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.

Be a Newton, a Darwin, an Einstein, or even a McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (July, 1952, age 40).  Print makes us all equals

I am writing a book on “the end of the Gutenberg Era” in the west, which was quite a long era as eras go, lasting from the Greeks through to the Victorians. That is it is about the end of the world made visual by writing and print.  An end brought about by the electric media of the late 19th and the whole of the 20th century – telegraph, film, radio, and TV.  It is a subject rich in fascinating ideas.  Here is one:  Printing by movable type made it possible for ordinary people to be on equal terms with all the great geniuses of the western tradition.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  How?  Print elevates you and reduces them

Marshall McLuhan is saying that a book freezes the thought of men and women of genius at a single point in time.  At the same time the book is there for you to go through many times, put down and go back to.  Take Eliot’s poem the Wasteland for example.  When you read the poem and grow to understand what Eliot is saying, the result is not that you acquire the illusion of equality with Eliot.  You actually become the equal of the Eliot who has been translated from human form to the printed page. 

Does this matter?  Is it important?  I think the answer is yes.  The whole of the western tradition of liberal education through deep reading of the great books is built on the idea.  You cannot be equal to the living Plato, but you can be the equal of Plato of the printed page.  Note, McLuhan does not say that film or TV makes you the equal of what is being played on film or TV. 

What about film?  Theatre?  TV?  Do they have different effects from print?  If print creates equality, does TV create inequality?  What does theatre create?


Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan.  Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 231-232.

Eliot, T.S. “The Wasteland,” 1922, in Modern Poetry, second edition. Edited by Maynard Mack, et. al. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-hall, 1961, pp. 142-161.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, October 17th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Culture, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 2 Comments

2 Comments to Be a Newton, a Darwin, an Einstein, or even a McLuhan

  • Alex Storino says:

    An art form is anything that can be staged, theatrical, comical, dramatic, informative and controlled; like both the media and entertainment industries themselves. We’re now seeing that this also applies to schooling, banking, insurance, statute law, religion, and parliament.

    This electronic co-dependency re-creates our world in the image of a massive theatre. Reminiscent of Agusto Boal’s methods in Theatre of the Oppressed, the people become active as “spect-actors” (the dual role of involvement in processes as both the spectators and actors) that delve into, put on view, analyze and make over the reality in which they live all at once. The styles of immediate long distance communications such as radio, telephone, cellular telephone, personal digital assistant, television, projector, satellite, video camera and computer are connecting massive numbers of people in a limitless network of integrated circuitry that establishes up-to-the-second depth and broadness of one’s personal participation in activities and dissolves the once accepted limitations that gave rise to hierarchal systematization.

    As the audience joins in the universal electric playtime, our classrooms can become a stage in which spectators carry out a tremendous quantity of production, improvisation, creation, collaboration, design and performance. “We are back once more in the age of the hunter. This time the hunter is a fact finder and a researcher and a discoverer. The young today reject goals, the young want roles. Today’s child is growing up absurd because he lives in two worlds, and neither of them inclines him to grow up.” (McLuhan, transcribed from The Medium is the Massage, Audio book 1967).

  • […] McLuhan said that the advent of the printing press made any human that wanted to the equivalent of any genius in history (that has written a book), so […]

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