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 the still and quiet air of delightful studies

Marshall McLuhan (July, 1938, age 28).  California here I am

Corinne is a big find, actually Mother’s find, but I’m really quite delighted with her.  If I have my way, and I will, we will be married within a year.  Here though my biggest find is at the Huntingdon Library, conveniently located in Pasadena not far from where Corinne and Mother are student actors at the Pasadena Playhouse.  Actually the big deal at the Huntingdon is their stunning collection of 16th century English pamphlets, especially those of the much misunderstood Thomas Nashe, who I am placing in the learning of his time for my Ph.D. at Cambridge University.  The thesis will be a history of the trivium from Cicero to Nashe, which I see as a battle between the grammarians (and logicians) and rhetoricians. 

A lot of ideas to chew on.  Here is one.  The job of a librarian is to prevent reading.  They do a pretty good job of this at the good old Huntingdon.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Preventing reading is a big job

They still do a pretty good job of preventing reading at the Huntingdon.  I was there this summer, to see for myself the places where Marshall McLuhan did his research and where he met Corinne.  At the Huntingdon, which is a private museum of books and paintings amassed by the inheritor of a fortune earned in railroads.  It contains many wonderful things in addition to the pamphlets of Thomas Nashe.  There I was able to see McLuhan’s idea that the job of a librarian is to prevent reading in action. 

“Could I see the reading room of the Library?” I asked a guide to the library.  Answer, “No, you have to make an appointment in advance.  Preferably, a week in advance.”   I asked another question.  “Is the current reading room the reading room that was here in the 1930s?” Answer, “No it isn’t.” “Where was it?”  Answer, “You’re standing in it.”  I thanked the guide for their help and went and sat down in a red leather reading chair which may well have been there in 1938 and which McLuhan may have sat in, and reflected on how despite the obstacles in the way things sometimes do work out.

There were many books for me to look at for the old reading room was being used to display among other things books on science.  They had on display that day all (over 200 in number) of the editions of Darwin’s Origin of Species, from 1867 to 2001.  But these books, as McLuhan would not have been surprised to see were in locked display cases and only the covers could be read.  The prevention of reading continues. 

Why are books better left unread?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

Marchand, Philip.  Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger, pp. 48-64.

McLuhan, Marshall.  The Classical Trivium:  The place of Thomas Nashe in the learning of his time.  Edited by W. Terrence Gordon.  Corte Madera, California: Ginko Press, 2006, pp ix-xv.

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Michael Hinton Friday, October 23rd, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 3 Comments

3 Comments to In the still and quiet air of delightful studies

  • Unfortunately, yet understandably, old, precious books have to be protected from the acid of fingertips and grubby hands if we want future generations to be able to admire their bindings through glass cases. Another reason why it’s great that projects like Google Books now exists – the digitization of books will ensure that their content remains available to everyone, long after the pages they were printed on centuries ago become too brittle.

    In fact, though often only in snippets or limited preview, many books by and about McLuhan are available on Google Books: http://books.google.ca/books?q=mcluhan

    As for that librairian … I see McLuhan’s point.

    So? Did McLuhan marry Corinne?

  • Michael says:

    Did M marry C? That would be telling. Let’s see what happens

  • Tease.

    I can Google it, ya know 😉

    .. but I think I’ll wait.

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