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Media Ad-vice – Marshall McLuhan’s Introduction to Subliminal Seduction: Ad Media’s Manipulation of a Not So Innocent America (1972)

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 08/30/2016 - 2:42pm
Media Ad-vice © The Estate of Marshall McLuhan Media Ad-vice: An Introduction by Marshall McLuhan

Director, Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto

Customer in antique shop: “What’s new?”

Professor Key has helped to show how the deceits of subliminal advertising can be a means of revealing unexpected truth: the childlike faith of the ad agencies in four-letter words points to our obsession with infantile bathroom images as the chemical bond between commercial society and the universal archetypes.
The old journalism had aimed at objectivity by giving “both sides at once,” as it were, the pro and con, the light and shade in full perspective. The “new journalism,” on the other hand, eagerly seeks subjectivity and involvement in a resonant environment of events: Norman Mailer at the Chicago Convention, or Truman Capote writing In Cold Blood.

In the same way, the old history—as Michael Foucault explains in The Archeology of Knowledge (Pantheon Books, New York, 1972)–sought to show “how a single pattern is formed and preserved, how for so many different successive minds there is a single horizon.” But now the problem of the “new history” is “no longer one of tradition, of tracing a line, but one of division, of limits. It is no longer one of lasting foundations, but one of transformations that serve as new foundations….”

The study of advertising as contemporary cultural history, of history on the hop and in the hopper, of history as process rather than as a product, such is the investigation of Professor Key. Advertising is an environmental striptease for a world of abundance. But environments as such have a way of being inaccessible to inspection. Environments by reason of their total character are mostly subliminal to ordinary experience. Indeed, the amount of any situation, private or social, verbal or geographic, that can be raised and held to the conscious level of attention is almost insignificant. Yet ads demand a lot of attention in our environmental lives. Ads are focal points for the entire range of twentieth-century knowledge, skills, and technologies. Psychologists and anthropologists toil for the agencies. So, Professor Key has drawn our attention to the use made in many ads of the highly developed arts of camouflage.

T.S. Eliot long ago pointed out that the camouflage function of “meaning” in a poem was like the juicy piece of meat carried by the burglar to distract the house-dog of the mind so that the poem could do its work. Professor Key explains that the proclaimed purpose of the ad may, at one level, be just such a decoy so that the ad may do its work at another level of consciousness.

Secrets Within Banality
Today many people feel uneasy when serious attention is paid to objects and subjects that they are accustomed to classify as “trash.” They feel that the base commercial operation of ads is beneath any claim to their awareness or analysis. Such people, on the one hand, have little heeded the lessons of history and archaeology which reveal how the midden-heaps of the ages provide the wisdom and riches of the present. And yet, on the other hand, they know how their snobbish “freeze” (or surrender) in the presence of the horrid vulgarities of commerce is exactly what is needed to render them the cooperative puppets of ad manipulation. The ad as camouflage often uses the blatant appeal to hide more subtle and powerful motivations than appear on the surface.

Shakespeare’s oft misquoted remark about “one touch of nature” that “makes the whole world kin” really concerns the eagerness of men to swallow a flattering bait. He is not suggesting that natural beauty is a social bond!

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin:/ That all with one consent praise new-born gawds / Though they are made and moulded of things past, / And give to dust that is a little gilt / More laud than gilt o’erdusted.

Men are united only in their eagerness to be deceived by appearances.

The wise gods seal our eyes; / In our own filth drop our clear judgments; make us / Adore our errors; laugh at us while we strut / To our confusion

Thus part of the business of the ad is to seem frank, open, hearty, and direct. The business establishment long ago founded itself on ebullient attitudes of trust and confidence which were part of the discovery that “Honesty is the best policy” and “Crime doesn’t pay.” “Policy,” of course, is the Machiavellian term for “deceit,” so immediate and overt honesty can be camouflage for ultimate exploitation, in ads as in politics. However, we live today in the first age of the electric information environment, and there is now a sense in which we are the first generation that can say, “There is nothing old under the sun.”

Since Sputnik (October 17, 1957), the planet Earth went inside a man-made environment and Nature yielded its ancient reign to Art and Ecology. Ecology was born with Sputnik, for in an electric information environment all events become clamorous and simultaneous. An old adage at IBM is: “Information overload equals pattern recognition.” At instant speed the hidden becomes plain to see.

Minds Are Quicker Than Eyes
Since the mind is very much faster than light (it can go to Mars and back in an instant, whereas light takes minutes), the hidden structure of many old things can now become apparent. With the new information surround, not only specialisms and monopolies of knowledge become less useful, but the world of the subliminal is greatly reduced. Whatever the practical uses and expediency of the subliminal may have been in the past, they are not as they were. Even the future is not what it used to be. For at electric speeds it is necessary to anticipate the future in order to live in the present, and vice versa.

Necessarily, the age of instant information prompts men to new kinds of research and development. It is, above all, an age of investigation and of espionage. For in the total information environment, man the hunter and scanner of environments returns to supervise the inner as well as the outer worlds, and nothing is now unrelated or irrelevant.

T.S. Eliot has two statements that directly concern our new simultaneous world of “auditory” or “acoustic” space in which electric man now dwells on the “wired planet.” The first passage is from his discussion of “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” explaining that “the whole of literature of Europe from Homer and within it the whole of the literature of his own country has a simultaneous existence and composes a simultaneous order.” It is the character of auditory space, which we make in the act of hearing, to be a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose margin is nowhere, for we hear from all directions at once.

In the magnetic city of the new electric environment we receive data from all directions simultaneously, and thus we exist in a world sphere of resonant information that is structured and which acts upon us in the auditory pattern. Eliot had regard to the role of the individual talent faced by this new kind of richness of tradition and experience. So it is not strange that our time should witness a revival of many forms of oral culture and group performance, any more than it is strange that we should see on all hands the awakening and cultivation of occult traditions, and new concern with inner life and visionary experience.

For these are resonant things hidden from the eye. The wide interest in every kind of structuralism in language and art and science is direct testimony to the new dominance of the nonvisual values of audile-tactile involvement and group participation. In fact, it could be said that there is very little in the new electric technology to sustain the visual values of civilized detachment and rational analysis.

Mr. Eliot’s second statement on the world of the simultaneous concerns the “auditory imagination”:

What I call “auditory imagination” is the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word: sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end. It works through meanings, certainly, or not without meanings in the ordinary sense, and fuses the old and obliterated, and the trite, the current, and the new and the surprising, the most ancient and the most civilized mentality.

Eliot here speaks of the mind’s ear, the subliminal depths and reach of the corporate tongue bridging countless generations and cultures in an eternal present. Eliot and Joyce accepted language as the great corporate medium that encodes and environs the countless dramas and transactions of man. Their raids on this vast inarticulate resource have made literary history on a massive scale.

Meantime the enormous new environment of advertising has sprung up as a service for the consumer who hardly knows what to think of his newly bought cars and swimming pools. It is well known to the frogmen of Madison Avenue that those who read or hear the ads are mostly those who have already bought one of the objects displayed. “Ask the man who owns one,” or “You feel better satisfied when you use a well-known brand.” The fact is that the ad world is a colossal put-on as much as the world of fashion or art or politics or entertainment. The stripper puts on her audience by taking off her clothes, and the poet puts on his public by stripping or dislocating the familiar rhythms and habits of expression.

How about the adman’s rip-off? He must move on more than one level in order to obtain the interplay that involves the public. The poet lets us look at the world through the mask of his poem while wearing us as his mask: “hypocrite lecteur, mon semblable, mon frere,” said Baudelaire to his reader. The adman shows us the world through the mesh or mask of his product while playfully putting on our cash and credit as his own motley. But that there may be another level of reinforcement, the ads sometimes provide a barrage of optimistic innocence along with an undercurrent of guilty joys and fears upon which the blatant, gesticulating commercial rides piggyback. It is the quest of Professor Key to unconceal this hidden ground of the ad as figure, and to reveal the conflict between them.

Scuba Diving into Hidden Backgrounds
It may be that the impulse of the admen to use the hidden ground of our lives in a furtive way in their ads is no mere surrender to base impulse and greed for power. By replaying the hot glamorous images in a cool scatological pattern, the subliminal message becomes a dramatic irony of the superficial and conscious one.

The subliminal replay of the open appeal thus offers an offbeat jazz quality of quarter notes sourly commenting on the full notes, by way of a wry twist. It is the role Freud himself played as diver into the dirty unhygienic depth beneath the dewy Romantic sentiment. At the extreme point, Freud the diver got a signal: “Surface at once. Ship is sinking.” When he came up for air he wrote about “Civilization and its Discontents.” After a long session in the dark unconscious, Freud recognized the visual and literate world as the location of civilized values and awareness. The dark within is the world of tribal or acoustic man who resists civilization as do our dropouts. Professor Key brings out the struggle between these worlds as inherent in the very structure of the not-so-humble ads that provide the directives and the competitive taste patterns of our commerce and our entertainment.

Bugging and Sleuthing have become a universal Business, like education. The electric age is the age of the hunter. It is the age of simultaneous information. The simultaneous ends the subliminal by making it as much a structural part of consciousness as former specialism or monopoly or secrecy. The age just behind us was the opposite of the electric age. The mechanical and industrial society was the age of steam and hardware and highway and monopoly and specialism. It was a visual world.

The age of the electrical and simultaneous is the age of environmental and ecological awareness. Structurally speaking, the simultaneous is acoustic rather than visual. We hear from all directions at once, and that is why the reign of the subliminal is ending. The subliminal or the hidden can be present to the hearing when it is not accessible to the eye.

It makes much sense when N. F. Dixon writes in Subliminal Perception that experienced psychologists of our sense lives have bypassed the subliminal and the auditory in favor of visual investigation. For the psychological, as much as for any other establishment, the commitments are to the preceding age of the visual. However, the new age is also subliminal to its predecessor. It is, therefore, easy to know that the eye may be solicited by lines it cannot see, and our judgments warped by motives that are not in consciousness nor in the habitual patterns of our nervous systems, “for the whole environment is full of subliminal influences which experienced psychologists have systematically neglected.”

It is only fair to add that the electric environment is manmade and new, and experienced psychologists, quite as much as the rest of the population, continue to adhere to the older and familiar and visually structured world of the hardware age in which they invested all they had. For the visual is the world of the continuous and the connected and the rational and the stable.

Since we have now put an electrical environment of resonant information around the old visual one, our daily adaptations and responses are at least as much to the new acoustic environment as to the old visual world. If one were to ask, “Which is the better world?” it would be necessary to explain that the values of an acoustical and musically oriented society are not those of the classically visual and civilized society.

Predictions of the Past
For good or ill, we have phased ourselves out of the older visual society by our electric technology that is as instant as light. If we want to get back into a visually ordered world, we shall have to recreate the conditions of that world. Meantime we have a new environment of instant information that upsets and “pollutes” all patterns of the old visual sequences. Nothing is “in concatenation accordingly” in the simultaneous world of sound. Effects now easily and naturally precede causes, and we can freely predict the past.

At the speed of light our space-time coexistence tends to give us the whimsical manners of the girl in Professor Butler’s limerick:

There was a young lady named Bright / Who moved with the quickness of light; / She went out one day / In a relative way, / And returned the previous night.

At electric speed, the goals and objectives of the old sequential and visual world are irrelevant. Either they are attained before we start or we are out of date before we arrive. All forms of specialist training suffer especially. Engineers and doctors cannot graduate in time to be relevant to the innovations that occur during their training period.

