From Marshall & Me

A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.  Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday, I present one of McLuhan’s observations and talk about its relevance today.  300 ideas. 300 days.  300 posts.

Archive for October, 2009

The continuing story of a cheap education

Marshall McLuhan (1960, age 48-49).  Today most learning takes place outside the classroom

Cheap education as I said before costs a lot.  The bought essay is an extension of the student’s minds.  A service that allows students to buy essays is a technology for delivering grades.  Another example of how learning takes place outside the classroom and by different people from the students who buy the essays.  The problem for students who buy essays is that for the rest of their lives they will most likely have to keep on buying them.  Only the essays will be called field reports, quarterly updates, white papers, business proposals, or scientific research.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  The price of this blog

On Wednesday, October 28th, I told you about ordering a custom essay of 1000 words (including footnotes and bibliography) from the Essay Bay essay writing service on the subject “Marshall McLuhan on the cost of a cheap education” that would fetch at least 80 percent.  As of today seven writers have made bids on this job and offered to write the piece for me that would fetch at least 70 percent.  Here are the prices I was bid (which include a $15 for Essay Bay because I’d asked that the job be ‘featured’ on their site): $67.65, $54.15, $112.20, $82.50, $69.00, $109.50, and $69.00.  The average price is therefore $80.57, which is lower than I guessed it would be.  But not low enough to persuade me to buy an essay and post it on this site.  Possibly because if the writers do an Internet search I may wind up buying back my own words.

Today I went to the Concordia Library and picked up the October 27 issue of The Link, the student newspaper in which I first saw the ad.  The ad for custom essays was still being printed in the papers classified section.

If you have a son or daughter at college or university ask them about the practice of buying essays.  Who does this?  Are they tempted to do this?  If you are going to college or university ask yourself: Would you or have you ever bought one?  Was this a good experience?  Do you know anyone who did?  Were they proud, ashamed, uncaring or indifferent to what they had done?  What excuses if any do people give for buying a paper?  Is the essay an obsolete assessment and learning tool?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

McLuhan, Marshall.  “Classroom without Walls,” in Explorations in Communication. Edited by Edmund Carpenter and Marshall McLuhan.  Boston: Beacon, 1960, pp. 1-3.

Posner, Richard A. The Little Book of Plagiarism.  New York: Pantheon, 2007.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 31st, 2009
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Papyrus and the Roman Empire: The story continues

Marshall McLuhan (May, 1964, age 52).  Don’t underestimate the power of papyrus

Finkelstein (see yesterday’s post) has no interest in the truth.  He’s another one of those small minds entranced with facts.  One should never let the facts get in the way of a good story.  Empire rises and falls because of papyrus is definitely a good story.  To be sure the causal relationship I have in mind is more what Aristotle would have called material and formal cause than efficient.  But no mater, if Finkelstein would only open his mind and start thinking he’d see that not all is as he thinks it is.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Don’t overestimate the power of papyrus

I asked two economic historians about the papyrus story:  Abraham Rotstein, Professor Emeritus in Economics at the University of Toronto and Deirdre McCloskey, Distinguished Professor of Economics, History, English and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.  Professor Rotstein who was a member of McLuhan’s speaking circle in the 1960s (more on this later) told me that he doubted whether papyrus provided much of an explanation for the rise or fall of the Roman Empire.  At any rate he said he didn’t think it was in Gibbon.  Professor McCloskey pointed out that even if the Romans were cut off from supplies of Egyptian papyrus they could have obtained it by trade with India.

What you might ask has this to do with my life?  What is McLuhan trying to say?  Surely not that he is making a contribution to our understanding of ancient history.  But rather I think to our understanding of our own age. What biases in time or space do our dominant means of communication have? Innis [see yesterday] believed papyrus favoured the growth of Empires in space and the parchment codex growth over time. Is the Internet more like papyrus or the parchment codex? What about Facebook?  What about Twitter? And other forms of social media?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Finkelstein, Sidney. Sense and Nonsense of McLuhan.  New York: International Pub., 1968, pp. 13-17.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 100 and 134.

