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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The entire essay from which the above is excerpted can be downloaded from (which is a pdf, not a Web page).


About John Wain

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

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

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

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

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

Book & Media Studies Program

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

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

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

Follow this link to listen to an audio recording of the lecture: .

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

University of St. Michael's College Logo

Categories: Blog

Sheila & Wilfred Watson: McLuhan Collaborators & Associates

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

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

  Sheila Watson, (photo by Rowland McMaster).

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

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

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

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

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

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

Click for Bio and Links.

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

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

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

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

Categories: Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories: Blog

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

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

 Dr. Paul Levinson

Published on Feb 3, 2015

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

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

Categories: Blog

Notes on From Cliché to Archetype (1970)

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 02/03/2015 - 12:17am

From Cliche To Archetype

Marshall McLuhan With Wilfred Watson at Tony Schwartz’s Studio in 1968

In his 1970 book, From Cliché to Archetype (Viking, NY ISBN 0-670-33093-0), Marshall McLuhan, collaborating with Canadian poet Wilfred Watson, approached the various implications of the verbal cliché and of the archetype. One major facet in McLuhan’s overall framework introduced in this book that is seldom noticed is the provision of a new term that actually succeeds the global village; the global theater.

Follow this link to hear McLuhan and Wilfred Watson:



From Cliché to Archetype (1970)

McLuhan, M. and Wilfred Watson (1970). From Cliché to Archetype. New York: Viking.

On this module, we do not look at McLuhan’s collaboration with Wilfred Watson, From Cliché and Archetype, but this short introduction is provided for those who are interested. This elegantly designed book is presented as a patchwork of short reflections, arranged in alphabetical order (even the Introduction and Table of Contents are combined with the other entries). The key terms “cliché” and “archetype” are two of McLuhan’s most difficult ideas, but the main theme of the discussion is our formulaic, habitual ways of engaging with the world, and how these have changed, particularly in the modern period.

The term “cliché” is a French word which derived originally from printing, and refers to the blocks that are used to make prints. Similarly, the word “archetype”, which comes from Greek, first referred to an original pattern or model from which copies are made. A cliché has come to mean an overused expression which, though it was once fresh and conveyed something novel, has been repeated so many times that it is now a trite stereotype, such as “you are what you eat” or “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. An archetype, in psychology and literary criticism, has come to mean a mythical, universal figure or idea that repeats itself throughout history and across cultures, such as the questing hero or the ill-fated lovers.

In From Cliché to Archetype, McLuhan extends these two terms beyond their usual verbal or literary meanings. For instance, he argues that our very perceptions are clichés, since they are patterned by the many hidden, surrounding structures of culture. We tend to see or hear what we expect to see or hear. So, at its simplest level, a cliché is a perceptual probe, which promises new information but merely reiterates old, stereotyped ways of understanding.

In addition, McLuhan links clichés to technologies. According to McLuhan, technologies extend our senses and abilities, allowing us to see further or move faster, for instance. But, as we quickly come to rely on these technologies, they create pervasive, persistent environments that actually numb our attention. Thus, we can also use “cliché” to describe technological extensions, which enlarge our sensory life but actually reduce our powers of attention and insight.

Finally, clichés can sometimes awake us from this dazed state, and provide a breakthrough into a new kind of experience. The continually repeated cliché can draw attention to itself, prompting a sting of perception or shock of recognition. In this sense, a “cliché” can be a breakthrough that actually enhances our understanding. Thus, McLuhan uses the term “cliché” to describe our perceptual probes into the surrounding culture, which are mostly numbed by the technologies that pervade this environment, but which occasionally provide us with insights into this very ubiquity.

Similarly, McLuhan broadens the meaning of the term “archetype.” McLuhan argues that every technology initially extends some human faculty, creating a new cultural environment and mode or awareness (cliché). This technology and mode of awareness are then pushed aside or scrapped by a new technology, only to be retrieved later on by yet another technology. It is this process of retrieval that turns a cliché into an archetype. Thus, for McLuhan, archetypes are not universal or primordial figures or ideas which mystically appear from time to time, but are accumulated collections of particular, historically specific clichés. The title of the book, From Cliché to Archetype, refers to the process whereby a cliché becomes, through retrieval, an archetype.

So, why are the sections of the book arranged in alphabetical order, and why does the Table of Contents appear under T rather than at the beginning of the book? In fact, the form of the book illustrates the content, i.e. the key ideas of cliché and archetype. We can think of the alphabet as a cliché, a technology that has become so pervasive that we fail to notice the way that it shapes our thinking. A Table of Contents, meanwhile, is a kind of archetype, which retrieves other parts of a book. In From Cliché to Archetype, McLuhan and Watson upset our expectations by mischievously missing out some letters from their alphabetical list and repeating others, and also by placing the Table of Contents under T and the Introduction under I (even the Notes on Sources were supposed to appear under N, but the publisher put them at the end). In this way, the authors draw our attention to the regimented, disciplining effect of alphabetization by means of the cliché itself (cliché as breakthrough). Indeed, since the material is ordered alphabetically, the Table of Contents is in fact largely useless, except, as Terrence Gordon has pointed out, as a reminder that archetypes can themselves become clichés…

