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Marshall McLuhan, the Court Jester & Joker

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 03/24/2015 - 5:50pm

“You mean my whole fallacy is wrong”, from Annie Hall (1977), directed by Woody Allen

“Marshall McLuhan was a skeptic, a joker, and an erudite maniac. He read too deeply from Finnegans Wake, had too great a fondness for puns, and never allowed his fun to be ruined by the adoption of a coherent point of view. He was dismayed by any attempt to pin him down to a consistent analysis and dismissive of criticism that his plans were impractical or absurd. His characteristic comment during one academic debate has taken on a mythic life of its own. In response to a renowned American sociologist, McLuhan countered: ‘You don’t like those ideas? I got others.'” – Wired 4.01: The Wisdom of Saint Marshall, the Holy Fool by Gary Wolf  ( http://tinyurl.com/mkhbxe2 )

“Technical critiques of McLuhan are somewhat beside the point. How does one logically attack a court jester, a man who declares the end of linear logic?” – Daniel Czitrom (1982). Media & the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan, p. 128)

The Marshall McLuhan Estate has published 3 pages from the great man’s joke file on the Estate’s Facebook page (see https://www.facebook.com/mcluhanestate and scroll way down). The first one below is of McLuhan one-liners, which McLuhan argued were all that listeners in the acoustic Electronic Era could pay attention to, because of their decreased attention spans in an environment of information overload; he opined that one-liners like this, often pun-intensive, at least those devised by McLuhan, had replaced the long form story line jokes. The second page below illustrates this obsolesced narrative style of jokes, a by-product of the visual era of print literacy.

(Magnify your screen view for easier reading.)


Categories: Blog

From the Marshall McLuhan Clippings File: PEOPLE Magazine – September 20, 1976

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 03/19/2015 - 7:17pm
'People Weekly, September 20th 1976. Article by Barbara Rowes, photos by Harry Benson'   'Marshall McLuhan in front of René Cera's painting "Pied Pipers All" at the Centre for Culture and Technology. Photo by Harry Benson'   'McLuhan's comment to Barry Nevitt, recorded here, on Karl Popper's definition of a scientific statement as 'one which can be disproved' is a cornerstone of Laws of Media.'

Photo [by Harry Benson] shows Marshall looking over a sculpture (by William McElcheran, outside the Kelly Library, UofT) on which he himself is featured.'" width="153" height="215" />

If the Media Didn’t Get Marshall McLuhan’s Message in the ’60s, Another Is on the Way

September 20, 1976 – Vol. 6, No. 12

 Select quotes from that article, the full text of which can be read at http://tinyurl.com/lgdnnzu .

Just as Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, Marshall McLuhan is the pioneer in media sociology [today called media ecology], the study of the effects of electronic information—TV, radio, stereo and cassettes—on society. Understanding Media created a storm of controversy when it was published in 1964, but now it is used in nearly every university on the North American continent and has been translated into 15 languages… 

“You see, I’m a sleuth, a kind of Sherlock Holmes character who simply investigates the environment and reports exactly what he sees. Strangely enough, some people are actually frightened by me. I find the whole exploration of the environment very exciting. Once you decide to become an explorer, there’s no place to stop. I’m like Columbus. I discover new worlds everywhere I look”… 

Much to his satisfaction, more and more of his early prophecies are coming true. Twelve years ago, for example, he predicted that high school students would soon be more dramatically influenced by the audiovisual media than by print. At the time educators doubted him. Now HEW and several educational testing services confirm that reading scores among such students have dropped alarmingly…

Watergate, of course, was for McLuhan a microcosm of what is happening everywhere in this electronic age. “Electronic devices are making what we think of as privacy obsolete,” he explained back in the 1960s. Nixon, to hear McLuhan talk about him, was a Greek hero. His tragic flaw was his failure to recognize that he could not defend his own privacy while depriving everyone else of theirs. “He also wasn’t good television,” McLuhan points out. “He looked too different, too private. People are suspicious of privacy in the electronic age. Now, Gerald Ford is the perfect electronic man. He becomes whatever you want him to be.” 

Because of his theory that print is becoming obsolete, McLuhan is sometimes considered an enemy of books. On the contrary, he devours them, as many as 30 a week in five languages. Curiously, McLuhan moved his TV set into the basement recently. Although his theories pivot upon the importance of TV in shaping the future, McLuhan wants to minimize the effect it has on him. “I did not want it invading my home,” he explains. (Likewise, he never uses a dictation machine and prefers that his secretary use a manual rather than an electric typewriter)… 

A month ago McLuhan got word that he has achieved a kind of immortality. The Oxford dictionary, bible of the English language, will include the word “McLuhanism” in its next edition, a colleague advised. McLuhan considered the prospect sourly. “I can just imagine,” he says, “what that word is going to mean.”

[Addendum: the word McLuhanism is still there in the OED in its online version, defined as: “The social ideas of McLuhan concerning the effects of mass media, esp. the argument that it is the characteristics of a medium rather than the information it disseminates which influence and control society”. – see http://tinyurl.com/pwo7mqe ]

McLuhan on the Today Show, 1976


Categories: Blog

Excerpt from Marshall McLuhan Manuscript on The Future of the Library (1976) to be Published by Island Magazine in Australia

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 03/15/2015 - 3:01pm

Kate Harrison, Island Marketing, 12.03.15

A previously unpublished manuscript by Marshall McLuhan – the founding father of modern media communications theory – has been uncovered.

Written in 1976, with Robert K. Logan, the manuscript titled “The Future of the Library: An old figure in a new ground”, was to be the culmination of McLuhan’s work on media ecology.

A 6,000 word edited excerpt, abstracted from the 60,000 word manuscript, will be published in Australian literary quarterly, Island magazine (issue 140, due out on March 30), with kind permission from the Marshall McLuhan Estate.

McLuhan’s work on media ecology began in the 1950s, with the publication of The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Although it was not until the publications of the early 1960s – with The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man and Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which launched such ideas as ‘the medium is the message’ and ‘global village’ – that McLuhan became internationally famous.

McLuhan, who predicted the Internet 30 years before it came into existence, wrote “The Future of the Library” with Robert Logan during the mid-1970s, before the onset of home computers, and yet he was able to accurately foresee the rapid changes that libraries would undertake over the next 35 years, in light of the development of information technology.

Significantly, McLuhan offers a suggestion for what a library of the future could still look like.

‘What is most interesting about this manuscript,’ said Island editor, Matthew Lamb, ‘is not just that McLuhan had the foresight to see what has happened over the past 35 years, but that his suggestions for how we should address these changes are still relevant. In fact, what McLuhan had to say about our present moment from his vantage point of the past is far more interesting, prescient, and useful, than what most of our contemporary media commentators have to say today.’

This announcement comes on the back of recent announcements that Island is forming a literary partnership with David Walsh and the Museum of Old and New Arts (MONA), and with this coming issue, Island will be available only in a print edition, with no digital edition or online content.

‘The decision to go print-only is very much a result of a close reading of the work of Marshall McLuhan,’ said Lamb. ‘So it seemed appropriate to launch the first print-only, MONA-edition with a feature essay by McLuhan himself.’

