Introductory essay for the Special Centennial issue of RENASCENCE magazine, which I guest edited in 2011. This is the only journal where McLuhan was on the editorial board, and to which he contributed around 40 essays/reviews/speeches in the 1950s/60s. This is where he spoke to a Catholic audience about the literary “modernists” he was closely associated with — Joyce, Eliot, Lewis and Pound et al — and is work which has been largely ignored by subsequent McLuhan scholarship.
We shape our tools and then our tools shape us (Marshall McLuhan)
MARSHALL McLuhan was a hopeful man born into an age of conﬂict. He was born Herbert Marshall McLuhan on July 21, 1911, (died 1980) in Edmonton, Alberta, on the distant prairie-edge of a decaying British Empire. He was to become one of the most profound Catholic intellectuals of the modern era. Among his mentors were Hilaire Belloc, G. K. Chesterton, Etienne Gilson, F. R. Leavis, I. A. Richards, Frederick Wilhelmsen, Edgar Allen Poe, and Wyndham Lewis. Despite many published accounts of his life, an intellectual biography of McLuhan has not yet been written. In 2011, the centenary of his birth, hundreds of articles were penned and speeches given in his honor, while scholarship about his life and research into the implications of his insights has only just begun. At the height of his fame in the late 1960s, a bikini-clad Goldie Hawn giggled “Marshall McLuhan, what are ya doin’?” from the joke-wall on television’s Laugh-In. Later, after the fame had faded in the 1970s, he upstaged Woody Allen in Annie Hall, satirizing himself with, “You mean my whole fallacy is wrong!” McLuhan’s profession was English literature, and he contributed 36 articles and reviews to Renascence between 1949 and 1963, gave speeches at the journal’s Spring Symposium, and served on its editorial board from 1954 to 1962. John Pick, the founding editor of Renascence, was McLuhan’s godfather when he converted to Catholicism at the age of 25 in 1937, and the journal was where McLuhan spoke to a Catholic audience.
HIS TIMES: McLuhan’s understanding of the world began to take form in the late 1920s. The English-speaking intellectual world of the early twentieth century was a very lively one, with many authors writing essays and commentary in magazines and newspapers. McLuhan even penned some articles for his college newspaper, the University of Manitoba’s The Manitoban, between 1930 and 1934. Out of the hundreds who tried to make a living as what might be called “public intellectuals” in this time, there are a handful who stand out as the most successful, appearing constantly in multiple venues, writing essays,books, poetry, and plays, as well as giving public speeches and holding debates with each other. Of these, there are four who were so widely read that they became virtual household names — the pair of George Bernard Shaw and H. G. Wells was commonly contrasted with the pair of Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton. As beﬁts their prodigious talents as writers and larger-than-life personas, there was a signiﬁcant audience who gravitated to the Fabian-tinged opinions of Shaw and Wells, while many others gravitated to the Christian-framed opinions of Belloc and Chesterton — two critics who were such close friends and so often together that they were dubbed “Chesterbelloc”by Shaw (Belloc, Agree). McLuhan joined the Chesterbelloc camp while still an undergraduate in Winnipeg and pursued his interest in these authors with considerable excitement when he arrived at Cambridge University pursuing a Ph.D. in late 1934. He bought their books and read their essays. He traveled to London to hear Chesterton speak and even joined their “political” movement, the Distributist League (Belloc,Servile). In 1936, at the age of 25, McLuhan’s ﬁrst published article was titled “G. K. Chesterton: A Practical Mystic” (Dalhousie Review). Hilaire Belloc was the senior of the two — born in France in 1870, he became a naturalized British subject in 1902, having lived in England since he was two, where he remained until his death in 1953. Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born in 1874 and lived in England until his death in 1936. Belloc was a lifelong Catholic, while Chesterton converted from Anglicanism in 1922. Belloc wrote upwards of 150 books, including more than 30 on English and French history, as well as many volumes of ﬁction and satire, while Chesterton wrote around 80 books, hundreds of poems, about 200 short stories, as many as 4,000 essays, and several plays. According to Marshall’s son Eric McLuhan, his father read “nearly all” of what both authors wrote, a feat likely unmatched by McLuhan with any other writers (E. McLuhan, Email). As proliﬁc social and literary critics, historians, novelists, theologians, debaters, poets, satirists, magazine publishers, and political activists, Belloc and Chesterton provided a rich and far-reaching context for the young McLuhan, who regularly sent copies of G. K. Weekly home to his family from Cambridge. These were, in many ways, McLuhan’s most vital and earliest teachers. Belloc, who today is much less well known than Chesterton, is a particularly important inﬂuence with whom McLuhan scholars must wrestle. McLuhan got both his knack for satire (Belloc, Allah) and an early appreciation for the social impact of technologies (Belloc, Road ) from him.