Innis, H.A. The Bias of Communication, (1951) Second ed. Toronto: U. of T. Press, 2008, pp. 47-49.

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 30th, 2009
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The Roman Empire rose and fell because of papyrus?

Marshall McLuhan (May, 1964, age 52).  Don’t underestimate the power of papyrus

I owe my understanding of the power of papyrus to H.A. Innis.  It was Innis who told me about it at one of our 4 p.m. gab sessions in the basement cafeteria of the Royal Ontario Museum.  Empires that cover great distances are only feasible if they can take advantage of a medium of communication that allows easy and cheap communication over long distances.  Hence the obvious point that without papyrus the Romans could never have built their far flung empire and the end of their empire was assured with the scarcity of papyrus.    

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Don’t overestimate the power of papyrus  

Papyrus is a fibrous plant from which the Egyptians and Indians made a kind of paper.  H.A. Innis made the basic point in Empire and Communication and in The Bias of Communications that the basic mediums of communication available to a society, culture or Empire influence or bias what is possible for those societies, cultures and empires to be or become.  The argument is that without a light and easily transmitted medium like papyrus the Roman Empire would have been impossible.  To earlier Empires other things were possible.  Stone and clay allowed the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, for example, to last for a very long time, but they restricted their geographic spread.    

In 1968, Sydney Finkelstein wrote that McLuhan should be required to post the following disclaimer in his books:  No statements … are necessarily to be taken as true or not.  Any agreement between what this book says about history, and what happened in history, is purely coincidental.  On the subject of papyrus and the coming and going of the Roman Empire, Finklestein is particularly scathing. “Does McLuhan mean that the Roman generals were able to dash off quick papyrus messages to their soldiers like, ‘Don’t hurl your javelins until you see the whites of their eyes?’?”  And on the fall of the Empire, he says even if papyrus was a factor, surely factors that were more important that McLuhan ought to acknowledge are: “the internal collapse of Rome’s slave-holding economy and the invasions of the Germanic tribes, who refused to be enslaved or exploited.”  And he says it is remarkable that McLuhan asserts the fall came in the 5th century at the hands of “the Mohammedans” who cut off the Romans access to supplies of papyrus from Egypt.  Remarkable because Mohammed was not born until the 6th century and the Mohammedans were not powerful enough to cut off access to Egypt until the 7th century.  

What are we to make of McLuhan’s idea here about the power of papyrus?  Is Finklestein right that on papyrus and the Roman Empire McLuhan has given us a pack of lies and mistruths?  (To be continued tomorrow)

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Finkelstein, Sidney. Sense and Nonsense of McLuhan.  New York: International Pub., 1968, pp. 13-17.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media, 1964, pp. 100 and 134.

Innis, H.A. The Bias of Communication, (1951) Second ed. Toronto: U. of T. Press, 2008, pp. 47-49.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, October 29th, 2009
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Students pay too much when they buy essays

Marshall McLuhan (The 1960s, age 48-58). Cheap educations are costly

I went to the University of Manitoba and obtained a B.A. in 1933 and an M.A. in 1934.  I then decided the best thing to do next was start all over again.  In 1934 I went to Cambridge, England to study for my second B.A..  I then went on to win my union card as a teacher by studying for the Ph.D. at Cambridge, which they granted me in 1943.  You might think this is a lot to pay in time and money for an education.  It isn’t.  As I like to say the problem with a cheap education is that you never stop paying for it.    

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Students are paying dearly today for cheap educations  

Here is an advertisement that appeared in the October 13 issue of The Link a Concordia University student newspaper. 