As McLuhan writes, in this essay: ‘In industry there is an old saying: “If it works, it is obsolete.” We have been saying for some years that the book and printing are obsolete. Many people interpret this to mean that printing and the book are about to disappear. Obsolescence, in fact, means the opposite. It means that a service has become so pervasive that it permeates every area of a culture like the vernacular itself. Obsolescence, in short, ensures total acceptance and ever wider use.’ (Source: http://tinyurl.com/louy4t9 )

Island 140 will be published on 30 March, 2015. Island Magazine’s homepage is at http://islandmag.com/

Island Magazine on Social Media: TWITTER: @IslandMagTas   –   FACEBOOK: /islandmag   –   INSTAGRAM: @IslandMagTas   –   HASHTAG: #islandmagtas

Libraries of the Future


Categories: Blog

An Essay: Media Culture – Marshall McLuhan & the Evolution of Publishing

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 03/13/2015 - 8:01pm

The following essay is an astute and well-written student essay, I think by a student of Dr. Paul Levinson at Fordham University. [Correction – the author of this essay informs me that he’s a student at Bangor University in Wales, UK.] Marshall McLuhan said that, “Gutenberg had, in effect, made every man a reader. Today, Xerox and other forms of reprography tend to make every man a publisher”  (The Future of the Book (1972), in Understanding Me: Lectures & Interviews (203), p. 179). That was only partially true in 1972, as mere photocopying scarcely equates with traditional book publishing as such. But today’s digital technology and its capabilities has made the idea of every man who wishes to publish something a publisher literally true…….Alex

Gutenberg Press

A printing press in the Gutenberg style, invented around 1440

By somestickguy  –  March 11, 2015

“Something as simple as a change in speed can change the world”.

“In a culture like ours . . . it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operation and practical fact, the medium is the message.” Such is Marshall McLuhan’s introduction to a revolutionary concept in media studies (1964, p. 7). Written over a half-century ago, McLuhan’s view on media holds remarkably firm in a modern context. In this essay, we will be examining how “the medium is the message” applies specifically to innovations in publishing. After first examining the impact of the invention of the printing press in its day, we will contrast this historical event with more recent developments in the publishing industry; specifically, how Amazon, Inkshares and other companies are encouraging a move towards self-publishing. In comparing the media’s impact on the world both before and after McLuhan’s time, we can see that his famous statement on the nature of the medium consistently applies to the development of our worldwide culture.

McLuhan, in the first chapter of Understanding Media, is laborious in defining the meaning of his claim that “the medium is the message”, and equally laborious in defining what it does not mean. “Many people would be disposed to say that it was not the machine, but what one did with the machine, that was its meaning or message”, he posits, before firmly contesting the notion (McLuhan, 1964, p. 7). He explains that “the ‘content of any medium is always another medium’, and that when we focus on the content we fail to understand the bigger picture (ibid).

McLuhan defines the message of any media “as the change of scale or pace or pattern that it introduces into human affairs.” (ibid., p. 8) This is what he calls, in his book’s very title, the extensions of man. This extension, then, can be thought of as an improvement of humanity’s abilities. McLuhan observes that something as simple a change in speed can change the world, referring to the invention of movies as key example. He summarises this innovation as a speeding up of the mechanical process which “carried us . . . into the world of creative configuration and structure”(ibid., p. 12).

It is exactly this principle of media changing the world through the extension of mankind that we will test, beginning in application to the invention of the Gutenberg printing press in the 15th century. Although it is often cited as a factor in the rise of the Protestant reformation and the fall of the Catholic Church as an absolute political power, McLuhan and his disciples notably go so far as to posit that the printing press was the cause of the reformation (Levinson, 2015).

Not all writers on the subject follow this school of thought. One such writer states that “Printing provided a catalyst, a precondition, but did not of itself cause the movement” (Cameron, 1991, p. 6). In continuing to protest the theory of direct causation, this writer argues that “The press existed for some sixty years” before the major Protestant figures arose (ibid.). This particular argument seems weak; the lack of immediacy in revolution does not decide culpability for said revolution one way or another. Another writer comes closer to McLuhan’s stance in noting that “the invention allowed ‘renaissance’ to affect many more minds” preceding the reformation (Chadwick, 2001, p. 7).

More illuminating is a comparison made on the subject by a biographer of key reformation figure Martin Luther. In his book, Bernard Lohse makes note of John Huss, a predecessor to Luther who was killed by the Catholic Church for his religious ideas (Lohse, 1987, p. 11). In comparing Luther to Huss, Lohse observes that the spread and discussion of Luther’s ideas was “only possible because the art of printing had already been developed for a few decades . . . The resulting powerful effect on public opinion on Luther’s work made it impossible for Luther to be done away with as quickly as Huss had been.” “Thus”, Lohse concludes, “the art of printing is of considerable significance for the end . . . of the Middle Ages”. 

The enhanced speed of the spread of information was, to follow McLuhan’s theory, the message of the printing press. This message caused a major shift in the balance of societal power across Europe. In today’s society, we are seeing a new message in the world of publishing, and it can again be categorised as a change in speed.

With the rise of services like Amazon, authors are being offered a way to circumvent the practice of appealing to large publishing companies. This is coupled with the possibility of instantaneous publishing through the medium of e-books. Paul Levinson, a disciple of McLuhan, refers to this development as a “revolution [that is] a profound game changer for the author” (Levinson, 2014, p. 71).

Read the rest of this essay at http://tinyurl.com/n8tgbq5 ).


Categories: Blog

Massage Received: From McLuhan to the Digital Age (More about The Age of Earthquakes)

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 03/09/2015 - 5:24pm

The Medium is the Massage. Marshall McLuhan’s ground-breaking paperback is the encapsulation of how technology and design impacted 1960s culture. Now 50 years on, SHUMON BASAR, DOUGLAS COUPLAND and HANS ULRICH OBRIST write for BBC Arts about why Planet Earth needs a new self-help book for the digital age. Their answer to McLuhan is The Age of Earthquakes.

A Page from The Medium is the Massage

We’ve made our own ‘experimental paperback’ entitled The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. Wondering what McLuhan would have made of our always-connected world has led us to other interesting questions. The key difference is that while the McLuhan/Fiore/Agel book charted the impact of 1960s electric technology on culture. The Age of Earthquakes tours the impact of digital technology – in particular the Internet – on our brains, our relationships to each other and even changes in our planet.

The Age of Earthquakes is also born from an extensive collaboration (between novelist Douglas Coupland, cultural critic Shumon Basar, contemporary art curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, graphic designer Wayne Daly and 35 visual artists from all over the world).

We wanted to update what Quention Fiore described as “a dialogue between the computer and the book” back in 1967. We were also inspired by McLuhan’s 1964 pronouncement that, “the paperback itself has become a vast mosaic world in depth… a transformation of book culture into something else.”

In The Age of Earthquakes, this ‘something else’ is our current culture of addiction to screens, big and small. We’ve culled visual clutter from smartphones and computer monitors then arranged them on the pages of our paperback. We’ve stolen aphorisms, slogans and spam from the Internet, which we then set in the same neutral modern font. They miraculously transform into poetry. All this is rendered in the same monochrome aura of The Medium is the Massage.