Change itself becomes the only constant. We seem to live in a world of deceits and fake values where, for example, those engaged in news coverage are often more numerous than those making the news. But the creation of a total field of world information returns man to the state of the hunter, the hunter of data.

To the sleuth, to Sherlock Holmes, nothing is quite what it seems. He lives, like us, in two worlds at once, having small benefit of either. Caught between visual and acoustic worlds, physicist Werner Heisenberg enunciated the “Uncertainty Principle.” You can never perform the same experiment twice. Heraclitus, living in the old acoustic world before Greek literacy, said, “You can’t step in the same river twice.” And today in the electric world we say, “You ‘can’t step in the same river,” period.

In the Renaissance, when the old acoustic world of medieval and feudal order was quickly being overlaid by the visual order of the printed word, there was an epidemic concern about deceit and imposture. Machiavelli invented a new art of lying by stressing an extrovert mask of bluff, hearty sincerity. lago tells us that he will wear his heart on his sleeve for daws to peck at. Othello demands “ocular proof” of his wife’s infidelity, and is deceived by the same “proof.” Shakespeare’s great plays are devoted to the theme of the deceits of power. Hamlet is caught out of role. He is a medieval prince adapted to the medieval world of acoustic involvement and personal loyalty. His world of ideal musical harmony collapses into one of visual distraction and mere appearances:

Now see that noble and most sovereign reason / Like sweet bells jangled out of tune and harsh

His dilemma is stated also by Ulysses in Troilus and Cressida:

Take but degree away, untune that string / And, hark! what discord follows; each thing meets / In mere oppugnancy: the bounded waters / Should lift their bosoms higher than the shores, / And make a sop of all this solid globe.

Other Side of the Looking Glass
The auditory man is an ecologist because he imagines everything affecting everything, because all happens at once as in a resonating sphere. The clash between the medieval ecologist and the Renaissance man of private aims and goals is playing in reverse today. The new technology is acoustic and total. The old establishment is visual and fragmentary. All this concerns Professor Key’s study of the deceits of the admen.

These admen teams operate on the frontier between the worlds of eye and ear, of old and new. They are trying to have the best of both worlds by wearing both masks. Ben Jonson, Shakespeare’s great contemporary, devoted much of his work to the presentation of the deceiver and the deceived, stressing the inherent appetite of most people to wallow in deceit as a delectable diet:

Still to be neat, still to be drest, / As you were going to a feast; / Still to be powdered, still perfumed / Lady, it is to be presumed, / Though art’s hid causes are not found, / All is not sweet, all is not sound.

This could be an anti-advertisement today if equal time were allowed to query the counsel of each ad. Saving the appearances mattered more and more during the Renaissance and after. Moliere’s Misanthrope and Tartuffe are built on the assumption that truth is a matching of inner state and outer behavior. The fact that truth is making not matching, process not product, can never satisfy the visual man with his mirror held up to nature.

By contrast, Walter Pater plunged his readers into the forbidden world of the unconscious when he presented them with the image of Da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa.” He sought the truth on the other side of the looking glass:

The presence that thus rose so strangely beside the waters, is expressive of what in the ways of a thousand years men had come to desire. Hers is the head upon which all ‘the ends of the world are come,’ and the eyelids are a little weary. . . . Set it for a moment beside one of those white Greek goddesses or beautiful women of antiquity, and how would they be troubled by this beauty, into which the soul with all its maladies has passed? (The Renaissance)

Pater is fascinated by his image of a sick “soul with all its maladies,” spurning the slick white Greek goddesses of rationality. Pater has flipped, fashionably, out of the visual and back into the medieval acoustic world. “All art,” he said, “constantly aspires toward the condition of music.”

It is this music that began to be heard in the Romantic depths of the starved and rationalistic psyche of the visual cultures that reached from the Renaissance to the Victorian age. Pater’s pen portrait of “Mona Lisa” continues in a plangent tone that might win the applause of any ad copywriter:

She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants: and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands.

This passage is a striking description of the Western subconscious with all its evocation of the occult and of delirious vices.

Subliminal Graffiti
It is plain that the subconscious is a wicked witch’s brew of superhuman interest for all boys and girls. This Mona Lisa affair raises a major aspect of Professor Key’s study. Does the discovery of graffiti in the deodorants and aids to glamor threaten the public of consumers, or does it merely reveal the childish itch of the admen themselves? For example, the title Gentlemen Prefer Blondes may be both immoral and immortal because it links hair and gold, faces and feces. For gold and dung have always had affinities, even as the greatest perfumes include a subtle ingredient of excrement.

There is the further fetching factor of the author’s name, Anita Loos. It doesn’t suggest the prim Puritan altogether. Since the world of dung and excrement is quite near to the daily conscious level, are we to panic when the admen put these at the bottom of the big hamper of goodies that they proffer the affluent?

Will the graffiti hidden under the lush appeal expedite sales or merely impede the maturity quotient of the buyers? Will the graffiti lurking in the glamor crevices set up a resonant interval of revulsion against the consumer appeals, or will the confrontation of fur and feces in the ads merely sadden and deepen and mature the childish consumer world? It is a strange and tricky game to mount the sweet enticing figure on a rotten ground.

To use, on the other hand, four-letter words in the libretto of the siren’s song may prove to be a metaphysical discovery. The poet W.B. Yeats meditated in anguish over the plight of man:

Love has pitched his mansion in / The place of excrement; / For nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent.

He, too, is desperate over the appearances.

Just how precarious a boundary Yeats provides can be noted in his nervous betrayal in the ambiguous words “pitch” and “rent.” “Pitch” is filth and “rent” is venal. In a word, the “Love” of Yeats can no more be trusted to present a clean slate than the overeager admen with their subliminal reinforcement of glamor by graffiti. The passionately embracing young man asks his partner, “Why speak of love at a time like this?” The remark serves as a corollary to the moan of Yeats. But it also opens up the Playboy world where girls are playmates.

The Playboy’s Plaything
Things have changed electrically since I published The Mechanical Bride in 1951. The assembly-line love goddess, abstract and austere and inhuman, has been succeeded by hula-hooping, mini-skirted, tribally anonymous jujubes. Utterly embraceable, consumable, and expendable, they expect little, for they know that the fragile ego of the playboy cannot endure the threat of any strain or commitment.

Thanks to color photography, and then to color TV, the magnetic city has become a single erogenous zone. At every turn there is an immediate encounter with extremely erotic situations which exactly correspond to the media “coverage” of violence. “Bad news” has long been the hard core of the press, indispensable for the moving of the mass of “good news” which is advertising. These forms of sex and violence are complementary and inseparable. Just what would be the fate of wars and disasters without “coverage” could be considered a meaningless question, since the coverage itself is not only an increase of the violence but an incentive to the same.

The power-starved person can easily see himself getting top coverage if he is involved in a sufficiently outrageous act of hijacking or mayhem. The older pattern of success story by achievement simply takes too long to be practical at electric speeds. Why not make the news instead of a life?

The close relation between sex and violence, between good news and bad news, helps to explain the compulsion of the admen to dunk all their products in sex by erogenizing every contour of every bottle or cigarette. Having reached this happy state where the good news is fairly popping, the admen say, as it were: “Better add a bit of the bad news now to take the hex off all that bonanza stuff.” Let’s remind them that LOVE, replayed in reverse, is EVOL—transposing into EVIL and VILE. LIVE spells backward into EVIL, while EROS reverses into SORE. And, we should never forget the SIN in SINCERE or the CON in CONFIDENCE.

Let’s tighten up the slack sentimentality of this goo with something gutsy and grim.
As Zeus said to Narcissus:
“Watch yourself.”
– MARSHALL MCLUHAN          – Document Source:


“… it’s Subliminal Seduction that’s the real classic. Picking up on Packard’s contribution, it deconstructs a series of advertising campaigns, and particularly focuses on the manipulation of readers and viewers by the use of subliminal imagery. Well, look, this is the kind of thing:

the advert
the detail

You see? (You do see, don’t you?) It’s a cracking little book, still entertaining, still informative and packed full of stuff still vehemently denied by the advertising industry. Which, since it is the most deceitful, corrupt branch of human creativity, should never be believed anyway.” )

Categories: Blog

What McLuhan got right (and wrong) about the “global village”

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 08/27/2016 - 7:21pm

Apollo 10 earthrise.jpg

Earthrise: The Earth rising above the lunar horizon photographed from the Apollo 10 Lunar Module, looking west in the direction of travel. May, 1969

By Dr. Tim Ball

We live in small individual worlds that are composites of information from our senses, societal values, and education. It is not the real world but one deliberately created in education. It is not reality, but one easily created, distorted, and controlled by exploiters.

This is not new but one made easier today in a world drawn, described, and distorted by visual and electronic images: it’s the world Marshall McLuhan described 54 years ago as the global village.

Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a political scientist [correction: English professor] at the University of Toronto analyzing the media. He originated two phrases that succinctly describe the modern world. The first, “the global village” appeared in the “Gutenberg Galaxy” (1962), and the second, “The medium is the message” in “Understanding Media” (1964).

In the 54 years since McLuhan introduced the idea, our view of the world has dramatically changed. It began, as it usually does, with a symbolic change, a phrase, an event, or in this case, an image.

The composite image of Earth from 22,000 miles in space taken by astronauts on Apollo 8 appeared in 1968. It reinforced the global village concept because of human connections. It was the first manned craft to leave Earth orbit and produce pictures taken with a camera held by a human. However, like everything else in the global village, nothing is as it appears.

Environmentalist used terms like “the small blue marble” or space ship earth” to create the image that we live on a small, vulnerable planet.  This reinforced the second great illusion they created of overpopulation in 1968 with the publication of Paul Ehrlich’s “The Population Bomb.”

The problem is there is no evidence of people on the planet from that distance, not even the Great Wall. At the surface, 95 percent of the land is uninhabited, contrary to the belief that the world is overpopulated.

It’s easy now to understand what McLuhan meant. The village is a good analogy for the Internet world because people who live in a village think they know what is going on, and are familiar with the physical dynamics. The reality is they know very little and understand even less.

It is a “global village”, but more than McLuhan envisioned. The most destructive people in a village are the gossips. They distort information and destroy people. The mainstream media are the gossips in the global village. They are the King makers and King breakers. Edmund Burke (1729–1797) said, “there were three Estates in Parliament; but in the reporter’s gallery yonder, there sat a Fourth Estate more important than them all.” It is why William Cowper wrote The Progress of Error in 1782:

How shall I speak of thee or thy power address,
Thou God of our idolatry, the Press?
By thee, religion, liberty and laws
Exert their influence and advance their cause;
By thee worse plagues than Pharaoh’s land befell,
Diffused, make earth the vestibule of Hell;
Thou fountain, at which drink the good and wise;
Thou ever-bubbling spring of endless lies;
Like Eden’s dead probationary tree,
Knowledge of good and evil is from thee.

McLuhan talked about rapid and extensive communication in a shrinking world. It is a transition similar to the one Daniel Boorstin, identified in his book “The Creators” as the written word replaced the oral tradition. Socrates held to the belief in the power of the spoken word; thankfully Plato recorded his words.

Now the communication is through a new language of computers and social mediaspeak necessary for the global village. The blog and social media are replacing the printed word and even radio and television. The problem is the volume, variety, and multiple sources of information, demand better skills at separating truth from fiction.

For example, the scientist who located, identified, and warned the world about Soviet missiles in Cuba gave another warning before he died. Asked if he would like to work with the new technologies, he said no, because it allows the creation of undetectable, unreal, data, and images. It is impossible to separate real from unreal; deception is disturbingly easy.