PROFESSIONAL ESSAY HELP.  Research, writing and editing. Writers with post-graduate degrees available to help!  All subjects, all levels.  Plus: resumes, job applications and entrance letters!  1-888-345-8295  www.customessays.com

I e-mailed a request to custom essays for a 1000 word essay on the subject “Marshall McLuhan on the cost of a cheap education,” stipulating that I wanted it to be worth at least 80 percent.  I got 6 bids from writers for an essay that would get me 70 percent.  I don’t know at what price, but it seems likely the price would be between $100 and $200.  Tony Keller a student investigative journalist at York University obtained bids of between $100 and $400 for a 1,750 word essay he ordered on “America’s war on Moustaches.”

Is this good value for money?  What is the real cost of buying an essay?   

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Keller, Tony.  “Need to Cheat?  On a Budget?  Visit Essay Bay,” Macleans.ca On Campus, March, 2008.

Marchand, Philip. Marshall McLuhan: the medium and the messenger, 1989, pp. 19-47.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 28th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Business, Culture, Education, Vol. 1 1 Comment

Surely you’re joking Professor McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (October, 1967, age 56).  The Fire Engine caused slum housing

I spoke at The Museum of New York City on the subject “Media and the Museum.”  My colleague and research assistant, Harley Parker, led off with a history of New York recounted in a mix of film, jingles and slides.  I’m told it was a disaster.  They didn’t like my talk any better.  Didn’t expect them to.  Nevertheless, I wish my expectations had proved to be less accurate.  Thought there was going to be a riot when I told them that the advent of the Fire Engine had caused the proliferation of slum housing in 19th century cities like London, Paris, and New York.  But then you can’t expect clear thinking from museum people whose heads are firmly stuck into the ground of the past.    

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  The idea’s not as crazy as it might appear  

According to Thomas Hoving, then a curator at The Cloisters, and who was in the audience that afternoon, Parker’s presentation looked like it was thrown together at the last minute and McLuhan’s talk dumbfounded the audience because McLuhan “seldom … [allowed] reason or common sense to get in the way of his unquestionable brilliance.”  After McLuhan came out with his observation about the Fire Engine, apparently, a member of the audience interrupted him.  “I’m sorry, but I must have misunderstood you.  I thought you said the Fire Engine caused slums.  Surely I’m mistaken.”  No said McLuhan.  “Definitely the Fire Engine caused the crowding and congestion, and definitely not the opposite.”  After this exchange the audience sat shell shocked in silence until shortly afterward, at 3:15, the director of the museum stood up and suggested that the talk and the meeting – which had been scheduled to continue to 5 pm – be adjourned.

I spoke with Professor Deirdre McCloskey, recently, about McLuhan’s Fire Engine idea.  (Professor McCloskey is among other things an expert on economic history, rhetoric and communications.) She laughed.  And then she told me that the idea has some merit.  Before the advent of the Fire Engine, she explained the slums of big cities would be regularly destroyed by fires.  With the coming of the Fire Engine this type of crash and burn city planning came to an end.

What’s the relevance to your life?   The case of the Fire Engine and slums is a striking example of how technologies can have unexpected negative and positive effects.  They give and they take.

Were slum dwellers in the 19th century better off before or after the coming of the Fire Engine?   Is the Internet one the new Fire Engines of our age?  

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Hoving, Thomas. “Marshall McLuhan,” Park East, Thursday, October 19, 1967, pp. 6 and 8.

Marchand, Philip. Marshall McLuhan: the medium and the messenger, 1989, pp. 207-208.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 27th, 2009
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In the land of politics

Marshall McLuhan (September, 1964, age 53).  These guys don’t get it

I spoke at the Progressive Conservative party’s Conference on goals for Canada.  Former Prime Minister Diefenbaker was there when I made my address, but I don’t think he heard what I was saying.  He hasn’t been listening a lot lately.   Not in the flag debate.  Don’t like that new flag much myself but it doesn’t do any good to resist change you must lead it.  Among other things I told them that “political parties must now begin to think seriously about their responsibility to teenagers.”    I hope they heard that one if they don’t they’re dead.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  They still don’t get it

According to journalist Martin Sullivan after Marshall McLuhan spoke, Eugene Forsey, one of the senior figures in the party, turned and said, “Is McLuhan suggesting Diefenbaker should where a Beatle wig?” 