It goes to show that embedded in the DNA of the simple paperback is an enduring technology. An ‘operating system’ that’s resilient and open to continual cultural renewal, absorbing what’s around it.

Often, it takes the medium of a previous era to fully capture the contemporary moment we live in. We call this 21st century moment, ‘The Extreme Present.’

What’s that, you may ask.

‘The Extreme Present’ defines the current historical instant when the future seems to be happening much faster than we ever thought it would. Symptoms include your life not feeling like a story anymore; you not feeling like an individual any longer; waiting for something smarter than us — and dreading what that might be.

We’ll never know if McLuhan/Fiore/Agel would ‘LIKE’ our homage to their intrepid and innovative intelligence. Or if they’d rather start a Twitter feud. Worse still, resort to a YouTube outburst. Ideally, they’d pat us on the back, and paraphrase something Agel said 50 years go: “Boys, it’s a book that shows what’s happening when what’s happening is happening. It predicts the present.” (Source: http://tinyurl.com/pgptxsr )                                                                                                                        Pages from The Age of Earthquakes


Categories: Blog

B.W. Powe’s New Book: Where Seas And Fables Meet: Parables, Aphorisms, Fragments, Thought

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 03/07/2015 - 5:08pm

Cover Seas and Fables Meet

This is a powerful, beautiful book that blends parables, aphorisms, dreams, fantasies, ideas, anecdotes, witticisms, puns, vignettes, and prose poems in a meditative and often passionate way. It is a book that takes the risk of being free in its style and form, to affirm the possibilities of thought, spirit, heart, humour, and imagination. In Where Seas and Fables Meet, B.W. Powe gives us his boldest, most soul-revealing work to date.

Praise for his work:
“A soaring alchemical vision.” Pico Iyer
“An impassioned chronicler. His words seem to emanate fully formed from the cosmos… Ecstatic moments… hair-raising lines.” The Globe and Mail
“One of Canada’s leading cultural commentators.” The Toronto Star
“Like some latter-day Magellan, Powe has taken it upon himself to sail into turbulent waters, mapping out the hazards and the consequences.” The Montreal Gazette
“Invents something original—and often breathtaking.” The Ottawa Citizen
“Gloriously poetic…” The Vancouver Sun
“His writing burns off the page.” George Steiner
“His subtly textured themes affirm the importance of the romantic voice in these troubled times.” Canadian Literature
“Trenchant in [his] vision, and often rhapsodic… Powe adopts the stance of a rhetorician—a fitting stance… that involves in not only observation of the evidence but regard for the beauty of a sentence.” The National Post
“[Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye, Apocalypse and Alchemy] is a rich and subtly argued book that offers many first-hand insights.” Times Literary Supplement
“Way cool.” John Doyle
“A rare intellectual figure in the Canadian landscape….definitely in the same league with the Canadian giants of the twentieth century.” Francesco Guardiani

B.W. Powe

B.W. Powe is widely regarded as one of the original and unclassifiable authors in Canadian writing. He is the author of A Climate Charged (1984), The Solitary Outlaw (1987), A Tremendous Canada of Light (1995), Outage (1995), Light Onwards, Light Onwards (2003), The Unsaid Passing (2005), a finalist for the ReLit Prize, and These Shadows Remain.

 Where Seas and Fables Meet 

Guernica Editions  –  ISBN-13: 9781550719420  –  TPB $20  –  150 PAGES  –  Literary Fiction  –   Pub date: 1 March 2015


Categories: Blog

From The Medium is the Massage (1967) to The Age of Earthquakes (2015)

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 03/06/2015 - 11:31am

Guides to Two Ages of Anxiety

mcluhan.jpg

The 1st UK edition, 1967

image

In 1967, an unusual-looking book called The Medium is the Massage sold in millions and became that rare cultural phenomenon: a mass-market cult success. Its prophetic words came from a 56-year-old Canadian professor of English literature called Marshall McLuhan (not exactly a hipster or a hippie). Three years earlier McLuhan had introduced a phrase that still sounds current today: ‘the medium is the message’.

This dictum became the driving logic behind The Medium is the Massage (and no, that’s not a typo) [Ed – actually it *was* a typo, one made by the printer, which McLuhan chose to retain because of its aptness.]. McLuhan’s fizzing ideas about how all media – including radio, television, magazines and advertising – are “extensions of man” were shaped into a kaleidoscope of graphically audacious words and images in flux. The border between man and technology is porous, McLuhan was saying, and with every new invention we reinvent ourselves as humans.

In Massage, Professor McLuhan was flanked by two other first-rate intelligences: former advertising man turned ‘book producer’ Jerome Agel, and New York graphic designer Quentin Fiore. They aspired to animate and activate McLuhan’s often-obtuse prose into something that even children could access. And enjoy.

This week, Penguin (who released Massage in 1967) is publishing our own ‘experimental paperback’ called The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present. It’s intended as The Medium is the Massage for the 21st century and wonders, “What would McLuhan have made of the world today?” He died in 1980 and never got to see the Internet – but seemed to anticipate many of its qualities and effects.

Our book is a poetic manifesto, designed by Wayne Daly with images sourced from 35 visual artists, that portrays what we call ‘the Extreme Present’. What’s that?

The ‘Extreme Present’ is the realisation that the causes of the modern condition are not going to go away. If anything, the forces driving the current world can only keep accelerating. This leads to enormous changes in the texture of life. These changes include new ways of consuming old and new forms of culture, new relationships with history, and new ways of perceiving both the near future and the distant future.

One thing McLuhan taught us is that reality is usually one step ahead of the language we already possess to describe it. As such, we tend to misunderstand the present moment as it’s unfurling. So, new words and new terms must be constantly invented to fully apprehend the volatile changes taking place to us, to our values and our surroundings.

Here are examples from The Age of Earthquakes’ new Glossary for ‘the Extreme Present’. Feel free to use them today over lunch while you’re ‘deselfing’. Or when you’re paying for groceries, you suddenly forget your PIN number and you feel completely ‘smupid’.

Aclassification (n.)
Aclassification is the process wherein one is stripped of class without being assigned a new class. If you lose your job at an 
auto assembly plant and start supporting yourself by giving massages and upgrading websites part time, what are you? Middle class? Not really. Lower class? That sounds archaic and obsolete. In the future, current class structures will dissolve and humanity will settle into two groups: those people who have actual skills (surgeons; hairdressers; helicopter pilots) and everyone else who’s kind of faking it through life. Implicit in aclassification is the idea that a fully linked world no longer needs a middle class.

Blank-collar workers (n.)
Blank-collar workers are the new post-class class. They are a future global monoclass of citizenry adrift in a classless sea. Neither middle class nor working class – and certainly not rich – blank-collar workers are aware of their status as simply one unit among seven billion other units. Blank-collar workers rely on a grab bag of skills to pay the rent. By the time they’ve died from neglect in a badly run senior-care facility, blank-collar workers have had at least 17 careers, none of which came with a pension scheme.

Denarration (n.)
The process whereby one’s life stops feeling like a story.

Deselfing (n.)
Willingly diluting one’s sense of self and ego by plastering the Internet with as much information as possible.

