Marshall McLuhan


Today is Marshall McLuhan‘s birthday (1911-1980).

Above, Marshall McLuhan and Norman Mailer interviewed on CBC TV in 1968 as the hippie movement takes deep hold of youth culture and protest against the Vietnam War begins to escalate sharply.

From an interview with Frye about McLuhan broadcast on CBC Radio in January 1981, shortly after McLuhan’s death.

Interviewer: Professor McLuhan’s great contemporary at the university, Northrop Frye, says that McLuhan’s background enabled him to achieve is insights.

Frye: He was a literary critic and that meant that he looked at the form of what was in front of him instead of at the content.  And so instead of issuing platitudes abut what was being said on television he looked at what  the media where actually doing to people’s eyes and ears.  He had a gift of epigrammatic encapsulating that made some of the thing he said extremely memorable.

Interviewer: Professor McLuhan’s ingenuity was easily seen, but his message was not easily understood.  In the 1960s and 70s there were sometimes crude journalistic interpretations of his work, and reporters began to write that, after all, the master of communication could not communicate.  The result was that as the 1979s closed Marshal McLuhan’s influence declined, and at the end of his life his colleagues saw him neglected by the public which has once clamoured for him.

Frye: That’s true, but that was because he got on the manic-depressive roller-coaster of the news media and that meant he went away to th skies like a rocket and then came down like a stick.  But he himself and what he said and thought had nothing to do with that.  That’s what the news media do to people if you get caught in their machinery.  (CW 24, 510-11)

Frye in Notebook 12:

McLuhan has of course enormously expanded my thesis of the return of irony to myth.  His formulation is hailed as revolutionary by those who like to think that the mythical-configuration-involved comprehension is (a) with it (b) can be attained by easier methods than by the use of intelligence.  Hence everyone who disagrees (as in all revolutionary arguments) can be dismissed as linear or continuous.  But there are two kinds of continuity involved: one is the older detached individuality, the other the cultural and historical continuity of preserving one’s identity and memory in moving from one to the other.  The issue here is a moral issue between freedom of consciousness and obsessive totalitarianism, plunging into a Lawrentian Dionysian war-dance.  (Cited by Robert Denham, Northrop Frye Unbuttoned, 174)

McLuhan on Frye:

Norrie is not struggling for his place in the sun.  He is the sun.  (Ibid.)

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