Belloc was arguably the more combative as well as controversial of the two — imparting some of the qualities that McLuhan would later describe about himself as an “intellectual thug” in a letter to Ezra Pound ( Letters 227). Belloc forcefully disagreed with accepted English history (Crisis). He regarded the loss of Britain, which had once been a part of Roman culture, from Catholic Europe to be the deﬁning event in the fracturing of Christendom, about which he famously said, “The Faith is Europe and Europe is the Faith” ( Europe viii). From this account, McLuhan got his understanding that being born an Anglophone placed him in the middle of a colossal historic conﬂict. (1) Belloc saw the sequence from the looting of Catholic monasteries under Henry VIII to the manipulation of Elizabeth by the Cecils —through the seventeenth century English Revolution and regicide to the ultimate destruction of the monarchy and its replacement by an anti-Catholic aristocracy — as nothing less than the decline and the breakdown of civilization (Shorter ). He is perhaps the only author to have detailed this sordid account in the English language, putting him sharply at odds with the story of steady progress and English beneﬁcence typically portrayed in “Whig” history. (2) In a 1931 essay titled, “The Counterattack Through History,” Belloc declares:
“I say that we must approach our historical task in a spirit of hostility to our opponents. We must look with suspicion upon every statement; still more upon the main tendencies in writing which we instinctively feel to be opposed to Catholic truth, even where they do not overtly attack that truth. We must not begin by accepting the bulk of ofﬁcial stuff and then see where we can pick holes in it to the advantage of religion. We must start out with a general suspicion of the whole cargo. (101)”
As every schoolboy debater knows, “logic” requires agreement about premises. McLuhan’s lifelong effort to get “behind” logic, through his championing of analogy, formal cause, and grammar, is, at its root, an attempt to discover valid premises. McLuhan, as Belloc’s student, did not accept the “ofﬁcial” premises. History was a moral battle ground for Belloc, as it was for McLuhan. In his 1928 book How the Reformation Happened , Belloc writes:
“But the last factor, the hatred of the Faith, though it was numerically by far the smallest, was much the most intense, and was in the nature of a leaven which could rapidly infect all society, once it was given play. We must remember that this hatred has always been present. That it is present today most Catholics and all converts know well, though the world outside (the world that writes our ofﬁcial history) does not appreciate the presence of this hatred until it is excited by opposition. Such hatred is natural and inevitable. All energy polarizes, and the Catholic Church is the most powerful source of energy on earth. It provokes an opposite pole. Further, the Church is an issue everywhere with man as he is, restricting him always, and, at sometime or other in nearly every man’s life, violently at issue with pride, ambition, or desire. Over and above, and more powerful still as a provocative, is the Church’s claim to absolute authority and universal moral dominion.” (36)
HIS LEARNING: Like his mentor Hilaire Belloc, McLuhan was a deep student of history. As chaotic as the twentieth century appeared to many, he was convinced that human affairs have their causes and that these causes can — indeed, must — be understood. While he became famous for phrases like “the global village” and “the medium is the message,” the term that McLuhan repeatedly emphasized as his popularity took off in the late 1960s was “pattern recognition.” (3) He took this phrase from his association with IBM, which provided early funds for The Centre for the Study of Culture and Technology, McLuhan’s base-of-operations at the University of Toronto from 1963 until his death in 1980. Most likely, the term originates in early efforts to develop machine-based Artiﬁcial Intelligence (AI) and was deliberately re-purposed by McLuhan. Pattern recognition is not the same as intelligence and isn’t something that is part of today’s typical personality inventories. It is the ability to perceive what is “really” happening and does not often appear in conventional accounts of the world. It is the domain of accomplished artists and, McLuhan believed, would become more widespread as the effects of“electric media” became dominant in the culture, replacing the “tunnel-vision” engendered by printed media. (4) Later, McLuhan shifted from AI to the metaphors of Gestalt psychology (ﬁgure and ground) and brain research (right brain, left brain) to try to explain this elusive capability. Throughout, he insisted that it was fundamentally a matter of “percepts” and not “concepts,” by which he meant that trying to systematically categorize, diagram, and logically construct a view of the world inevitably obscures the underlying pattern — blocking pattern recognition ( Essential ii). His concerted efforts against “logic” won him many opponents, indeed in much of academia he was (and still is) considered to be at best an eccentric and at worst a fraud. (5) McLuhan had already begun to stake his claim on the myriad ways of thinking that go “behind” logic which