Key Sections (and suggested order in which to read them): (1) Cliché as Probe (pp. 52-61). Provides a good introduction to McLuhan’s varied understanding of cliché, as hackneyed perceptual probe, numbing technological extension, and occasionally illuminating breakthrough. (2) Environment (as Cliché) (pp. 76-79). Further consolidation of clichés: considers the city as a multiplicity of accumulated service environments, i.e. numbing clichés. (3) Archetype (pp. 17-23). Introduces McLuhan’s understanding of the archetype, which considers it not as a primordial, universal symbol, but as a retrieved cliché, i.e. a technologically engendered mode of awareness from an earlier period. (4) Introduction (pp. 116-30). Explains the relationship of cliché to archetype. (5) Retrieval (pp. 185-90). Further consolidation of the cliché-to-archetype process: nostalgic “archetypalizing” is the tendency to see recent developments as instances of a universal archetype, rather than as the retrieval of earlier environments, i.e. clichés. Useful Texts Cavell, R. (2003). McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 214-16. A short, dense account of McLuhan’s theory of the cliché-to-archetype process. Gordon, W. Terrence (2010). McLuhan: A Guide for the Perplexed. New York: Continuum, pp. 120-25. Brief account of McLuhan’s understanding of clichés and archetypes, with several examples. McLuhan, M. (1964). New Media and the Arts. Arts in Society 3.2 (September). University of Wisconsin Press, pp. 239-42. An early exploration by McLuhan of the cliché-to-archetype process. Watson, W. (1974). Marshall McLuhan and Multi-Consciousness: The Place Marie Dialogues. Boundary 2, 3.1, A Canadian Issue (Autumn), pp. 197-212. Watson’s account of his dialogues with McLuhan, which formed the basis of From Cliché to Archetype. (Source: ) ***** Note that From Cliché to Archetype was republished by Gingko Press, edited by Terrence Gordon, and can be purchased directly from them or from major booksellers like Amazon and Chapters-Indigo. See . From Cliché to Archetype  Wilfred Watson (May 1, 1911 – March 25, 1998) was professor emeritus of English at Canada‘s University of Alberta for many years. He was also an experimental Canadian poet and dramatist, whose innovative plays had a considerable influence in the 1960s.[1] The Dictionary of Literary Biography (DLB) says that “Watson ushered in an avant-garde inCanadian theater years before the rear guard had fully emerged.”
Click for Bio and Links.

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan Projects at transmediale 2015, Berlin

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 01/31/2015 - 12:23pm

Transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015 with David Orrell: Money is the Message
Tuesday, January 27 2015, 18:30-20:00
Embassy of Canada
Leipziger Platz 17, 10117 Berlin
Moderated by Georgios Papadopoulos

Canadian mathematician and publicist David Orrell will deliver this year’s Marshall McLuhan Lecture entitled Money is the Message. In works like Apollo’s Arrow (2007) he deals with the boundaries of mathematic patterns which are supposed to ensure the predictability of events of all kinds.

His most recent publication Truth or Beauty: Science and the Quest for Order focuses on the strained relationship between science and aesthetics.

In his talk, Orrell will pick up on McLuhan’s idea that money is a medium for social interaction. The lecture looks at the origins of money; explores its often-paradoxical properties; asks how money went missing from mainstream economics; shows why modern fiat currencies are transmedia; peers into the future of currencies; and – in the spirit of McLuhan – draws on everything from ancient philosophy, to modern scientific theories to decode money’s mysterious but enchanting message.

transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture is a collaboration between transmediale and the Embassy of Canada in Berlin.

The talk will be held in English. Please present a valid photo ID at the door and allow sufficient time for Embassy security. (Doors open at 18:00). Please register online (deadline: January 27, noon)


Transmediale Marshall McLuhan Salon Exhibition 2015:
Abrupt Diplomat by Lorna Mills
Opening: Tuesday, 27 January 2015, 20:00-21:30
Exhibition: January 28 – February 1 2015, Mon-Fri 12:00-
18:00, Sat-Sun 14:00-18:00
Marshall McLuhan Salon at the Embassy of Canada
Ebertstraße 14, 10117 Berlin

 Abrupt Diplomat

The work of Lorna Mills forms patterns that defy progress and instead suspend the viewer in an endless retreat from the familiar. In the solo exhibition, Abrupt Diplomat, on display at the Marshall McLuhan Salon, we are treated to a largely new edition of Lorna Mills ongoing GIF animations. In her short and numerous GIF (Graphic Interchange Format) works, the characters are constantly misbehaving. The rhythms and patterns she establishes digitally are unmistakably natural, random and so far removed from their regular discourse that the agency rests in the framing of the piece via time and proximity.

Please present a valid photo ID at the door and allow sufficient time for Embassy security.


Transmediale Marshall McLuhan Screening 2015:
Ways Of Something
Saturday, 31 January 2015, 16:00-17:30
Embassy of Canada
Leipziger Platz 17, 10117 Berlin
Curated by Lorna Mills

On 31 January 2015 transmediale and Marshall McLuhan Salon will also present the German premiere of Ways of Something, an anthology film featuring 58 net artists curated by Lorna Mills as a remake of John Berger’s classic BBC documentary, Ways of Seeing (1972). The project combines 3D rendering, gifs, film remix, webcam performances, and websites to describe the cacophonous conditions of artmaking after the internet.