To understand the importance of McLuhan’s idea you need to understand some Canadian political history.  In 1963, after winning with a minority in 1962 and the largest majority to date in Canadian political history in 1957, John Diefenbaker’s Conservatives were defeated by Mike Pearson’s Liberals.  The conference McLuhan spoke at in 1964 had been organized by Dalton Camp.  Camp was a major strategist and power broker in the Federal Conservative party, who would orchestrate the removal of John Diefenbaker from the leadership of the party, in ‘the night of the long knives’ in the hopes of shifting the Liberals from power in the next election.  Camp believed “there are business and professional men, and the rising generations of young people, who do not find political organization in its traditional form either appealing or challenging.”  The conference, as Forsey’s remarks suggest, did not succeed in Camp’s aim which was as he put it, to stimulate, “from fresh springs of awareness new channels of thought, inquiry and purpose.  What we cannot do again is merely ingest the realities of a new society into an inert doctrinaire conservatism.”  That, however, is precisely what the Conservatives did and the Liberals held onto power for the next 16 years.       

Given that today most Canadians under 30 seem to have little interest in the traditional political process and political parties is their anything Canadians learn from this?  What about in other countries, such as the United States and Britain, where those under 30 also appear to be disengaged from politics?  Why don’t political parties think seriously about their responsibility to teenagers?  If they did what would they do differently?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Sprague, D.N.  Post-Confederation Canada:  The structure of Canadian History since 1867. Scarborough, Ont.: Prentice-Hall, 1990, pp. 255-321, and appendix I.

Sullivan, Martin.  Mandate ‘68. Toronto: Doubleday, 1968, pp. 89-91.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 24th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, All categories, Communication, Culture, Education, Vol. 1 2 Comments

In the still and quiet air of delightful studies

Marshall McLuhan (July, 1938, age 28).  California here I am

Corinne is a big find, actually Mother’s find, but I’m really quite delighted with her.  If I have my way, and I will, we will be married within a year.  Here though my biggest find is at the Huntingdon Library, conveniently located in Pasadena not far from where Corinne and Mother are student actors at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Actually the big deal at the Huntingdon is their stunning collection of 16th century English pamphlets, especially those of the much misunderstood Thomas Nashe, who I am placing in the learning of his time for my Ph.D. at Cambridge University.  The thesis will be a history of the trivium from Cicero to Nashe, which I see as a battle between the grammarians (and logicians) and rhetoricians. 

A lot of ideas to chew on.  Here is one.  The job of a librarian is to prevent reading.  They do a pretty good job of this at the good old Huntingdon.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Preventing reading is a big job

They still do a pretty good job of preventing reading at the Huntingdon.  I was there this summer, to see for myself the places where Marshall McLuhan did his research and where he met Corinne.  At the Huntingdon, which is a private museum of books and paintings amassed by the inheritor of a fortune earned in railroads.  It contains many wonderful things in addition to the pamphlets of Thomas Nashe.  There I was able to see McLuhan’s idea that the job of a librarian is to prevent reading in action. 

“Could I see the reading room of the Library?” I asked a guide to the library.  Answer, “No, you have to make an appointment in advance.  Preferably, a week in advance.”   I asked another question.  “Is the current reading room the reading room that was here in the 1930s?” Answer, “No it isn’t.” “Where was it?”  Answer, “You’re standing in it.”  I thanked the guide for their help and went and sat down in a red leather reading chair which may well have been there in 1938 and which McLuhan may have sat in, and reflected on how despite the obstacles in the way things sometimes do work out.

