Daily Archives: August 9, 2011

Frye on McLuhan: An Overview

Wednesday I’ll be posting the compilation of Frye’s references to Marshall McLuhan that appear in the Collected Works.

I want to make a few observations here, which I don’t intend to be a definitive. I will be writing a longer paper to provide a broader perspective and a more detailed account. However, I think the following points can be responsibly made.

First, Frye’s references to McLuhan require 20,000 words to render them, suggesting that he read and thought about McLuhan’s work extensively. He certainly referred to it in his published work wherever the situation allowed. His private notebooks likewise suggest deep engagement, although with an added and characteristic tartness (“global village my ass”; “that blithering nonsense ‘the medium is the message'”).

Second, his observations are as consistent as his inquiry is thorough. There are more than forty years worth of references here, and they are remarkably free of any notable contradiction.

Third, Frye’s critical assessment of the core elements of McLuhan’s thought reveals that they are unacceptable to him. On the other hand, Frye’s published references to isolated aspects of McLuhan’s work tend to be generous and are regularly cited to make a larger point. Although Frye is careful to distinguish McLuhan from what he at one point calls the “nitwitted McLuhanism” of the 1960s, his frank critique of McLuhan’s work as a whole stands.

Finally, the elements of McLuhan’s thought Frye is most critical of are also those most familiar to general readers, including his formulations regarding “the global village,” “the medium is the message,” and the linearity of print versus the simultaneity of electronic media. It is the last notion especially that Frye believes compromised McLuhan’s work, and he returns to it on a number of occasions.

Below is a small but representative selection of quotes that captures some of this.

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Joseph Stiglitz explains how “conservative” policy has manacled “the invisible hand”

Thanks in large part to the anarchists who call themselves the Republican party, the world is being plunged into what seems destined to be a second and precipitously deep recessionary dip.

While this is not exactly news, it is a fact worth recalling that these “free-market” “conservatives” know nothing about Adam Smith, the God of capitalism whose name they take in vain.

Salon has a look.

Earlier posts on Adam Smith here and here.

Meanwhile, the know-nothing parade continues to add more floats. Texas governor, Rick Perry, who can be reliably identified as stupider than George Bush, seems set to run for president. The Republicans are incapable of putting together a full slate of candidates that doesn’t include an alarming number of cranks and nitwits. In fact, those quaint terms do not fully characterize the pathology represented here. The field now includes or has included or is expected to include the following: Donald Trump, Newt Gingrich, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachman, Rick Santorum, and, of course, Teabagger-in-Chief Sarah Palin.

These are the faces of the most dangerous political organization in the world. Behind the scenes, it is even scarier.