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.

Literature

Where do you get your information?

Marshall McLuhan (Fall 1953, age 42).  Books!

“Marshall, must you spread your books throughout the house?”

“No, Corinne, but it serves me to do so.  It reminds me of what I have read.  Also I like to pick a book up and dip into it every now and again to add to and refresh my memory.  Having them about me this way is a great help.”

Me (July, 2010, age 57).  Books!

While McLuhan enjoyed talking to people, Philip Marchand says he got most of his information from books.  On average, says Marchand, McLuhan read 35 books a week, which seems like a lot, even for a university professor.  I get most of my ideas for this blog from books, but not exclusively from books.  On average, though, I cannot say I read more than two books a week. (May be – like McLuhan – I should skim more.)

Where do you get your information?  How many books do you read in a week?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand.  Marshall McLuhan:  The Medium and the Messenger, 1989 p. 179.

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Michael Hinton Saturday, July 17th, 2010
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The elusive Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (May 19, 1966, age 54).  Foul play!

“How is it Professor McLuhan,” Eric Goldman asked me earlier today on WNBC television program The Open Mind, “that you should be so concerned with media?  Here you are the son of Baptist parents, convert to Catholicism, a Canadian student of English literature, formerly an engineering student and now …”

“Oh, don’t bother with that data.” I said.

“Why?

“It’s all wrong!  And in any case quite unnecessary.”

Me (June 2010, age 57).  What was McLuhan up to?

Gerald Stern who quotes this exchange between McLuhan and Goldman in his introduction to McLuhan: Hot and Cool says that McLuhan typically refused to discuss his family life, personal opinions or his past.  As a result, “personal and biographical information about McLuhan is difficult to trace.” And, “Stearn adds, “there is a coy, almost purposeful elusiveness about the man himself.”   Why?  Stearn suggests there is no good reason why McLuhan side stepped these subjects:  he was simply a “puzzling” character.

This is possible, but there is I think a better answer.  It is more probable that McLuhan actually believed what he said: that biographical details were “quite unnecessary.”  McLuhan was trained at Cambridge in the close reading critical analysis of I. A. Richards.  I imagine if McLuhan had been asked if asked about the usefulness of biographical details in the understanding of any authors work he would have said these details were “quite unnecessary.”  Everything you needed to know to understand a poem or a novel, Richards taught, was in the written work – that is in the work’s diction, rhythm and structure.   And this was the method McLuhan followed in his teaching.

(And see tomorrow’s post for a more troubling example of McLuhan’s elusiveness.)

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

McLuhan: Hot and Cool.  Edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn, 1967, p. IV.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010
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The reading public no longer exists.

Marshall McLuhan (January 12, 1973, age 61). Thousands of reading publics exist

When I was at Cambridge, in the 1930s, the library of the English School maintained displays of a small number of relevant books covering a variety of different fields.  Looking over the shelves I came away with the distinct idea that this was what you needed to know to know what was happening in history, poetry, or any other field.  Today however such an impression is an impossibility.  So much is being published – in America alone 39,000 books are published every year –  there cannot be a reading public only publics.  We read what we will and except for very modest area of overlap our reading separates us from one another.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Thousands have become millions.

Every book club is a reading public.  Each blog has its reading public, some large, most small.

What are the implications?  Are programs like “Canada Reads” necessary to maintain a sense of community?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 462.

Deborah Hinton‘s post @ Communication Matters

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, May 5th, 2010
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Want to write like Milton?

Marshall McLuhan (April 20, 1964, age 52). Hendiadys is the key.

At breakfast I remarked to Corinne and the children that Ernest Sirlock’s remarkable article on Milton’s prose got me thinking about Milton’s use of the grammatical figure of Hendiadys.  Blank looks all around.  No matter – this is important.  Hendiadys is the mark of the 17th century mind.  A mind conditioned to look at the world ambivalently.  Not simply as “A” or “B” but “A” and “B”.  I looked again at Paradise Lost.  Do you know that Milton uses this device 19 times in the first 100 lines? “Death and Woe,” “Restore and regain,” “Raise and support” et cetera and ad infinitum!  Someone should study this.