Please present a valid photo-ID at the door and allow sufficient time for Embassy security (Doors open 30 minutes before screening). (Source )

Ways of seeing

Categories: Blog

Edmonton Remembers and Honours Native Son, Marshall McLuhan

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 01/27/2015 - 8:14pm

This home at 11342 – 64th Street was once the home of famous Canadian media visionary Marshall McLuhan. Photo by Alex Kuskis.

Decades after his death, media visionary Marshall McLuhan’s spirit still looms over Edmonton.

Not only is his childhood home in Highlands — where he spent the first four years of his life — being converted into artspace, local professors, writers and artists continue to take inspiration from the philosopher.

Ambient musician Mark Templeton and filmmaker Kyle Armstrong are the latest to pay tribute to McLuhan, who died in 1980. Their collaboration, Extensions, is a haunting abstract of original and sampled sound and video. Shuddering rhythms, chopped vocals and snippets of spoken-word dialogue intermingle with shots of wires, blurry figures, clouds, rocket ships and some of McLuhan’s quotes, including: “To say that ‘the camera cannot lie’ is merely to underline the multiple deceits that are now practised in its name.”

Some of Armstrong’s multiple deceits include shots of what could be seen as either a field or a lake, wafts of smoke or underwater shadows, an upside mountain or the underside of a whale. Such duplicity also extends to the ambient soundtrack, partly composed of manipulated audio from stock film footage. “Kyle would send me sound files from films and I’d use them as sources,” says Templeton. “He wouldn’t tell me where the footage came from, but I didn’t really want to necessarily know in case it subconsciously affected how I approached it.”

The pair first performed their work at one of the Art Gallery of Alberta’s Refinery parties in 2014. As of Jan. 28, Extensions will be available on DVD (and LP), the first release on Templeton’s new label, Graphical Recordings, or (Source: )

EXTENSIONS by Mark Templeton + Kyle Armstrong.  Vinyl LP.

In an attempt to dissuade us from ever posting on Twitter again, conceptual electronica bandits Mark Templeton and Kyle Armstrong combine forces on Extensions, an audio representation of Canadian media commentator Marshall McLuhan’s predicted ‘digital collective consciousness’. If such a thing as cerebral noise exists, this record has kicked the scene off to a great start in 2015. ( )

Categories: Blog

Marshall McLuhan Predicted the Emerging Infowar

McLuhan Galaxy - Mon, 01/26/2015 - 5:49am

“World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” - Marshall McLuhan (1970), Culture is Our Business, p. 66.

The Digital Arms Race: NSA Preps America for Future Battle

By Jacob Appelbaum, Aaron Gibson, Claudio Guarnieri, Andy Müller-Maguhn, Laura Poitras, , Leif Ryge,  and

Normally, internship applicants need to have polished resumes, with volunteer work on social projects considered a plus. But at Politerain, the job posting calls for candidates with significantly different skill sets. We are, the ad says, “looking for interns who want to break things.”

Politerain is not a project associated with a conventional company. It is run by a US government intelligence organization, the National Security Agency (NSA). More precisely, it’s operated by the NSA’s digital snipers with Tailored Access Operations (TAO), the department responsible for breaking into computers.

Potential interns are also told that research into third party computers might include plans to “remotely degrade or destroy opponent computers, routers, servers and network enabled devices by attacking the hardware.” Using a program called Passionatepolka, for example, they may be asked to “remotely brick network cards.” With programs like Berserkr they would implant “persistent backdoors” and “parasitic drivers”. Using another piece of software called Barnfire, they would “erase the BIOS on a brand of servers that act as a backbone to many rival governments.”

An intern’s tasks might also include remotely destroying the functionality of hard drives. Ultimately, the goal of the internship program was “developing an attacker’s mindset.”

The internship listing is eight years old, but the attacker’s mindset has since become a kind of doctrine for the NSA’s data spies. And the intelligence service isn’t just trying to achieve mass surveillance of Internet communication, either. The digital spies of the Five Eyes alliance — comprised of the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand — want more.

The Birth of D Weapons

According to top secret documents from the archive of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden seen exclusively by SPIEGEL, they are planning for wars of the future in which the Internet will play a critical role, with the aim of being able to use the net to paralyze computer networks and, by doing so, potentially all the infrastructure they control, including power and water supplies, factories, airports or the flow of money.

During the 20th century, scientists developed so-called ABC weapons — atomic, biological and chemical. It took decades before their deployment could be regulated and, at least partly, outlawed. New digital weapons have now been developed for the war on the Internet. But there are almost no international conventions or supervisory authorities for these D weapons, and the only law that applies is the survival of the fittest.

Canadian media theorist Marshall McLuhan foresaw these developments decades ago. In 1970, he wrote, “World War III is a guerrilla information war with no division between military and civilian participation.” That’s precisely the reality that spies are preparing for today.

The US Army, Navy, Marines and Air Force have already established their own cyber forces, but it is the NSA, also officially a military agency, that is taking the lead. It’s no coincidence that the director of the NSA also serves as the head of the US Cyber Command. The country’s leading data spy, Admiral Michael Rogers, is also its chief cyber warrior and his close to 40,000 employees are responsible for both digital spying and destructive network attacks.