Detroitus (n.)
Detroitus is the fear of Michigan. It is
the queasy realisation that it’s probably much too late to fix whatever little bit of the economy is left after having shipped most of it away to China. Detroitus is also the fear of roughly ten million primates needing 2,500 calories a day sitting on top of a cold rock in the middle of the North American continent, with nothing to do all day except go online and shop from jail. Detroitus is an existential fear, as it forces one to ponder the meaning
of being alive at all: we wake up, we do something – anything – we go to sleep, and we repeat it about 22,000 more times, and then we die.

Interruption-driven memory (n.)
We only remember red stoplights, never the green ones. The green ones keep us 
in the flow; the red ones interrupt and annoy us. Interruption. This accounts for the almost near-universal tendency of car drivers to be superstitious about stoplights.

Monophobia (n.)
Fear of feeling like an individual.

Occession (n.)
Occession is the process whereby the West cedes its claim to having the sole means
 of attaining enlightenment in all realms. Implicit in Occession is the assumption that the traditional Western mode of creating ideas based in secularist theory has possibly run its course, or is hitting an unclimbable wall. This wall may, in
 the end, be surmountable. In the interim, the East is forging forward with modes 
of thinking grounded in radically different ways of approaching individual identity, capital, globalisation, religion, politics, global ecology and nationalism.

Smupid (adj.)
Smupidity defines the mental state wherein we acknowledge that we’ve never been smarter as individuals and yet somehow we’ve never felt stupider. We now collectively inhabit a state of smupidity where the average IQ is now 103 but it feels like it’s 97. One possible explanation for smupidity is 
that people are generally far more aware than they ever were of all the information they don’t know. The weight of this fact overshadows huge advances made in knowledge accumulation and pattern recognition skills honed by online searching.

Time snack (v.)
Often annoying moments of pseudo-leisure created by computers when they stop to save a file or to search for software updates or merely to mess with your mind.

The glossary is taken from The Age of Earthquakes: A Guide to the Extreme Present by Douglas Coupland, Hans Ulrich Obrist and Shumon Basar (published by Penguin). (Source http://tinyurl.com/k7l2lsj )

The Authors:                                                   

DOUGLAS COUPLAND was born on a NATO base in Germany in 1961. He is the author of the international bestsellers Generation A and JPod, and nine other novels, including The Gum Thief, Hey Nostradamus!, All Families Are Psychotic, Microserfs, and Generation X, along with nonfiction works, including a recent short biography of Marshall McLuhan. His work has been translated into thirty-five languages and published in most countries around the world. He is also a visual artist, furniture and fashion designer, and screenwriter. He lives and works in Vancouver.
Hans Ulrich Obrist is a curator and writer. Since 2006 he has been co-director of the Serpentine Gallery, London. His previous books include Ai Weiwei Speaks.
Shumon Basar


Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan, Jane Jacobs & the Toronto Spadina Expressway: “Forget your ego.”

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 03/04/2015 - 8:57pm

HWY 401 #20
Aerial photo of the Hwy 401 & Spadina Expressway (Allen Road) Interchange, facing east (October, 1967)

Check your ego at the transit door

By Michael Geller – Vancouver Courier – March 3, 2015

My interest in the forthcoming transit referendum dates back, in part, to Oct. 15, 1970 when, as a University of Toronto student, I attended the premiere screening of a The Burning Would, a documentary film made by the late Jane Jacobs and Marshall McLuhan opposing a proposed expansion of Toronto’s Spadina Expressway. 

Both Jacobs and McLuhan were supposed to be at the screening but McLuhan had to cancel at the last minute. The moderator apologized for his absence and read out his speech which, as I recall, comprised three words: “Forget your ego.” McLuhan wanted us to stop thinking about expressways and automobiles as first-class transportation and public transit as second-class.

This resonated with me since a year earlier, I had returned from 15 months working and travelling in England and Scandinavia where the image of public transit was very different than in North America. In hindsight, it is fascinating to revisit what McLuhan had to say about city planning and transportation four and a half decades ago.He wrote: “Our planners are 19th century men with a naïve faith in an obsolete technology. In an age of software, planners treat people like hardware — they haven’t the faintest interest in the values of neighbourhood or community. Their failure to learn from the mistakes of American cities will be ours too… The Spadina Expressway is an old hardware American dream of now dead cities and blighted communities.”Toronto’s Stop Spadina movement was happening around the same time as the Strathcona Property Owners and Tenants Association (SPOTA) was leading the charge against a proposed expressway in Vancouver. Today, most Vancouverites would agree we have a much better city since we stopped U.S.-style freeways.

——[snip]——

Before voting, I would urge you to carefully consider the real benefits offered by improved transit: substantial gas, parking, and car maintenance savings; improved health; reduced traffic congestion; and for a few of us, a reduced likelihood of being charged with DUI offences.

Marshall McLuhan was right. We should be building better transit, not expressways. So forget your ego and vote Yes. (Read the rest at: http://tinyurl.com/plz9265 )

The Burning Would: Film by Marshall McLuhan & Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs on “Making a Movie with Marshall McLuhan”

 I first met Marshall McLuhan in 1969, when we had lunch together at the Faculty Club at the University of Toronto. I found him interesting and kind, but I hardly knew what to make of him as a thinker because of the way his conversation jumped about. He would say something interesting or outright brilliant which I would have liked to pursue with him and test out a little bit, but instead he would — flit — or so it seemed to me — to a different idea, and from that to still another.

But although this was bewildering and a little frustrating, I found the lunch enjoyable and knew that I’d met a really remarkable man. Then Colin Vaughan called up one day and brought McLuhan over to where I lived at the time on Spadina Road. They were concerned about a tract of land just south of Wychwood Park where they both lived, which was going to be developed into hideous highrise slabs. Colin Vaughan, who is an architect, had figured that the same number of people could be housed in a decent, human way. Marshall had become involved because he saw how horrid those slabs would be right on their border. We talked about how to fight it; of course I was on their side.

Sometime later Marshall got in touch with me again. In his wonderful energetic and optimistic way, he said:
“We need a movie about the Spadina Expressway! You and I can do the script.”
I said, “But I don’t know a thing about scriptwriting. I won’t be any use.”
“Oh, I’ve never written one either,” he said, “but we can easily do it together. Come on down to my office and we’ll get to work.”
I was dubious about this, but I was carried away by his enthusiasm. We really did need a movie about the issues involved. It was a good idea, so I went to his office in the Coach House, and McLuhan called in his secretary, introduced her, and said, “She’ll take down what we say.”

So we talked. Both of us were enthusiastic and much of our conversation consisted of “Hey, what about this?” followed by some notion, and “Hey what about this?” followed by another. After we had talked for about an hour, Marshall asked the secretary, “Have you got it all down?” Then he turned to me and said, “Well that’s it. We’ve got the script.”

“No we don’t!” I said “It’s all just ‘Hey, what about this?”

“Oh, that’s immaterial,” he replied.

He made a date for us to see the filmmaker, who was Christopher Chapman — the man who made “A Place to Stand.” When we arrived at his studio I was handed a typed copy of the script. I started looking through it, and it was even more garbled and unreadable than I expected. It was not the secretary who had garbled it — she had done an excellent job — it was just that what Marshall and I had said was so garbled. All the “Hey, what about this’s” we in there. The thing jumped around, without beginning or end. This did not bother Marshall but it did bother me. I thought we needed a thread.

