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.

Details, details!

Marshall McLuhan (July, 1948, age 37).  Finkelstein versus McLuhan.

My son, Eric, brought to my attention a slim volume of criticism on my books, Sense & Nonsense of McLuhan, by one Sidney Finkelstein.  In it Finkelstein alleges a good deal of nonsense and it would appear no sense.

The lamenting and lamentable Finkelstein, is caught up with details.  That’s not my bag.  However, I cannot resist pointing out that on page 17 he gets a detail wrong himself.  He writes, “Another great media revolutionist to McLuhan was Johann Gutenberg, who printed a Latin Bible from movable type in Mainz in 1437. (sic)“  Dates are not my strong point, but I think Finkelstein got that one wrong.  I’m a word man not a numbers man, myself.  For example, as Corinne keeps reminding me, I can never seem to remember the kids’ birthdays.    

Me (February 2010, age 57).  How important are the details?

The details would appear to be, although I am not an expert on the early book:  1436 is the year Gutenberg and his partner, Andreas Dritzehn, first started work on printing by movable type.  And the Mainz bible was not printed until 1454 or 1455.  But what does it matter 1436, 1437, 1454, 1455?

Mistakes in detail bothered McLuhan’s critics.  Why?  Scholars generally believe that errors in small things suggest the possibility of errors in big things.  They reveal a failure in seriousness – that you do not care enough to get them right.  And they worry about errors a great deal.  One professor of mine once offered to pay a dollar (a dollar was worth a good deal more then than it is now) for every mistake we could find in one of his textbooks.  It is amazing the number of errors you will find in any book, if you examine it closely.

In general Marshall McLuhan did not worry about details, although he could be a stickler for some details.  For example in the 1970s he insisted that his students refer to the “divisions” of rhetoric rather than the “parts” of rhetoric.  Details or facts, I seem to recall he once said somewhere, should never be allowed to interfere with the truth.

(More on McLuhan’s critics tomorrow.)

Do you sweat the small stuff?  Is it small stuff?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Sidney Finkelstein.  Sense & Nonsense of McLuhan, New York:  International Publishers, 1968.

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Michael Hinton Friday, February 12th, 2010
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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