A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan continues. If he had lived Marshall would have been 100 on July 21, 2011. Join me in the countdown to his centennial, and an exploration of more of his observations on the way media work in the electric age in which we live.

Gutenberg Galaxy

Merry Christmas!

Marshall McLuhan (December 25, 1960, age 49).  Everybody!

I feel particularly Christmas-ee today.  Corinne’s parents sent us a smashingly swell-elegant crystal drinks tray.  It made the trip from Fort Worth, Texas, without a hitch, every surface unscratched and without any extra duty to be paid.  It will come in very handy in this the season to be entertaining and celebrating.  Also, my book job “The Gutenberg Galaxy” is almost done.  I am so wound up I can think of nothing else.  The manuscript will go to the publishers the day after tomorrow.  And on that very day I begin writing this other book on media after Gutenberg which has been on my mind.  I’ve spent the last 20 years reading, it seems only right that I put out some things of my own.  Without Corinne’s help in typing and discussing the ideas swirling around me, I don’t know where I’d be.

Me (December, 2010, age 58).  And a Happy New Year!

A time to be thankful for all we’ve got and the gifts we’ve been given material and spiritual.  Like Marshall without the help of my wife, Debbie, who has posted this blog since its beginning in September 2009 and has encouraged me to make it better, I don’t know where I’d be.

Merry Christmas, Marshall and Me

Reading:

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 276.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, December 25th, 2010
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Now for something completely different, part 5 …

This week’s blogs are very different from those of previous weeks.  The standard format of two short letters, one from Marshall McLuhan and one from me, is abandoned.  Instead I am posting, in 5 parts, an essay which explains the single most important thing you need to know to understand Marshall McLuhan.

Previously, in part 1, posted Tuesday, I asserted that Marshall McLuhan lost his genius as a result of surgery to remove a brain tumor.  In part 2, posted Wednesday I explained why it was necessary and how it was carried out.  In part 3, posted Thursday, I explained why the operation was so damaging to McLuhan.  Did McLuhan lose his genius as a result of the operation?  I think so but you may want additional evidence.  Yesterday, in part 4, I talked about two other pieces to this puzzle.  Today, in part 5, the final chapter of this story, I talk about the meaning of it all.

Cordially, Me

Genius has brain surgery and loses his mind:  The untold story of Marshall McLuhan

By Michael Hinton

In the final chapter of classic detective fiction, the crime is solved when the great detective – Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, for example – gathers all the suspects gathered together in the same room, lays out the evidence, and identifies the guilty party. Before I make my attempt to play the great detective, I want to say something briefly about what genius is and what it matters whether or not McLuhan’s genius was lost.

Genius the Romans thought was the essence of our character or personality.  There is no doubt that in this sense, McLuhan’s brain surgery killed his genius.  All his biographers I think would agree on this.  He was a different man after the operation.  But this is not what I mean by genius.  I mean that “inborn exalted intellectual power” that “extraordinary imaginative, creative or inventive” spark that allows some minds to work faster than anyone else, for a longer time, and come to different conclusions.   How many geniuses are there?  Dr. Del Maestro told me that he believes the answer is something like one in six billion and that he had no doubt that McLuhan was a genius.  How many lose their genius?  Some; certainly Churchill did and so did Dr. Johnson, as a result of illness and possibly dementia.  How many have lost their genius as a result of brain surgery?   Possibly, only McLuhan, the numbers of true geniuses being small.

Understanding Media which was published 45 years ago is clearly the work of a genius, but not one who is easy to understand.  To understand McLuhan you need to know that: (1) his greatest ideas can be found most vigorously expressed in his speaking and writing before his brain surgery in 1967; (2) the spoken word is the vehicle of his genius; and (3) his earlier work is generally speaking easier to understand than his later work because in his earlier work he was less concerned with presenting his ideas in mosaic form.

You can listen to McLuhan speak in his letters, his interviews, and his speeches.  His writing before Understanding Media and the Gutenberg Galaxy can be found in his essays from the 1950s and 1960s in McLuhan Unbound, and his Report on Understanding New Media, 1960.   Even so he is never easy to understand for several other reasons.  His thought is densely packed with new ideas, in chapter 14 of Understanding Media, for example he identifies 100s of ways money can be thought of as an extension of our mind, bodies, or spirit.  He delights in decorating his ideas with references to writers from all disciplines.  In chapter 1 of the same book in the space of 6 pages (pages 9 to 14) he calls for support from the writings of Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Othello, King Lear, Troilus and Cressida), Hans Selye, General David Sarnoff, W.W. Rostow, John Kenneth Galbraith, David Hume, E.H. Gombrich, Cardinal Newman, de Tocqueville, Gibbon, E.M. Forster, and Walt Whitman.