Author and medical doctor Michael Crichton identified the challenge in a 2003 address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco. His opening paragraph explains:

I have been asked to talk about what I consider the most important challenge facing mankind, and I have a fundamental answer. The greatest challenge facing mankind is the challenge of distinguishing reality from fantasy, truth from propaganda. Perceiving the truth has always been a challenge to mankind, but in the information age (or as I think of it, the disinformation age) it takes on a special urgency and importance.

McLuhan’s global village, the world created by electronic interdependence, is here, but it is virtual reality. It is not the real world or even a good approximation. It is the world exploiters want you to believe. The Internet makes more information available to more people but makes determining its validity more difficult. We don’t educate students in skepticism or verification.

Today’s education truly is indoctrination. Of course, the power brokers know if you educate people properly they ask questions, and that is inevitably dangerous. This is why the advice of Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta is wise but constantly discouraged:

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. 

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many.

Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books.

Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders.

Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations.

But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it. Source:

Categories: Blog

The Mediation of Meaning, or Re-Mediating McLuhan by S. Brent Plate

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 08/17/2016 - 7:20pm

by S. Brent Plate

Excerpted from CrossCurrents (June 2012), special issue on “The Mediation of Meaning.”

“In a culture like ours, long accustomed to splitting and dividing all things as a means of control, it is sometimes a bit of a shock to be reminded that, in operational and practical fact, the medium is the message. This is merely to say that the personal and social consequences of any medium—that is, of any extension of ourselves— result from the new scale that is introduced into our affairs by each extension of ourselves or by any new technology”.  –Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964

Meaning is produced by, in, and through social, political, and economic institutions, cultural and religious forces, technology, education, and human bodily engagement with the physical world. Through these multiple movements and productions, meaning is mediated, which means it comes to individuals encapsulated and put into a format that we are taught to recognize, name, and engage. Meaning is enveloped, arriving like a letter in the post, stamped, addressed, and carried from one location to another, sealed by sender, opened by receiver. Just as the letter will not be delivered without proper postage and adequate address, meaning never appears apart from its existence as a particular embodied form. Meaning does not exist apart from its mediation.

The implication is that the medium, as McLuhan hyperbolically puts it, is the message. The metaphorical envelope is not a carrier that simply protects the integrity and insures the shipment of its lettered contents as it travels from town to town. Rather, the means of transport changes the nature of the contents. A written letter is not the same as a phone call or an email, and even if the same words are communicated, they will take on different meanings depending on their media. This is now a commonplace assertion for the many who have thought twice about it, but the constantly evolving nature of technology provokes us again and again to return to the implications of media on the human meaning-making process.

To think through the ways meaning is mediated is a challenge to older hermeneutic, iconographic, and semiotic frameworks that typically imagined meaning as a nut in a shell: the shell is broken open, discarded, and the nut is set free by the hermeneutical nutcracker. This outmoded model believed it could separate the outside from the inside, visible from invisible, surface from depth, with privilege given to the latter terms, the supposed true location of meaning. But there is no neat inside-outside distinction, no invisible (spiritual, mental) meaning within that can be easily extracted/exegeted by agents from without. “Depth,” as Erling Hope states in his contribution to this special issue, “has become cliché. This does not mean that it is false, only that we need to renew our thinking about depth.”

McLuhan’s tidy slogan, “the medium is the message,” is often repeated, though it is key to see the context of his 1964 phrasing, and specifically to understand that for McLuhan a medium is primarily defined here as an “extension of ourselves.” For example, the telephone enables “far-hearing,” the television “far-seeing,” and later the Internet would enable a “virtual community.” New developments in media allow humans to do things they were already doing—hearing, seeing, engaging others—but now to do them differently, in other places, times, ways, and with other sets of people. The “new scale” that is introduced by new media technologies rearranges the world: space contracts, time expands, sense organs are intensified, physical labor is eased, institutional structures and ritual practices are transformed. These are not secondary appendages that can be taken on and off willy-nilly while the core remains unchanged. Once the technological prosthesis of a new medium is in place, everything is changed and there is no going back. Within these human extensions, the message and the medium, the person and prosthesis, the inside and outside are but points along a continuum. In sum, the very nature of our being is altered.

Contemporary theorist Samuel Weber, taking McLuhanesque thought through a discourse via Kierkegaard, suggests, “Like all technology, the development of the electronic media follows the ambivalent law, or graphics, of prosthetic supplementarity: an ‘extension’ of human capacities, it simultaneously distances and undermines what it extends, exacerbating the vulnerabilities of the finitude it seeks to alleviate and protect.” The prosthetic media devices attached to our bodies extend our capacities as humans, allowing us to feel we are overcoming our limits, our finitude, our aloneness—newspapers at the tips of our fingers hold words of the world in front of our eyes, earbuds sonically connect bodily rhythms across space and time, companion robots vibrate and purr at our caress, new friend requests pop up on screen reminding us of a long lost friend and perhaps a long lost life. Yet these same devices simultaneously demonstrate and amplify our vulnerabilities, risks, and failures.

In her recent book, Alone Together, Sherry Turkle, with some fear and trembling, concurs, “These days, insecure in our relationships and anxious about intimacy, we look to technology for ways to be in relationships and protect ourselves from them at the same time.” The most meaningful encounters of our existence are increasingly structured and carried out through media technologies. In a real sense, they always have been, since oral communication and written letters are themselves “media.” Yet questions as to how far these technologies have changed our closest relationships seem to be heightened in the present day in light of globally networked media. There is something still correct in McLuhan’s general claim that it is the “new scale” that creates “personal and social consequences.” But, is it like before only bigger and broader? How far are the implications of media scale tied to other factors like global capitalism? Global Christianity? Global Islam? Or McLuhan’s “global village”? What happens to the body in social media? The senses? Face-to-face encounters? Do we have new bodies? New identities?

Like the blessing and curse, poison and cure that is one in the same, media protect us like a “sacred canopy,” to borrow Peter Berger’s phrasing, but concurrently threaten to tear us apart. Among other attributes given to Homo sapiens, “meaning-making creatures” is one of the most prominent of the modern age. And since we cannot make meaning without mediating it, we are stirred to look again at meaning in and through the media of its making.

In the end, expanding on the idea of media as an “extension of ourselves,” we might come to the conclusion that humanity cannot be summed up by the scientific moniker, Homo sapiens, but instead constitute a whole range of mediated and mediating creatures: Homo mediasHomo ludensHomo aestheticusHomo religiosus, et al., ad infinitum, becoming transformed with each new media development and employment.

S. Brent Plate is visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College. His recent books include Religion and Film: Cinema and the Re-Creation of the World ; and Blasphemy: Art that Offends. With Jolyon Mitchell he co-edited The Religion and Film Reader. He is co-founder and managing editor of Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art, and Belief. Source: .

The medium is the message


Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan’s Influence on the Visual Arts

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 08/14/2016 - 12:57pm


Andy Warhol and Marshall McLuhan: Photomontage by

As I have said and written before, the book on Marshall McLuhan’s considerable influence on the visual arts is yet to be written and hopefully, it will be written in the coming years. The following text of a lecture given by Frank Gillette at Fordham University’s March 1998 Conference on Marshall McLuhan is reproduced here as published online, numerous misspellings and all. The author indicates that the text was intended for oral presentation and has not corrected misspellings. Therefore, instead of adding numerous “sic” indicators throughout, I provide just one for the text as a whole…….Alex Kuskis


McLuhan & Art History: Take One (Oral Version)(SIC)

To paraphase the subject of this symposium: What follows employs a mosaic pattern of observations and probes. What folíows does not, as yet, aspire to the status of hypothesis.

The Guttenberg Galaxy, shot through with primary referemces to Ruskin, Gombrich, Gilson, Panofsky and Kepes, among others, is testament enough to McLuhan’s fluncy with art-historical ways and means.

In the meantime, The Mechanical Bride anticipates many appropriationist mix & match methods and technique. Its mix of burnt-out cliches matched with an exigests of the various early-50’s oddments from advertising, book jackets, cartoons, is expressed in coy hipster lingo remixed with an astute pedagogical form. It is one frantic pedantic semantic antic…and it is among the Concepualists proto-types, a genuine ur sprache, an authentic original. Thus McLuhan and that subculture identified as the art world are no strangers.

Freud’s influence on the Surrealisis, and McLuhan’s influence on American Art of the 60’s, are akin. Surrealism was informed and fructified by the looming rediscovery of the unconscious and its contents. While Pop Art, Greenbergian formalism, Minimalism, and Conceptualism were, in varying degrees, conscious and otherwise, wildly antipodean responses to McLuhan’s take on the World. Each response being in main part a varience of the medium is the message.

Both Freud and McLuhan, while busy frying other fish, provided ideational, even mythical, backdrops for visual culture, as well as for art praxis in their respective times. Each is essential to the descriptive lexicons typifying “art speak” in their respective times. And both reputations have endured and survived a high variety of caricature, misattribution and debasement regarding their role and stage presence in those times.

The Surrealist mind’s very activity–its picaresque posture and devotional irrationality–is, as if, a manifestation at one with the Freudian concepts of instinct, desire, and the dream. It’s stupifying confidence in the liberation of desire and exaltation of freedom is grounded in, and bracketed by, an outright catachistic embrace of psychoanalytic theories.

Likewise with McLuhanism and the mind-set of the 1960’s, where notions such as hot-versus-cool, perceptual ratios, linear-versus-nonlinear, and media as materia prima premeate, in distinctly opposing patterns, the discourses encirciing Pop Art at one end and Greenbergian formalism at the other; with Minimalism and Conceptualism allied as a counterforce to both.

But Whereas Freud’s influence was direct, McLuhan’s was decidedly osmotic, passing through the art world’s semipermeable membrane like some unacknowledged solvent. It was received within the art world’s precincts as a particular strain of the overall “eschatological heave” (Mailer’s coinage) which branded every aspect of 60’s culture–visual, political, theoretical, and popular.

(One) As to the specifics…or, five probes enumerated:

Pop Art and Popism in general emerge with a staggering blast in the same time frame (circa 61–65) that McLuhanism takes root and begins to achieve celebrity. It is the late twilight of Abstract Expressionism, the preeminent and dominant movement of the prior fifteen years. Televised war in Vietnam is escalating, LSD is founding a subculture, the Beatles have arrived. The distinctions between high and low culture are collapsing. A dazzling discontinuity prevails.

In this dicey midst, nacent contra-stances begin to spring up. Chief among them are Minimalism; that paradoxical amalgam of Neo-Platonic and empiricial interests, and polymorphic Conceptualism, with its diverse and multiple embodiments of disembodiment.

Like a protractor, McLuhanism’s ethos opens out in a 180 degree sweep, encapsulating while coralling all of the above, knowingly or not, into a common arch description of novel terms. Within such terms, these various moves and subsequent countermoves of the 60’s are merely the inevitable results of an epic transitive clash. Their recalcitrant differences merely stubborn evidence of that clash’s profound, though ironicly received, complexity.

Which is to say that McLuhanism’s discourse–with particluar salience on the medium/message equation– provided a fresh, even unexpected, way of encompasing the fragmentary contours of the four main contesting camps which characterized the art world in the 1960’s.

(Two) Pop Art’s valorizing of the ubiquitous common image or object–best exemplified by Warhol’s soup cans and Brillo boxes–dovetails with McLuhan’s explorations of mass media. The mass image, prior to its appropriation by Warhol, Lichenstein, Rosenquist, et al, was initially spread throughout the culture via mass medium advertising. Thus both undertakings’ (McLuhan and the Pop artists) share a distinct “family resemblance”…Perhaps it was the zietgiest.

