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.

Robert Fritz

For friendship to fail, only one has to say no*

Marshall McLuhan (December, 1944, age 33).  Why does Lewis want to hurt me?

This year Lewis presented me with a gift, a charcoal sketch that was really quite a shock.  Why he drew me this way I do not know.  I did make a comment about his self-portrait, but I meant no harm.  His cranial profile in his self-portrait did look just like a tomahawk.  Really, since his coming here, I have only tried to help him with his work, his painting, to find him people who will pay him cash to paint their portraits.  He needs the money.  And he insults me this way.  I do not understand.

Michael Hinton (October, 2009, age 57).  Lewis’s drawing is a medium of communication

Why Wyndham Lewis – a brilliant English painter and writer temporarily down on his luck that McLuhan admired and wanted to help – was angry with McLuhan is not known.  We know he took offense easily, struck out viciously when angered, and was a social boor, and in 1945 would tell McLuhan he wanted nothing more to do with him.  We can speculate on what it was exactly that caused him to flame out at McLuhan, but that is not I think very helpful.  Instead I want to look at the ways Lewis’s drawing of McLuhan was insulting.  That is to examine the way Lewis crafted it to spew forth his venom and have the effect that it did on McLuhan.  Why?  Because this is the method McLuhan learned from his teachers at Cambridge to analyse a poem or a novel, and which he employed to study media:  Look at their effects.  Understand how they are produced.  Here is a charcoal sketch, a medium of communication.  How does it have the effect that it does?

The sketch shows Marshall McLuhan sitting, legs crossed, looking directly at you, with one eye, a big left ear and the top half of his head, brain and all, missing.  McLuhan’s biographers say the portrait upset McLuhan, but they do not say why.  It could be vanity, but that seems unlikely, for the portrait is quite arresting, and if say a Picasso drew you would you be upset if he made you out of cubes and didn’t make you handsome? (To be continued.)

Have you ever been insulted by someone you thought of as a friend?  How did they insult you?  In what medium or media?  With what result?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Fitzgerald, Judith.  Marshall McLuhan: Wise guy.  Montreal: XYZ Publishing, 2001, pp. 56-62.

Fritz, Robert and Rosalind Fritz. “R is for relationships,” a seminar.  Robert Fritz Inc.

Gordon, W. Terrence.  Marshall McLuhan: Escape into understanding. Toronto: Stoddart, 1997, pp. 117-121.

Marchand, Philip.  Marshall McLuhan: The medium and the messenger.  Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989; 1998.

*This is part of what Robert Fritz calls the “arithmetic of relationships”.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 20th, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Communication, Culture, Vol. 1 2 Comments

Sometimes you need to shut up

Marshall (September 1948, age 37).  Sometimes you need to shut up

Kenner is one of my best students.  His ego has been much swelled by his recent publications. He’s going to Yale for his Ph.D. but he will fail unless he commits himself to the discipline of keeping his mouth shut.  Here’s why.  He needs the degree.  Professor Brooks and the others at Yale will be jealous of his success.  They have it in their power to give him the degree and the financial support he needs to live as a student providing he does not irritate or upset them, which he will surely do if he tries to impress them with his erudition.  They do not want to learn from him.  He has things to learn.  They have useful things to teach him.  Therefore, he needs to shut up.  It took me a long time to learn this.  The bible says otherwise but it is sometimes better to receive than to give.  

Me (October 2009, age 57).  Do you need to shut up?

I wish I’d learned this lesson a long time ago.  And it’s one I’m still learning.  If I learned it I know I would have fewer arguments with my wife, more friends, and be more successful at work.  In The Year of Magical Thinking Joan Didion says that once when she was arguing with her husband he said to her, “Why do you always have to be right?”  (She says she needed to be right because she always felt like she was wrong.  This may be true, but it is form of evasion, which has the unfortunate result of allowing the lesson to remain unlearned.)  Being smart (or not smart) is something you can’t do anything about, either you’re smart or you’re not.  But you can control what you say.  You don’t always have to tell the people around you how smart (or not smart) you are.  As Marshall advises sometimes it’s better to shut up, to receive rather than to give. 

Do you find yourself speaking up when you need to shut up?  Is this a lesson you need to learn?  Where in your life do you most need to apply it?  At home, school, or  work?

Cordially, Marshall and Me


Reading for this post

The Letters of Marshall McLuhan.  Selected and edited by Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan, and Wiliam Toye. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987, p. 203.

Joan Didion.  The Year of Magical Thinking. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. p. 138.

Robert FritzThe Path of Least Resistance. New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1989, p. 14-30.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, October 6th, 2009
Permalink 1930s and 40s, Business, Communication, Education, Vol. 1 No Comments