Chapman also had a copy of the script in his hand, but to my mingled relief and alarm he didn’t seem exactly to read it. He flipped through it, back and forth, and said congenially that it was fine; it was something to go on. He asked us a lot of questions about the issues, Marshall went off and I remained a while longer to answer some more questions. That’s all I did.

Once in a while Marshall phoned and said everything was going fine, and in due course invited me to a viewing. I couldn’t have been more astonished that there even was a film. Marshall had obviously done lots more work on it. The name of the movie was “A Burning Would” The title was, of course, Marshall’s.

There was a shape to it. It had music. It did have a thread and raised a lot of important issues. Colin Vaughan provided an excellent narration. It was a good movie; furthermore, it was shown a lot, especially in the United States. For a long time I would get an occasional letter from this or that group in California saying that they had shown the movie. However, the final product bore no relationship at all to our original script. (Source: Commentary appended to YouTube video at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P510tPTQyWg ). See also Jane Jacobs’ comments in Nevitt, B. with McLuhan, M. (1995). Who Was Marshall McLuhan? Toronto: Stoddart, pp. 101-103.

Announcement in the June 4, 1971 Globe & Mail


Categories: Blog

What is Information?: What’s Missing in Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Information – A Talk by Robert Logan based on his most Recent Book

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 03/03/2015 - 7:24pm

Marshall McLuhan was interested in the nature of information, especially later in his career, as new electronic media had been altering established conceptions about the nature of information. In a letter to Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau dated February 1, 1979, he wrote: You are probably familiar with the Shannon-Weaver model of communication theory … Shannon and Weaver were mathematicians who considered the side-effects as noise. They assumed that these could be eliminated by simply stepping up the charge of energy in the circuit. (Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 542). Elsewhere, he explained that such a transportation theory of communication was inadequate in that what is needed is a transformation explanation. No doubt Bob Logan, all of whose recent books have been influenced by Marshall McLuhan in one way or another, will explain this and more in his scheduled talk, based on his recent book:

What is Information book cover

 Date & Location: Friday March 6 at 10 am at the Fields Institute, University of Toronto, 222 College Street. The event is organized by Professor Marcel Danesi. 

Robert K. Logan – Physics and St. Michael’s College – U of T Abstract: Shannon’s Mathematical Theory of Information made an important contribution to our general understanding of information and found many applications in addition to his original engineering  objective of determining the accuracy of transmitting a set of signals from a sender to a receiver. I suggest that Shannon created a theory of signals rather than a theory of information because of its lack of a concern with meaning and interpretation. Shannon readily admitted his theory was not concerned with the meaning of transmitted signals when he wrote: “Frequently the messages have meaning… These semantic aspects of communication are irrelevant to the engineering problem.” This talk will explore the complex nature of information and the many ways in which this term is used.  A distinction is made between the Shannon’s notion of information and biotic information, based on the Kauffman, Logan et al paper entitled The Propagation of Organization: An Enquiry.  We suggested that the constraints that allow an organism to convert energy from its environment into the work required to maintain its metabolism represents  biotic or instructional information, which differs from Shannon information. Terrence Deacon’s use of information as constraints in his book Incomplete Nature is described. The talk will also include other results from What is Information? – Propagating Organization in the Biosphere, the Symbolosphere, the Technosphere and the Econosphere (Logan 2014). Attendees at the talk will be offered a free copy of the digital version of this book. About the book:

What is Information?: Propagating Organization in the Biosphere, Symbolosphere, Technosphere and Econosphere

So, what is information? And why is it such an enormously difficult question to answer with any clarity and thoroughness? It is an ambitious book that sets out to answer this question, much less present an elaborate theory of how it has morphed into a seemingly independent universe of meanings, rituals, art-forms, values, and technologies since our ancestors first learned to talk. Who would attempt such a challenge? —from the Foreword by Terrence Deacon

What is Information? is a unique title within information studies. It is strongly interdisciplinary, crossing information theory, systems theory, new media and cognitive linguistics. Therefore, it may carry provocative themes and insights that require of the reader a broader frame of reference than the known, narrow path. Among these themes is Bob’s notion of different forms and frames of information in ecological contexts. With help from Stuart Kauffman, he shows that biotic information – the instructions of life and reproduction – requires a different theory of information entirely from bit-oriented signal processing (Shannon-Weaver hypothesis).

The book takes on the complex issue of defining information as a carrier of meaning vs signals processed by meaning-makers. Recovering the importance of MacKay’s original contribution of the “distinction that makes a difference,” Logan bridges information and media theory. If meaning is the coherence of organization, then information as meaning remains consistent with the notion of negative entropy. While media may shape the expression and meaning of meaning, it is information that signals the meaning of the medium. The power of language in developing symbols generates a constant source of meanings through information.

To better distinguish these functions of “information” Dr. Logan relates information as a functional power of organization within four ecosystems: Biosphere, Symbolosphere, Technosphere, and Econosphere. The Biosphere gives rise to human cultures through information, and culture gives rise to the other three spheres. Information is the media-tor of these spheres. (Source: http://slab.ocadu.ca/publication/what-is-information-by-robert-k-logan )

Portrait of Robert K. Logan

Robert K. Logan is Chief Scientist and a co-founder of Strategic Innovation Lab (sLab) at OCAD University. Dr. Logan’s work at sLab follows a luminous career as Professor of Physics at University of Toronto. Bob’s academic research bridges complexity science, information theory, biology, environmental studies, linguistics, design and media studies. Dr. Logan is the author of a dozen books, and twice-recipient of awards from the Media Ecology Association (MEA).


Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan’s Culture Is Our Business (1970) Republished

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 03/02/2015 - 2:18pm

McLuhan.CultureBusiness.48280

This new edition is in paperback format and is published by Wipf & Stock of Eugene, Oregon, with a Foreward by Eric McLuhan. This is from the Author’s Note to the original edition, published by McGraw-Hill in 1970 in hardcover:

This book is not about ads, but about our time. However, if some archaeologist in some remote future were to get access to the ads that appear in this book, he would consider himself very fortunate. Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century. While the Twenties talked about the caveman and people thrilled to the art of the Altamira Caves, they ignored (as we do now) the hidden environment of magical forms which we call “ads”. Like cave paintings, ads are not intended to be looked at or seen, but rather to exert influence at a distance, as though by ESP. Like cave paintings, they are not means of private but of corporate expression. They are vortices of collective power, masks of energy invented by new tribal man. 

About Culture Is Our Business is Marshall McLuhan’s sequel to The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man. Returning to the subject of advertising newly armed with the electric sensibility that informed The Gutenberg Galaxy, Understanding Media, and The Medium Is the Massage, McLuhan takes on the mad men (a play on the ad men of Madison Avenue) of the sixties. Approaching commercial messages as unacknowledged art forms and cultural artifacts, McLuhan delivers a series of probes that pick apart their meanings and underlying values, their paradoxes and paralogisms, and their overt function as persuasion and propaganda. Through humor, satire, and a poetic sensibility, he provides us with a serious exploration of the consumer culture that emerged out of the electronic media environment. In keeping with the participatory ethos of the Internet that McLuhan so clearly anticipated, this is a book that is meant to open the door to further study, reflection, and discussion, and to encourage the development of critical reception on the part of the reader.

