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.

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.


“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
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 No Comments

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