There were many books for me to look at for the old reading room was being used to display among other things books on science.  They had on display that day all (over 200 in number) of the editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species, from 1867 to 2001.  But these books, as McLuhan would not have been surprised to see were in locked display cases and only the covers could be read.  The prevention of reading continues. 

Why are books better left unread?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Marchand, Philip.  Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger, pp. 48-64.

McLuhan, Marshall.  The Classical Trivium:  The place of Thomas Nashe in the learning of his time.  Edited by W. Terrence Gordon.  Corte Madera, California: Ginko Press, 2006, pp ix-xv.

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 3 Comments

Beholding the bright countenance of truth

Marshall McLuhan (April, 1974, age 62).  It’s easy if you have a question

Ran into a graduate student in the French department here at Toronto University.  He seemed down.  I asked him what was wrong and he told me that he feels like he’ll never finish his doctoral dissertation. He’s writing on the tragedies of Voltaire and he’s in his 7th year in the program.  I gave him a hand. “What’s your definition of tragedy?” I asked.  He started to mumble on about tragedy as an art form.  “No, no,” I said.  “It’s a technological medium of communication designed to deliver tragedy.  The Greeks invented it to save their cultural inheritance from the obliterating effects of the invention of the alphabet.”  He seemed perplexed.  No matter he’s a smart kid.  He’ll get it.  Especially if he works with the second piece of advice I gave him.  Reading is easy if you know what you’re looking for.  In other words, come to the book with a question.  (That’s what I did in my doctoral dissertation on Thomas Nashe, which is a history of the trivium – the arts of grammar, rhetoric and logic – from the 1st century B.C. to the 17th century A.D.)  But enough about this, I must get down to work.          

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Some questions are better than others

The graduate student McLuhan ran into was Derrick De Kerkhove.  What happened to him?  Four months later he finished and submitted a 450 page thesis which he successfully defended, and whose defence Marshall McLuhan went to see.  (You can read De Kerkhove’s story in the book Who Was Marshall McLuhan?” – see the readings, below.)

McLuhan’s advice about coming to a book, (or anything else – article, magazine, newspaper, blog, tweet) with a question is fascinatingly obvious and a powerful tool for coming away with something valuable and creative rather than just a bunch of facts.   But to employ this approach it helps to have some good questions.  There are many questions you could ask but some are better than others.  Here for example are four general questions that I think are pretty good ones:

  1. What is the writer trying to tell us?
  2. How does she go about the telling?
  3. Why is she telling us this?
  4. What does it matter if she is right, or wrong?

Is this what McLuhan means by know what you are looking for?  What other interpretation(s) are possible?  What other questions do you think are useful?   

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Nevitt, Barrington, with Maurice McLuhan.  Who was Marshall McLuhan?  Exploring a mosaic of impressions.  Edited by Frank Zingrone, Wayne Constantineau, and Eric McLuhan, Toronto: Stoddart, 1994, pp. 86-89.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, October 22nd, 2009
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 1 Comment

How Wyndham Lewis said no

Marshall McLuhan (December, 1944, age 33).  Wyndham Lewis’s sketch is insulting

Yesterday, recall, I said that great painter Wyndham Lewis presented me with a gift, a charcoal sketch that was really quite a shock.  It upset me.  Why he drew me this way I still do not know.  The fact that it is insulting is obvious.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Why and how the sketch insults

The sketch, recall, shows Marshall McLuhan sitting, legs crossed, looking directly at you. McLuhan has one eye, a big left ear and the top half of his head, brain and all, is missing.  McLuhan’s biographers say the portrait upset McLuhan, but they do not say why.  It could be McLuhan was hurt because the portrait was unflattering, but that is unlikely.

