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.

Marshall McLuhan’s speciality

Marshall McLuhan (November 15, 1967, age 65).  Don’t fence me in

I remember the excitement I felt when I first realized I didn’t have to restrict my studies to literature.  Innis taught me that I could roam through all history and all subjects in search of the true meaning of the medium is the message.  My friend Tom Easterbrook who teaches economics at Toronto University tells me that F. von Hayek (Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, 1967) says, “Nobody can be a great economist who is only an economist – and I am even tempted to add that the economist who is only an economist is likely to become a nuisance if not a positive danger.”  Likewise, no student of media studies can afford to be only a student of media studies.  A man who only reads about TV is as good for a man as a steady diet of coke and chips.

If pressed to state my specialty it is the pursuit of all meaning, all understanding of the significance of the medium is the message.  Once the fence of content analysis is smashed through what vistas open up.

Me (December 2009, age 57).  McLuhan the specialist-generalist

Marshall McLuhan’s specialization was in his approach to all literature, all subjects, rather than in the choice of any one particular field of discourse.  To everything he read, to everything he observed, he always asked himself how does this reveal the ways media work on us, the messages they send us by their being what they are and doing what they do.  Thus he found clues to the way media work on us in the writings of Adam Smith and Harold Innis (economics and economic history), William Blake and W. B. Yeats (poetry), and Edgar Allan Poe and Sigfried Giedeon (prose and architecture).

One of the questions I always ask myself is “How does this thought, event, phrase, or circumstance relate to the life and thought of Marshall McLuhan?”  I call it the Marshall McLuhan game.  For example, take the word “Economics.” How does Economics relate to the life and thought of Marshall McLuhan?  Answer: when Marshall McLuhan graduated from the University of Manitoba in 1933, he won the gold medal in English and the silver medal in Economics.  That same year his friend, Tom Easterbrook, won the Gold medal in Economics and the Silver medal in English.  I have only been stumped once since I started playing the game in August:  One morning Mrs Hinton says to me at breakfast, “We have to watch Dog Bounty Hunter on TV tonight, Baby Lyssa’s pregnant and Dog’s going to talk to her boyfriend.”

What is your speciality?  Do you have a question or group of questions you are pursuing ruthlessly? If you did imagine what power this concentration of focus would bring to your ability to understand the world.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan. The Gutenberg Galaxy, 1962, p.265-279.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments

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