Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Marshall McLuhan’s Groundbreaking Book, Understanding Media (1964)
The Baylor Libraries Symposium highlights research and scholarship at Baylor by recognizing the major anniversary of a significant publication. Each year a particular work is chosen based on its cross-disciplinary appeal in the humanities, arts and/or sciences.2014 Baylor Libraries Symposium
September 25-26, 2014 The 2014 Baylor Libraries Symposium marks the 50th anniversary of Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. In his influential and controversial book, McLuhan asserts that every medium is an extension of our human systems and can have a profound effect on our bodies, senses, perceptions, and understanding. McLuhan’s challenging work has influenced such diverse fields as the creative arts, technology, philosophy, business, communications, and politics.
Dr. Paul Levinson of Fordham University will deliver the symposium’s keynote presentation on Thursday, September 25, 2014, at 7:00 p.m. in Packard Auditorium of the Marrs-McLean Science Building. Dr. Levinson is a professor of communication and new media, prominent media commentator, and author. His award-winning book, Digital McLuhan, explores the implications of McLuhan’s insights for the Internet and the next horizon of digital media.
Abstract for Paul Levinson’s Keynote Address:
The Medium of the Book: Fifty Years after Understanding Media
A half century after the publication of McLuhan’s Understanding Media seems like a good time to examine the recent evolution of the book itself as a medium. In Understanding Media, McLuhan quotes the French poet Alphonse de Lamartine’s circa 1830 observation that “the book arrives too late”. Today, in a revolution as important as the introduction of Gutenberg’s press, books can arrive instantly anywhere in the world, via Kindles and other ebooks. But the most significant part of this development may pertain not to readers but authors, who can now publish books without a publisher and within an hour or less after the book has been written. The advantages and disadvantages of this bypassing of the traditional gatekeeper for authors and the world at large will be explored — they are mostly advantages — as well as the decline of gatekeeping in other media. Current conflicts, such as the dispute between Amazon and the traditional publisher Hachette will be examined. Connections between the evolution of the book and other facets of writing on the Web will be traced, including the capacity of readers to communicate directly and easily with authors, in modes akin to the “intelligent writing” that Socrates yearned for in the Phaedrus.
Metropolitan State University of Denver, Auraria Campus, Denver, Colorado
Kaleidoscope of Media and Community
Call for Papers
Thursday, June 11 – Sunday, June 14, 2015
Metropolitan State University of Denver Denver, Colorado
The KEYNOTE SPEAKER is Nicholas Carr influential author and thinker on culture and technology. His writing includes The Shallows (NY Times bestseller), The Big Switch, Does IT matter, and The Glass Cage. Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
See Nicholas Carr’s website at nicholascarr.com .
Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU Denver) is proud to host the 16th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association. MSU Denver is Colorado’s land grant university and educates the most diverse student body of any institution in the state. The University is an epicenter for urban impact, transforming lives, communities and higher education. It is with this perspective of dynamic diversity, transformation, and community engagement that we aim to explore the concept of “Kaleidoscope of Media and Community” as the convention theme.
The term “kaleidoscope” means the observation of beautiful forms. When we look through a kaleidoscope, we see a multitude of shapes, colors, and textures combine to create beautiful patterns. With every turn of the kaleidoscope, the patterns shift and change, yet still combine to create a whole image. As abolitionist and clergyman Henry Ward Beecher said, “Our days are a kaleidoscope. Every instant a change takes place in the contents. New harmonies, new contrasts, new combinations of every sort. The most familiar people stand each moment in some new relation to each other, to their work, to surrounding objects. The most tranquil house, with the most serene inhabitants, living upon the utmost regularity of system, is yet exemplifying infinite diversities.” This conference looks at the recursive relationships of media and community as a pattern of continuously shifting, adapting parts combining in an infinite array of possibilities within mediated environments.
The field of Media Ecology is multi-disciplinary in nature, bringing together a broad collection of specialties, perspectives and expertise. This year’s theme of community offers the possibility to think about communities as part of media’s ecology and its technologies. Community opens our discourse to human interaction that is face-to-face, urban, rural, central, remote, online, hybrid, historical, fictional, human, animal, functional, dysfunctional, young, old, diverse, educated, oral, literate, digital and linked to the technology and media in its environment.
The 16th Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association invites papers, panels, workshop sessions, short film and video works, and creative projects that explore the convention theme. Submissions on any topic of interest to Media Ecology are also encouraged. Authors who want their papers considered for the Top Paper or Top Student Paper award must indicate this on their submissions. All submissions will be acknowledged.
The convention site at MSU Denver is located in the heart of downtown Denver on the Auraria Campus. There is a wide range of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment options within easy walking or biking distance from campus.
