan made a point of confounding expectation, or at least evading the drawing pin ….it keeps people writing and talking about him…and ABC McLuhan exploring – on digital radio and online!
Jeet Heer: My name is Jeet Heer.
Margaret Coffey: He edits the Canadian literary journal The Walrus.
Jeet Heer: Growing up in Canada it is hard not to become familiar with him because he is one of the few intellectual exports that we have. But I think it is partially because as university student I was very interested in popular culture, in things like movies and comic books and the like, and McLuhan was one of the major kind of theorists of these things. And he lived a little bit before the internet but a lot of his theories would apply to what we are familiar now with, with the World Wide Web and email.
Margaret Coffey: So he’s part of the Canadian cultural heritage?
Jeet Heer: Yes very much so. They have these TV commercials devoted to like major figures like the hockey player Rocket Richard or Prime Minister Trudeau and they have a little moment, a one minute commercial showing Marshall McLuhan sitting in his library and he comes up with the idea of the medium is the message.
Margaret Coffey: Jeet Heer has written about the way from the very beginning McLuhan inspired extreme responses.
Jeet Heer: I mean I don’t think it has really changed very much since he died. From the time he started to think and publish he had a sort of cohort of followers who thought that this is someone who has really novel insight into the modern world and what’s happening but there were always detractors who thought he was a charlatan or a fraud and who used very strong language against him. I mean a lot of the hostility towards McLuhan came from people with a literary background – people who had invested their entire lives in first of all learning how to read and then becoming writers and who were very vested in a literary tradition. And they saw McLuhan coming along who was talking about you know how the age of print will be supplanted by the age of the electronic medium and they thought that well this is a man who is basically saying that our whole life is worthless. And people thought that because McLuhan was describing these things that he was advocating these things.
Margaret Coffey: But it’s curious isn’t it that alongside that kind of literary foundation for the critique that from the very beginning his Catholicism also played a part in establishing those extreme reaction?
Jeet Heer: Yes that’s very much the case. One of his most prominent critics of McLuhan was a British intellectual named Jonathan Miller who wrote a little book about McLuhan where he basically said that all of McLuhan’s thoughts amounted to nothing more than a system of lies. A running theme of that book was that McLuhan was not really a serious social scientist – that he was in fact a kind of Catholic apologist and that Catholic social themes were a covert message of McLuhan’s writing and there were a lot of other people who felt the same way. An American intellectual named Thomas Edwards said that a lot of the critiques of McLuhan hearkened back to the anti-Catholicism of the Reformation when there was a lot of fears of people like Guy Fawkes and a Popish plot and Edwards believed that there was this widespread sense that McLuhan and his Catholic colleagues were covertly trying to smuggle in Catholic dogma into media studies.
Margaret Coffey: It is amusing though isn’t it to read Jonathan Miller there – he is at his most protestant view of conspiratorial Catholicism – mentioning Thomas Aquinas is enough to lay bare the plot! [Note: Jonathan Miller, born into a Jewish family, didn't as he said go the whole - Jewish - hog.]
Jeet Heer: That’s right, yeah but I think that looking back on it in some ways Jonathan Miller, his position is not unlike that of more recent intellectuals like Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens – that there is this strong tradition in British intellectual life of a fear of religion, and not just of religion but particularly of Catholicism. There is a strong tradition of defining intellectual life in opposition to Catholicism. So in some ways to be a British intellectual at least in the tradition of Miller and Dawkins and Hitchens is to be anti-Catholic.Margaret Coffey: There is another strain which is slightly different and that’s the strain which describes him as a sort of covert fascist – it’s allied to the view of Catholicism but it has a touch difference about it, don’t you think?
Jeet Heer: Yes, that’s right, as you say it is related but it is distinct. It has a kind of basis in fact in that McLuhan is very much a man of the political right and especially when he was young in the 1930s he admired Franco. That was a period where he converted to Catholicism and he shared the view of some of his co-religionists that the European fascist dictators were a necessary bulwark against communism and anarchism. Now later in life McLuhan was much more cagey about politics and would not speak his political views so there were people who were suspicious because they knew in the past he had these views and later he very much admired the sort of southern agrarian tradition that held up the American south as a bulwark of tradition and so they thought that this is really the covert message of his work – that when he is denigrating print culture and celebrating the return of oral culture through technology he is really making a very reactionary, conservative point of view, denigrating reason, rationality, science and celebrating tribal culture. I think what it misses is the way that McLuhan himself evolved over time and the way the Catholic Church itself evolved. I think a big problem with all this discussion is that people have a very static view of Catholicism but if you actually look at things closely the Catholic Church went through a huge evolution in the middle of the twentieth century and a lot of Catholic intellectuals evolved and there was a sea shift from the sort of position that a Marshall McLuhan would have had in the 1930s to a position that started in the 1940s and fifties to take a much more positive view of democracy and coupled with that to take a much more positive view of technology and McLuhan was by no means alone in this. There was a lot of other Catholic intellectuals like Jacques Maritain and Etienne Gilson and the ultimate impact of these thinkers can be seen in the early sixties in Vatican 11. So I think that the view of McLuhan as a sort of covert fascist ignores the sort of real evolution of his thinking and more importantly ignores the way the Catholic Church itself was evolving during these years. [Note: Here is a journal article with an interesting interpretation of what lay behind the emergence of the Second Vatican Council. A seminal work to consult is A History of Vatican 11: v.1: Announcing and Preparing Vatican Council 11 - Towards a new era in Catholicism, edited by Giuseppe Alberigo; English ed edited by Joseph Komenchak. Orbis/Peeters, 1996]
Margaret Coffey: Which allows you to describe his achievement – I’m quoting you – as a mature thinker – I liked that – you know there’s a sense that one can develop as a thinker.
