Sunday, July 31, 2011

George Orwell, Wyndham Lewis and the Origins of Cultural Studies

The following article by Alan Munton (2003) is Bob Dobbs' entry for the best written contribution to the McLuhan Centenary to date.

P. Wyndham Lewis. Harder than Chuck Norris
To bring together in one discussion George Orwell and Wyndham Lewis is to associate two apparently very different writers, one of whom—Orwell—holds an established place in the history of cultural studies, whilst the other—Wyndham Lewis—is not thought to  have any links whatever with cultural studies. Orwell is part of the history of British  socialism, Lewis, if he is known at all, is remembered as the most reactionary of the modernists. Yet I shall argue today that the dialogue that took place between Orwell and Lewis between 1932 and 1952 is crucial to our understanding of the history of cultural studies. Let me hint at what is to come by saying that whenever we use the phrase ‘the global village’ to describe new relationships between centre and periphery, we are quoting Wyndham Lewis. As cultural critic, Lewis is present but unrecognised. There is a second difficulty: modernism and cultural studies do not meet. Lewis was a high modernist, and high modernism is not a point of reference for cultural studies. Rita Felski has very recently written a vigorous denunciation of the way in which ‘cultural studies [is] oblivious to modernist studies’, so that (she writes) ‘when “modernity” appears at all in cultural studies, it is often there to be refuted, derided, or denounced, a handy catch phrase for conservative politics, old hat metaphysics, and snobbish aesthetics’.[1] That is exactly how Lewis has been conceived, though the critical situation is beginning slowly to change. Felski urges that we need to ‘reverse the optic’, as she puts it, ‘to realize that modernist studies can throw light on cultural studies, as well as the other way around’ (502). I am doing that here; and I am taking a further step, toshow that modernism and cultural studies are, in the case of Orwell and Lewis, closely linked.

My third introductory point concerns the history of cultural studies in Britain. In  1967 and 1968 I was writing my MA a Birmingham University, and had the sense to attend a few meetings of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies. The CCCS was founded by Richard Hoggart, author of Uses of Literacy, and I recall Hoggart quoting Orwell’s remark about ‘common decency’ being a value in English life. Hoggart, as he admitted himself, was not a theorist, and the future did not belong to him. He gave up the Centre in 1968. Nevertheless, it is important to recall that Orwell was an important point of reference for CCCS in its early days. Towards the end of 1968 I was the subject of a seminar at the Centre, following a successful student sit-in that year for which I was press officer—even revolution was organized! I was asked to describe my experiences with the press and television in what I now see was an early attempt to analyse the material processes by which representation is achieved by the media. That meeting was led by Stuart Hall, and although nothing seems to have come of the project, the attempt points forward to the characteristic concerns of cultural studies with process and representation.

The transition from Hoggart to Hall at this period permits me to prepare for what follows by pointing to this structure: under Hoggart, Orwell’s way of exploring culture, in such an essay as ‘Boys’ Weeklies’, was predominant; under Hall, it is through Althusser and Gramsci that the crucial questions of ideology and hegemony are developed.

What, then, was the relationship between Wyndham Lewis and George Orwell? Wyndham Lewis was born in 1882 and was therefore eleven years older than Orwell. Lewis became established in 1914 as the leader of a British avant-garde in London with the publication of the magazine Blast and the success of the Vorticist movement in painting. He published the novel Tarr in 1918: it is a story of bohemian life in Paris before the First World War. Orwell read it in the 1930s. For Lewis the experience that transforms his attitude to European culture is the First World War, in which he fought as a gunner. Orwell’s transforming war experience comes proportionately later, when he takes part in the Spanish Civil War in 1937.