Here is what I think McLuhan found insulting about the drawing.  Lewis did not idly draw McLuhan as one-eyed.  The one-eyed figure of Greek and Roman mythology is the Cyclops.  A race of giants who work in mines deep below the ground, with lamps hung from their foreheads to light their labours, making iron for the god Vulcan to forge thunder bolts for Jove.  In this poison-pen portrait McLuhan is the Cyclops, labouring away in the mines of academia teaching English literature and Lewis is Vulcan.  Vulcan, if you look up the legend, fell from grace by conspiring with Juno in a plot against Jupiter and was cast off Mount Olympus.  Vulcan landed on the island of Lemnos. (Lewis was cast out of London and landed with McLuhan in St. Louis.)  Because Vulcan’s wife Venus had an affair with Mars, Vulcan is also known as the patron of cuckolds.

The portrait is a medium.  And Lewis’s poisonous message is that Marshall McLuhan is an intellectual slave. [McLuhan was inspired by Wyndham Lewis’s writings.  In particular, his idea of the critical role artists play in society and the way technologies wrap around and enclose people, separating them from one another and their sense of the world about them.]

Both McLuhan and Lewis were trained critics.  For them this way of thinking in terms of ancient legends and symbols was not a leap, but a natural and obvious step to take.

Take a look at the sketch. (You can find it in Fitzgerald’s book on page 56.)  What do you think?   Is it insulting?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Fitzgerald, Judith.  Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy.  Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2001, pp. 56-62.

Gordon, W. Terrence.  Marshall McLuhan: Escape into understanding. Toronto: Stoddart, 1997, pp. 117-121.

Marchand, Philip.  Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989; 1998.

“Cyclops,” and “Vulcan” in The Brewer Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, October 21st, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 2 Comments

For friendship to fail, only one has to say no*

Marshall McLuhan (December, 1944, age 33).  Why does Lewis want to hurt me?

This year Lewis presented me with a gift, a charcoal sketch that was really quite a shock.  Why he drew me this way I do not know.  I did make a comment about his self-portrait, but I meant no harm.  His cranial profile in his self-portrait did look just like a tomahawk.  Really, since his coming here, I have only tried to help him with his work, his painting, to find him people who will pay him cash to paint their portraits.  He needs the money.  And he insults me this way.  I do not understand.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Lewis’s drawing is a medium of communication

Why Wyndham Lewis – a brilliant English painter and writer temporarily down on his luck that McLuhan admired and wanted to help – was angry with McLuhan is not known.  We know he took offense easily, struck out viciously when angered, and was a social boor, and in 1945 would tell McLuhan he wanted nothing more to do with him.  We can speculate on what it was exactly that caused him to flame out at McLuhan, but that is not I think very helpful.  Instead I want to look at the ways Lewis’s drawing of McLuhan was insulting.  That is to examine the way Lewis crafted it to spew forth his venom and have the effect that it did on McLuhan.  Why?  Because this is the method McLuhan learned from his teachers at Cambridge to analyse a poem or a novel, and which he employed to study media:  Look at their effects.  Understand how they are produced.  Here is a charcoal sketch, a medium of communication.  How does it have the effect that it does?

The sketch shows Marshall McLuhan sitting, legs crossed, looking directly at you, with one eye, a big left ear and the top half of his head, brain and all, missing.  McLuhan’s biographers say the portrait upset McLuhan, but they do not say why.  It could be vanity, but that seems unlikely, for the portrait is quite arresting, and if say a Picasso drew you would you be upset if he made you out of cubes and didn’t make you handsome? (To be continued.)

Have you ever been insulted by someone you thought of as a friend?  How did they insult you?  In what medium or media?  With what result?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Fitzgerald, Judith.  Marshall McLuhan: Wise guy.  Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2001, pp. 56-62.

Fritz, Robert and Rosalind Fritz. “R is for relationships,” a seminar.  Robert Fritz Inc.

Gordon, W. Terrence.  Marshall McLuhan: Escape into understanding. Toronto: Stoddart, 1997, pp. 117-121.

Marchand, Philip.  Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989; 1998.

*This is part of what Robert Fritz calls the “arithmetic of relationships”.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 2 Comments