Rental bicycles are readily available through the city’s program. Discounted rooms will be available at our state of the art on-campus, student-run hotel, as well as the SpringHill Suites at Marriott. An excursion to the mountains is planned for Friday evening. Additional information about lodging, logistics, and events will be forthcoming.
Guidelines for Submission
For Manuscripts (for MEA award submissions):
- Manuscripts should be 4,000-6,000 words (approximately 15 to 25 double-spaced pages).
- Include a cover page (or e-submission page) with your academic or professional affiliation and other contact information.
- Include a 150 word abstract, with the title. Use APA, MLA, or Chicago style.
For Paper and Panel Proposals:
- Include title, abstract, and contact information with your proposal.
- Outline, as relevant, how your paper or panel will fit with the convention
- Submission Deadline: December 15, 2014
Inquiries: Convention Coordinators – Dr. Karen Lollar, MSU Denver, firstname.lastname@example.org, (303) 556-8583 or Jacqueline Kirby, MSU Denver, email@example.com, (303) 352-7116 For more information on the Media Ecology Association and updated convention details, visit www.media-ecology.org.
Ken McGoogan, author of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, offers his picks for individuals who played an important role in advancing the digital age.
1. Marshall McLuhan: Recognized internationally as the “prophet of the electronic age,” McLuhan was an obscure English professor when, in the 1960s, he published two visionary books: The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. He anticipated a “global village” of instantaneous communications that today we know as the World Wide Web.
2. Douglas Cardinal: Best known for creating the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History), Cardinal pioneered the use of digital technology in architectural design. Drawing on his Aboriginal heritage, he created curvilinear buildings that drove him to develop computer-aided design and drafting (CADD).
3. James Cameron: After creating the blockbuster movie Titanic (1997), Cameron began developing the digital 3D Fusion Camera System he would use in Avatar (2009). That movie, which relies heavily on computer-generated animation, revolutionized the film industry, replacing traditional 35-mm celluloid with digital 3D technology.
4. Mike Lazaridis: In 1999, after creating a series of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, this electrical engineer invented the BlackBerry, the world’s first smartphone. Today, more than 1.2 billion people use smartphones to access the web, though BlackBerry’s dominance is a thing of the past.
5. Don Tapscott: The author of 14 books, among them the blockbustersWikinomics and Macrowikinomics, available in two dozen languages, the visionary Tapscott finds hope for the future in the collaborative innovations made possible by the Internet. He argues that the Millenials, born between 1977 and 1997, are “digital natives” who are changing the way the world does business.
Understanding Media Now: Navigating Surveillance, Social Media & Marketing
Never has media literacy been a more essential life skill.
Toronto, ON: Understanding Media Now will focus on privacy, learning opportunities, online
environments, rights and responsibilities and agency in a technology-driven digital landscape. Participants will attend workshops and panels on subjects ranging from effective teaching and parenting to digital citizenship, rights and responsibilities, privacy and using media ethically and effectively. The conference will assemble a diverse group of teachers, parents, researchers, industry reps and other stakeholders to explore the impact of the current media landscape and digital information technologies on parenting, teaching and learning.
Speakers include Ron Deibert (Munk School & author of Black Code), Annie Kidder (People for Education), national and international scholars and industry experts.
Who: The Association for Media Literacy (AML)
Where: Toronto’s Ted Rogers School of Management
When: October 18, 2014.
The AML was the first comprehensive organization for media educators in Canada and has become a world leader in media literacy education. The AML is a registered charity.
For registration information, please visit http://www.aml.ca/understandingmedianow
Early-bird fee (before Sept. 1): $50.00.
Regular fee (after Sept. 1): $75.00
For additional inquiries or interviews, please contact: Michelle Solomon, Communications Executive, AML
There have been other reviews of Bruce Powe’s latest book published on this blog, but this unpublished review is written by Robert Logan, arguably the dean of Marshall McLuhan scholars today.
A Review of B. W. Powe’s Marshall McLuhan & Northrup Frye: Apocalypse & Alchemy
by Robert K. Logan (firstname.lastname@example.org)
B.W. Powe’s book Marshall McLuhan and Northrup Frye: Apocalypse and Alchemy is a masterpiece of literary criticism of two of Canada’s (nay the world’s) greatest literary critics, Marshall McLuhan and Northrup Frye. The content of Powe’s book is a detailed and astute analysis and comparison of these two seminal poetic thinkers and the medium is Powe’s poetic prose that is a delight to read. Powe’s goal “is to initiate a discussion of the convergence, of the conflicts, of the methods and harmonies, and of the ‘ideal Marriage’ of communications and literature (‘Mercury and Philology’) which their lives and thought bravely embody (54, these numbers refer to pages in Powe’s text).” Elsewhere (21) he writes, “the premise of my book [is] that the intellectual energies of McLuhan and Frye continue to be ‘magnetic fields’; they attract and resist each other in the apocalyptic mode.” Powe’s book is not just an academic exercise but a process that he is heavily invested in both emotionally and intellectually for both McLuhan and Frye were his teachers and the inspiration for his life’s work as an academic writer, a novelist, an essayist, a critic and a poet.