Me (February 2010, age 57).  Let’s study it

But let’s study it not in Milton’s prose but Marshall McLuhan’s.  “Hendiadys” is a figure of speech, a “striking or unusual configuration of words or phrases.”  It is a Greek word meaning, “one by means of two.”  Richard Lanham (A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms) defines it as the”expression of an idea by two nouns connected by “and” instead of a noun and its qualifier.”  He gives as an example, “Not  you, coy Madame, your lowers and your looks,’ for “your lowering looks.”  If we apply this model to McLuhan’s examples from Milton we get the following translations: “deathly woe,” “restorative regain,” and “raising support.”

McLuhan is struck by the number of times he finds hendiadys appearing in the first 100 lines of Paradise Lost – 19.  How many times do you think we could find hendiadys appearing in the first 100 lines of his best seller Understanding Media published in 1964?  2 or 3?  I counted 20.  Here are the first three: “fragmentary and mechanical,” “space and time,” “collectively and corporately.”

Did Marshall McLuhan have a 17th century mind?   Did he intentionally edit his prose to increase its “complexity and ambivalence” (excuse my hendiadys)?  Would this feature, rather than the number of new ideas, say, be the real reason Understanding Media is difficult to understand?  Can you use hendiadys to effect in your writing to increase its power and profundity?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.298.

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Michael Hinton Friday, March 5th, 2010
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The legacy of Marshall McLuhan … continued

Marshall McLuhan (March 14, 1951, age 39).  Literature is dead

I wrote today to Innis.  He has written a dazzling book, Empire and Communications. I shared with him some of the ideas that flowed from our meeting of minds, both in writing and in conversation.  For example, literature today is in decline.  (Innis shows in his book how few the ages of literature have been and how short.)  The end of the present epoch of the book is evident in so many symptoms exhibited in our world today – for example the shortness of the attention span of young people. 

A young man came to see me in my office today.  He asked me what was the use of reading Edgar Poe.  I decided to do a Euclid on him.  I said, “Have you read ‘A Descent into The Maelstrom’?”  “Yes,” he said.  “Good,” I said, “here’s a dollar.”

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  With friends like Peter Drucker who needs enemies  

Marshall McLuhan’s claim that literature is dead was one of many statements McLuhan would make over his career that drove his enemies and quite a number of his friends crazy.  Consider for example what Peter Drucker, “the father of management,” said about McLuhan in 1994 when he was asked to reflect on what he had learned from Marshall McLuhan.  “Not one of McLuhan’s specific predictions has come true and not one of them is likely to come true.”  If Drucker meant this statement seriously, either it reveals his ignorance of McLuhan’s thinking or his willingness to engage in the slander of the reputation of a man who thought of him as a friend and colleague. 

To give but one example of a McLuhan prediction that came true, consider this anecdote recounted by Professor Abraham Rotstein, Professor emeritus, economics, at the University of Toronto, and a member of McLuhan’s circle in the 1960s, in a conversation I had with him in August about McLuhan.  “Mcluhan comes into class sometime in the 1960s and waves a plastic card at the students.  ‘This, ladies and gentlemen is a new kind of credit card, it lets you pay in cash.”   

Is Drucker right?  Are McLuhan’s predictions all bogus?  Is Drucker simply being a cranky old man?     

Cordially, Marshall and Me

 

Reading for this post

Marshall McLuhan, edited by Corrine McLuhan, Matie Molinaro, and William Toye. Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, pp. 223.

Barrington with Maurice McLuhan Nevitt, Who was Marshall McLuhan? 1995, pp.122-126.

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Michael Hinton Wednesday, November 4th, 2009
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