Read the rest of this Der Spiegel article at . Thanks to Norm Friesen for this item.

Categories: Blog

Acoustic Space, a short film by Anthony Marinelli

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 01/22/2015 - 6:47am

Acoustic Space2

Acoustic Space: A Short, Sage and Funny Movie  By Paul Levinson   –   January 17, 2015 Just saw Acoustic Space, a short film by Anthony Marinelli currently on the film festival circuit, and based on the award-winning play by Marinelli of the same name.   That name is taken from Marshall McLuhan’s phrase – “acoustic space” – which McLuhan created to describe the all-at-once immersion of the electronic environment.   In contrast to visual space, in which we tend to focus on a single direction or source of information, acoustic space gives us information from everywhere in the environment at once.  We can hear radio, for example, regardless of where our eyes may be focused – that’s why listening to the radio works so well when we’re driving a car.   McLuhan wrote this in the 1960s and 70s.   In myDigital McLuhan (1999) and New New Media (2009, 2012), I explored how what McLuhan wrote 40-50 years earlier was even more applicable to our current digital age, in which we’re even more immersed in information than we were back then.

Acoustic Space the movie is both predicated on our digital immersion and a delightful and intelligent word-play on acoustic.  A couple about to have dinner in a restaurant are talking more to people on their phones than they are to each other.  We’ve seen scenarios like this before, but Marinelli  brings a special wit and pizzazz to the endeavor, with the couple almost seeming to be talking to one another when they’re not, because the words they’re saying on the phone have so much in common. The man is an advertising exec and the woman is trying to give advice to her friend whose relationship is falling apart.   Acoustic Space thus resonates with the best of Mad Men and Girls.  The waiter – not at all a dumb waiter – also has some memorable lines.  If Woody Allen – who also had what to do with McLuhan in Annie Hall – and his irrepressible sketches of urban, high-tech frenetic life are to your liking, you’re bound to enjoyAcoustic Space.   Indeed, I have no doubt that once it’s released to the public, lots of people will be talking about it – in person and on phones in restaurants. Republished by permission from Paul Levinson’s Infinite Regress blog:

Profile picture for Anthony Marinelli

Anthony Marinelli has been working as a commercial editor for many years and has created ads for the Super Bowl (Visa “Superheroes”, Aleve “Kid in You”) as well as an award winning documentary feature with Alicia Keys for her charitable organization, Keep a Child Alive (“Alicia in Africa”).

In 1996, at the New School for Social Research, he wrote and directed his first short film, “Night”, about what people do when they can’t sleep. This was followed by “Joey’s Gonna Kill Me” (Brooklyn Film Festival) and “Lunch Time.”

“Subway”, completed in 2010, screened in both the NY and LA New Filmmakers Series, and multiple times on PBS’ Reel 13. (Source: )

Categories: Blog

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

McLuhan Galaxy - Wed, 01/21/2015 - 6:03pm

Dear Subscribers & Readers of the McLuhan Galaxy blog – I regret that I have been offline for almost two weeks because of a malfunction of my personal computer, while on vacation in Mexico. Although all is not rectified and I might have to buy a new computer, I expect to continue publishing notices and articles to this blog, as time permits and there is new information to share……..AlexK

Peter W. Nesselroth’s Lecture: “McLuhan’s War, Here and Now”

29 Jan 2015 – 16:00 / 29 Jan 2015 – 18:00

Charbonnel Lounge
81 St. Mary Street

University of St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto
Book & Media Studies Program

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

Peter W. Nesselroth will present the inaugural lecture in a new annual series of lectures dedicated to the theme of McLuhan and the technological imagination.

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

Free admission, no registration required.
Reception to follow.

University of St. Michael's College Logo

Categories: Blog

David Orrell to Deliver transmediale’s 2015 Marshall McLuhan Lecture in Berlin

McLuhan Galaxy - Tue, 01/06/2015 - 12:10pm

David Orrell - Economy and Finance  speaker

transmediale – festival for art and digital culture berlin

Marshall McLuhan Lecture 2015, Berlin

Money is the Message”
Lecturer: David Orrell
Embassy of Canada to Germany, Thursday, January 27, 2015, 6:30 p.m.

The transmediale Marshall McLuhan Lecture is offered in cooperation between transmediale and the Embassy of Canada in Berlin. Each year, transmediale invites a Canadian cultural figure, whose work expands on McLuhan’s media theories in the context of contemporary culture and society.

transmediale – Capture All takes place from January 28 to February 01, 2015, in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in the centre of Berlin.

This year the McLuhan Lecture will be given by David Orrell, a mathematician specializing in systems economics and author of best-selling studies such as “Apollo’s Arrow: The Science of Prediction” and “The Future of Everything.” Orrell will deliver a lecture titled “Money is the Message” that picks up on McLuhan’s idea that money is a medium for social interaction.

The lecture looks at the origins of money; explores its often-paradoxical properties; asks how money went missing from mainstream economics; shows why modern fiat currencies are transmedia; peers into the future of currencies; and – in the spirit of McLuhan – draws on everything from ancient philosophy, to modern scientific theories such as complexity, to decode money’s mysterious but enchanting message.

