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 (April 20, 1964, age 52). Hendiadys is the key.
At breakfast I remarked to Corinne and the children that Ernest Sirlockâ€™s remarkable article on Miltonâ€™s prose got me thinking about Miltonâ€™s use of the grammatical figure of Hendiadys.Â Blank looks all around.Â No matter – this is important.Â Hendiadys is the mark of the 17th century mind.Â A mind conditioned to look at the world ambivalently.Â Not simply as â€śAâ€ť or â€śBâ€ť but â€śAâ€ť and â€śBâ€ť.Â I looked again at Paradise Lost.Â Do you know that Milton uses this device 19 times in the first 100 lines? â€śDeath and Woe,â€ť â€śRestore and regain,â€ť â€śRaise and supportâ€ť et cetera and ad infinitum!Â Someone should study this.
Me (February 2010, age 57).Â Letâ€™s study it
But letâ€™s study it not in Miltonâ€™s prose but Marshall McLuhanâ€™s.Â â€śHendiadysâ€ť is a figure of speech, a â€śstriking or unusual configuration of words or phrases.â€ťÂ It is a Greek word meaning, â€śone by means of two.â€ťÂ Richard Lanham (A Handlist of Rhetorical Terms) defines it as theâ€ťexpression of an idea by two nouns connected by â€śandâ€ť instead of a noun and its qualifier.â€ťÂ He gives as an example, â€śNot Â you, coy Madame, your lowers and your looks,â€™ for â€śyour lowering looks.â€ťÂ If we apply this model to McLuhanâ€™s examples from Milton we get the following translations: â€śdeathly woe,â€ť â€śrestorative regain,â€ť and â€śraising support.â€ť
McLuhan is struck by the number of times he finds hendiadys appearing in the first 100 lines of Paradise Lost â€“ 19.Â How many times do you think we could find hendiadys appearing in the first 100 lines of his best seller Understanding Media published in 1964?Â 2 or 3?Â I counted 20.Â Here are the first three: â€śfragmentary and mechanical,â€ť â€śspace and time,â€ť â€ścollectively and corporately.â€ť
Did Marshall McLuhan have a 17th century mind?Â Â Did he intentionally edit his prose to increase its â€ścomplexity and ambivalenceâ€ť (excuse my hendiadys)?Â Would this feature, rather than the number of new ideas, say, be the real reason Understanding Media is difficult to understand?Â Can you use hendiadys to effect in your writing to increase its power and profundity?
Cordially, Marshall and Me
Reading for this post
Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p.298.