Jeet Heer: That’s right – I think that is one of the interesting things about McLuhan, that he wasn’t static. If you trace out his books, he was constantly trying to come up with new ideas and reacting to the world around him.
Margaret Coffey: Which must have been how Marshall McLuhan got to read Maritain and Gilson and Chesterton – they were writers of the moment when he was in his twenties.
Margaret Coffey: That’s G. K. Chesterton, and Christopher Dawson and Jacques Maritain…
Marshall McLuhan: I had no instruction even from clergy at any time but there was a friend of mine who said well since you don’t believe in Christianity – I was an agnostic – he said you could pray to God the Father. So you pray to God the Father and simply ask to be shown. And so I did.
And I didn’t know what I was going to be shown, all I said was show me, and I didn’t ask to be relieved of any problems. I had no problems. I had no belief and no problems.
Well I was shown in a quite amazing way and a quite unexpected. I was arguing about religion with a whole group of grad students one night at Wisconsin and one of them said to me suddenly why aren’t you a Catholic and I shut up because I didn’t know. Up to that moment it had never occurred to me that I would ever become a Catholic. But I was suddenly caught. I became a Catholic at once within a few days.
Michael Higgins: To some degree of course it is Newman, and it’s Newman’s elative sense and the accumulative power of argument to assent and then giving in to God’s grace. It’s interesting the degree that you can make some comparison with Thomas Merton. I wrote a book in 1978 called Heretic Blood and it’s the spiritual geography of Thomas Merton and I study Merton through the lens of William Blake who was the most important influence in Merton’s life. There is a marvellous point in his own autobiography, The Seven Story Mountain, in 1948, when he recounts his own conversion which is not unlike McLuhan’s. [Note: This book was published in England as Elected Silence .] Merton’s conversion is around 1936, he’s sitting at his desk, he’s working on his doctoral dissertation on Gerard Manley Hopkins, he suddenly has this overwhelming sense that he now has to give in, he has to assent, and this seems not dissimilar to McLuhan’s which would have been one year later.
Marshall McLuhan: But there was no trauma.
Jeet Heer: That’s an aspect of his Catholicism that might distinguish him from other sort of converts who were in some ways attracted to the Church because of a darker vision of sin. For McLuhan really came out of his reading of G. K. Chesterton and there is a sense in which Chesterton has this like very positive happy vision of Christianity where Christianity is a happy story, it’s a comedy rather than a tragedy because it ends with the story of the redemption of the world.
I think of McLuhan as a great sponge, you know, he’s always absorbing things. And one of the sources of his creativity is that he would absorb someone like Chesterton and then also absorb a polar opposite like James Joyce or =”">Jacques Maritain. And so in some ways that prevented McLuhan from becoming ossified or stuck in a repetitive mode of thinking.
Margaret Coffey: Jeet, how have you come to be so familiar with all of these figures and with this discussion?
Jeet Heer: It’s partially growing out of my work as an academic because I write about popular culture and I found McLuhan to be a very rich and kind of inspiring source for this. I mean it is a bit odd because I was born in India and I am a Sikh. So the amount of time I spend reading Catholic theology is a bit unusual. But I like to tell my friends that I am as positive about Catholic theology as it is possible for a Sikh to be.
Margaret Coffey: On Radio National you are listening to Encounter.
Was McLuhan a moralist? Because that seems to be the underlying theme of some of the rejection of McLuhan as Catholic.
Jeet Heer: That’s a tough question to answer. As I tried to emphasise before he tried to separate his own personal feelings about things from his analysis, to try to have an analysis that could be accepted by people who didn’t necessarily share his theological or political background. But having said that it’s not like he didn’t have moral points of view, but it’s more like he tried to create an analytical framework that could be suggestive and provocative and rich for anyone’s point of view. I think a good example of this is the issue of abortion where he was very much of the anti-abortion position of his church and he would never backtrack from that position or deny it. But when he was asked to comment on abortion one of the things he would do is try to bring his own analytical framework to it and so his analysis of abortion dealt with technology and disincarnation that we were talking about earlier, that he felt that abortion was easier to perform in a culture where bodies were alienated by technology, where the notion of incarnation has weakened.