McLuhan’s notion of the receeding mechanical age over-lapping with an onrushing electric one is, with a bit of a stretch, analogous to the receeding spirit of Abstract Expressionism and Pop’s disarming arrival. McLuhan’s actual words are apt here: “The partial and specialized character of the viewpoint, however noble, will not serve at all in the electric age. At the information level the same upset has occurred with the substitution of the inclusive image for the mere viewpoint.” Abstract Expressionism, if nothing else, was and is certainly a specialized noble view point. And with Pop, aesthetic practice is certainly expanded by way of its omnivorous inclusion of all and every sundry mass image.

(Three) Those dual, complementry hegemons, Popism and electric media–software and hardware in current parlance–flooded the collective psyche with the overwhelming force of nature itself. But success invites rebellion. And such rebellions were rife. In retrospect, Greenbergian formalism, or color field painting, is rather marginal among these, yet central to our present argument.

Cast in predicament, Greenberg’s formalist aegis covers a narrow spectrum of exclusionary attitude, manifest in painting and sculpture both. Its gist is this: Progress in the visual arts orbits around the core issue of material transparancy. Ergo, increasing emphasis on the medium; that is, the physicality and the qualities of surface is registered as liberation from the declared contraints of representation, inference, and pictorial illusion.

Greenberg and his coterie held Popism’s worldview in pitiless disdain, claiming that it had enfeebled the demands made upon the viewer; that it was antithetical to the putative rigors of authentic connoisseurship; that it’s mimicry of kitsch, advertising, cartoons, et al, was nothing more than a wanton abandonment of high motive.

The twisting irony here is, of course, that central and conspicuous attributes of McLuhanism can and have been implicitly drafted into the respective causa belli of these opposing camps.

In a sense that McLuhan surely would have appreciated, this rambling feud is just one of the more recent manifestations of that ageless contest between demotic and hieratic, vernacular and sacerdotal.

(Four) Panofsky has noted that we actually “read what we see according to the manner in which objects and events were expressed by forms under varying historical conditions.” Thus what we read when viewing a classic untitled box–industrially fabricated according to the precise specifications of the master Minimalist Donald Judd–are the historical conditions affiliated with its presentation to the world as a sculptural event. Otherwise such a box could reasonably be taken for a very pricey, very elegant designer-dumpster. It is the conditions of its making that assign its status as sculpture. And the pleasure derived in the viewing ineluctably includes a reading of those conditions.

In Minimalism our perceptual ratios are rearranged by vertiginous oscillation of attentive focus, swinging to and fro between the qualities of the object’s physical presence and its idealist geometric properties. From the eye’s mind to the mind’s eye and back, such an object’s medium, empirical and ephemeral at once, is its message.

(Five) Cutting to the quick, Conceptualism is a message without a medium, at least without a medium in any traditional sense. Its measure of merit rests in the free-floating character of its propositions. Evidence of a particular Conceptualist enterprise usually commences with the diagrams, instructions, or floor-plans preceeding its temporary embodiment and/or the record of its having existed at all, usually manifested in photographs, video tape or the detritus resulting from the event.

Thus the installation or event itself drops off into the void and we are left with its before and after, with its projection and trace. Often enough, these traces are fetishized, re-entering the domain of art objects and, subsequently, the economy of the art world. But since you can only have your tongue in one cheek at a time, this maneuver for having it both ways presents a novel conundrum. Should these photographs, tapes, drawings, debris, etc., be judged by their intrinsic aesthetic value, ding an sich, as the things themselves; as entities with an existence independent of the installations which caused them? Or does their merit reside exclusively in the reification of phantom events?

I suspect these are questions McLuhan himself would have enjoyed tossing around, inasmuch and since they present the medium/message equation with a peculiar wrinkle.

In any case, the rhizome interconnecting McLuhan’s explorations with the zigzaging tactics of 60’s visual artists, of all vanguard stripes, is fecund with a shared motif index, logistical repertoire, and lexical invention. And this fortuitous confluence represents a critical juncture that, in retrospect, has set the reverberating tone of our current postmodern climate. For, in Wittgenstein’s signifying phrase, “To imagine a language means to imagine a form of life.”

Hence, through bend of bay and swerve of shore we return to McLuhan castle and environs once again. Where we fin again, only to begin again–for these environs possess a serious strength, and their river runs very deep.


 Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s" at the MCA Chicago

Installation by General Idea in “This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s” at the MCA Chicago

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan in Mel Hurtig’s Canadian Encyclopedia

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 08/08/2016 - 1:47pm

This posting is a tribute to master bookseller, publisher and Canadian nationalist Mel Hurtig who just passed away:- 

Mel Hurtig, who opened Edmonton’s first independent bookstore and went on to run for the federal Liberals, fight against free trade, publish The Canadian Encyclopedia, and write several searing commentaries about foreign ownership and cultural imperialism, has died in Vancouver aged 84 …….“From the time that he was in his early 20s, he has been a passionate nationalist and that doesn’t mean he believed we should be inward thinking. It meant he believed in Canada’s sovereignty, and that we were a strong and wonderful nation.”

Born and raised in Edmonton, Mr. Hurtig opened the Hurtig Books store in 1956, which grew to be one of the country’s largest, and from there, launched a publishing company in the 1970s.

He conceived the idea of creating a Canadian encyclopedia after becoming irritated at seeing libraries full of Americanized history books. With the help of funding from the Alberta government, Mr. Hurtig oversaw the creation of The Canadian Encyclopedia, as a way to address the lack of books about Canada created by Canadians.

“He lived his whole life trying to teach Canadians about themselves,” Ms. Hurtig said. Read the rest of the Toronto Globe & Mail’s article at . Addendum: The Globe & Mail’s detailed obituary of Mel Hurtig:


There are two entries on Marshall McLuhan in the Canadian Encyclopedia:-

1 – The main Marshall McLuhan entry in the Canadian Encyclopedia was written by the late Frank Zingrone (1933-2009), emeritus York University Communication professor (see ) and can be found at


2 – The following second Canadian Encyclopedia entry on McLuhan’s legacy was written by Donald Gillies, Emeritus Ryerson University Professor of Communication and one-time student of McLuhan.

Marshall McLuhan’s Legacy in Culture and Scholarship

After his death in 1980 Marshall MCLUHAN‘s star at first seemed to wane. But in 1982 the INTERNET was born and McLuhan was invoked again in the context of two-way interactive COMMUNICATION. With the advent of the personal COMPUTER, individuals and organizations could now be linked electronically, instantaneously, and globally. The establishment of the World Wide Web consortium in 1994 brought into operation what McLuhan had written as early as 1962: “the next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include TELEVISION as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce massLIBRARY organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.” As with so many other media forecasts, his prescience was remarkable.

In the mid-1990s McLuhan began to receive renewed attention from another quarter. Much of the initial credit for bringing him back into the public mediasphere must go to Wired magazine, established in 1993 and proclaiming itself The Magazine of the Digital Generation. McLuhan was presented as the prophet of the digital generation, and the digital generation (re)discovered him. Wired anointed him its Patron Saint and on its masthead in every issue was a photograph of McLuhan and one of his aphorisms – or as he called them, “probes;” for example, “Ads are the cave art of the twentieth century.” Month by month readers were probed by McLuhan’s ideas, enhancing his image among the digerati.

As well as over a thousand articles, McLuhan wrote or co-wrote 9 books, of which several have been published in new editions, and he edited or co-edited 5. Since his death 5 more of his books, all co-written, comprising various aspects of his work, have been published posthumously. To date scholars and writers have produced 3 biographies and 12 major studies of his work, along with scores of articles. His image has been recorded in successive generations of media, from film through optical disk to videotape. A 6-hour sampling has been compiled into The Video McLuhan.

McLuhan’s work has generated a huge amount of scholarship: articles, books, journals, public lectures and international conferences – 44 around the world in 2011, the centenary of his birth. His ideas and approaches have been incorporated into school and university curricula everywhere. The online search term Marshall McLuhangenerates over 5 million results. His influence is felt most directly not only in the field of communication, but also in cultural studies, media studies, and particularly media ecology.

The founding of the Media Ecology Association in 1998 was a significant milestone for the academic world, acknowledging McLuhan’s origination of the notion of media ecology and its regularization and institutionalization by Neil Postman at New York University. It was Postman who defined the discipline most simply – media ecology is the study of media as environments – and expressed a central precept of media ecology when he said that a medium of communication is an environment and not a machine. The discipline has been a central vehicle for the sustenance and enhancement of McLuhan’s work, as well as its application to research and in cultural operation and production in the media.

McLuhan has affected virtually every field and discipline in the humanities and SOCIAL SCIENCES, in EDUCATION, and in BUSINESS studies. His work has had an impact on artists, musicians, novelists, media practitioners and policy makers, and it has been studied by politicians, public officials, activists, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and the clergy. We find his influences in such current research topics as:
• Understanding McLuhan as a medium for the convergence between art and science
• The aesthetics of Marshall McLuhan: The medium as expressive form
• Is Toronto obsolete? Process and ambivalence in McLuhan’s urban studies
• Theology in the electronic age: What Marshall McLuhan has to say to the theologians
• McLuhan meets convergence culture: towards a new multimodal discourse
• Marshall McLuhan’s acoustic space
• Advertising, McLuhan and the creative revolution, 1965-1980
• Marshall McLuhan and the future of work in a world of information This small sample will serve to indicate how contemporary research and scholarship continues to be guided and inspired by McLuhan.

As a final consideration of McLuhan’s legacy, and bearing in mind the perspective of his attitude expressed when he said, ” I am resolutely opposed to all innovation, all change, but I am determined to understand what’s happening,” we may wonder how much his open exploration of the future of media and communication has encouraged scientists and entrepreneurs to develop new media such as social networking, online gaming and augmented reality.

McLuhan has received material commemoration as well. The UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO in 2010 revived the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology within the Faculty of Information, which in turn has established the Coach House Institute to continue the McLuhan research tradition. The old coach house itself, McLuhan’s operational home, has been refurbished to contemporary standards for new generations of students and researchers. On the campus of his academic base, St. Michael’s College, the City of Toronto has renamed a street Marshall McLuhan Way.

Suggested Reading
  • New editions of books by Marshall McLuhan: The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962), with new essays by W. Terrence Gordon, Elena Lamberti and Dominique Scheffel-Dunand (2011); Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man(1964), with a new introduction by Lewis H. Lapham (1994); Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964), Critical Edition, edited by W. Terrence Gordon (2003).Posthumous publications: with Eric McLuhan, Laws of Media: The New Science (1988); with Bruce R. Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (1989); with David Carson, The Book of Probes, compiled and edited by Eric McLuhan, William Kuhns and Mo Cohen (2003); with Eric McLuhan, Media and Formal Cause (2011); with Eric McLuhan, Theories of Communication (2011).Source the Canadian Encyclopedia Online at  Cover of 2000 edition

Categories: Blog

The Draft Program for The Toronto School: Then, Now, Next International Conference (Toronto, October 13-16, 2016)

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 8:33pm

 Dear Colleagues,

On behalf of the Program Committee, I am very pleased to let you know that the draft program for The Toronto School: Then, Now, Next International Conference (Toronto, October 13-16, 2016) is now available online: 

The conference brings together theorists, experimentalists, and technologists from different disciplines to share and nurture ideas, and to engage in dialogue on the origins, rise, decline and rebirth of the Toronto School of Communication.

100+ speakers, 32 panels, 21 countries, 6 social events, 1 photo-documentary exhibition, and a wide range of cultural initiatives that will make the conference unforgettable!