He uses a special vocabulary that does not mean what you might think it does; hot and cool, for example.  His terms are often value-loaded; fragmented and visual bias, for example.  His primary goal is often to jolt his readers and listeners out of their complacencies rather than to lead them to particular conclusions; his speech [this blog] at the Museum of the City of New York, in October 1967, he outraged his audience with the notion that the invention of the fire engine caused the proliferation of slums in 19th century western cities. Before this, of course, as the history of Paris and London shows, but McLuhan does not bother to explain, fires were responsible for the regular clearing away of slums and the re-building of newer and better-designed cities, although at great cost in terms of loss of life and misery for the urban poor. And, he loved to joke around; the medium is the massage, for example, making it difficult to tell when he is joking and when he is not.

Now, to deal with the difficult question of causality, a question McLuhan wrestled with a great deal.  Who killed McLuhan’s genius?

Was it Dr. Mount? (Aristotle would have called Mount the efficient cause.)  Was it the art and practice of brain surgery? (Aristotle’s formal cause.)  Was it the length of the operation, the copper or nickel lifts, and the bruising of brain tissue?  (Aristotle’s material cause.)  Or was it McLuhan’s desire to live rather than die from the growth of the tumor?  (Aristotle’s final cause.)

I prefer a final cause solution.  That McLuhan killed his own genius.  But this is not the most important question.  The case of Marshall McLuhan is not, after all,  a “who done it.”  It’s a “what got done.”  What happened to McLuhan?  Did he lose his genius at the same time he lost his tumor?  If so a great deal about McLuhan which was mysterious now becomes clear.  Why his books after 1967 were never again as good as the ones before.  Why he can be read and understood more easily in his writing before 1967 than after 1967.  Why he was lionized in the 1960s and looked on as bit of a joke in the 1970s.  Why he is so poorly understood today.

McLuhan’s real tragedy was not the stroke that took away his power to speak in 1979.  His tragedy was that in choosing life in 1967 he had to let his genius go.  If there is a happy ending here it is that the real McLuhan, the genius, lives on in all that he did before November 1967.  And that is a legacy that will never die, and one we can return to whenever we wish for inspiration and enlightenment.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, February 20th, 2010
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Now for something completely different, part 2…

Yesterday, I explained that this week’s blogs will be very different from the previous ones.  This week, in the lead up to my 100th post, which will take place on Tuesday, February 23, the standard format of two short letters, one from Marshall McLuhan and one from me, is temporarily abandoned.  Instead I am posting, in 5 parts, an essay which explains the single most important thing you need to know to understand Marshall McLuhan.

In part 1, I asserted that Marshall McLuhan lost his genius as a result of surgery to remove a brain tumor.  In today’s post I tell you more about this operation.

Cordially Me

Genius has brain surgery and loses his mind:  The untold story of Marshall McLuhan [cont’d]

By Michael Hinton

It is time to tell you about the operation, the scene of the crime.  On the basic facts leading up to it and what happened during and after it his biographers (Marchand, Fitzgerald, and Gordon) are in substantial agreement:  In 1967, McLuhan had reached the pinnacle of his career.  The Gutenberg Galaxy had won him a Governor General’s award in 1962.  Understanding Media had sold 100,000 copies in the spring of 1964.  An east and west coast marketing campaign orchestrated by two San Francisco PR men and ‘genius scouts,’ Howard Gossage and Gerald Feigen,  rocketed him to international stardom in 6 months in 1965.  Lionized by Fortune 500 corporations his key note speeches earned him $5,000 to $25,000 gigs in 1966.  Awarded a $100,000 teaching and research chair at Fordham University, in Brooklyn, he moved Corinne and 4 of their 6 children to New York City in August, 1967, where he arranged for jobs for two of his colleagues, Ted Carpenter and Harley Parker, and his eldest son Eric, and schooling for the other children, and a house for them all to live in close to the university.