Imprint: Wipf and Stock   –   ISBN: 9781625648280   –   Paperback   –   336 Pages   –   Publication Date: 2/12/2015   –   Retail Price: $37.00   –   Publishers Listing http://wipfandstock.com/culture-is-our-business.html

Endorsements & Reviews “Culture Is Our Business represents an essential component of McLuhan’s body of work and provides an important contribution to media ecology, cultural studies, and media literacy. As with most of McLuhan’s scholarship, its value and relevance has only increased since its initial publication.” – Lance Strate, Professor of Communication and Media Studies, Fordham University, and author of Echoes and Reflections, On the Binding Biases of Time, and Amazing Ourselves to Death

“Here is an interactive playground a la McLuhan that takes you on a hilarious and revealing journey across Western, or better, ‘American Civilization.’ Reading this book is rediscovering the brave new world of (electric) advertising in its prime; most incisively, it suggests a tactic to escape the enchanting songs of corporate art to fully see the Emperor’s new clothes.” – Elena Lamberti, Professor of North American Studies, University of Bologna, and author of Marshall McLuhan’s Mosaic


Categories: Blog

McLuhan-related Programming at Vancouver’s Annual Chutzpah Cultural Festival, Feb 19-Mar 15

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 03/01/2015 - 1:32pm

The performances described in the review below ended yesterday, Feb. 28. Marshall McLuhan had a deep and abiding interest in artists, who, following Ezra Pound, he considered to be the “antennae of the race”. So it’s not surprising that artists continue to have an ongoing interest in McLuhan’s ideas. “Poets and artists live on frontiers. They have no feedback, only feedforward. They have no identities. They are probes.” – Culture is Our Business (1970)

Artists are the antennae of the race but the bullet-headed many will never learn to trust their great artists.  - Ezra Pound

A Chutzpah Festival presentation. At the Norman and Annette Rothstein Theatre on Wednesday, February 25. Continues until February 28

The latest Chutzpah dance program is a study in contrasts: the intellectual next to the gut-instinct; the measured and the messy.

On one hand, you have fast-emerging Vancouver choreographer Vanessa Goodman staging a studied, carefully orchestrated ode to the theories of Marshall McLuhan and Glenn Gould. On the other, you have fearless Israeli renegade Idan Sharabi throwing it all against the wall in a virtuosically spastic exploration of home, politics, and identity, set to everything from his own interviews with people in Gaza bomb shelters to Nikolai Rimski-Korsakov’s Scheherezade and songs by Joni Mitchell. The impressions you left with were of cool, grey and white brain food and then Sharabi’s wild, balls-to-the wall dance innovations—enough stuff to feed the head and the heart over what was, admittedly, a long evening.

Goodman’s Wells Hill (named for the street of McLuhan’s family home) uses dance to comment, sometimes ironically, on the texts of Gould and McLuhan, who shared many prescient ideas about technology and art. (The Canadian icons also appear in fuzzy video.) The piece opens with a projection of the famous McLuhan quote “Art is anything you can get away with,” counterpointed by Goodman’s dancers going through classic dance motions to echoey studio-piano music.

Wearing white dress shirts and grey bottoms, like deconstructed suits from the McLuhan era, the six dancers are top-notch, including an expressive Lara Barclay and James Gnam. The most powerful moments are when they enact, metaphorically, the hold media has on us, punctuated by voice-overs like the one of McLuhan warning that TV is feeding an unprecedented amount of information at high speed into children’s brains. At one point a dancer manipulates Barclay like a doll, covering her eyes, moving her hands and legs, and doubling her over; soon others join in, moving her till all five of her stage partners have overtaken her body. It’s in scenes like this you can really sense Goodman’s ability to choreograph; she also excels at creating a look and atmosphere, here with James Proudfoot’s stark white spot and fluorescent lighting and Gabriel Saloman’s original-sound compositions. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/qhgbt7c )


Categories: Blog

A Toronto Telegram Newspaper Clipping from Oct. 2, 1969: U of T(oronto) Radicals Routed

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 02/27/2015 - 1:26pm

‘U OF T RADICALS ROUTED: Bissell lands a right hook’

An excerpt from the article below:-

“The moderate professors beamed their satisfaction – all except that all-purpose communications guru, Marshall McLuhan, who insisted on squatting cross-legged like a Buddha at Dr. Bissell’s feet. He made petulant faces at the photographers.

On one occasion he even crawled on his hands and knees over to the photographers, glared into the lens of one camera and scolded: “It’s cannibalism shoving a lens in my face – Scram, scram.”

Eventually McLuhan crawled behind speaker’s rostrum to make it tough on the photographers. When he left the meeting later, he bounded through the hall like the Sylph of Spring, or Bambi leaving the clearing. An odd, engaging fellow is Dr. McLuhan”.  (The Telegram, Toronto, Thursday, October 2nd, 1969)

Read on your browser by increasing the magnification by at least 150% for easy reading.

<p>photo: Jac Holland, Telegram'" width="335" height="470" /> '"When he left the meeting later, he bounded through the hall like the Sylph of Spring, or Bambi leaving the clearing. An odd, engaging fellow is Dr. McLuhan"'

The 1960s was the decade of protest over race, war, gender discrimination, but also higher education, which was forced to restructure to accommodate the needs of the post war generation of baby boomers. The later premier of Ontario Bob Rae, who was a student and activist at U of T during the ’60s wrote about the university president Claude Bissell and his role in changing the university:-

1968 to 1969, was in many ways very difficult for the president [Claude Bissell]. He had wanted to reform university governance because he was troubled by the gap between the academic and business sides of the university, and I think he was tired of being caught in the middle. His return to U of T from Harvard that fall was to have marked the beginning of a gentle campaign to make some fundamental changes. What he found was that the students and faculty wanted to control the process. (Read the rest at http://tinyurl.com/mcnvxak .

For context see also “Sex, Drugs & Rock & Roll” at U of T in the ’60s by Charles Levi: http://tinyurl.com/k954t5e .

In a Hart House debate in 1968, Claude Bissell upheld the right of students to exercise power in university affairs. Bob Rae is behind Bissell, at right

In a Hart House debate in 1968, Claude Bissell upheld the right of students to exercise power in university affairs. Bob Rae is behind Bissell, at right.


Categories: Blog

The Incidental Thoughts of Marshall McLuhan by John Wain (1986)

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 02/24/2015 - 7:02pm

John-Wain.jpg

John Barrington Wain (14 March 1925 – 24 May 1994)

This excerpt is taken from John Wain’s (1986) memoir, Dear Shadows: Portraits from Memory. London: John Murray, pp. 77 – 110.  