When Lewis published his criticism of Joyce, Pound and Bergson in Time and Western Man in September 1927, Orwell had just returned to England from Burma, a convinced anti-imperialist. In 1928, Lewis published The Childermass, perhaps one of the most difficult of all modernist texts; in the same year, Orwell was down and out in Paris, and at the very end of that year, his first published article appeared. In 1930, as Orwell is getting established in literary London, Lewis publishes The Apes of God, an intimately knowledgeable satire upon 1920s literary London. Lewis was then at the height of his career. Towards the end of 1930, he visited Germany and in March 1931 published Hitler, the book that ruined his reputation. The following year Orwell remarked to Eleanor Jaques that he has been reading Lewis’s magazine The Enemy, and that Lewis ‘seems to have something in him’.[2] At this point Orwell begins to track Lewis’s work. Later in 1932 Orwell remarks to Brenda Salkeld that Lewis has ‘evidently got some kick in him’. His incipient interest is indicated by his next remark: ‘Whether at all a sound  thinker or not, I can’t be sure without further acquaintance’.[3] Further acquaintance evidently followed, because in 1939 Orwell writes a shrewd review of a book by Lewis that shows he had caught up on his reading and knew what Lewis’s politics had become during the 1930s. It was between 1931 and 1937 that Lewis published the books and articles that have led to him being identified as a conservative, authoritarian and incipiently fascist author. This remains a widely-held view which ignores the change that took place in Lewis’s thinking in 1937. If later critics have failed to notice or acknowledge Lewis’s philosemitism of 1939 (for example), George Orwell did recognise what had occurred, and I shall return to this review in a moment.

In 1941, the relationship between Orwell and Lewis becomes one of mutual recognition. In that year Lewis published a novel about class in England, The Vulgar Streak, and wrote to ask his publisher to send a copy to, amongst others, ‘Mr Orwell (I dont [sic] know his first name’.[4]4 Orwell evidently received the book, for he quotes from it in a major essay, ‘The English People’: ‘The English working class, as Mr Wyndham Lewis has put it, are “branded on the tongue”’, he writes, and adds later: ‘No one should be “branded on the tongue”. It should be determine anyone’s status from his accent’.[5] This episode shows both an agreement on class, and that Lewis recognised Orwell’s importance in British culture long before the successful publication of AnimalFarm in 1945.

In 1942 Orwell recognised Lewis as a European modernist; in 1943 he described the essays in The Enemy as among the few ‘really good pamphlets’ published in recent years. There are further references during the war, until in 1945 he returns to Tarr and Snooty Baronet as ‘good bad books’. And in 1946 he makes a blunder, writing in the New York Trotskyist journal Partisan Review that Lewis had become a Communist. This gaffe did not affect the climax to this public dialogue, the long discussion of Orwell that Lewis prepared in The Writer and the Absolute, published in 1952.[6]

The convergence between Orwell and Lewis is first apparent in the 1939 review I mentioned earlier, where Orwell recognises that Lewis had moved towards the left. He is reviewing a little-known book by Lewis about England and Englishness entitled The Mysterious Mr. Bull—Mr Bull being John Bull. Orwell writes ‘I do not think it is unfair to say that Mr. Wyndham Lewis has “gone left.” Lewis has declared himself ‘a “revolutionary” and “for the poor against the rich”’, which is unexpected, given the nature of his earlier writings.[7] Orwell goes on to read the change in Lewis’s position through his own recent experiences in Spain, where as a member of the POUM fighting for the Republic, he found himself denounced as a ‘Trotsky-fascist’. Orwell’s consequent distrust of the official left emerges when he remarks that Lewis shows ‘a curious readiness’ to trust the leadership on the left and ‘to take their “antifascist” enthusiasm almost at its face-value’. Lewis’s new position, Orwell believes, is likely to lead to him becoming one of those ‘denounced as Communists by Fascists and as Fascists by Communists’ (p. 354). This is what had happened to Orwell himself, and I point to this remark as marking a significant convergence between Orwell’s position and Lewis’s.