With a new salary, new job, new office, new secretary, new city, and new home his stress levels must have reached record heights.  Stress was the last thing he needed.  Over the past 7 years he’d suffered from headaches and black-outs.  (In 1960 exhausted by a punishing work schedule, he’d suffered a stroke that he tried to pretend had never happened.)  Believing sickness was the result of weak will, and therefore a sign of weakness, McLuhan felt he could indulge his dislike of Doctors and hospitals by avoiding them.  In September and October 1967 the blackouts got worse.  In October he blacked out in class at Fordham.  Deeply concerned, Carpenter, John Culkin – who had persuaded McLuhan to come to Fordham – and Corinne persuaded McLuhan to see a neurologist in Manhattan.  Dr. Lester A. Mount examined McLuhan and arranged for tests which showed that McLuhan had brain tumor, a benign but growing meningioma the size of his fist, buried in the lower part of his brain at the base of his skull.

McLuhan’s choice was fairly simple:  have the operation which would not be easy and if all went well live, or suffer ever increasing pain, blackouts, blindness, insanity, and ultimately death.  The operation took place at the Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.  Dr. Mount performed the operation which began at 8 in the morning of Saturday, November 25 and was not completed until 5 in the morning of Sunday, November 26, having lasted 22 hours, making it “the longest neurosurgical operation in American medical history.”  Dr. Mount’s greatest concern, says Fitzgerald, was that the length of the operation which he estimated would take only 5 hours and might result if the utmost care was not taken in the exposure of “some of the cells of the brain’s surface to the potentially devastating effects of oxygenation” because he had to “lift McLuhan’s brain to get at the tumour.”  “His esteemed patient’s faculties will,” she writes, “almost inevitably, [would] sustain some degree of damage.”

McLuhan did suffer from the operation.  The pain was excruciating, for which he took heavy-duty pain killers, and his life was “forever altered.”  Five years of reading and people, places and associations were scrubbed from his memory.  He was “variously fragile, tense, irritable,” she says,” and, on occasion, uncharacteristically demanding and irrational.”  No one, however, suggests the operation took away his genius.  Gordon remarks, instead, how remarkably productive McLuhan was in the years after the operation: 7 books and 21 articles.  And yet it is clear there was something wrong.  The articles were squibs.  Some quite obviously recycled from the years before his surgery.  With each year that passed and with the appearance of each new book his reputation fell.  Projects he thought important were left unfinished.  Six of the seven books were co-authored and the one that wasn’t, Culture is Our Business was viewed by McLuhan, as a failure.  Asked by his son Eric late in his life why he never dedicated his books to any one McLuhan told him it was because he wasn’t very proud of them.

To be continued

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, February 17th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, 1970s and 80s, Vol. 1 1 Comment

McLuhan slandered?

Marshall McLuhan (January, 1996, age 84).  Unbelievable!

For the most part death agrees with me.  I’ve got a quiet room, and plenty of books.  Every now and then I look up from my studies and look down on earth to find out what people are saying about me.  It’s delightful to see that even now 16 years after my death – or as Corinne likes to call it my “unfortunate demise” – I’m still a celebrity.  The latest news on the Marshall McLuhan front is that Wired magazine has put me on their masthead as their patron Saint.  An excellent choice, if I do say so myself, and I do.  But I don’t like what that bloke Gary Wolf wrote about me.  Said someone else had written my books.  The nerve of the man, ordinarily I’d sue, but unfortunately given my present circumstances, that’s impossible.  No lawyers up here.

Me (February 2010, age 57).  Wolfe may have been right on the mark.

What Wolfe wrote is that “scholars agree that Marshall McLuhan’s earliest books were written by him, but there is mystery and uncertainty about who really wrote his subsequent works.”  What there is no “mystery and uncertainty” about is that all but one of McLuhan’s books published after Understanding Media were co-authored.  The question is how much did McLuhan actually contribute to the writing of these books and how much did his co-authors.  It is generally agreed, for example, that The Medium is the Massage was pieced together by his co-authors from McLuhan’s previous writing.  My own belief is that the McLuhan who wrote the Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media is not the same McLuhan who co-authored the later books.  I have written a long essay explaining more precisely what I mean by this, which I will publish serially in this blog, beginning next week.

Was the McLuhan who wrote The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media a genius?  How do you define genius?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore. The Medium is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects. Produced by Jerome Agel, 1967.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, February 13th, 2010
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Trying to sell Snow to sell the Galaxy

Marshall McLuhan (February 1, 1962, age 50).  C.P. Snow’s the bloke!