Since this essay is about Marshall McLuhan, it is obvious what I am going to say next; that in these thick, shiny reviews I first became acquainted with his name. Quite so. And yet ‘Herbert Marshall McLuhan’, as he tended to sign himself, was not quite the ordinary New Critic. He wrote what I used to think of as ‘brain-teeming’ criticism. Where the traditional scholar rarely ventured outside his ‘field’, and the conventional New Critic applied what were becoming well-worn techniques to the text in front of him (the sacred phrase was ‘the words on the page’), McLuhan worked by sending up a shower of comparisons, analogies, wisecracks, sudden satiric jabs at people and attitudes he disliked, and equally sudden excursions into scholastic philosophy or modern advertising practice (both these last were subjects he had studied attentively), all in the service of illuminating, or preparing for illumination, whatever book or writer he was discussing. It was like riding on a roller-coaster; it also reminded me of Johnson’s description of the practice of the Metaphysical poets: ‘the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.’ In McLuhan’s case the violence had nothing sullen or offensive about it; it was the natural outcrop of a geniality, an impatience with conventional categories, and a willingness to have a go and try anything for size. Most critics make an aperçu serve them as theme for a whole essay or even a whole book; McLuhan provided an aperçu  in virtually every line, and if they were not all equally good, if indeed some of them were unconvincing to the point of absurdity, well, there was always the interest of seeing what the man would say next; and there was a large, gusty breeze of fresh air blowing through the whole enterprise.

I remember feeling more than once that if the title of any of McLuhan’s essays were to get lost, no one would be able to say, from reading the essay, what it had actually been about. In the 1950s he began to contribute to English periodicals; I believe the first British editor to use him was Cyril Connolly, who included an essay on ‘American Advertising’ in the number of Horizon, in 1950s, that dealt specifically with the American scene. You could at any rate tell what that one was about; but when Marshall moved to the Oxford periodical Essays in Criticism a little later, he contributed an essay on ‘Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry’ (I, iii, 1951) which gave me the impression, on reading it, of having to keep my seat-belt fastened. Here is a specimen paragraph:

It might be suggested that landscape offered several attractive advantages to the poets of the mid-eighteenth century. It meant for one thing an extension of the Baroque interest in Ia peinture de Ia pensee, which the study of Seneca had suggested to Montaigne and Bacon and Browne – an interest which reached a maximal development, so far as the technique of direct statement permitted, in Pascal, Racine, and Alexander Pope. Pope especially deserves study from this point of view since he first developed the couplet to do the complex work of the double plot of the Elizabethans. He discovered how to make a couplet achieve a symbolic vision. That is, to effect an instant of inclusive consciousness by the juxtaposition without copula of diverse and even paradoxical situations or states of mind:

The hungry judges soon the sentence sign, / And wretches hang that jurymen may dine.

The judges are hungry but not for justice; yet there is no suggestion that they would be better judges if they had dined. The stark confrontation of this human condition is enforced by the second line or ‘sub-plot’ which is parallel but inferior. The suggestion that meat must hang before it is edible, and that jurymen are merely promoting the proper business of society by seeing that it gets hung is analogous to the vision of society in Swift’s Modest Proposal and to Lear’s vision on the heath. The couplet in Pope’s hands escaped from the conditions imposed by univocal discourse which had developed in the Cartesian milieu.

Let no one imagine that I am quoting such a paragraph satirically, to show Marshall as a quaint or clownish figure. On the contrary, I admired it then and I admire it now. I like the sweep and audacity, the impression he gives of having so much to say about so many subjects that one thought can scarcely be brought in without three or four others which have a bearing on it, a bearing often hitherto unsuspected. The incidentals are as important as the main line, the disgressions as essential as the ratiocinative thread. (p. 79 – 82)

The entire essay from which the above is excerpted can be downloaded from http://www.johnwain.com/Mcluhan.pdf (which is a pdf, not a Web page).

***** 

About John Wain

John Wain (1925-1994) was a writer whose work included novels, poetry, plays, criticism and biography. He was originally associated with the Movement poets and also with the so-called ‘Angry Young Men’ of the early 1950s, when his first novel Hurry On Down was published. He was born in the Potteries and educated at Newcastle High School, Newcastle Under Lyme, and at St John’s College Oxford. After Oxford he taught English at Reading University. In 1955 he resigned his academic post and for the rest of his life earned his living as a professional writer.

John Wain wrote thirteen novels, culminating in his massive Oxford Trilogy (1988 – 94), the third and last volume being published a few weeks after his death. He was also well known for his award-winning life of Samuel Johnson (1974). He also steadily wrote and published poetry, both short and long: his long poem Feng was based on the original Danish source for Hamlet’s stepfather Claudius in Shakespeare’s play. Based in Oxford from 1963 until his death, he served the University as Professor of Poetry from 1973 to 1978, nominated by Philip Larkin and Peter Levi. He was awarded the CBE for services to literature in 1984. John Wain was married three times and had four sons. (Source: http://johnwain.com/wordpress/ )


Categories: Blog

Audio of Peter Nesselroth’s Lecture: “McLuhan’s War, Here & Now”, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 02/10/2015 - 8:28pm

University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto

Book & Media Studies Program

McLuhan’s War, Here and Now
Peter W. Nesselroth

Peter W. Nesselroth presented the inaugural lecture in a new annual series of lectures dedicated to the theme of McLuhan and the technological imagination on January 29, 2015

Peter W. Nesselroth is Professor emeritus of French and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. He is a former Director of the Centre for Comparative Literature. He has published numerous essays on 19th and 20th C. French poetry, on Dada and surrealism, and on Derrida and McLuhan.

Follow this link to listen to an audio recording of the lecture: http://tinyurl.com/kztp2k4 .

Thanks to Michael Edmunds for recording the lecture and sharing it.

University of St. Michael's College Logo


Categories: Blog

Sheila & Wilfred Watson: McLuhan Collaborators & Associates

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 02/07/2015 - 8:12pm
Left to right : Sheila & Wilfred Watson, Marshall McLuhan Sheila Watson (1909 – 1998) first met Marshall McLuhan in 1956 at the University of Toronto, where she took a graduate school course with him, and later wrote a PhD thesis on Wyndham Lewis, under his supervision. She married Wilfred Watson and for the academic year 1968-69, they were together appointed by the University of Toronto to be McLuhan’s assistants, after his return from New York’s Fordham University, where his one year appointment had been interrupted by illness and a major brain operation (Marchand, 1989). By 1968 both Sheila and Wilfred were English professors at the University of Alberta, as well as writers, and the latter collaborated with McLuhan as the co-author of  From Cliché to Archetype (1970) (see the 3rd posting below). The following provides background information on the Watsons. Sheila Watson

Sheila Watson, née Doherty, novelist, critic, teacher (b at New Westminster, BC 24 Oct 1909; d at Nanaimo 1 Feb 1998). Publication of Watson’s novel The Double Hook (1959) marks the start of contemporary writing in Canada.

  Sheila Watson, (photo by Rowland McMaster).

Sheila Watson, née Doherty, novelist, critic, teacher (b at New Westminster, BC 24 Oct 1909; d at Nanaimo 1 Feb 1998). Publication of Watson’s novel The Double Hook (1959) marks the start of contemporary writing in Canada. She attended UBC and later completed a PhD at U of Toronto under Marshall McLuhan. A distinguished scholar of the early modernist period in Britain, specializing in the works of Wyndham Lewis, Watson taught school in the BC interior and later taught at U of Alberta. She was awarded the Lorne Pierce medal by the Royal Society of Canada in 1984.