Finally, please be reminded that the deadline for Early Bird Registration is only four weeks away – Wednesday August 31


We look forward to welcoming you to Toronto!

Paolo Granata, Conference Chair

Download the draft program

Invited Speakers

William Buxton, Concordia University; Richard Cavel, University of British Columbia; Hart Cohen, Western Sydney University; Derrick De Kerckhove, University of Toronto; Sara Diamond, OCAD University; Paul Elie, Georgetown University; Gary Genosko, University of Ontario; Brian Russell Graham, Aalborg University; Jerry Harp, Lewis & Clark College; Paul Heyer, Wilfrid Laurier University; Ursula Huws, University of Hertfordshire; Mark Kingwell, University of Toronto; Arthur Kroker, University of Victoria; Elena Lamberti, University of Bologna; Claude Le Fustec, Rennes 2 University; Mark Lipton, University of Guelph; Robert Logan, University of Toronto; Janine Marchessault, York University; Eric McLuhan, Indipendend Scholar; Joshua Meyrowitz, University of New Hampshire; B.W. Powe, York University; Erhard Schüttpelz, Siegen University; Rita Watson, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; and more… KEYNOTE SPEAKER (OCT 14)

John Ralston Saul

Declared a “prophet” by Time magazine, Saul has received many awards and prizes, including Chile’s Pablo Neruda Medal, South Korea’s Manhae Grand Prize for Literature and The Gutenberg Galaxy Award for Literature.

“An Intellectual Revolution”. Watch our video! Social Events (OCT 15)

Glenn Gould and the Toronto School: Words, Music, Images

As part of the international conference, “The Toronto School: Then, Now, Next” (October 13-16, 2016), the Alliance Française, in collaboration with the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology, the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, and the Glenn Gould Foundation is pleased to present “Glenn Gould and the Toronto School: Words, Music, Images”.
Conceived as a moving an engaging evening of pictures, performances, and conversations, this multimedia event will feature prominent commentators, musical performances, and screenings that will enable to reconsider and assess the unique legacy of one of the twentieth century’s most renowned and internationally acclaimed Canadians.
Photo by Mark Laurie, sculpture by Ruth Abernethy, courtesy of The Glenn Gould Foundation.

Manuscripts and Marginalia

Hosted and organized in collaboration with the Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto. Manuscripts, letters and other rare material from the U of T archives will be displayed, each belonging to the main representatives of the Toronto School. Attendees of this event will interact with such materials as manuscripts from Harold Innis, letters and manuscripts from Northrop Frye, and manuscripts and marginalia from Marshall McLuhan’s working library.

Edmund Carpenter: Dialogues, Diversions & Digressions

Co-curated by Michael Darroch, Hart Cohen, Paul Heyer and Janine Marchessault, in collaboration with the estate of Edmund Carpenter. This public presentation will showcase a selection of interviews, collaborative film experiments, and archival materials representing Carpenter’s lifework in research scholarship and pedagogy before and after his collaborations with McLuhan. Early Bird Registration ends August 31

Register Now

Categories: Blog

Five Sovereign Fingers Taxed the Breath (1955) by Marshall McLuhan, Echoing Dylan Thomas

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 08/03/2016 - 11:16am

From YouTube at

An Analysis of Marshall McLuhan’s “Five Sovereign Fingers Taxed the Breath” (1955)

By Donald F. Theall

From Prelude to The Virtual Marshall McLuhan by Donald F. Theall, Montreal & Kingston, ON: McGill-Queen’s University Press (2001), 10-11.

   An early example of how McLuhan actually developed his probes poetically is exemplified in a short essay first published in Explorations 4 (1955) in which he explores a large number of the probes listed above. The essay is entitled “Five Sovereign Fingers taxed the Breath,” a title taken from a then well-known poem by Dylan Thomas, “The Hand That Signed the Paper,” the first quatrain of which is:

The hand that signed the paper felled a city;
Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath,
Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country;
These five kings did a king to death.

Using the second and fourth lines of this quatrain and the concluding line, McLuhan alludes to the entire poem, which refers not only to the power of the written word but to the dominion it comes to have over people both physically and socially, for:

The mighty hand leads to a sloping shoulder,
The finger joints are cramped with chalk;
A goose’s quill has put an end to murder
That put an end to talk.

Yet it also is:

The hand that signed the treaty bred a fever,
And famine grew, and locusts came;
Great is the hand that holds dominion over
Man by a scribbled name.

Medieval man writing

Thomas’s recognition of the historical “effects” of writing as a medium dramatized a central aspect of McLuhan’s perception of writing as a medium. But his use of Thomas’s poem in this brief key essay has another aspect, for the essay itself is a prose poem playing poetically with Thomas’s poem. In a first anticipation of the “global village,” McLuhan begins by declaring “The CITY no longer exists, except as a cultural ghost,” for it is, as Thomas’s poem dramatizes, writing that established civil society, so now McLuhan can say “The INSTANTANEOUS global coverage of radio-tv makes the city form meaningless, functionless.” His prose poem circumscribes Thomas’s stanzas on the power of the written word both referring back to the pre-written era when McLuhan declares that:

SPEECH structures the abyss of mental and acoustic space, shrouding the race; it is a cosmic, invisible architecture of the human dark. Speak that I may see you. WRITING turned a spotlight on the high, dim Sierras of speech; writing was the visualization of acoustic space. It lit up the dark. These five kings did a king to death.

And McLuhan then also juxtaposes to the pre-written, the later move that would lead beyond writing for:

A goose’s quill an end to talk, abolished mystery, gave architecture and towns, brought roads and armies, bureaucracies. It was the basic metaphor with which the cycle of CIVILIZATION began, the step from the dark into the light of the mind. The hand that filled a paper built a city.

Then playing on Thomas’s opening line “The hand that signed the paper felled the city,” but in the spirit of the ambivalence of Thomas’s poem, he underlines aphoristically that through writing the hand could both effect destruction and creation.

But now “The handwriting is on the celluloid walls of Hollywood; the Age of Writing has passed.” Playing on his probe of old media becoming the content of new media, his text has surrounded Thomas’s text with the perception that we have now succeeded in “surpassing writing.” He builds on this by inventing “a NEW METAPHOR [to] restructure our thoughts and feelings.” This metaphor is outlined through an epigrammatic history of mechanization taking command that moves from “The MECHANIZATION of writing [that] mechanized the visual-acoustic metaphor on which all civilization rests; [and] created the classroom and mass education, the modern press and telegraph. It was the original assembly line” through the emergence of photography, telephone, and radio to culminate with how “movies and TV complete the cycle of mechanization of the human sensorium. With the omnipresent ear and moving eye, we have abolished writing.” By so doing “we have regained our WHOLENESS… on… a cosmic plane.” Being back in acoustic space (but on a new level) we must seek a new language for this technological culture and our new tribalized world of primitive feelings, so that McLuhan’s concluding line of Thomas’s poem: “Hands have no tears to flow.” (pp. 10 – 12)

The hand that signed the paper felled a city; 
 Five sovereign fingers taxed the breath, 
 Doubled the globe of dead and halved a country; 
 These five kings did a king to death.  - Dylan Thomas

Read Dylan Thomas’s complete poem here:

Categories: Blog

An Example of Marshall McLuhan’s Influence on Artists: Toronto’s General Idea Collective

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 08/02/2016 - 12:59pm

Mondo Cane Kama Sutra (installation view) 1984, acrylic on canvas. 10 canvases, 245 x 305 cm each. Image courtesy the Estate of General Idea; © Pierre Antoine, Musée d’art moderne de la Ville de Paris / ARC, 2011.

Marshall McLuhan’s high regard for serious artists as what Ezra Pound called “the antennae of the race” due to their “integral awareness,” which enabled them to encounter new technologies with impunity because of their expertise in changing sense perceptions (Understanding Media, p. 18), was reciprocated by artists themselves. Many Canadian artists especially were influenced by McLuhan’s ideas. One such recent collective of three artists known as General Idea, consisting of  Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson, were active from 1967 to 1994 as pioneers of early conceptual and media-based art. 

“General Idea’s work inhabited and subverted forms of popular and media culture, including beauty pageants, boutiques, television talk shows, trade fair pavilions and mass media. Their work was often presented in unconventional media forms such as postcards, prints, posters, wallpaper, balloons, crests and pins. Self-mythology was a continuous strategy that informed their work. They created a fictional system that self-referenced and self-legitimized, claiming a space for their local art scene in Canada.” (Wikipedia)


“Marshall McLuhan, General Idea, and Me!” was delivered by Philip Monk as the McCready Lecture in Canadian Art on 9 November 2011 at the Art Gallery of Ontario in conjunction with a Marshall McLuhan symposium. The lecture was reproduced in Counterblasting Canada: Into the Social and Intellectual Vortex of Marshall McLuhan, Sheila Watson and Wilfred Watson, ed. Gregory Betts, Paul Hjartarson, and Kristine Smitka (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2016) as well as an appendix to Glamour is Theft: A User’s Guide to General Idea. The version printed here is from Counterblasting Canada.

Marshall McLuhan, General Idea, and Me! by Philip Monk

What was it about Winnipeg, because is this not the initial connection between Marshall McLuhan, General Idea, and me? [1] When in 1968 I bought a pocket-book edition of Understanding Media, attended architecture school in the wake of Michael Tims (soon to become AA Bronson), and saw an exhibition of Ron Gabe’s (soon to become Felix Partz) large-scale hand paintings in some loft in downtown Winnipeg, what was it?—because the McLuhanesque outlook of that time seems so foreign to the insular surrealism that has dominated that city recently, albeit in its rise to attention. [2] However, this is not a question of Winnipeg but Toronto and the Toronto School: the Toronto School of Communications, that is, which included Harold Innis, Eric Havelock, and Marshall McLuhan—and, why not, General Idea?

Could these original bad boys of Canadian art ever belong to a school—even a night school, the title of one of their 1989 exhibitions? Not that I am trying to get my foot in the door of such an elite institution as the Toronto School by tagging along in the title. Of course, by “me” I mean everybody. There is some trace in mine, though, of Roland Barthes’s initial title to his essay “Longtemps je me suis couché de bonne heure,” which was “Proust et moi” (“Longtemps”). But instead of a homosexual coupling of two, my title is a ménage à trois (or a ménage à cinq). Ménage à trois is also the name of a 1978 General Idea exhibition and publication. There is a reason for maintaining three in my title, rather than two: Marshall McLuhan and General Idea…or, again, General Idea and me. “Two” is the number of rivalry—or mimicry (which are one and the same). The number two ensures that we would talk here of influence: the influence of Marshall McLuhan on General Idea. The number two would give us our marching orders—one, two, one, two—to traditionally conceive influence, marching straight ahead, as unidirectional, which is often the case only of “mechanical matching” (McLuhan, Gutenberg 268), as McLuhan would say (rather than the possibility of the reverse: a posthumous queering of McLuhan, if that is at all possible—probably not!). On the other hand, and by saying this—that is, by saying “on the other hand”—we are already caught within the binary logic of handedness (one, two, left, right), the binding logic of either-or. Nonetheless, on the other hand, the number three complicates matters. It dispels influence in undermining one of the mainstays of its concept: that of authorship that a collective implicitly denies. Not that this passage from two to three is an overturning, which applies the same dualistic language, when we are concerned instead with the flipping or oscillating back and forth of ambiguity as it operates in General Idea’s system, an ambiguity that is regulated instead by the contradictory logic of myth. General Idea materially realized this logic in the mirrored venetian blinds of their 1973 prototype Luxon V.B.