My editor at U of Toronto press, a canny Scot, came up with a great idea for the dust jacket testimonial for The Gutenberg Galaxy of which I hope to see the page proofs in the coming weeks.  We will get C.P. Snow – Sir Charles now – to write something complimentary.  Turns out he, and Lady Snow, met Walter Ong – my former student – at Wesleyan University and they had a meeting of minds.   How delightfully serendipitous are the ways of fate.  As you may know we are both Cambridge men and individually represent the opposite divides of the Two Cultures he has banged on about to great effect and acclaim.  The Gutenberg Galaxy is at heart about the making of the two cultures; two being one more than there was before the advent of printing.  I hope he agrees.  It will certainly make a world of difference to the sales of good old Galaxy if we can get the author of the Two Cultures to go to bat for me.  Must go, I have a letter to write.

Me (January 2010, age 57).  I don’t think Snow had a hard time saying no.

C.P. Snow did not write a phrase for the dust jacket of the Galaxy.  As far as I have been able to learn he did not reply to McLuhan’s letter.  In that letter McLuhan writes, somewhat obsequiously, “The Gutenberg Galaxy … undertakes, almost as a sequel to your Two Cultures, to explain the historical divergence of these two cultures, both before and since Gutenberg.  I dreamed, therefore, of seeing a phrase of yours on the jacket.”

If Sir Charles bothered to read the page proofs of  The Gutenberg Galaxy – assuming that McLuhan actually went to the trouble and expense of sending them to him as he promised in his letter –  it is difficult to believe that Snow would have seen himself as a natural dust jacket testimonial writer for the book.  The first two opening sentences alone I suspect would have had this plain speaking Yorkshire man shaking his head:  “The present volume is in many respects complementary to The Singer of Tales by Albert B. Lord.  Professor Lord has continued the work of Milman Parry, whose Homeric studies led him to consider how oral and written poetry naturally followed diverse patterns and functions.”

McLuhan might have found it crystal clear that Snow’s Two Cultures correspond to Lord and Parry’s “oral” and “written” “patterns and functions,” but I don’t think Snow would have found it either obvious or enlightening.

What was McLuhan thinking?  That, of course, C. P. Snow would want to be a part of the Marshall McLuhan fan club?  What should he have done differently?  (I can think of quite a few things.  For example I imagine the last thing Snow would have wanted was to see the page proofs to the Galaxy.)  Perhaps the real lesson of this story is that McLuhan was at this time totally consumed with the ideas he was creating. What do you think?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 282-284.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, January 27th, 2010
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How productive are you?

Marshall McLuhan (December 25, 1960 age 49).  Its time!

I’ve been too busy writing to write you a letter.  It seems that Sunday is the only day I can look up from what I’m doing.  For years I’ve been reading other people’s stuff.  Reading it and re-reading it.  Now it’s time for me to see what I’ve got to say.  Actually, I’ve found I have a lot to say.  I’ve just finished the big book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, my book about yesterday, the world that has ended – 400 typescript pages in less than 30 days.  Must go, I’ve got proof reading to do if I’m going to meet my deadline and get this off to the publisher the day after tomorrow.  And then I begin the next one, my book about today, the world about us which no one can see, Understanding Media.

Me (January 2010, age 57).  McLuhan uses deadlines to speed up.

From what’s said about Marshall McLuhan in magazines, on the web, deadlines are not something you would expect the philosopher of pop cult to be using to get work done.   And of course he does use them.  McLuhan was a very practical if eccentric genius.  For example, he once took a speed reading course to get a fresh take on what it means to read in the electronic age.  He said that the main benefit of the course was that he was able to read and dispose of junk mail faster.  There are at least two ideas here worth following up.  And I will do so in the questions.

If speed reading’s benefit is to allow you to wade through junk writing faster is there a way to tell what’s junk without having to read it?  I profile.  What strategies do you use? And, in what way do you use deadlines in your own work? School is all about deadlines.  But those deadlines don’t work for everyone.  Do they, or did they, work for you?  Here’s what Julien Smith said about deadlines in a recent blog post.

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, p. 276.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, January 20th, 2010
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Marshall McLuhan: Hedgehog or fox?

Marshall McLuhan (January 23 1953, age 41). The Gutenberg Era

I’ve told Ezra Pound and I’ve told Walter Ong.  I have a big idea I’m writing a book about.  The movement from script to print created the logical, visual western world.  The new electric media are returning us to the oral, acoustic world from which we came 2000 years ago.  The important thing is not the content of these media but their technique.  Print is the mechanization of writing.  Radio, movies, and TV are the mechanization of voice and gesture.  Every day sees new discoveries opening up this new uncharted place.  “We were the first that ever burst into that land-locked sea.”