wereonce prevalent in Western culture in his student years at the University of Manitoba and then at Cambridge University. McLuhan’s Ph.D. thesis is an unprecedented historic account of human learning. He completed “The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time” by sending chapters via multiple mail-ships to avoid being lost to U-boats at sea. Until it was ﬁnally publishedin 2006, few had read this work. Indeed, to this day, many who think of themselves as “students” of McLuhan still have not. McLuhan perceived long-term patterns that he believed were essential to the understanding of our own lives. Most important of these patterns was the Incarnation of Christ, around which human history revolves. The patterns of Greek and Hebrew culture, already deeply embedded into the patterns of Roman culture, was the world into which Christ was born. They became the patterns of Christian culture, reaching a “zenith” in the High Middle Ages, from which humanity has retreated during the past many centuries. McLuhan was a hopeful man and a strong believer in “rebirth,” and he made it clear from the introduction to “The Classical Trivium” that he believed multiple “renaissances” were to be expected.(6) The ﬁfteenth-century Great Renaissance, which was the “times” of the life of Thomas Nashe mentioned in his thesis subtitle, was only going to be one of many renaissances. Indeed, it could be fairly said that McLuhan was a leading renaissances (plural) scholar. The long retreat from the patterns of Christian culture beginning around the sixteenth century is the topic of McLuhan’s ﬁrst popular work, The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962). In it he describes “Typographic Man” as one who was seduced by the visual “bias” of the printed page. Later, he jokingly referred to those who retained this bias in the face of new cultural patterns that had already shifted to an “acoustic” bias as “Print-OrientedBastards” (Take Today 288). McLuhan was certainly no opponent of books. His ofﬁce was essentially a private library with a lamp and a comfortable reading chair. Surrounded by 5,000+ volumes, many of which he annotated in the margins, McLuhan was a voracious reader. (7) In addition to Latin and Greek, it appears he read mostly in English, although he made it a point to read the Bible in as many languages as he could. He wasn’t against reading; he was against the visual bias that came with the printing press. He was against the inability to recognize the developing patterns that were caused by print. And, through his incessant “probes,” non-stop reading and voluminous correspondence, he was looking for others who understood what causes the world we all live in. Causality was a very important topic for McLuhan. From a young age, he was convinced that human affairs have their causes and that the“ofﬁcial” versions of history aren’t the most truthful ones. (8) Even beforehe “ofﬁcially” converted to Catholicism, McLuhan became a Thomist by adopting a medieval sensibility. St. Thomas Aquinas was, of course, the medieval theologian who “tamed” Aristotle. In Thomas’s times and, indeed, throughout the times described in The Classical Trivium, from antiquity through the Renaissance, causality had multiple meanings. “Cause” wasn’t a univocal term but rather equivocal. Aristotle had famously described these meanings — his four causes: formal, material, efﬁcient, and ﬁnal — and no one had added or subtracted from this list for 2,000 years. That, in itself, is an important pattern. Coincident with the cultural invasion of the printing press, however, this pattern began to change. As McLuhan might recount it, the linear ﬁrst-this-then-that “perspective” delivered on the printed page tipped our sensory balance in favor of efﬁcient cause — which eventually, as printing became the dominant medium in the culture, became the only cause-and-effect known by most people. This is the same visual perspective that appears in the sight-lines inﬁnitely converging on the horizon that appear in Renaissance paintings. This is also the personal perspective that encouraged people to write their own books, to express their personal “point-of-view.”McLuhan did not believe that efﬁcient cause-and-effect told the whole story or that it exhausted the multiple meanings of causality. Based on the contributions of the many people who had accepted Aristotle’s four causes as the necessary framework of their experience and understanding for so many centuries, McLuhan was convinced that something extremely valuable had been lost with the triumph of the “Gutenberg Galaxy” and the“discarding” of the other causes. In many ways, we had lost the ability to recognize the patterns all around us by focusing on the efﬁcient and the straight-forward. We had become “straight-line” ignorant. As McLuhan wrote to his mother, Elsie McLuhan, an accomplished elocutionist and signiﬁcant ﬁgure in his life, in 1935: “You may know athing by its fruits if you are silly enough or ignorant enough to wait that long” ( Letters 72). He is saying that there is something about “a thing” that can be known without waiting for the “fruits” to appear. Waiting forcause-and-effect to play out, says McLuhan, is for those who are “silly”and “ignorant.” In other words, there is a way to “know” that is superior to everyday and commonplace