Margaret Coffey: Jeet Heer. His essay on Marshall McLuhan is available online – you’ll find a link at =”">Romano Guardini for one, and in the English speaking world Chesterton – even though Chesterton dies even before the beginning of the Second World War, never mind the Second Vatican Council, he is now seen as the paragon of orthodoxy and if we could just get back within the Chesterton parameters, the old church would be reclaimed, the ancien regime would be restored, the excesses of the Council would be gone. He had no interest in doing any of those things. I think what interested him enormously in Chesterton was his deftness of mind, his agility as a writer, his ability to think in not just pre-modern but post-modern terms and that approach is not an approach largely shared by or even understood by those who have hi-jacked Chesterton.
Margaret Coffey: The thing is – what has all this rather in-house Catholic stuff got to do with Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about the media? In Barcelona, Chiara Giaccardi told us, where the focus was on understanding those ideas about the media, and up-dating them, no-one was interested in McLuhan’s Catholicism. And that’s reasonable, in the mind of Eric McLuhan, the son who has developed his father’s legacy.
Eric McLuhan: How much influence did McLuhan, my father’s religious leanings and religious beliefs, how much did these influence his work on media. And I can say pretty certainly not at all. They are very different things. That is, he could apply the techniques of study that he was using to matters concerning religion and religious developments in the world today, but he didn’t derive his media study from his religious beliefs at all. And I am very happy to put the lie to that one.
Margaret Coffey: That sounds like a strategy, in the circumstances.
Michael Higgins: Well it would be glib that it is largely due to the academy’s supple, sometimes extremely insidious, but rarely upfront anti-Catholicism. His faith in so many ways is constitutive of his thinking that it is kind of shocking that scholars and commentators, particularly in the year of his one hundredth anniversary, would look at various and several aspects of his life but would somehow look at his faith as if it were marginal or decorative. We had a similar thing here in Canada on the occasion of Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Trudeau in many ways is a kind of McLuhanesque politician, and a great jurist, political philosopher, and a man of enormously deep and reflective Catholic principles and an active spiritual life and a practising Catholic, and you know all the commentaries, all the biographies either put it on the margin or ignore it or see it as a eccentricity. The fate of Trudeau seems in no small way also the fate of McLuhan on this point.
Margaret Coffey: Chiara Giaccardi has a different approach: in her mind, McLuhan’s religious beliefs were the ground of his freedom to see – rather than simply something different or indeed his ideological straitjacket.
Chiara Giaccardi: I think it is exactly the opposite because he is anti-ideological because he is also very critical against the church, against many aspects of [the] Catholic institution and he is very, very close to the core of the message, which is the person in fact. And I think he is very free because he can adopt a stance towards culture, towards technological innovation which is again a counter-environmental stance. He was able to foresee a lot of things that happened many, many years later because of this freedom.
Margaret Coffey: McLuhan’s ideas, she says, have the freedom that allow a critical look at world – like the ideas that emerged when he played with the world of tribal man and the magical thinking that linked everything in this world – and then made a connection with television as producing a new magic turn.
Chiara Giaccardi: I’m fascinated by the idea of magic because McLuhan opened up a world by talking about the magic in the tribal era. Television in a way produced a neo-magic turn but also there is a danger because magic is about voice, and is about instantaneity, because things happen suddenly, with the right spell. There is a risk that for ordinary people life is not built anymore but we hope to find the right spell to make things happen suddenly – to fall in love with the right person, to become millionaires overnight and so on. This is a very false way of thinking about life but also in Italy it is particularly evident. Magic can also be a way to acquire power because there are people that McLuhan called emperors of the tribal world who can master the media and can become the new shamans of presence. They can make people see things and so they can have a great power and this is particularly evident in the Italian situation but is everywhere. And the global village brought about by television at the risk of the new magic turn which is not as in the tribal world a world of resonance but a way to survive individually in a difficult and risky world.
Margaret Coffey: Jeet Heer, writing for Canada’s literati in The Walrus journal (and you can find it online), Jeet had a slightly different take. He attends to McLuhan’s language.
Jeet Heer: When I read McLuhan it is hard for me not to see a strong element of Catholicism in his work, especially just in the very vocabulary that he talks about things. For example, when he is talking about the impact of things like the telephone or computers there is a way these things remove the body from experience – so when you are talking to someone on the phone you can hear their voice but their body is not present – and McLuhan’s term for that is disincarnation and he sees a lot of modern technology as disincarnating experience. Now the term ‘incarnation’ is very heavily loaded theologically. It really does come out of the Christian doctrine of the Incarnation.
And also I think nature, the way in which nature is a crucial issue for McLuhan can’t be separated from the Catholic tradition of natural law and there’s a way in which a lot of Catholic theology most prominently in the work of Aquinas deals with the question of what is natural – and McLuhan wants to problematise that issue or he sees that issue of what is natural as becoming more complicated because of technology, because technology itself changes nature. There’s many ways in which McLuhan’s characteristic concerns grow out of the concerns of the Catholic Church. Read the rest at http://tinyurl.com/azcmd6a .
St Basil’s Church, St Michael’s College, Toronto, where McLuhan worshipped