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.

In a day everything can change.

Marshall McLuhan (10 am, November 25, 1967, age 56).  Dear Diary:

Not long now.  Corinne says the operation’s set for just before noon.  The wait is killing me. I’d give anything to put it off for another week, but then I’d have to suffer through another week of being poked and prodded by the good doctors at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center.   They say I’ve got a tumor the size of my fist lodged under my brain.  And the damn thing’s got to come out.  If it doesn’t over the next few months I’ll die, horribly, blind and insane.  When they started to tell me what they were going to do, where the knife would go, I started screaming.  I couldn’t listen.  Just to hear the details is appalling.  Quite frankly, I’m terrified.

Me (November, 2010, age 58).  A happy ending?  Dear God,  I’d like to think so:

But, as I’ve said before,  I believe something special was taken away from McLuhan that day in New York City:  His genius.  The good news is he survived the long operation, which his doctors declared a success, and lived another 13 years.  The bad news is that it is doubtful that he was ever again the man he once was.  His memory muddied, his temper irritable, his energy sapped, his mind inflexible, his senses painfully acute, never again would he write a book alone, or come up with a new idea that was not simply a recycling of an idea developed in the 1950s and early 1960s translated into new words.  Always eccentric he became a darker parody of himself.  This is a harsher view than typically prevails in the literature on McLuhan.  It is harsher largely because of what I discovered quite by chance while looking into his surgery.  A world-class neurosurgeon I interviewed about McLuhan’s operation told me that there is no question that his genius would have suffered.  Forgive me for saying this, he told me, or words to this effect, if your business is swinging a hammer, you could return to work after this kind of operation.  But for a man like McLuhan whose business was the flash of his mind he could never go back and do what he had once done.

This may be hard to watch, but you may want to see what McLuhan had to go through and what new approaches are now being pioneered:


Cordially, Marshall and Me


Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media, 1964, p. 211-213.

Tags: , ,

Michael Hinton Thursday, November 25th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Vol. 1 No Comments

Leave a Reply