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 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
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Culture, Education, Management, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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