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 writing methods of Marshall McLuhan

Marshall McLuhan (Fall 1951, age 40).  Boredom is the enemy!

Finally my book on industrial folklore is being published by Vanguard Press.  I will be very glad to get it out of my mind as it now seems to me to be ancient history.  I’ve lectured it, written it, and the editors have hounded me to re-write it for years.  I’m thoroughly sick of it.

Me (May 2010, age 57).   Avoiding boredom came at a cost

Like all of McLuhan’s books his first one, The Mechanical Bride, is not easy reading.  Part of the reason is that he could not bring himself to rewrite.  He wrote it seems to amuse himself and he wrote very quickly.  Whenever he was asked by his editors to look again at anything he wrote he refused to clarify his ideas but instead added on new ideas to the ones already there.

The problem, said Seon Manley, who was an editor at Vanguard in the 1940s, is that anything that smacked of good writing – clarifying an idea, cutting extraneous material, or providing a telling example – bored McLuhan.  And McLuhan refused “to bore himself.”  The result was a style of writing many have found impenetrable.

How then should an intelligent reader approach the task of reading Marshall McLuhan?  Read fast?  Don’t be afraid to skim or jump about?  Don’t worry if you don’t get it?  Realize, perhaps, you’re not meant to?

Is it true, as McLuhan liked to say, “clear prose indicates the absence of thought?”

Cordially, Marshall and Me

Reading for this post

Philip Marchand, Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger, 1989, pp. 118.

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Michael Hinton Tuesday, May 25th, 2010
Permalink 1950s and 60s, Communication, Vol. 1 3 Comments

3 Comments to The writing methods of Marshall McLuhan

  • Michael Edmunds says:

    Read re-Read;Read re-Read;Read re-Read;Read re-Read

    That’s what works for me.

    I’d ask: How would [ Plato, Leonardo, Wyndham, Aquinas etc.] read him. In other words does one’s environment prejudice the reading? I think that McLuhan was aware of that idea and at best half-heartedly wrote any books. Professor Joe Medjuck (now of Ivan Reitmen family of movie making) interviewed McLuhan for Take One in the late 60’s or early 70’s and McLuhan declared he’d write no more books (though he’d mop up the remaining ones) and would only do movies.

    I’ll email you a copy if you wish.

  • Michael Hinton says:

    Yes, I’d love to see the interview. Thanks for this, Michael

  • McLuhan liked writing in books more than writing them …

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