The subtitle of Powe’s book: Apocalypse and Alchemy holds the key to understanding his project. Powe sees both McLuhan and Frye as apocalyptic thinkers. He quotes Frye from The Educated Imagination, “Literature is a human apocalypse, man’s revelation to man, and criticism is not a body of adjudication, but the awareness of that revelation, the last judgment of mankind (20-21).” Powe’s (16) evidence for McLuhan’s apocalyptic spirit comes from The Medium and the Light where McLuhan writes, “I am an apocalyptic… We are on the verge of apocalypse.” Powe interprets this passage to mean, “Apocalypse is heightened awareness, the moment of epiphany, where an individual sees into, or acutely apprehends, his or her time and place (16).” Although Powe sees both McLuhan and Frye as apocalyptic thinkers their notion of apocalypse is quite different. “To McLuhan, apocalypse is found in the forms and effects of media,… to Frye, apocalypse can be found in literature and through the honed awareness that comes in critical comprehension (23).”
The alchemy for Powe and one of the missions of his book is his desire to reconcile and amalgamate the thinking of his two mentors. He writes, “Is there a possibility of a McLuhan-Frye alchemy, a mixing of their chemical traces and energies? What happens if we let the two together become the catalysts for a new agency of thought, a code of thought and inspiration (11)? ”
The structure of the book revolves around this theme of apocalypse and alchemy. After a short prologue that deals with the first encounter of McLuhan and Frye in 1946 at the University of Toronto, Chapter 1 reveals the authors intentions and provides an overview of his notion of apocalypse and alchemy. Chapter 2 describes the work of McLuhan and Frye from their own respective perspectives. Chapter 3 deals with the conflict between McLuhan and Frye’s differing apocalyptic views and approaches. Chapter 4 examines the parallels or harmonies in their thinking leading to Chapter 5 where Powe attempts an alchemic reconciliation of the approaches of McLuhan and Fry. A short Chapter 6 sums up the book and deals with the impact that McLuhan and Fry have had on the thinking and work of their mutual student and prodigy, the author of the book.
There are studies of McLuhan and there are studies of Frye but Powe’s book is unique in that he takes on both these scholars at the same time, compares them and examines their interactions with each other. Rarely do we find an analysis of two thinkers compared side by side and in those odd cases where it has been done not by a student and admirer of the two thinkers in question. One of the interesting features of Powe’s study is that he is the student of both, engaged in a struggle with them to embrace them and as their former student to also turn away from them. Powe invokes the story of Jacob wrestling with an angel to describe his own struggle. The difference here is that Jacob only wrestled one angel whereas Powe takes on two angels as he relates in his text, “Still I know when I rise to struggle with these angels of instruction and inspiration what comes is a reinvention of the two through a recombination (27).” This book is as much an autobiography of Powe’s intellectual heritage as it is an analysis of McLuhan and Frye, two thinkers that are at the core of Powe’s scholarship and his literary artistic expression. In this book we are treated to a view of the figure of McLuhan in the ground of Frye, a view of the figure of Frye in the ground of McLuhan, and a view of the figure of McLuhan and Frye in the ground of Powe, a rich tapestry indeed!
But there is still another ground and that is the ground of Canada as Powe, himself a Canadian, describes the influence of being Canadian on Frye and McLuhan who chose to work and remain in Canada despite the possibilities of lucrative offers from south of the border (35). Powe suggests that they are neither part of the European nor the American tradition but they are “subtly, insistently part of the new that is Canadian and yet (paradoxically) universal (12).” So in a certain sense this book is about Canada as well as about McLuhan, Frye and Powe.
I learned a lot from Powe about Frye whose work was not as familiar to me as that of McLuhan’s. But what really knocked me out were the new insights into McLuhan that Powe provided despite the fact that I had collaborated with McLuhan from 1974 to his passing in 1980 and have written about him ever since. I believe it is Powe’s poetic sensibilities that allowed him to draw fresh insights for me into McLuhan’s work.
Powe introduces us to how McLuhan and Frye worked for many years at St. Michael’s and Victoria respectively where the street running through St.Mike’s was renamed the McLuhan Way and a classroom building renamed Northrup Frye Hall. Powe writes, “The naming of a street and building can guide us and move us. It helps us to remember twin geniuses and their invaluable creation of a legacy of insight and vision (10).” How appropriate, I thought, how these naming honours reflect the character of the honourees. McLuhan is a way, a thoroughfare, a place of movement and Frye is a building, static and solid and built conforming to a code, the Toronto building code.