The numbers two and three underlie everything. They rule it since these numbers as well engender General Idea’s system. This is easy to remember, not easy to see. One, two, three, a numeric cosmology rules General Idea’s system. Read the full lecture at .

Read more about General Idea here:

Also read on this blog Artists as “the Antennae of the Race”: . Thanks to John Watt for bringing this to my attention.

One Year of AZT

One Year of AZT, General Idea
Collection of the National Gallery of Canada

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan & Buckminster Fuller’s First Meeting on an Intellectual Cruise Around the Greek Islands

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 07/26/2016 - 4:47pm

Buckminster Fuller and McLuhan

Buckminster Fuller & Marshall McLuhan in front of René Cera’s painting Pied Pipers All (Image: Dick Darrell/Getstock) See

The following is an excerpt from an essay titled “Network Fever” by Mark Wigley, which makes the essential point that “contemporary discourse about networks seems to ignore the heritage that stretches back to Graham Bell through Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, the Metabolists, and others in the fifties and sixties. “Network Fever” does hugely important work because, without pointing fingers, it exposes a problem of theorizing networks and building technical substrates — we often ignore the ideological components of building technologies”. )

 Constantinos Doxiadis

Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan met for the first time after boarding the New Hellas in Athens for an eight-day boat trip around the Greek Islands. The two gurus of the electronic age had been invited on the trip, along with thirty-two other leading intellectuals from fourteen countries, by Constantinos Doxiadis, a Greek architect and urban planner (see ). The idea was to have a symposion,” a radical mixing of intellectual activity and sensual pleasure as the boat traveled from island to island. Each morning, the group would have informal but intense discussions onboard about “the evolution of human settlements.” In the afternoon and evening, they would leave the boat to go swimming, visit famous historic sites, eat in restaurants, see performances, go dancing, and shop. High-level theoretical discourse was well lubricated with retsina and ouzo.

McLuhan and Fuller admired each other’s eccentricity. McLuhan liked to speak in aphoristic punch lines thrown as grenades into the morning discussions. A pun was as likely as a formal statement. Fuller surprised the group by seeming uncomfortable with the rapid exchanges. Having difficulty following the conversation because of his bad hearing, he preferred to give speeches. He would talk for hours on end, continuing his line of thought during meals, while drinking, and while changing in the cabin—enthralling yet ultimately exhausting everyone.2 He moved wildly when speaking but said McLuhan’s moves were more extreme:After dinner on the Doxiadis ship we used to dance and Marshall would dance with his wife all over the place, so much so that he took up the whole dance floor. He thought we had all stopped to marvel at his and his wife’s performance, but that wasn’t it; the way he was dancing there wasn’t room for the rest of us and we had to leave the floor”. 3

Even if the others on the boat regarded McLuhan as “outlandish,” as he later wrote to a friend, his arguments had a marked effect. The group
included some prominent architects and planners, but most came from outside the traditional limits of architectural discourse. Led by superstars like Margaret Mead and Barbara Ward, there were representatives of psychiatry, engineering, economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, language, law, metallurgy, animal genetics, meteorology, biotechnology, aesthetics, physics, history, philosophy, literature, agricultural science, and geography. Each field was seen to have an important contribution to make to architectural discourse. When Doxiadis sent his letter of invitation to McLuhan just seven weeks before the event, for example, he said that he had just read The Gutenberg Galaxy of the year before and saw ideas in it that are “essential” to a reconsideration of human settlements.4 McLuhan had no problem seeing his work in that light. He wrote an unsuccessful fund-raising letter to another Canadian who had been invited to the event, citing the letter of Doxiadis and explaining that he was currently completing a book “which includes matters of immediate concern in housing and town planning.” Since the extension of the human nervous system in an electric age “confuses the problems of living space,” his own participation in the event “could be of very real importance to the study of changing problems of our national housing.”5

Once onboard, McLuhan used the event to explore the architectural implications of his work. The boat became an ampliŽer for his argument that electronics is actually biological, an organic system with particular effects. The evolution of technology is the evolution of the human body. Networks of communication, like any technology, are prosthetic extensions of the body. They are new body parts and constitute a new organism, a new spatial system, a new architecture. This image of prosthetics — which McLuhan had first presented a year earlier in The Gutenberg Galaxy and was busy elaborating for Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, which would launch him to superstardom when it came out a year later—was now reframed as an architectural image. McLuhan only waited until the second morning of the boat trip to get up and present his work as a question of urban planning, insisting, in a paradoxical twist, that the latest technologies have expanded the body so far that they have shrunk the planet to the size of a village, creating a “tremendous opportunity” for planners.6

 First edition (publ. Lippincott)

This was all too familiar to Fuller, who had been describing technology as an extension of the body ever since his first, but not well known, book, Nine Chains to the Moon of 1938, and had been insisting that traditional architecture had to give way to a “world wide dwelling services network” modeled on the telephone network. Indeed, Fuller had visualized global electronic networks long before they arrived. Unsurprisingly, he felt that his ideas, including the concept of the global village with which McLuhan would soon become famous, had been taken without acknowledgment. Yet a strong friendship was immediately established. This was greatly assisted by the fact that, as Fuller recalls it, McLuhan was carrying copies of his Nine Chains to the Moon (which had just been republished) and No More Second Hand God when they first met on the boat, declaring, “I am your disciple. . . . I have joined your conspiracy.”7 McLuhan, who had denied getting the idea of prosthetic extension from anyone until he met Fuller, later told his friends that Fuller was too much a “linear” thinker.8 Fuller told his friends that McLuhan never had original ideas, nor claimed to.9 He simply remixed available material in an original way. Yet a firm bond was established, and from then on they defended each other’s work, seeking out any opportunity to be together and pursuing the global implications of prosthetics and networks to the limit. (Access a PDF of the full Network Fever article, including the Reference notes at ).


Categories: Blog

The Marshall McLuhan Commemorative Stamp

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 07/23/2016 - 3:50pm

Born July 21: Marshall McLuhan   –   This Day in History

July 21, 2016

By Michael Baadke

Canadian educator Marshall McLuhan was an expert in understanding the significance of media and communications, and is respected as an insightful theorist who predicted the decline of printed books and the continuing global expansion of communication that characterizes our world today.

Herbert Marshall McLuhan was born July 21, 1911, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and studied at the University of Manitoba and the University of Cambridge, earning degrees from both institutions.

He taught English at St. Louis University and other schools before settling at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto in 1946. His attention turned to mass communications, leading to his first published book, The Mechanical Bride, in 1951. McLuhan’s groundbreaking insights brought him growing fame as a philosopher and sought-after public speaker. He introduced the concept of the global village in his 1963 book The Gutenberg Galaxy, and announced in Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (1964) that “the medium is the message.”

McLuhan contemplated the relationships between humans and new technologies, and became a well-known figure both in intellectual circles and in popular culture.

On Feb. 17, 2000, nearly 20 years after McLuhan’s death, Canada Post issued a 46¢ stamp honoring him, in a set titled Great Thinkers, part of the 1999-2000 Millennium series (Scott 1829a). Source:

Categories: Blog

More on Marshall McLuhan & John Cage (1912 – 1992)

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 07/22/2016 - 4:19pm
picture of John Cage

The New York Times has just reviewed The Selected Letters of John Cage, edited by Laura Kuhn, director of the John Cage Trust. See .  Asked about the connections of music and art to life by composer-editor R.I.P. Hayman, Cage explained why people create art: “Two good reasons: 1) To quiet and sober the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences (and since electronics is the extension of the central nervous system – McLuhan – revolution is therefore feasible); 2) to imitate nature in her manner of operation.”


The following excerpt is from a 2012 essay titled JOHN CAGE’S CANADA, which opines that “The twentieth century’s most important avant-garde composer may have been American, but he found his greatest inspiration north of the border”.

Edmonton-born Marshall McLuhan, whose image Cage broadcast during [follow the link to read the full essay] Reunion, happened to be a friend of the composer’s. They had met in 1965 following a few months of exchanging letters. “For several years now, your work is in my mind and entering into what I do and think,” Cage initially wrote. It wasn’t surprising that the first man to write musical scores for electronics was bewitched by the herald of the information age. Though McLuhan was only a year older than Cage, the composer nevertheless saw him as a mentor. “It was like striking flint against a piece of metal,” McLuhan’s son Eric says. “When they got together, they sparked ideas.”

Like Cage, McLuhan thought that artists opened eyes. An artist should help people “notice what the conditions are in which they live and try to work,” Eric says of his father’s ideas. “In other words, pay attention to all the things that they are accustomed to ignoring.” The two men also shared the conviction that “the medium is the message,” a concept McLuhan had famously unpacked in 1964’s Understanding Media. This was in line with Cage’s thinking: he hoped that his music’s meaning would arise from the very act of experiencing it, of being shocked and confused. McLuhan lent Cage the academic theory (and bombastic epigrams) to back up his beliefs.

Cage gushed about McLuhan in the Toronto Star; the Globe and Mail referred to Cage as the “Musical McLuhan.” But perhaps McLuhan’s biggest influence on Cage came in the form of a suggestion for a new work, one that would confound the composer for years, and that eventually evolved into two of his most important Canadian premieres.

From the start, McLuhan and Cage had bonded over their love of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Not surprisingly, it’s a confusing, esoteric text. Cage had first read it serialized as a teenager in Paris, where he’d run away to be a writer after dropping out of university. McLuhan was working on a book that argued that the “thunders”—ten hundred-letter words—in Finnegans Wake described the evolution of human technology. McLuhan suggested that Cage write a piece of music featuring the text of the thunders. The epic work would be called Atlas Borealis with Ten Thunderclaps, and it would be a sonic torrent, blending the words with recordings of actual storms and electronic sounds. Like Atlas Eclipticalis, it would be written with a star map.

In the fall of 1967, McLuhan moved to New York, where Cage lived, for a year. Cage began to say that he was “studying with” McLuhan. He also told the University of Illinois that he’d submit Atlas Borealis for its centennial commission. But in November, McLuhan underwent brain surgery to remove a tumour. It was, at the time, the longest neurological operation ever performed. He suffered extreme pain and memory loss, and visits between the two men temporarily grew less frequent. Atlas Borealis slowed down, too; Cage didn’t complete the work in time for the Illinois commission. But McLuhan’s and Cage’s thinking continued to overlap. McLuhan’s surgery had made him hypersensitive to noises that one would normally ignore. “We’d be walking down the street and he’d stop and say, ‘Did you hear that?’ says Rosenboom. “He’d notice every change in the soundscape.” In effect, McLuhan was forced to live inside Cage’s philosophy. Read the rest at .

See also on this blog Marshall McLuhan & John Cage (2012) at .

Categories: Blog

Like-minded Visionaries: Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 07/17/2016 - 8:37pm

McLuhan & “Bucky” Fuller at the Bahamas Conference (1969), Photo by Robert Fleming.

Marshall McLuhan’s 105th birthday will be next Thursday, July 21, which will be celebrated by those around the world who still care about his ideas and legacy. One year ago, the Buckminster Fuller Institute acknowledged McLuhan’s birthday by posting the following 1964 letter from McLuhan to Fuller on their Facebook page:-

Happy 104th birthday, Marshall McLuhan! McLuhan was a visionary Canadian media theorist who predicted the internet 30 years before its invention.

Today we celebrate his friendship with Bucky – check out the fascinating letter and photos below. McLuhan dubbed Bucky the “Leonardo DaVinci of our time”.

“September 17th, 1964

Dear Bucky:

I was not at all happy about missing the seminar this summer. There was too much on the plate here.