cause-and-effect observation. Perhaps this is his ﬁrst expression of the importance of pattern recognition. McLuhan had just turned 24 and was beginning his second year at Cambridge. Later, he would identify this effects-before-causes and outside-of-time approach to pattern recognition as “formal causality” and devote his life to demonstrating why it is this sense of “cause” that is most important for understanding the patterns of our own lives ( Media and Formal Cause). McLuhan’s own discoveries went through many stages and his contributions to Renascence reﬂect his growing recognition in the 1950s about what Wyndham Lewis had termed the “freemasonry of the arts” and the need to discuss these matters publicly. In his 1953 correspondence with Eric Voegelin, precipitated by Voegelin’s 1951 “Truth and Representation” Walgreen Lectures at the University of Chicago (which were published asThe New Science of Politics in 1952), McLuhan notes, “But a person feels like an awful sucker to have spent 20 years of study on an ‘art’ which turns out to be somebody else’s ritual” (underlining original, Letter to Voegelin). Voegelin had skillfully expanded the study of “gnosticism” from anearly-Christian-era specialty to a broad critique of modern society in New Science and his subsequent 1958 Munich lecture, “Science, Politics and Gnosticism.” Like McLuhan, Voegelin was ready for public controversy, including the front-page German newspaper editorial which accused Voegelin of “irrationalism” for characterizing “Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger as Gnostics” (qtd. in Modernity Without Restraint 3). McLuhan would have agreed with Voegelin. In his correspondence with Voegelin, McLuhan continued, “Such being the state of Catholic culture on this continent, it has never even occurred to me to seek a hearing among my fellow Catholics except in the class room. But in the past year or so I have changed my ideas on this matter.” McLuhan’s extensive contributions to Renascence were the out come of this new mindset.
HIS PLACE: In 1959, C. P. Snow published his famous essay “The Two Cultures and the Scientiﬁc Revolution.” Snow, who had been a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and a key ofﬁcial organizing scientiﬁc personnel for the British in World War II, made a compact argument and attracted considerable debate. He argued that since the “Scientiﬁc Revolution,” Western culture had divided into two “cultures”— artists and scientists. He further argued that this division was damaging to “progress” and that something had to be done about it. He proposed that since poets couldn’t be trusted with society, the solution would be to teach poetry to physicists, who would then embody all that was needed for the proper management of society and its culture.
In making this argument, Snow singled out Wyndham Lewis, one of McLuhan’s mentors, as the prime example of the “unreliability” of artists. Among those who took issue with Snow was F. R. Leavis, one of McLuhan’s teachers at Cambridge, who published his Two Cultures? The Signiﬁcance of C. P. Snow in 1962. The book’s jacket opens with:
“England’s foremost literary critic sees the widespread acceptance of Snow’s view of the two cultures — humanist and scientist — as the mark of a new “publicity-oriented culture” imposed by a pretentious and ignorant elite on an uncritical public.”
Snow’s obviously self-serving dichotomy was a crude example of the conﬂict that McLuhan had drawn in his Cambridge Ph.D. thesis between “grammarians” (who included the “humanists” such as Francis Bacon et al) and “dialecticians” (who included the “scientists” such as René Descartes et al). McLuhan, however, did not portray this as a newly emerged conﬂict — either in the twentieth or the sixteenth centuries —but rather as one that has persisted since antiquity. In fact, McLuhan further identiﬁed this “ancient quarrel” as a perennial battle between the “ancients” and the “moderni” ( Interior Landscape 214). McLuhan’s place in the learning of his times was as an “artist,” a “humanist,” a “grammarian,” and an “ancient” — and McLuhan’s place was squarely on the losing side, based on Snow’s formulation. Snow was not the ﬁrst, or last, to make a plea for the cultural dominance of “scientists” over “artists.” This argument dates, at least, to the times of McLuhan’s own intellectual formation in the early twentieth century. H. G. Wells madea similar argument in his 1905 A Modern Utopia, where, based on the dangers associated with new technologies, society would need to be segregated and the “scientist-priests,” whom he termed the “New Samurai,”would need to be placed in charge. Wells was the more combative of the Shaw and Wells duo who fought for the Anglophone audience against Chesterton and Belloc in the 1920-30s. Wells’s “anti-humanist” (or using McLuhan’s terms “dialectician”or “moderni”) argument persisted throughout his career, with highlights including his 1928 manifesto The Open Conspiracy and his 1934 novel The Shape of Things to Come (which was made into a movie in 1936,simply called Things to Come), as well as his 1938 World Brain and scores of other books and essays. It also provides the underlying premise for his 1921 The Outline of History, against which Belloc wrote his 1926 A Companion to Mr. Wells’s Outline of History.