The lecture is given in English language. The entrance is free; a pre-registration at the Canadian Embassy (E-Mail or transmediale festival organization (E-Mail is desired. Please present a valid photo-ID at the door and allow sufficient time for Embassy security. Doors Open at 6 p.m.

Venue: Embassy of Canada to Germany, Berlin
Ebertstr. 14
D – 10117 Berlin
tel: +49 – 30 – 20312393

transmediale office
Klosterstr. 68
D – 10179 Berlin
tel: +49 (0)30 24 749 761 (Mon-Fri 10:00-14:00)
fax: +49 (0)30 24 749 763…/transmediale-2015-capture-all

My thanks to my colleague Martin Speer for providing this information.

Categories: Blog

Harold Innis: Prophet of Empire & Communications

McLuhan Galaxy - Sat, 01/03/2015 - 8:30pm

Photograph of Harold Innis standing among lilacs, no date  Harold Innis, no date
Source: University of Toronto Archives/B72-0003/Box 034, file 13, 0005
© Public Domain (online source: )

In view of the publication of portions of Harold Innis’s unpublished History of Communications: Paper and Printing—Antiquity to Early Modernity (see the posting below the last posting), it would be useful to read an account of this University of Toronto political economist who late in his career turned his scholarly attention to the study of media history, before media studies as an academic field even existed. Regarding Innis’s communications studies work, Marshall McLuhan later wrote: “I am pleased to think of my own book The Gutenberg Galaxy (University of Toronto Press, 1962) as a footnote to the observations of Innis on the subject of the psychic and social consequences, first of writing and then of printing” (Introduction to The Bias of Communication). Together with Marshall McLuhan, Harold Innis is the principal figure of what some call the Toronto School of Communication (see Wikipedia ).

This is an excerpt of a longer article, which you should read in its entirety by following the link after it, by Randall White, titled A marginal junior American hick Baptist in dark times,  “hick Baptist” being a term McLuhan once used to describe Innis. White divides McLuhan’s career into two parts, the first being The First Harold Innis: Poet of The Fur Trade in Canada. The following excerpt describes The Second Harold Innis.


The Second Harold Innis: Prophet of Empire and Communications

The first Harold Innis is still sometimes said to be the inventor of the so-called “staples theory” of the growth of the modern Canadian resource economy. He (and others whose work he encouraged, sometimes with grants from the Carnegie Endowment in the United States, and then from the earliest beginnings of Canada’s own federal-government-funded academic research support system) followed up his path-breaking research on the first northern resource economy of the fur trade with parallel studies of its later successors – in the forest industries, mining, the cod fisheries, the wheat economy, and so forth. (Oil and gas – the most glittering jewel of the Canadian resource economy today – had just begun to come on stream during Innis’s last years.)

In the early 1940s Innis himself became intrigued by the newsprint sector of the forest industries. This was finally about how the news was communicated. And it logically enough led to his second incarnation, as a rough-hewn pioneering theorist of the role of changing communications technologies in the rise and fall of global empires.

 One further part of the background here was that the Canada of the early 1940s was  still a quite conscious part of the old global civilization of the British Empire. Another  was that during the Second World War the United States started to take over the  leadership of this particular empire from the United Kingdom – in a kind of second fit  of the original “absence of mind” with which the United Kingdom had acquired the  enterprise in the first place. And Canada of course lived right next door to the United  States.

The later Innis’s theorizing on his new subject did not draw on or refer directly to contemporary examples. With his congenital instinct to get at the earliest roots of things (as in the case of the fur trade which began the Canadian resource economy), he turned to the role of communications technologies in the most ancient known empires of the Middle East and Europe. His one premature and quite unfinished attempt to write about his later enthusiasms systematically was in a book called Empire and Communications, first published in 1950 by Oxford University Press. And this book has a half-dozen main parts, respectively entitled: “Egypt”; “Babylonia” (in approximately present-day Iraq); “The Oral Tradition and Greek Civilization”; “The Written Tradition and the Roman Empire”; “Parchment and Paper”; and “Paper and the Printing Press.”

This was the Harold Innis who inspired Marshall McLuhan. The later Innis was preoccupied by the thought that different kinds of communications media have different kinds of centralizing and decentralizing impacts on imperial (or “global”) political and economic projects (and on the management of any other large human organization, for that matter). From here it was only a short distance to McLuhan the literary critic’s oracular pronouncement that “the medium is the message” – and to much else in McLuhan’s almost experimental writing and talking of the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s (including his appearance in a Woody Allen movie, and his encounters with the San Francisco advertising guru, Howard Luck Gossage).

Innis the economic historian’s own more restrained (and subtly complex) version of McLuhan’s signature theme is suggested in the title of a collection of his later public addresses and other occasional essays called The Bias of Communication, first published by the University of Toronto Press in 1951. During the late 1940s and early 1950s as well, in public addresses and occasional essays collected elsewhere after his death (see the Note on Reading below), Innis also alluded not all that subtly to the policy implications of his ivory-tower research on empire and communications for the big picture of current political and economic events, in a way that McLuhan would never stoop (or dare?) to touch.

  Read the rest at .