Another convergence occurs when in 1952 Lewis devotes five chapters to a wide- ranging discussion of Orwell in The Writer and the Absolute, entitled ‘Orwell, or Two and Two Make Four’. His discussion is devoted to getting the politics out of this most political of writers. For Lewis, everything in Orwell before Nineteen Eighty-Four is that of a conventional political mind, ‘the story of a man who rescued himself from a convention, and finished his life in a burst of clairvoyance’.[8] Lewis’s own position is that ‘Every writer should keep himself free from party’ (p. 193), a view that he had held since his earliest writings before the First World War, but which intermittently broke down to permit his right-wing enthusiasms. Freedom from party gives the opportunity to achieve ‘objective truth’, Lewis says, by which he seems to mean coming into possession of an inclusive sense of reality, a comprehensive understanding of politics that is not in any way partisan, but which recognises all the forces at work at any moment. Lewis concludes that in Nineteen Eighty-Four Orwell very nearly achieved this: ‘He went much farther on the road to an ultimate political realism than any of his companions or immediate English contemporaries’ (p. 193). In other words, Orwell came close to believing what Lewis himself believed. It is an early example of the ‘Orwell agrees with me’ syndrome. And it is my second example of a convergence between these two writers.

As the conclusion to this first part of this argument, I want to point to the significance of this convergence for cultural studies itself, in what I have called the early or Hoggart model. I have mentioned in passing Orwell’s 1940 essay ‘Boys’ Weeklies’, in which he discusses the significance of such comics for boys as Magnet, with its stories of  Greyfriars School and the fat boy Billy Bunter. Orwell concludes the essay by saying that these stories are ‘sodden in the worst illusions of 1910’, and that ‘The fact is only unimportant if one believes that what is read in childhood leaves no impression behind’—and Orwell evidently believes that such popular writing does affect those who read it.[9] Orwell’s article was written in 1939. In 1934 Wyndham Lewis published a book of critical essays entitled Men Without Art, an argument for the survival of art in difficult times. In the Introduction he wrote that implicit in the serious work of art is all of politics, theology and philosophy, and goes on to say this of popular writing:
But what is not so clear to very many people is that the most harmless piece of literary entertainment - the common crime story, for instance, or the schoolboy epic of the young of the English proletariat centred around the portly figure of Bunter, ‘the owl of the Remove’ (see Magnet Library, weekly 2d., of all newsagents) is at all events politically and morally influential.
This will be exactly Orwell’s point. Whether there was any influence in this instance, is not really my concern. But we can now point to an historical continuity between what Lewis proposed in 1934, through Orwell’s popular-cultural essays of the 1940s, and down to the early work of the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies in the mid-1960s.

The question that now suggests itself is this: if there is a continuity between Lewis, Orwell and the early Hoggart phase of cultural studies, is there any continuity between Lewis and the much more theoretically advanced work initiated later by StuartHall? As I have said already, this was marked by Althusser and ideology and Gramsci and hegemony. In Lewis’s theoretical critique of modernity Time and Western Man, the 1927 book published just as Orwell returned from Burma, we do indeed find the terms ‘ideology’ and ‘hegemony’. Both occur in Lewis’s ‘An Analysis of the Mind of James Joyce’, where he shows how Ulysses is suffused with unexamined ideas about time. Here, ‘ideology’ is the leading term, and describes the process by which certain ideas, clusters of thought or ways of thinking become dominant. ‘Hegemony’ describes the outcome. Lewis does not expect his readers to find these concepts easy to grasp, but his warning of difficulties ahead contains key terms such as ‘theory’ and ‘dominance’. He writes, forexample: ‘When such a dominant theory is applied in literature or in art . . . even less does anyone grasp the steps by which that theory has entered the mind of the author or artist . . . . In short, any of the hundred ways and degrees in which assent is arrived at, and an intellectual monopoly or hegemony consummated, is . . . more arcane to the majority than is the theory itself.’[10] We might today object to ‘applied’ in that passage, but Lewis’s recognition of the existence of dominant ideas or tendencies in thought, his point that ideas may come to dominate through a multiplicity of routes, that assent is achieved, and that a monopolistic or hegemonic situation can and does emerge in the field of ideas and of creative art, presents us with a theoretical structure that is valuable in itself and remarkable for its time.