Wells had some wealthy supporters, among them Imperial Chemical Industries head Sir Alfred Mond, who backed a short-lived Wellsian journal called The Realist in the late 1920s. Mond reappears as the “World-Controller of Western Europe” Mustapha Mond in Aldous Huxley’s 1932 Brave New World , which was written as a satire on Wells and his schemes of world dominance.
This back-and-forth presumably stems from the fact that Wells had been a “godfather” to both Aldous and his brother Julian Huxley, a role he was given by T. H. Huxley, “Darwin’s Bulldog,” who was Wells’s mentor and the boys’ grandfather. However,the animosity between Wells and Aldous Huxley was so severe that Wells once suggested Aldous and his colleague Gerald Heard would make “perfect material for display dissection in a museum of psychic surgery” (Phoenix 50).
In contrast, Julian Huxley became Wells’s most important protégé. Together they penned the 1929 The Science of Life. Julian Huxley went on to become the founding Director General of UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientiﬁc, and Cultural Organization) at its ﬁrst General Conference in 1946. UNESCO traces its mandate to a 1921 League of Nations resolution and the International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation (CICI), which was formed in 1922, in which Wells had been involved. UNESCO is perhaps the most important surviving embodimentof Wells’s The Open Conspiracy manifesto.
Julian Huxley also became a primary sponsor of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, helping him to publish his views which his Jesuit Order had forbidden him to print. Like Wells, Huxley was vehemently anti-Catholic. Today, some, like Tom Wolfe, persist in incorrectly identifying McLuhan with Chardin ( Hooking Up73), placing McLuhan on the wrong side of the enduring “ancient” vs. “moderni” conﬂict. Some even incorrectly identify McLuhan with the “complex systems” movement, which grew outof Snow’s “physics for poets” and related “Third Culture” efforts, which,in turn, grew out of the earlier collaboration between Wells and Huxley (Logan).
McLuhan was on the other side of that conﬂict too. Wells’s conspiracy schemes for global social-control of a “WorldState” by the “scientist-priests” also appeared in other venues. Atomic weapons were developed under the critical tutelage of Leo Szilard, a Hungarian physicist. Szilard, who had headed the “education” wing of the ill-fated Bela Kunled 1919 Budapest Commune, emigrated ﬁrst to Germany, where he studied with Einstein and Max Planck in Berlin, and then to England where he is credited with inventing the nuclear chain reaction. In turn, Szilard credited Wells with his inspiration, based on Wells’s 1914 The World Set Free, a novel in which war was made impossible as a result of nuclear weapons developed by what Wells called the “sun snarers,” based on Wells’s attendance at lectures given by Baron Rutherford in London (Grandy).
Szilard later went on to pen the letter which was sent to Franklin D.Roosevelt, over the signature of Albert Einstein, which established the Manhattan Project. Famously, Szilard, nicknamed “Leo the Lizard,” was denied a security clearance, presumably based on his public commitment to the global sharing of nuclear technology. For Szilard, as it had been for Wells, the purpose of “the bomb” was to guarantee what became known as “mutually assured destruction” (MAD) and thus the end of global warfare, which was one of the three foundational principles of Wells’s “open conspiracy. ” Szilard, along with Einstein, Bertrand Russell, and others, went on to form a global group of scientists which became known as the “Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs,” after the Pugwash, NovaScotia, estate where it ﬁrst met in 1957. The Pugwash founding director, Joseph Rotblat, and the Conferences won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1995. The core of the initial membership were British, American, and Soviet nuclear physicists and the transcripts of these private conferences have never been made public. Again, the inspiration came from Wells, who in The Shape of Things to Come had imagined such a convention of leading scientists, which he termed “Wings Over the World,” to take place in the 1950s (in Basra, Iraq). The fact that Snow would promote the idea of scientists learning poetry and then taking command of global culture and society in his 1959 “Two Cultures” essay was no accident. It was a theme that had been richly developed in the 1920-30s by Wells and then implemented by Wells’s protégés Julian Huxley (UNESCO) and Leo Szilard (Pugwash) in the 1950s. It was so widely noted at that time that outgoing U.S. President Dwight D.Eisenhower pointed to it in his famous Farewell Address on January 17,1961, long remembered for his coinage of the term the “military-industrial complex,” in which he also said:
“Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing ﬁelds. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientiﬁc discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge cost involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every blackboard there are now hundreds of electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is everpresent — and is gravely to be regarded. Yet, in holding scientiﬁc research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger (15) that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientiﬁc-technological elite.”