A 2-page spread of Harold Innis’s annotations to Empire and Communications 

Click the box to view:


Categories: Blog

2nd Call for Papers: McLuhan’s Faith & Works, Oct 18-19, 2015, St. Paul’s College, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, CANADA

McLuhan Galaxy - Fri, 01/02/2015 - 12:31pm

McLuhan’s Faith and Works

October 18-19, 2015 St. Paul’s College, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, CANADA

Keynote speakers: Dr. Eric McLuhan and Andrew McLuhan

Conference Coordinators:

Read Mercer Schuchardt ( Wheaton College

Howard R. Engel ( St. Paul’s College

St. Paul’s College at the University of Manitoba is delighted to host the First Joint Conference of the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity (IISTC) and The Marshall McLuhan Initiative.  The IISTC, founded in 2013, is the publisher of Second Nature Journal (online at  St. Paul’s College is the major Catholic institution of higher learning in the province of Manitoba, Canada (  The University of Manitoba, Marshall McLuhan’s first post-secondary alma mater, was founded in 1877 as Western Canada’s first public university.  The purpose of The Marshall McLuhan Initiative, founded in 2007, is “to honor, celebrate, and extend the life’s work of Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980), who grew up in Winnipeg, graduated from the University of Manitoba, was a devout Catholic, a beloved professor of English literature, prophetic poet, satirist, and the renowned communications theorist, visionary, and media guru that we recognize today.” The Marshall McLuhan Initiative has a special interest in the religious thought and life of Marshall McLuhan, and in his Canadian Prairie roots.   The International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity has a special interest in the religious thought and life of Marshall McLuhan in that he was a founder of the school of thought now known as Media Ecology, was the direct inspiration for Neil Postman’s program at New York University, and was a lifelong adherent to the faith of Christianity.  It is with this unique perception of the importance of McLuhan’s faith on his work that we proceed to explore in depth both the concepts and percepts of McLuhan’s Faith and Works.

“Faith is a mode of perception” according to McLuhan.  McLuhan had this faith and practiced it daily by reading scripture and attending mass, and yet he rarely mentioned it or wrote much about its role in his life’s work of analyzing and understanding media forms.  Or perhaps all McLuhan ever did was analyze media from the detached observational viewpoint that the faith had granted him?  Scholars, critics, biographers, colleagues and interlocutors both inside and outside his faith tradition disagree and debate about the nature of his faith and the nature of its role (or lack thereof) in his otherwise “secular” academic work.  Until 1999, with the publication of The Medium and The Light, knowledge of McLuhan’s faith was itself fairly limited.  As more material comes forth and as more of the religious aspect of sensory perception is allowed into academic discourse, now is the time to have an open, provocative, invigorating, and challenging discussion of just what, how, where, when, and why did McLuhan’s faith play a role in his life’s work.

The conference organizers invite papers, panels, debates, workshops, short films, videos, musical or theatrical entries, artworks and poetry that explore this theme.  McLuhan once observed of his prairie roots, “I think of Western [Canadian] skies as one of the most beautiful things about the [Canadian] West and western horizons.  The [Canadian] Westerner doesn’t have a point of view.  He has a vast panorama, he has such tremendous space around him… he has a total field of vision.”  In keeping with McLuhan’s perception of this “total field of vision,” the conference organizers welcome submissions that address the conference theme from the widest possible angle.  Submissions on any topic of interest to the IISTC (and to readership of Second Nature Journal) are also encouraged, but centrality of the conference theme in received submissions will play a role in prioritizing conference presenters.

Please send 3-paragraph proposals or completed papers to by March 15, 2015 for consideration.  We will notify you of acceptance by April 15, 2015.

The conference site at University of Manitoba is surrounded by the beautiful and historic city of Winnipeg, where Marshall McLuhan was raised from age four until he left for Cambridge University in 1934.  Attendees will note that 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the McLuhan family move to Winnipeg.  The private house in the Fort Rouge area of Winnipeg was the McLuhan family home from 1919 to 1934, a time which represents the longest McLuhan lived at any address in his whole life.  Winnipeg is known as the cultural cradle of Western Canada, at the junction of the Assiniboine and Red Rivers.  In addition to the conference, visitors can enjoy world-class cultural, historic, and geographic attractions, such as the newly opened Canadian Museum for Human Rights (  See for a more complete offering on what’s happening in Winnipeg and how to maximize the enjoyment of your visit.  We encourage conference participants to extend their visit one or more days to avail themselves of Winnipeg’s offerings.

For your convenience, we provide you with the following accommodation options:

CanadInn Fort Garry Destination Centre (204-261-7450; toll free: 1-888-332-2623) on 1824 Pembina Hwy offers a special rate of $118 (reg $150) for a standard (2 queen beds) room per night for conference attendees, and runs a complimentary shuttle service to/from the Winnipeg Airport from 8am to 9pm daily.  The CanadInns reservations Web site is at

The Queen Bee Hotel (204-269-4666; toll free 1-866-431-4666) at 2615 Pembina Highway is slightly further away, but offers low cost rooms at a smaller establishment, and is offering rooms at a $10 discount to conference attendees.  Please mention the McLuhan Conference to receive a preferred booking rate at either hotel.  Discounted rates apply for stays ranging from October 16 to October 20. See their Web page through Tourism Winnipeg at,102743/01025/queen-bee-hotel

Comfort Inn Winnipeg South (204-269-7390; toll free 1-866-900-7390) at 3109 Pembina Highway is extending their special U. of M. rate of $93 per night plus taxes to Conference attendees.  This includes a complimentary hot breakfast, free wi-fi and free local calls. For more information, please click on their website: or make reservations at the following link McLuhan’s Faith and Works Conference.  If calling, please ask for the group block under Mcluhan’s Faith and Works Conference. Any rooms not reserved p30 days prior to the event will be dropped.