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  McLuhan was a hedgehog who thought he was a fox

The philosopher Isaiah Berlin proposed the idea that all thinkers can be usefully divided into two groups, hedgehogs who relate everything they write about to a single unifying vision and foxes who come to every question with ways to think about it, who have not one vision but hundreds.  In economics, Milton Friedman is a hedgehog, John Kenneth Galbraith a fox.  In religion, both the Pope and the Dahli Lama are hedgehogs.  In politics, Reagan is a hedgehog, Clinton is a fox.  In literature Ayn Rand is a hedgehog, Charles Dickens is a fox.

The question is what is Marshall McLuhan?  His biographers give the impression that they believe McLuhan to be a fox.  But I think this is not the case.  McLuhan loved specific examples, observations and was not at his best in writing up systems of thinking about the media.  However in one important way he was a hedgehog.  Throughout his life in everything he did in studying media he displayed an obsession about exploring the impact of media on us by means of their operation as forms, rather than through their content.

In your life are you a hedgehog or a fox?  What about the people you admire most, parents, teachers, politicians, mentors, writers, thinkers, activists:  Are they hedgehogs or foxes?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

McLuhan, Marshall.  Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 234.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 18th, 2009
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What goes on in coffee shops?

Marshall McLuhan (July 1952, age 41).  I go to coffee shops to talk

The coffee shop in the basement of the Royal Ontario Museum is conveniently located close to the English department and the department of Political Economy.  This  is my destination most week days at 4p.m.  There I’m sure to find congenial company,  economists Harold Innis and Tom Easterbrook, and anthropologist Ed Carpenter and one or two others.  We go to talk.

Yesterday the subject of conversation was study, where it’s done and how and with what end in sight.  In the ancient world and in the Middle Ages study was an oral and a social activity.  Texts were read aloud and outdoors.  With the advent of print study became a solitary indoor activity, a communion with books.  And where better place to commune with books than in a library, surrounded by them.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  Today people go to coffee shops to study

What remains of the basement coffee shop in the Royal Ontario Museum – a gathering place for bus loads of public and high school students visiting the museum – that McLuhan talks about can still be visited by anyone who wants to have a look at the place where McLuhan talked his way into his first insights about the Gutenberg Era and Understanding Media.

Walk into any coffee shop today, Second Cup, Starbucks, what have you, and what do you see?  Students.  Studying.  Heads down, tapping away on their computers, communing with the digital world.  Study which was a solitary book-mediated activity has increasingly become a social electric-mediated activity.  What they are studying is less interesting than the fact that they are studying and doing it outside the boundaries of their school, college, or university.

Parents:  Where do your children study?  What does it matter whether they study alone or together?  Are there subjects that are better studied alone than together?

Students:  Do you study in coffee shops?  If so, why?  Are there subjects you cannot study in a coffee shop?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

McLuhan, Marshall.  Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 231-232.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, November 17th, 2009
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Logic: The magic number 2

Marshall McLuhan (May 1959, age 47).  Producers are becoming consumers

What an inauspicious day, Friday the thirteenth.  Thank God my flight was yesterday.  I flew in from Winnipeg where I spoke to the Winnipeg Ad and Sales Club.  I led off with one of my favourite anecdotes, “Whenever I fly, I always carry a powerful bomb with me.  This absolutely insures my safety, the probability of there being two such bombs on the plane being infinitesimally low.”  They also liked my Newfie joke:  “What’s written on the bottom of a Newfie beer bottle?  Open other end.”  Liked is a strong word, let’s say they were appreciative.

The ad men did a double take when I told them in the electric age, which is the age in which we live, things are moving so fast producers are becoming consumers.  It’s a complex phenomenon, but basically a simple idea.  Things are changing so fast producers have figured out ways to speed up, to go faster than the wave, and one way to do that is to understand consumers so well that you know them better than they do themselves.  And when you do that you can anticipate their wants.  That’s why the Russians launched Sputnik and why Prime Minister Diefenbaker is making a serious error in canceling the Avro Arrow.  The biggest investment business is making today is in research and development.  They do this not to create a lot of new machines, products, services but to speed up to stay ahead of all the change that’s built in to the system.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  The rule of 2

If Marshall McLuhan believed in the magical power of 3, he also believed in the logical power of the number 2.  Pairs of concepts, the end points of a single dimension, opposites, either ors, this and that’s run through his work.  Hot and cool, high definition and low definition, figure and ground, right brain and left brain, cliché and archetype, medium and message, visual and acoustic, eye and ear.  So that even in his doctoral dissertation which he described as a history of the Trivium, the 3 disciplines of grammar rhetoric and logic which dominated schooling in the middle ages, for analytical purposes he reduced to a battle between 2 forces over time, the grammarians and the rhetoricians.

