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 oral method of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (1962 – 1963, age 51 – 52).  Talking it out

I am primarily an oral man, a word man, not a numbers man.  Writing is not my genius, talking is my genius.  That is why I like to talk my books out.  The problem is that it’s easy to undershoot and overshoot.  With some books I probably should have stopped earlier with others I should have spent more time.  The ideas got me going, always more ideas.  I had to keep moving on, so much to discover.

Michael Hinton (2009, age 57).  To understand McLuhan is to hear McLuhan

I spoke with Professor Abraham Rotstein, a professor emeritus, at the University of Toronto, who was a member of McLuhan’s circle in the 1960s.  We spoke on the phone in August.  I had a picture of him in my mind as we spoke, Professor Rotstein in the late 1970s, which was when I first met him, at the Monday night economic history seminars, which I attended as a graduate student in economics at Toronto.  He’s wearing I imagine a dark jacket and tie, his hair is thinning and slicked back, he has a cigarette going in holder which lends him the appearance of a scholarly Jewish FDR.  His trade mark was the question with such a long preamble that you had to fight to remember the question. Fortunately I’m asking the questions.  I begin by asking him about how he first met Marshall McLuhan.

Rotstein:  I was invited to a seminar, in 1962 or 1963.  McLuhan was a friend of my thesis supervisor, Tom Easterbrook.  I gave a presentation to McLuhan’s graduate students and onlookers on the idea of the various senses as extensions of man.  I pointed out that the idea was present in the writings of the early Marx: the idea that man’s economic activities are extensions of man and in extending him they alienate him.  McLuhan nodded when I said this but you could tell he wasn’t paying very much attention.

Me:  The extensions of man, of course, is the subtitle of Understanding Media, which is probably McLuhan’s best bought if not best read book.  Many people find it hard to read.  I did myself.  Was that your experience?

Rotstein:  I don’t know if I’ve ever had a lot of difficulty understanding McLuhan.  Understanding McLuhan is basically an oral exercise.  I was always listening to him.  I never read Understanding Media.  Didn’t have to, McLuhan spoke it to me.

(The interview continues tomorrow)

What is your experience reading McLuhan?  Do you find him difficult to understand?  Can you think of ways to recreate the oral experience Professor Rotstein is talking about?

Relevance to your life:  Are you an oral man or woman?  How do you think things through?

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

See the pre 1968 interviews of Mcluhan on www.digitallantem.net/mcluhan

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Michael Hinton Thursday, November 5th, 2009
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Education, Technology, Vol. 1 No Comments

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