Guidelines for Submission of Abstracts (Deadline: March 15, 2015)

For Manuscripts:  1. Manuscripts should be 2,500- 7,500 words (approximately 10 to 30 double-spaced pages).  Include a cover page with your academic or professional affiliation and other contact information.  Include a 150-word abstract with the title.  Please use APA style.

For paper and panel proposals:  1. Include title, 150-word (min) to 500-word (max) abstract, and contact information with your proposal.  2.  Outline, as relevant, how your paper or panel will fit the conference theme.

Inquiries should be directed to the Conference Coordinators:  Read Mercer Schuchardt, Wheaton College, 630-752-5943 or

Howard R. Engel, 204-253-0419

For more information on the International Institute for the Study of Technology and Christianity please see or our publication Second Nature Journal at .

Downtown Winnipeg 3 Picture Panorama

Museum of Human Rights & downtown Winnipeg, Manitoba

Categories: Blog

New Book – Harold Innis’s History of Communications: Paper & Printing – Antiquity to Early Modernity

McLuhan Galaxy - Thu, 01/01/2015 - 4:28pm

Harold Innis’s History of Communications: Paper and Printing—Antiquity to Early Modernity
Critical Media Studies: Institutions, Politics, and Culture
Editors William J. Buxton, Concordia University, Michael R. Cheney, University of Illinois, Springfield, Paul Heyer, Wilfrid Laurier University
Contributor John Durham Peters, University of Iowa
Rowman & Littlefield, 2014  ISBN 1442243392, 9781442243392 For decades, media historians have heard of Harold Innis’s unpublished manuscript exploring the history of communications—but very few have had an opportunity to see it. In this volume, editors and Innis scholars William J. Buxton, Michael R. Cheney, and Paul Heyer make widely accessible, for the first time, three core chapters from the legendary Innis manuscript. Here, Innis (1894-1952) examines the development of paper and printing from antiquity in Asia through to 16th century Europe. He demonstrates how the paper/printing nexus intersected with a broad range of other phenomena, including administrative structures, geopolitics, militarism, public opinion, aesthetics, cultural diffusion, religion, education, reception, production processes, technology, labor relations, and commerce, as well as the lives of visionary figures. Buxton, Cheney, and Heyer knit the chapters into a cohesive narrative and help readers navigate Innis’s observations by summarizing the heavily detailed factual material that peppered the unpublished manuscript. They provide further context for Innis’s arguments by adding annotations, references, and pertinent citations to his other writings. The end result is both a testament to Innis’s status as a canonical figure in the study of communication and a surprisingly relevant contribution to how we might think about the current sea change in all aspects of social, cultural, political, and economic life stemming from the global shift to digital communication. Publication Details
  • Series: Critical Media Studies: Institutions, Politics, and Culture
  • Hardcover: 200 pages
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers (December 18, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1442243384
  • ISBN-13: 978-1442243385
  • listing: 
  • listing:

Thank you to Malcolm Dean for bringing this book to my attention.

  Harold Innis (1894 – 1952)

Categories: Blog

Contextualizing Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980)

McLuhan Galaxy - Sun, 12/28/2014 - 8:38pm

St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto, one of the two leading centers of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy in North America; the other is Saint Louis University. McLuhan taught at both.

The contextualizing of the title here specifically relates to religious context, specifically Roman Catholic in Marshall McLuhan’s case, although he was born to a Baptist mother and Methodist father and did not  convert to Catholicism until he was 26 in 1937. Some Catholics seek to demonstrate the influence of Catholic thinking on McLuhan’s work on media and, while acknowledging that this must logically be the case to some degree, those of us who think that other influences – such as New Criticism, modernist writers like Joyce and the communication theorizing of Harold Innis – were more important influences, among others, need to keep an open mind and consider their arguments. Scholars, artists, and anyone for that matter, are influenced by a multiplicity of factors, all of which would need to be explained in order to truly “contextualize” any complex personality. This excerpt is an expanded version of Dr. Thomas Farrell’s earlier published essay about the possible influence of Bernard Lonergan, SJ on Marshall McLuhan (see ). Please follow the link at bottom to read the entire essay.

By (about the author)

My general theme centers around Marshall McLuhan’s religious faith and his works. However, in my research on McLuhan’s life, I have not come across any published statements in which he discusses the years in his life when he was a Protestant. As a result, I will of necessity center my attention on his interest in and conversion to Roman Catholicism. I will present the results of my research on his life in chronological order based on the chronology of his life. From time to time, I will flash-forward to mention a later development (or developments), but then I will return to the chronological timeline as indicated in the subheadings.

Perhaps I should explain that I undertook my research on McLuhan’s life in connection with my research on the life and work of the American Jesuit cultural historian and theorist Walter J. Ong (1912-2003). I have discussed Ong and McLuhan in my book Walter Ong’s Contributions to Cultural Studies: The Phenomenology of the Word and I-Thou Communication (Hampton Press, 2000; rev. ed. 2015) and in my lengthy introduction to An Ong Reader: Challenges for Further Inquiry, edited by me and Paul A. Soukup (Hampton Press, 2002, pages 1-68).