Have a good deal of luck in analyzing various problems lately. I enclose a note on one of these. If one says that any new technology creates a new environment, that is better than saying the medium is the message. The content of the new environment is always the old one. The content is greatly transformed by the new technology.

Supersonic flight will create a new environment which makes our present cities somewhat useless. In fact, if they are to be approached within any convenient distance at all, they will have to be “roofed over.” Supersonic take-off and landing alike blow the glass out of a city, so your Dymaxion Dome becomes a necessity, just as much as the road is a necessity for the wheel. One environment creates another.

Would appreciate your suggestions about readings in the matter of technology as creator of environment. Today the environment itself becomes the artefact. The consequences for learning are quite extraordinary. The prepared environment separates the old curriculum.

Warm regards,

Marshall McLuhan”

Buckminster Fuller and McLuhan

Buckminster Fuller & Marshall McLuhan in front of René Cera’s painting Pied Pipers All (Image: Dick Darrell/Getstock) See .

The following comments are Bucky Fuller’s reminiscences about his first meeting with McLuhan, from his Everything I Know, “an extraordinary series of lectures concerning his entire life’s work”, published online by the Buckminster Fuller Institute ).

I first met Marshall McLuhan in Greece, thirteen years ago, and it was on board of a ship, and he somebody spoke to me, and I turned around and realized who it was, so he called to me, and he had two of my books in his hands, and one was NINE CHAINS TO THE MOON and he was just he said “This is my Bible,” and if you ask Marshall about this he’ll tell you his extensions to man, and so forth, came out of this he had the electrical extensions of man and then got into, this brought him into ways of talking about the communication system whatever it may be. But Marshall said, “Bucky, your expressions are old fashioned, and I have a lingo,” so when I talk to you about man backing up into his future, he said, “Bucky it’s called rear-mirrorism.” So he gave me titles. Marshall will tell you this, he really said, and deliberately said, he was enlarging on my ideas. We’re very, very good friends, and these things we’ve said very much out loud on the stage platform together, so that I know what I’m I’m not saying something is offensive. He says that he’s an English scholar, literature scholar, and his memory, incidentally, is incredible of things he has read, and he began to feel that a great many people who he read many books which society didn’t know about, and society was missing some very important things, so he decided really, taking things he had read about that other people had written and began to get society to know about it. But he gets so enthusiastic that he didn’t necessarily always say, I am extending this person’s idea. His idea he began to make it his own as he began to develop it, which is very reasonable. But he is a man of integrity, so if you check with him about it, he will say, yes, that is correct. That his enthusiasm carried away and he forgot to give footnotes of where he got that. Source: 

Categories: Blog

Invitation to a Celebration of Marshall McLuhan’s 105th Birthday!

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 07/15/2016 - 11:54am


The McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology

The University of St. Michael’s College

The McLuhan Legacy Network

 A Celebration of Marshall McLuhan’s 105th Birthday


Date and Time: July 21 from 5:00 to 8:00 PM

Location: The McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology (The Coach House), 39 A Queen’s Park Crescent E, Toronto

This is a public event open to all those interested in McLuhan’s work and legacy. The Agenda:
  • An Informal Reception from 5:00 to 6:00 PM during which sandwiches, veggies, fruit and non-alcoholic drinks will be served.
  • Formal segment from 6:00 to 8:00 PM that will include the following:
    • A Report on the Media Ecology Association Meeting held in Bologna June 23-26, with Paolo Granata, Alex Kuskis and Bob Logan;
    •  A Report on coming events at the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology, With David Nostbakken and Paolo Granata;
    •  A General Discussion of things McLuhan in the context of the upcoming conference, “The Toronto School, Then | Now | Next.”

New Coach Hose

Categories: Blog

Coach House Institute renamed for Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 07/14/2016 - 8:02pm

Thank goodness that the Powers That Be at the iSchool, Faculty of Information, at the University of Toronto have corrected the mistake of naming Marshall McLuhan’s famous Centre for Culture and Technology after an obsolesced architectural structure (“coach house”), in itself of little value, instead of the man who made this modest little building world famous!Edit Link

Marshall McLuhan outside the Coach House Institute (courtesy of Robert Lansdale Photography, U of Toronto Archives)

U of T’s Coach House Institute has long been associated with Marshall McLuhan, one of the university’s most famous professors. And now, the interdisciplinary institute in the Faculty of Information, is being renamed in his honour as the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology. 

“It is fitting and appropriate to regard the base of McLuhan’s teachings as a McLuhan Centre,” said Faculty of Information dean Wendy Duff. “Back in the 1960s, McLuhan’s Coach House teachings stimulated and challenged students to fully use their creative imagination in understanding how we shape technologies, and how they, in turn, shape us.” 

The name change comes about in the midst of renewed activities and extensive planning under the leadership of McLuhan Centre Interim Director Seamus Ross, who has engaged McLuhan Centenary Fellows David Nostbakken and Paolo Granata, and more recently McLuhan Program Director Sarah Sharma, with a goal of “developing opportunities to extend McLuhan’s formative insights on culture and technology to reach across new terrain, including a Toronto that is very different today than it was when McLuhan was writing,” according to Sharma.

Ross agreed, saying “the poetic probes and multidisciplinary approaches of Marshall McLuhan in the past century have emerged as prescient for our current rapidly changing world. The McLuhan name itself stands for the strength of creative inquiry.”

McLuhan’s son, Michael McLuhan, said it “warms the heart” to see the legacy of his father’s work at the Centre enshrined by this renaming, where “so much foundational, ground breaking work was done in the emerging field of media studies.”

McLuhan spent his career as a professor of English at the University of Toronto. The McLuhan Centre preserves and honors his intellectual heritage by fostering and supporting innovative scholarship and interdisciplinary research in the broad field of humanities, according to the tradition of the so-called Toronto School of Communication. The centre had its beginnings when on October 24, 1963, John Kelly, president of St. Michael’s College, and U of T president Claude Bissell together decided to establish a Centre for Culture and Technology, which later became McLuhan’s office in the English Department at St. Michael’s College.

Read more about the history of the McLuhan Centre

The centre will be officially renamed at a conference later this year called “Toronto School, Then, Now, Next” celebrating and building upon the work of McLuhan, Harold Innis, Walter Ong, Eric Havelock, Northrop Frye, and Glen Gould, among others.



Categories: Blog

CFP by IMAGINATIONS Journal- Marshall McLuhan and the Arts | Marshall McLuhan et Les Arts

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 07/12/2016 - 6:17pm
2011-03-08-mcluhan3times.jpg Marshall McLuhan: Photomontage by

Call for Papers for La Revue D’Études Interculturelles de L’Image | Journal of Cross-Cultural Image Studies

| en français |

“The artist tends now to move from the ivory tower to the control tower of society”. —Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media (1964)

This special issue exploring “Marshall McLuhan and the arts” encourages new approaches to the study of McLuhan’s influential theses on perception, design, and the built environment as well as the artist’s changing role in postindustrial society. Submissions will excavate previously unknown, or lesser-known, narratives and linkages, and/or engage contemporary resonances and possibilities for intersection with current critical theories and debates.

Recent years have been witness to McLuhan’s re-emergence as a major interdisciplinary thinker whose writings bridge the study of communication, culture, and technology. The computational, materialist and sensorial foci of his thought offer suggestive alternatives to approaches and assumptions embedded in the linguistic turn. Our volume calls for papers that explore his work on design, perception, and visualization as well as how his insights continue to inform or otherwise connect up with current art and design production as well as theories about their place and meaning in contemporary culture.

McLuhan rose to prominence as a public intellectual in the mid-1960s; his scholarship was always responsive to contemporary developments and unfolded as a series of shifting collaborations. As a result, his work registers the impact of that decade of disruptive change on such topics of continuing relevance as networks, embodiment, and sensory knowing (among others). Yet it is not only in reading the work of his contemporaries—Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Buckminster Fuller, and even Jane Jacobs, to name but a few—that one hears echoes of McLuhan. Equally interesting are the ways in which current art and design theory invokes this history, sometimes directly, yet more often without fully acknowledging McLuhan’s legacy. Amidst the contemporary climate of crisis, we encourage new and inclusive perspectives on McLuhan’s modelling of the dynamics of art and social change.

We invite papers that engage the historic McLuhan, as well as those that decipher his influence—acknowledged or indirect—on current practices and theories. We are planning to work with the following three-part structure, although these categories may shift on the basis of submissions. The following topics are suggestions not restrictions:

1) Contributions, sources, and after-images:

– McLuhan, Sigfried Giedion, and “anonymous” histories of material culture
– Symbolism, Cubism, and environmental art
– Design and urban planning
– McLuhan on multi-modalities and sensory perception
– McLuhan as art “theorist”
– Futurism and Accelerationism
– Art and computation, information art, algorithmic culture, and museum culture

2) McLuhan and artists:

– Influential artists in his life (e.g., Glenn Gould, Harley Parker and Wyndham Lewis)
– Advertising and commercial design
– Artists inspired by McLuhan (e.g., John Cage, Nam June Paik)
– Possibilities for adapting (or complicating/contesting) McLuhan’s insights today
– The artist as corporate consultant, or “drop-in”

3) McLuhan as artist:

– Mosaic and other non-linear forms
– Collaborations
– Interaction of image and text; text as art
– Art and public engagement/education
– McLuhan as performance artist

Submission Guidelines

Essays should be between 2500 and 8000 words in length in either English or French.

In keeping with the mandate of the journal, pieces may include visual content as part of their argumentation rather than simply as supplemental material. Scholars, artists, and curators are encouraged to submit proposals: we ask that artists and curators contextualize their work with academic analyses, and we encourage academics to incorporate visual elements, including photography and other visual art as part of their analyses.

Please send full submissions by October 15, 2016 to: and

Please include a 100-word abstract and a 100-word bio.

Please include any images separately, as well as embedded in the submission, as high-resolution (300-dpi) files.


<< L’artiste tend aujourd’hui à se déplacer de la tour d’ivoire à la tour de contrôle de la société.>> — Marshall McLuhan, Pour comprendre les médias (1964)

Ce numéro spécial « Marshall McLuhan et les arts » propose d’explorer de nouvelles perspectives dans l’étude des thèses majeures de McLuhan sur la perception, le design et l’environnement urbain, ainsi que sur le rôle de l’artiste dans la société postindustrielle. Les contributeurs sont invités à analyser des textes déjà connus ou peu étudiés, à les comparer et à souligner leurs résonnances avec les théories critiques contemporaines.

Depuis quelques années, nous assistons à une reviviscence des recherches sur McLuhan autour de la portée interdisciplinaire de ses écrits qui permet d’établir des liens entre les études sur la communication, les études culturelles et la technologie, pour ne citer que trois domaines.  En outre, l’intérêt de McLuhan pour les médias, et plus généralement pour les mondes matériel et sensoriel, offre des alternatives stimulantes aux approches critiques ancrées dans le linguistic turn. Ce numéro d’Imaginations sollicite des articles qui approfondissent les recherches de McLuhan sur le design, la perception, et la visualisation. Nous proposons d’étudier comment ses idées continuent d’être d’actualité et de trouver des échos dans les productions artistiques et dans le design contemporain, ainsi que dans les théories sémiotiques ou dans le domaine de la rhétorique.

