A tribute to and a lament for Marshall McLuhan.Â Five days a week, Tuesday through Saturday,Â I present one of McLuhanâ€™s observations and talk about its relevance today.Â 300 ideas. 300 days.Â 300 posts.
Marshall McLuhan (May 19, 1966, age 54).Â Foul play!
â€śHow is it Professor McLuhan,â€ť Eric Goldman asked me earlier today on WNBC television program The Open Mind, â€śthat you should be so concerned with media?Â Here you are the son of Baptist parents, convert to Catholicism, a Canadian student of English literature, formerly an engineering student and now â€¦â€ť
â€śOh, donâ€™t bother with that data.â€ť I said.
â€śItâ€™s all wrong!Â And in any case quite unnecessary.â€ť
Me (June 2010, age 57).Â 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.Â As a result, â€śpersonal and biographical information about McLuhan is difficult to trace.â€ť And, â€śStearn adds, â€śthere is a coy, almost purposeful elusiveness about the man himself.â€ť Â Â Why?Â Stearn suggests there is no good reason why McLuhan side stepped these subjects:Â he was simply a â€śpuzzlingâ€ť character.
This is possible, but there is I think a better answer.Â It is more probable that McLuhan actually believed what he said: that biographical details were â€śquite unnecessary.â€ťÂ McLuhan was trained at Cambridge in the close reading critical analysis of I. A. Richards.Â 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 â€śquite unnecessary.â€ťÂ Everything you needed to know to understand a poem or a novel, Richards taught, was in the written work â€“ that is in the workâ€™s diction, rhythm and structure. Â Â And this was the method McLuhan followed in his teaching.
(And see tomorrowâ€™s post for a more troubling example of McLuhanâ€™s elusiveness.)
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Reading for this post
McLuhan: Hot and Cool.Â Edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn, 1967, p. IV.