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.

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

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

  • Would be interesting to see the sketch – is it available anywhere online by chance?

  • Michael says:

    I haven’t been able to find it on the web. If you go to a university library – McGill, UQUAM, Concordia, or U of M. – you can find it reproduced in Judith FitzGerald’s biography of McLuhan (Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy, p. 56. The call number is P92.5.M3F57 2001)

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