Marshall McLuhan a connu une grande notoriété comme intellectuel public au milieu des années 1960. Ses recherches se sont sans cesse alignés sur les avancées contemporaines et ont donné lieu à une série de collaborations novatrices. Ainsi, son travail évoque les années 1960 comme une décennie de grands changements dans la cybernétique, dans les médias, dans les connaissances sur la neurologie des sens, etc. Néanmoins, l’influence de McLuhan n’est pas seulement perceptible dans les travaux de ses contemporains –Jaqueline Tyrwhitt, Buckminster Fuller, ou Jane Jacobs, pour ne nommer que ceux-ci. Elle l’est également dans les théories sur l’art et le design aujourd’hui qui évoquent son parcours parfois ouvertement, parfois hélas sans reconnaître entièrement son héritage. C’est pourquoi, dans le climat contemporain de crises diverses, nous invitons les chercheurs à considérer des approches nouvelles et inclusives sur la manière dont McLuhan inspire et sert de modèle à des dynamiques de transformation dans les arts et la société.

Nous souhaitons recevoir des articles qui réfléchissent aux travaux de McLuhan d’un point de vue historique, et qui explorent son influence –directe ou indirecte– sur des pratiques et théories contemporaines.

À ces fins, nous proposons trois axes de réflexion, bien que d’autres perspectives soient aussi envisageables :

1/ Contributions, sources et après-images :

– McLuhan, Sigfried Giedion, et histoires « anonymes » de la culture matérielle
– Symbolisme, cubisme, et art de l’environnement
– Design et planification urbaine
– McLuhan face aux multi-modalités de la perception sensorielle
– McLuhan comme « théoricien » de l’art
– Futurisme et accélérationnisme
– Art et ordinateurs, art et cybernétique, culture algorithmique, culture des musées

2/ McLuhan et les artistes

– Artistes qui l’ont influencé (ex. Glenn Gould, Harley Parker, Wyndham Lewis)
– Publicité et design commercial
– Artistes influencés par McLuhan (ex. John Cage, Nam June Paik)
– Possibilités d’adopter (ou de contester/critiquer) les idées de McLuhan aujourd’hui
– L’artiste comme consultant corporatif

3/ McLuhan l’artiste :

– Mosaïque et autres formes non-linéaires
– Collaborations
– Interactions entre texte et image ; le texte comme art visuel
– Art et engagement/éducation publique
– McLuhan comme artiste performeur

Consignes aux auteurs

Les articles doivent être de 2500 à 8000 mots, en anglais ou en français. Suivant le mandat de la revue, peuvent contenir des images. Nous invitons les chercheurs, mais aussi les artistes et commissaires d’exposition à soumettre texte ou intervention. Il est recommandé aux artistes et aux commissaires d’exposition d’accorder leur travail pratique avec les exigences de la recherche académique. De même, les chercheurs universitaires sont invités à inclure du matériel visuel à leurs textes afin d’enrichir leurs analyses.

Veuillez soumettre votre texte pour le 15 octobre 2016 à et

Votre soumission doit accompagnée d’un résumé de 100 mots et d’une notice bio-bibliographique de la même longueur. Veuillez joindre vos images haute résolution (300-dpi) séparément et les inclure dans le texte.


Photograph of Professors Arthur Porter and Marshall McLuhan, with artist René Cera, admiring Cera's mural PIED PIPER ALL, Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto, 1969. Photograph by Robert Lansdale

Professors Arthur Porter and Marshall McLuhan, with artist René Cera, admiring Cera’s mural Pied Piper All, the Centre for Culture and Technology, University of Toronto, 1969. Photograph by Robert Lansdale

Categories: Blog

Two Contemporary Canadian Artists’ Works Influenced by Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 07/10/2016 - 6:23pm

“Racoon” from the Liz Magor: Habitude exhibition at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal. (Scott Massey)

Two artists channel Marshall McLuhan in Montreal exhibition

Robert Everett-Green

Marshall McLuhan’s most radical idea was that everything we make also remakes us. Two new exhibitions at Montreal’s Musée d’art contemporain grapple with this proposition from very different perspectives. Liz Magor, who was born in 1948, works with what McLuhan called the material extensions of the body – clothes especially, but also shelters and implements. Ryan Trecartin, who was born in 1981, is all about electronic extensions, particularly cellphone cameras, social media and reality TV.

Magor’s pieces typically juxtapose a ready-made – a manufactured thing such as cigarettes or liquor bottles, or a dead bird – with cast replicas of other ordinary things – gloves, towels or cardboard boxes. The cast item is often the container or concealment device for the ready-made. What looks like two piles of folded towels in Double Cabinet (Blue) is actually a hollow space packed with cases of beer. Aside from the failed deception, the use of the laboriously handmade things as the frame for the manufactured objects tells you something about how this Vancouver artist sees their relative importance in her work.

“Through some mysterious operation,” she says in an interview published in the exhibition catalogue, “the found things become really alive when set against the sculptural representation of something ordinary. … Even a dead bird is more alive than the replica of a cardboard box.”

There you have the kernel of what most of the work in the MAC’s four-decade retrospective is about: Magor’s fascination with the mystery through which an artist’s replica gives new meaning to something plucked from the world. I think the mystery has something to do with the felt nature of time, which runs differently for commodities that have “the potential to return to the world and resume their business,” as Magor says, than for a piece made to be walled up in a museum.


Ryan Trecartin sometimes makes objects, but is best known for the riotous claustrophobic videos he produces with Lizzie Fitch and a host of other artists, actors and friends. One of the earliest, and perhaps the only one with a sole performer, is Kitchen Girl (2001), a three-minute short in which Fitch drags a baby carriage upstairs, screaming the whole time, and then cooks a boot for two children who are actually bulbous stuffed toys. It’s a fairy tale gone mad, and its most telling feature is that once Fitch is in the kitchen, she does everything with a microphone in her hand.

The three group videos from 2013 included in Priority Innfield, a version of which has shown at the Venice Biennale, belong to another era, after the explosion of social media. In these films, the fourth wall that kept Fitch from acknowledging Trecartin’s sneaking hand-held camera in Kitchen Girl has become a picture window, polished to a blinding sheen by the Internet and phone cameras.

Everyone primps and preens for the camera in harsh frontal lighting, while saying things such as, “No one has a name yet,” and “One of the most elegant things about facts is that I believe them.” The cast forms a competitive bitchy fellowship that feels more real than they do individually. Their constant upstaging and photo-bombing often looks like an enactment of Candy Darling’s comment about making films at Warhol’s Factory: “Whichever one of us is the pushiest gets to be the star.” Read the the full review at .

Photo of Musee d'art contemporain de MontrealMusee d’art contemporain de Montreal
Categories: Blog

A Fiction Book About Canadian Academia in the 1960s Involving Marshall McLuhan & Northrop Frye: The Devil’s Party: Who Killed the Sixties?

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 07/08/2016 - 1:20pm
Picture While certain characters, such as Marshal McLuhan and Northrop Frye, resemble real people, this is a work of fiction “Lennie Boyd entered the scene in a tumultuous decade which he helped create, and it took all he had.” The Devil’s Party: Who Killed the Sixties?   –   By Bob Rodgers “The Devil’s Party is unapologetically a ‘literary’ novel about literary people.” The Devil’s Party follows Jason, an intellectual tenderfoot, and Lennie, a charismatic and tortured literary phenomenon, as they finish their Bachelor’s degrees in Manitoba and begin graduate school at the University of Toronto. Driven by the works of William Blake and mentored by intellectual heavy-weights Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan, the pair dive into the rabbit hole of scholastic passions and set out to wrestle with the ruling elite and rattle the ‘mind-forged manacles’ of the complacent majority. Their stories echo a culture stepping away from the quiescent 1950s towards the turbulent and dramatic ‘60s, and together they wrestle with the birth of new ideas and the burden of knowledge that threatens to consume them. The Devil’s Party traces the rise and fall of the spirit of protest in the 1960s through the exploits of Lennie Boyce. A product of Winnipeg’s storied North End, Lennie explodes on the campus of the University of Manitoba in 1958 as a Wunderkind, with a phobia for social niceties and a tongue like a switch blade.

An upstart from the wilds of Northern Manitoba, Jason Faraday joins Lennie’s circle. Lennie’s forebears are Ukrainian; Jason’s Irish. Lennie considers them both spawn of the derelicts of Europe. A bond is formed which sees them through graduation and, at the dawn of the 60s, off to graduate school at the University of Toronto. Their paths continue to cross throughout the 60s.

Lennie’s spiritual soulmates are Spengler and Blake. For him they are the great decoders of history. His University of Toronto mentors include Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan and a number of others who enter the story under their own names. But not all is poetry and high culture. There are perilous clashes with authority back to back with bizarre sexual peccadilloes. There is something of Raskolnikov in Lennie, also something of Tom Jones.

Lennie assails what he sees as the smug complacency of the elite, the grim rectitude of the moral majority, the obsessive materialism of the obedient classes, the brainwashing of the populace by warmongers, giant corporations, their lackeys in brain washing, the growing irrelevance of the universities, and above all the sanctimonious spoilers of sexual joy. Teaching at the University of Manitoba he quickly gets a reputation as a firebrand. Among his students and his more stout-hearted colleagues, he becomes a lodestone who draws them into his vision of the rampage for change sweeping the world. Read more about the book at . About Bob Rodgers: Bob Rodgers taught English at McGill and the University of Toronto before moving into film and television. As executive producer at the U of T Media Centre he wrote, produced, and/or directed more than 100 educational programs, among them a 30 part series: “The Bible and Literature, a Personal View by Northrop Frye”. Later as freelance filmmaker he made documentaries for the NFB (“Fiddlers of James Bay”) and the CBC National Network (“NWT: One-third of Canada”). In 2001 Bob self-published a short story collection, “Secrets From Home”. He has since written two novels: “Hot Ice”, about diamonds, ecology, and caribou in NWT; and “The Devil’s Party”, his take on the 1960s among the fledgling literati of the counter-culture. ***** Read the book review of Robert Fulford in the National Post (June 27, 2016): Bob Rodgers examines who killed the ’60s by bringing Canadian icons back to life on the page – . Thanks to Ruthanne Wrobel for this information. This book is available from and The Coach House Marshall McLuhan at his Coach House at St. Michael’s College

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan house offers glimpse of famous intellectual

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 07/05/2016 - 10:26pm
Historic home open for public tours

The home has an official historic designation and was where McLuhan grew up.

Samantha Power

The home has an official historic designation and was where McLuhan grew up.

By: Samantha Power For Metro Published on Tue Jul 05 2016

Marshall McLuhan preached that the “medium was the message” and for the next week anyone will be able to take their own impressions from his historic family home.

The doors are open at the author and intellectual’s historic home in Highlands this week. The micro museum celebrates McLuhan and his affect on the media world.

“He’s a pretty important thinker from Edmonton,” says Chelsea Boos, programming coordinator with Arts Habitat Edmonton, which now runs the space. “He was forecasting the kinds of things that we’re dealing with before anyone else had thought to look at T.V. or media at all.”

Arts Habitat took over the space in 2013, after city council helped fund the purchases and protected the home as a heritage property.

The house has been open on a limited basis since, January but will be much more available for the rest of this week. Stuart McKay, the family genealogist, provides the family history in the main floor of the home which showcases historical family portraits and McLuhan’s library of works, as well as a T.V. wall installation.

The house also provides arts residency space through the Tennis Club, an artist collective. After six months of operations Boos is most proud of getting this space up and running.

“Having them here as another energy that adds to the space,” says Boos. “It works conceptually really well with the neighbourhood.”

Boos is hoping the community connection will continue to grow as the McLuhan House settles more into the neighbourhood.

“I’d like for it to become a more organic process,” says Boos.

Tour Info: Self-guided walking tour   –   July 4-8   –   1:00pm – 7:00pm

11342-64 St. Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


Categories: Blog
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