Her Four Stories appeared in 1979, and one other story, And the Four Animals, in 1980; these two works were later amalgamated as Five Stories (1984). Her critical articles were collected in a special issue ofOpen Letter (1974). She was the founding editor of the periodicalWhite Pelican (1971-75), and a volume of essays in her honour, Figures in a Ground, appeared in 1978. The Collected Works of Miriam Mandel (ed by Watson) was published in 1984. In 1992, a much earlier novel, Deep Hollow Creek, written in the early 1930s, was finally published.

Watson made possible-through her intellectual daring, the sophistication she assumed in her readers and her sceptical care for the nature of language itself-the development of contemporary writing in Canada. The Double Hook presents in concise, symbolic terms a drama of social disintegration and redemption, set in an isolated BC community. Watson has said of the novel that it is “about how people are driven, how if they have no art, how if they have no tradition, how if they have no ritual, they are driven in one of 2 ways, either towards violence or towards insensibility – if they have no mediating rituals which manifest themselves in what I suppose we call art forms.” These themes are presented in a style which itself balances on a “double hook”: it is simultaneously local and universal, realistic and symbolic.

Writers such as Robert Kroetsch have seen in the image of the double hook a balancing of opposites that is a fundamental characteristic of Canadian culture. Deep Hollow Creek treats many of the same themes in a manner which is more direct and conventional, but no less elliptical and challenging. It is fascinating to imagine the ways in which Canadian fiction might have been transformed if this startling and brilliant novel had been published at the time of its first composition. She was married to Wilfred Watson, with whom she retired to Vancouver in 1980. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/p8tj3gz )

Dust jacket for Sheila Watson’s The Double Hook, 1959, designed by Frank Newfeld Wilfred Watson

Wilfred Watson, poet, playwright, professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Alberta (b at Rochester, Eng 1 May 1911; d at Nanaimo 25 Mar 1998).

Click for Bio and Links.

Wilfred Watson, poet, playwright, professor emeritus of English literature at the University of Alberta (b at Rochester, Eng 1 May 1911; d at Nanaimo 25 Mar 1998). A highly innovative writer, Watson influenced 1960s theatre in Canada; his number-grid verse is significant to prosody and to poetry performance. His first book, Friday’s Child (1955), won the British Council and the Governor General’s awards for poetry. Its mythological, literary and religious imagery and intense energy persist in his later work.

In the 1960s, Watson turned to drama, producing 10 plays, mostly in verse (including Cockrow and the Gulls, produced 1962; O Holy Ghost DIP YOUR FINGER IN THE BLOOD OF CANADA and write, I LOVE YOU, 1967; Let’s murder Clytemnestra, according to the principles of Marshall McLuhan, 1969), the immediate influence of which was considerable. A close reader of Marshall MCLUHAN (they coauthored From Cliché to Archetype, 1970), Watson believed the world of multimedia produces multiconsciousnesses, demanding a theatre of “radical absurdity” in which realistic settings and action are replaced by “multi-environments.” Much of his work is political allegory.

In the 1970s he returned to poetry: The Sorrowful Canadians (1972) counterpoints type fonts, refrains and “voices.” With I Begin with Counting (1978) and Mass on Cowback (1982), he developed number-grid verse using a vertical grid of 9 numbers with 17 slots for words, syllables or phrases. By stacking the grids, Watson writes a “score” for the performance of multivoice poems which exist not on the page but in transformations from visual to auditory forms. His 1983 work, Gramsci x 3 (produced 1986), though partly “docudrama,” is characterized by absurdity, continual experimentation with verse forms, satire alternating with lyricism, and an energy and exaltation that transcends the horrors it depicts.

Watson’s Collected Poems (1986) and Plays at the Iron Bridge (1989) bring together his most important work. Five of his short stories, all of them allegories, are collected in The Baie Comeau Angel and Other Stories (1993). His papers are deposited in the University of Alberta Archives. Watson was married to the influential novelist Sheila WATSON. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/nqt5l86 )


Categories: Blog

2014 Marshall McLuhan Fellow Speaks About the Influence of Social Media on Coming Elections in Her Country

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 02/06/2015 - 7:08pm

Responsible media. Cheche Lazaro speaks during a forum on responsible media at the USJ-R main campus auditorium. (Sunstar foto/Arni Aclao)

SOCIAL media and citizen journalism will play a crucial role in the 2016 elections, a veteran journalist said yesterday.

Award-winning journalist Cheche Lazaro, however, said that while there are laws that govern the proper use of social media, there is still a need to self-regulate citizen journalists from posting content that would cause controversy.

Speaking before the journalism and mass communication students at the University of San Jose-Recoletos (USJ-R) yesterday, Lazaro said that the 2016 polls will serve as an “acid test” for social media on whether it could actually achieve change in the country.

Lazaro, who was awarded with the prestigious Marshall McLuhan Fellowship from the Canadian Embassy last year, spoke of how the social media has changed the traditional forms of media.

“Social media has rewired our brains to the point of addiction,” said Lazaro.

She said that with the popularity of the social media, it also gave rise to citizen journalists and “pseudo-journalists” who post information without knowing the consequences of what they are publishing online.

But with more citizen journalists using the social media, traditional media must serve its role in vetting out the information being published by the former, said Lazaro.

She said that while the constitutional freedom of speech remains, there are laws, such as the Anti-Cybercrime Law, that shields persons from being victimized by pseudo-journalists that use social media as an outlet to commit crimes, such as cyber-bullying.

Lazaro said that with the social media effectively changing the traditional forms, such as print and television, the journalists are also changing because of it.

Citizen journalists became the products of the social media’s integration with traditional media, Lazaro added.

Aside from being the 2014 Marshall McLuhan fellow, Lazaro received numerous accolades for her investigative journalism programs on television. (Source: http://tinyurl.com/kpgylv4 )


Categories: Blog

Paul Levinson’s Keynote Address at Baylor University Libraries’ 2014 Symposium, 50 Years After McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 8:41pm

 Dr. Paul Levinson

Published on Feb 3, 2015

I gave the Keynote Address: “The Medium of the Book, 50 Years after Understanding Media,” at Baylor Libraries 2014 Symposium, 50 Years after McLuhan, Baylor University, Waco, TX, September 25, 2014.

Abstract: A half century after the publication of McLuhan’s Understanding Media seems like a good time to examine the recent evolution of the book itself as a medium. In Understanding Media, McLuhan quotes the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine’s circa 1830 observation that “the book arrives too late”. Today, in a revolution as important as the introduction of Gutenberg’s press, books can arrive instantly anywhere in the world, via Kindles and other ebooks. But the most significant part of this development may pertain not to readers but authors, who can now can publish books without a publisher and within an hour or less after the book has been written. The advantages and disadvantages of this bypassing of the traditional gatekeeper for authors and the world at large will be explored — they are mostly advantages — as well as the decline of gatekeeping in other media. Current conflicts, such as the dispute between Amazon and the traditional publisher Hachette will be examined. Connections between the evolution of the book and other facets of writing on the Web will be traced, including the capacity of readers to communicate directly and easily with authors, in modes akin to the “intelligent writing” that Socrates yearned for in the Phaedrus.


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