Lewis develops ‘ideology’ in complex ways. Again warning of difficulties, he writes that ‘Some . . . analysis of the domination achieved by an idea and how it ceases to be an idea and becomes an ideology, as Napoleon called it, an instrument of popular government has to be undertaken’ (p.85). He speaks of ideas being replaced by an ‘ideologic simulacrum’ (p.78), and describes the artist’s resistance to ideology: ‘It is equally his [the artist’s] business to know enough of the sources of his ideas, and ideology, to take steps to keep these ideas out, except such as he requires for his work’ (p. 136). This suggests that even the self-aware artist is not immune, and hints that Lewis is aware that in the reception of ideology complex subjective processes are at work.

These concepts of hegemony, dominance and control move the discussion into questions of power. Even before the work I have been describing, Lewis had begun a major critique of the state from within literary modernism This occurs in a book entitled The Art of Being Ruled, published in 1926. There, Lewis makes the crucial link between the state and ideology when he writes: ‘[W]hat we call conventionally the capitalist state is as truly an educationalist state’.[11] The history of cultural studies does not return to this question until Althusser argues that in modem capitalism the main ideological state apparatus (ISA) is education.

Finally, we can ask from a position within recent work in cultural studies, whether Lewis at any time attempts a critique of the material processes of cultural production. In 1932 he published a book entitled Doom of Youth in which he reproduced texts from newspapers and magazines, and then developed a critical discussion of them. The texts are not reproduced photographically, but the book attempts a typographic version of the newspaper original. Cultural studies does not return to this device until Marshall McLuhan takes it up in the 1960s, when it was regarded as a brilliantly original strategy. The method then influenced Richard Hoggart’s 1967 publication, Your Sunday Paper. In this same book Lewis turns to the best-seller as a social document that ‘cannot lie’[12] about its society. Although he makes a mistake about the transparency of the popular that has been repeated in more recent cultural studies work, this is a significant historical development. In the conclusion to Doom of Youth Lewis again makes the kind of point that caused Orwell to declare in 1939 that he had ‘turned Left’, arguing—and this is in 1932—that the popular press has a purpose: ‘The Popular Press is strictly reading matter for wage slaves; it is the bulletin for the slaves’ (p. 255). With Orwell’s ‘Newspeak’ in mind, and recognising the hegemonic structure implied by Lewis’s metaphor, we can see why Lewis should have appealed so strongly to Orwell, and conversely why Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four should have appealed to Lewis. There is a sense in which each of these writers helped to write the other.

The Orwell-Lewis relationship requires, it seems to me, a revision of the history of cultural studies. First, we must recognise that the ideological critiques conducted by Wyndham Lewis are the actual foundations of the field, though they have not been recognised as such. Second, the Orwell-Lewis relationship is one of convergence and recognition, and this is worth attending to. Thirdly, there is a history to the relationship that is divergent. Lewis initiates the study of popular culture, but he has no followers because his reputation on all fronts had been ruined by his 1930s politics. In practice it is Orwell whose work on popular culture is recognised and accepted as the historical precedent and model for the Birmingham CCCS. It remains unclear how much influence Lewis had on Orwell in that respect. When the Orwell model was dropped at Birmingham after 1968, there followed the more substantial theorisations of ideology and hegemony. Looking back, we see with some astonishment that this development had already been anticipated in Lewis’s work. Cultural studies actually originates in a forgotten tributary of high modernism.

