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.

How did the operation end?

Marshall McLuhan (April 16, 2010, age 99). This is getting a bit too personal!

“Corinne, you will not believe what that Hinton bloke is going on about in his From Marshall and me blog.  Says the brain tumor operation cost me my genius!  How can he say such a thing?  Look at all that I did despite that operation.”

“Calm yourself Marshall.  Who are they going to believe?  You or him?  Did he win the Governor General’s award for non-fiction?  Did he win an Order of Canada?

Me (April 2010, age 57).  What do Marshall McLuhan’s biographers say?

Marshall McLuhan’s biographers have said that the operation was a nightmare, and McLuhan was forever changed by it, but he lived to go on to write books and articles and so the operation had a happy ending.

Here, for example is what Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan’s first major biographer, has to say about the effects of the operation on McLuhan: “The effects of the operation would linger for the rest of McLuhan’s life.  In the months immediately following, it was dramatically obvious to his associates that McLuhan had changed.” The changes being: hypersensitivity to sound, loss of energy (which had been “his most obvious professional asset’), loss of a “photographic memory,” permanent loss of specific memories of reading over the previous “several years of reading,” the loss of “emotional and intellectual resilience,” and a strange new degree of fragility, irrationality, inflexibility, and quarrelsomeness – resulting in his uncharacteristic abusiveness “to students and colleagues.”

And Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan’s most recent biographer, says of the operation – which he describes as “a gross insult to the brain”: “he was back again, but he was back in reduced form.  He had, in fact, lost swaths of memory; curiously, he had trouble remembering books he’d read many times over. … [H]e lost some of his ability to be civil to colleagues and students. In addition, his hypersensitivity to noises, always high, became extreme.”  And “Marshall’s highly intrusive brain surgery at the age of fifty-six signaled the beginning of an end – the end of the high-water mark of Marshall’s fame, his notoriety, his earning potential, his vitality, and his ability to soak up information and to locate patterns.”

Again, if true, what implications are there for our reading and understanding of Marshall McLuhan? My final thoughts on this topic tomorrow.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Douglas Coupland, Marshall McLuhan (2009)], pp. 182-83, p. 185

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (1989), pp. 213-14

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Michael Hinton Friday, April 16th, 2010
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