What Eisenhower was speaking of, implicitly indicting those involved in Pugwash et al, was the danger of conceding power to what McLuhan referred to as the “moderni” who had been in relentless conﬂict with the“ancients” since the earliest history. McLuhan’s own “times,” as he matured in the 1920-30s, highlighted this conﬂict in the contest for the English-speaking audience between Belloc/Chesterton and Wells/Shaw. McLuhan’s own “learning,” as reﬂected in his Cambridge Ph.D. thesis and his conversion to Catholicism,was built around this conﬂict, in which McLuhan declared himself to be a “grammarian” who was opposed to the dominance of the “dialecticians.” McLuhan’s “place,” as he became a pop-culture icon in the 1960s and again today, as the world celebrates the 100th anniversary of his birth on that distant Canadian prairie, was as a combatant on behalf of humanity inthe age-old conﬂict between mankind and our own inventions.
1) The degree to which the English (and, therefore, the English-speaking elites) have considered themselves to be in conﬂict with Catholics has been highlighted by recent changes in the 1701 Settlement Act which, for the ﬁrst time in more than 300 years, would allow a British Monarch to marry a Catholic but did not change the ban against allowing a Catholic prince (or princess) to actually become the Sovereign.
2) Belloc wrote more than 30 books on English and French history, largely devoted to correcting what he believed were the mistakes of the “Whig” history which dominatesthe ﬁeld.
3) Pattern recognition ﬁrst appears in McLuhan’s work in the second introduction to his 1964 Understanding Media and then shows up continually in his subsequent interviewsand essays, where it is often counter-posed to “data classiﬁcation.”
4) McLuhan sharply contrasted “print media” with “electric media” beginning in the 1950s. His ﬁrst popular book, The Gutenberg Galaxy, focuses on the effects of print and his second, Understanding Media, brings the reader up-to-date about the effects of “electricity“. The most successful of his books, The Medium is the Massage, which was produced by Jerome Agel, then takes these insights and presents them in a “swinging 60s” collage-styled format.
5) McLuhan’s detractors were (and are) legion, typically bemoaning his failure to come up with a “theory” and ﬂummoxed by his apparently ﬂippant, “If you don’t like that idea, I’ve got many more” sort of comments. Historian Paul Johnson went so far as to call McLuhan an “enemy of society” for his presumed “pseudo-science” because, along with Freud and Marx, they would “continually reformulate their theories to avoid creeping refutation” (149-150). One suspects that being called an “enemy” by Johnson might have even been a compliment for McLuhan, recalling that one of his mentors, Wyndham Lewis, founded a journal called The Enemy, which was published between 1927-29.
6) In the introduction to McLuhan’s monumental Ph.D thesis The Classical Trivium, he refers to at least four renaissances: the Carolingian (“of grammar”), the twelfth century (“dialectics achieving complete ascendancy in all places save Italy”), the Grand Renaissance (“the reassertion of the claims of grammar against the goths and huns of learning at Paris”), and the “modern Renaissance.” Eric McLuhan’s essay in this volume, “On Renaissances,” signiﬁcantly expands on these brief comments.
7) Parts of McLuhan’s “working library” have recently been cataloged by his grandson, Andrew McLuhan, whose blog Inscriptorium is a valuable resource for McLuhan scholars, publishing many of the marginal notes McLuhan wrote to himself inside thesevolumes.
8) One of these notes-to-himself was written on the back pages of Thomas Carlyle’s French Revolution: A History in early 1932, when McLuhan was only 20. It begins, “I have to-day heard Prof. Fieldhouse on the subject of the Revolution and his remarks, (to be found in no existing text) seem to me to be worth noting down: 1st the French were not an oppressed people . . .” To be found at professor-ﬁeldhouses-revolution.
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