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.

McLuhan’s "big book"

Marshall McLuhan (November 18, 1976, age 65). Those bloody books

My son, Eric asked me the other day why I didn’t dedicate any of my books.  It’s not as if I don’t have people about me that have been a great influence or a great stimulus – Harold Innis, Wyndham Lewis, Siegfried Giedion; Mother, Corinne, Pierre Trudeau.  The simple fact is that I am not very proud of my books, especially the later ones.  You see I talk them through and when I am talking that’s when they’re at their best.  Lately though, I fear, even my talk is not me at my best.  The ideas the words don’t come to me as they used to do – unbidden and without asking [see previous posts – “30 years ago today..” and “Fear and loathing of doctors”.  It used to be every corner I turned presented me with a new thought.  Minerva’s Owl flew early for me and now I believe she will never fly for me again.

Me (November 2009, age 57). That bloody McLuhan

Robert Fulford, who writes for the Toronto Star, writes that “McLuhan made a horrible mistake – he didn’t write the “big book.”  He didn’t write the book that takes four or five years in which you test your ideas and you find out which ones are meaningless and which are valid … so there’s nowhere that his admirers can tell people to go and say,” Read that –that’s what McLuhan’s got to say to you.”

Marshall McLuhan never wrote a big book.  But I don’t think he was being entirely truthful when he told his son he didn’t dedicate his books to any one because he wasn’t proud of any of them.  The truth is that he wasn’t proud of the first and last books he was involved in the writing of, but but he was proud of his second and third books, The Gutenberg Galaxy – it won a Governor General’s Award – a Canadian Pulitzer – and Understanding Media – a best seller, which sold 200,000 copies in the spring of 1964.  Neither of these books, however, is easy to understand.  Why he didn’t dedicate them to anyone is a bit of a mystery.  Why he never wrote a big book isn’t.  He never considered his thinking done.

There is, however, a book you can read, which isn’t his big book, but is at least an understandable book.  A book in which you can hear Marshall McLuhan talk out his ideas.  You won’t find simple answers to complex questions but you will find a readable, plain speaking McLuhan.  The book is: The Letters of Marshall McLuhan, Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and William Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987.

If you were going to dedicate a book for McLuhan, say the Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media, who would you have him dedicate them to?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Forward Through the Rearview Mirror: Reflections On and By Marshall McLuhan. Ed. Paul Benedetti and Nancy DeHart. Scarborough Ontario: Prentice-Hall, 1996, p. 188.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, November 28th, 2009
Permalink 1970s and 80s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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