 Walter J. Ong, SJ

Timeline: 1934

In a posthumously published letter dated May 6, 1969, to Jacques Maritain, the French Catholic Thomist, McLuhan reports that he first read Maritain’s book Art and Scholasticism in 1934 when he (McLuhan) was in graduate studies in English at Cambridge University. At the end of his letter, McLuhan says, “It was a revelation to me. I became a Catholic in 1937″ (Letters of Marshall McLuhan, edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye [Oxford University Press, 1987, page 371). The juxtaposition of these last two sentences suggests that Maritain’s book may have contributed somehow to McLuhan becoming a Catholic in the spring semester of 1937, when he was teaching English at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Before the Second Vatican Council in the Roman Catholic Church (1962-1965), many college-educated Catholics in Europe and North America and elsewhere, not just priests but also lay people, studied Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and theology in their undergraduate education at Roman Catholic institutions of higher education. As a result, they characteristically thought of themselves as Thomists. In North America, the two leading centers of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy were St. Mike’s at the University of Toronto and St. LouisUniversity, the Jesuit university in St. Louis, Missouri.

As we will see momentarily, McLuhan devoted the better part of his adult life teaching English at those two leading centers of Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy in North America. No doubt McLuhan considered himself to be a Thomist. However, he had no formal training in philosophy — or in theology. In philosophy and theology, he was an autodidact. (By contrast, Ong as part of his Jesuit training was professionally trained in philosophy and theology.)

The overall spirit of pre-Vatican II Catholicism is nicely expressed in the main title of Philip Gleason’s book Contending with Modernity: [American] Catholic Higher Education in the Twentieth Century (Oxford University Press, 1995). No doubt Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy was one of the ways in which pre-Vatican II were contending with modernity and its spirit of secularism. In terms of philosophy, Catholic Thomists were contending primarily with Kant and the Kantian philosophic tradition of thought. Because Kant had not studied Thomas Aquinas’s metaphysical thought, Thomists rejected Kant’s critique of metaphysical thought on the grounds that he had not done his homework and therefore did not know what he was talking about. But pre-Vatican II Catholics were not just contending with modernity in the realm of philosophic thought, but also in a wide range of supposedly secular matters, including movies and other aspects of popular culture and consumerism. In any event, when McLuhan converted to Catholicism in 1937, he was presumably signing on to the Roman Catholic spirit at the time of contending with modernity and secularism. McLuhan’s book The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (Vanguard, 1951) fits nicely within the Roman Catholic spirit of contending with modernity and consumerism.

Broadly speaking, certain aspects of the pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic spirit of contending with modernity and consumerism resembled the aspects of critiques advanced by the critical theory of the atheistic Frankfurt school of thought in Europe. But of course no self-respecting atheist would have anything favorable to say about papal critiques of modernity and secularism — or about similar critiques advanced by Roman Catholic authors such as McLuhan and Ong. Conversely, no self-respecting Catholics such as McLuhan and Ong would have anything favorable to say about critiques advanced by the Frankfurt School authors.

In American culture, the prestige culture was dominated from colonial times down to about 1960 by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs). Down to about 1960 when the Harvard-educated white Roman Catholic Irish American John F. Kennedy was narrowly elected president of the United States, the American WASP elite paid no attention to papal critiques of modernity and secularism — or to other Roman Catholic authors in general. For their part, pre-Vatican II Roman Catholics characteristically used the thought of the American WASP elite for target practice and critique — not for finding points of common ground. We should not forget this cultural context when we consider McLuhan’s extraordinary rise to fame after the publication of his books The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (University of Toronto Press, 1962) and Understanding Media: Extensions of Man(McGraw-Hill, 1964).

Timeline: 1936

In 1936, McLuhan published his first significant article: “G. K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic” in the Dalhousie Review, volume 15, pages 455-464. Chesterton was a prolific writer of books and op-ed commentaries and a well-known public speaker debater. He was a larger than life character — and a famous convert to Roman Catholicism. He wrote poetry, biographies, literary criticism, and religious reflections. Among his many books, you will find biographies of St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Francis of Assisi that are still worth reading today. Because McLuhan followed Chesterton’s example and converted to Roman Catholicism, we should note that in his mid-twenties McLuhan was interested in Chesterton as a practical mystic.

McLuhan’s essay about Chesterton is reprinted in McLuhan’s posthumously published collection of essays titled The Medium and the Light: Reflections on Religion, edited by Eric McLuhan and Jacek Szklarek (Stoddart Publishing, 1999).

When McLuhan was teaching English at St. Mike’s at the University of Toronto later in his life, he served as the director of Hugh Kenner’s Master’s thesis on Chesterton. Kenner’s thesis was subsequently published as the book Paradox in Chesterton (Sheed & Ward, 1947 — with an introduction by McLuhan (pages xi-xxii).

Timeline: 1937-1944

Continue reading this essay at .

SLU campus

Saint Louis University in Saint Louis, Missouri, where Marshall McLuhan taught from 1937 to 1944.

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