Twos are powerful precisely because they exclude grey middle possibilities. They force you to make clear distinctions, to make decisions, to avoid weaseling and waffling.  All media he taught are hot or cool, not hot, warm, or cool.  This bias for black or white bothered his quibble-prone academic readers, even those who viewed his work positively.  For example, in his review of The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media in the Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, Kenneth Boulding argues that to McLuhan the key dimension on which hot and cool media differed was “involvement.”  But surely he argued other dimensions mattered too – such as “demandingness or effort,” “range in time and space,’ and,” “density or capacity.”  These quibbles it’s worth noting all implicitly reject McLuhan’s starting point that what matters is the medium not it’s content.

For McLuhan, however, the power of a single dimension with 2 possibilities only was greater than the power of safer equivocating and qualifying multidimensional thinking.  He believed in absolutes.  Qualifications were for the intellectually weak of heart.    

What other examples of 2s in McLuhan’s work are there?  Which is the one you have found most stimulating?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 252-255.

Boulding, Kenneth E.  “The Medium and the Message,” reprinted in McLuhan: Hot and Cool. Edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn. New York: New American Library, 1967, pp. 68-75.

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Michael Hinton Friday, November 13th, 2009
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Superstition: The magic number 3, or is it 2?

Marshall McLuhan (1968, age 57).  The rule of 3

I’m told I’m so famous now I need an agent.  People are making money off my name and I mean to get my share.  My agent is Matie Molinaro.  I asked her if she was a secret agent.  She seems to like my jokes, obviously a woman of good taste, says if I’m going to do movie work I have to be a member of ACTRA and AFTRA.  Corinne says she hopes the films will all be talkies.  I said, me too, silent film will not do me justice, and I’m also hoping for a predominance of black and white. Colour is an unnecessary technical change and in my case not an improvement.  Not incidentally, I asked Matie to make sure my ACTRA and AFTRA numbers are divisible by 3.  I’m convinced, no, I’m persuaded by experience, that the number 3 and numbers divisible by three are lucky.  Consider: I have 6 children; I live at 3 Wychwood Park; and Corrine and I were married in 1939. Q.E.D.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  The rule of 2

Marshall McLuhan was adamant about the luckiness of the number 3 and numbers divisible by 3.  As a result the number 3 works its way through almost everything McLuhan touched. For example, he often said that the best place to test-read a book was on page 69.  If that page was interesting then he said the book was worth reading, if not then you should move on.  Understanding Media: The extensions of man, (6 words) is comprised of 33 chapters.  The Gutenberg Galaxy (3 words, 8 if you count the subtitle) is a bit more complicated example.  In manuscript the book consisted of 399 pages.  The book is comprised of 111 mosaic bits – ‘Prologue’, plus ‘Gutenberg Galaxy’, the 107 ‘chapter glosses’, ‘The Galaxy Reconfigured’, and ‘Bibliographic Index’.  112, however, if you count the ‘Index of Chapter Glosses.’)  In setting up this blog you will see that the magic number 3 has played a role. For example, I’ve promised to do a total of 300 ideas, 300 days, and 300 posts.  And the headline for this blog is 9 words.

The power of 3 on the mind of Marshall McLuhan notwithstanding, a strong case can be made that Marshall McLuhan felt the number 2 was as powerful if not more powerful than 3.  (To be continued tomorrow.)

What are you superstitious about?  Certain numbers?  Avoiding black cats and walking under ladders?    Do you have a lucky shirt, lucky shoes, or a lucky colour?   Any other 3s in Marshall McLuhan’s life and writing that you would like to add?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Molinaro, Matie Armstrong.  “Marshalling McLuhan,” in Marshall McLuhan: the man and his message. Edited by George Sanderson and Frank Macdonald. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum, 1989, pp. 88.

W. Terrence Gordon, Marshall McLuhan: Escape into understanding, 1997, pp.185-190.

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 12th, 2009
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