Powe first describes the work of McLuhan and Frye in terms of each one’s own objectives before contrasting their respective perspectives and interests which for McLuhan was a focus on form, media and the impact of technology and media and for Frye was a focus on content and the impact on our imagination (39). There was also a difference in their style as McLuhan despite being a prolific author worked primarily in acoustic space within the framework of the oral tradition and without a theory whereas Fry worked totally in visual space within the literary tradition guided by his theory of the Great Code (51, 149, 167). McLuhan “craved collaborators” (85) and Fry worked alone in the library or his study with his books (50).
Despite these contrasts in style, temperament and methodology, Powe still sees many parallels in McLuhan and Frye. These became the ingredients for his alchemic reconciliation of his two teachers and mentors. Both were voracious readers, both were interested in patterns, laws and codes (41, 202), both were fascinated with the number four as well as Pentecostal and apocalyptic thinking (29-34). Both had strong religious convictions, although different they were deeply felt (46). Education was a major concern for both (48). Each was rebellious in his own way (181) and each was fascinated with Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (183), as was Powe, who treated us to his own analysis of the Wake (204-08) in addition to those of McLuhan and Frye.
Despite these parallels and the ‘harmonies’ in the two seers, Powe deals with what he calls “the critical conflict between McLuhan and Frye” devoting an entire chapter to this topic (110-168). Their critiques of each other and conflict between them, Powe suggests, rose to the level of mutual polemics. McLuhan’s problem with Frye was that he felt Frye was operating with a left-brain, visual bias of categorization by classifying figures without taking into account the ground in which they operated. He also critiqued Frye for not taking into account the effects of the print medium (122), and went as far as to suggest that Frye’s “classification” was “without insight (117),” which seems a bit harsh. Frye, for his part, suggested that McLuhan was “a cult figure” who “allowed his name and ideas to be associated with business people and media celebrities, politicians and advertisers (127).” Powe also cites a 1971 essay in which Frye accuses McLuhan of being a determinist and even a Marxist. This seems a bit unfair to McLuhan given his ecological approach and his criticism of Marxists as providing a 19th century perspective on 20th century problems.
After his careful analysis of McLuhan and Frye’s differences, parallels, critical conflicts and even their mutual polemics, Powe turns to alchemy in his attempt to identify a “visionary prophetic tradition in the joining of ‘the medium is the message’ with the Great Code story (237).” He suggests that, “we meld McLuhan’s percepts with Frye’s concepts (229).” McLuhan and Frye are described in yin and yang terms by Powe when he writes, “in McLuhan’s poetic aphorisms there is criticism and in Frye’s criticism poetry (269).” Of the two McLuhan is the yang with his assertive, in your face, sociality and Frye is the yin with his withdrawn, solitary, bookish scholarship. McLuhan enters the lists with business folks, entertainers, politicians, artists and the common folk of his society whereas Frye is withdrawn quietly contemplating his books in the quiet sanctuary of his ivory tower. McLuhan’s classes are adlibbed while Frye’s lectures are carefully prepared ahead of time. McLuhan is incessantly talking and Frye, incessantly writing either for his public or in his private notebooks.
Powe found intellectual and spiritual succour and nourishment from both of his mentors and teachers, who he knew intimately in their lifetime, studied assiduously in his academic career and defended in his book against their harshest critics such as A. C. Hamilton, U. Eco and J. Baudrillard (260). In summing up the impact McLuhan and Frye on him Powe writes, “their primary gift was their attempt to provide ways to let us soar (276),” but still he learned to “abandon them to move on, living deeply” yet to come back to them on occasion so that “other new and vital lessons [could] begin (285).” If you read Powe’s book, an important addition to McLuhan and Frye scholarship, you too will experience new and vital lessons.
The book is published by the University of Toronto Press: (see http://tinyurl.com/ndaj82v ) and is available from Amazon, Chapters and other bookstores.
About Robert K. Logan: Bob Logan has a variety of experiences as an academic involved in research in complexity theory, information theory, biology, environmental science, linguistics, industrial design and media studies. He published with and collaborated with Marshall McLuhan. He was also active in the business world operating a computer training company 1982-2000 and a Web development company from 1994 to 2000 through which he did extensive consulting in knowledge management. He was active in politics from 1974 to date. Among his many activities he served as an advisor to PM Pierre Eliot Trudeau, policy chair of the Ontario wing of the federal Liberal Party and an advisor to various federal cabinet ministers. He is also an author or editor of 11 books and many articles in refereed journals.