[1] Rita Felski, ‘Modernist Studies and Cultural Studies: Reflections on Method’, Modernism/modernity 10, 3 (September 2003), [501].
[2] George Orwell, ‘Letter to Eleanor Jaques’, The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell Volume I: An Age Like This 1920-1940, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (Harmondsworth: Penguin, Books, 1970), p. 106. Henceforth CEJL I. Letter written ‘14? June 1932’.
[3] CEJL I, p. 126. Dated ‘[September? 1932]’. Orwell has been reading about Lewis’s novel Snooty Baronet, published 15 September. He again mentions The Enemy, published in three numbers, Nos. 1-2 in 1927, No. 3, 1929.
[4]W. K. Rose (ed.). The Letters of Wyndham Lewis (London: Methuen, 1963), p. 307. Letter dated 9 November 1941.
[5] George Orwell, ‘The English People’, CEJL III: As I Please 1943-1945, p. 19, p. 51.
[6] George Orwell, ‘The Rediscovery of Europe’, CEJL II: My Country Right or Left 1940-1943, ed. Sonia Orwell and Ian Angus (London: Secker and Warburg, 1968), pp. 197-207, esp. p. 206. ‘Pamphlet Literature’ ibid., p. 285. CEJL IV: In Front of Your Nose 1945-1950, p. 21. ‘London Letter to Partisan Review’, ibid., p. 188.  
[7] George Orwell, ‘Review of The Mysterious Mr. Bull by Wyndham Lewis; The School for Dictators by Ignazio Silone’ in The Complete Works of George Orwell Volume Eleven: Facing Unpleasant Facts 1937-1939, ed. Peter Davison, assisted by Ian Angus and Sheila Davison (London: Secker and Warburg, 1998), p. 353. First published in New English Weekly, 8 June 1939.
[9] George Orwell, ‘Boys’ Weeklies, in CEJL I, p. 531.
[10] Wyndham Lewis, Time and Western Man, ed. Paul Edwards (1927; Santa Rosa CA: Black Sparrow
Press, 1993), pp. 86-7.
[11]Wyndham Lewis, The Art of Being Ruled, ed. Reed Way Dasenbrock (1926; Santa Rosa, CA: Black
Sparrow Press, 1989), p. 106.  
[[13]Wyndham Lewis, Doom of Youth (London: Chatto and Windus, 1932), p. 246.

[Originally published:]. This paper is part of a research project supported by the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology (BFF 2002-02842), the Communidad Autonóma of La Rioja (ANGI-2002/05), and the University of La Rioja, Logroño, Spain (API-02 – 35). It was given in the Orwell Centenary section of the 9th International ‘Culture and Power’ conference held at the Faculty of Letters of the University of Lisbon, 4-7 November 2003.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

PROBE: Speed Reading : Thunder words

Eric McLuhan : Chronology of Composition

Nominations for MoM 2011 Awards Officially Open

Nominations have officially opened for the prestigious McLuhan on Maui MoM 2011 awards. Nominees can be put forward in the following categories:

If we are all athletes // performers/artists, and art/sport is a way of living rather than any particular product or output, it follows that we should award those FIGURES who excel at walking the walk--living the questions, forging the relationships, pushing the envelope, partying the best, making peace, agitation, etc...

"Media Fast" Awards will be handed out for popularly acclaimed, yet fundamentally mis-directed, stretchings, explorations, wagerings, misappropriations, or decodings, of McLuhan's themes. A MoM 2011 "Media Fast" award is a little bit like an academic sabbatical, but without pay. Recipients of this noted award are encouraged to undertake a stringent media fast of at least 3 months, during which time they will neither be seen nor heard. 

Nominations will close in November. All nominations, including self nominations, can be emailed to: Please note: On Maui the successful will not be battered by adulation.

PROBE: Prankquean/Visual Space

PROBE: Seductive Vectors of Efficient Causality

So the MM Centenary has further clouded the value of MM's creations just like Madison Avenue did the first time through in the 60s and Wired Magazine seconded in the 90s.

The latest abominable nano-nonsense is available audile-tactilly (as opposed to visile-tactilly by digital newspapers) thanks to Paul Levinson, Bob Logan, and Doug Coupland:

Now, one should not be upset with this outcome since these mediations are exactly what JJ demonstrated in FINNEGANS WAKE with the "HCE scandal/plot" and what MM later understood as inevitable in the crowd dynamics ("Lead, kindly fowl!!" - FW 112) involved.

What is inexcusable is so-called McLuhanist colleagues failing to point out how this is what MM meant by "the medium is the message" and how that pattern is echoed in literature and other magnetics of popular culture and machinery.

These "poseurs in baggy pants" (Frank Zingrone, 1982) don't even know/point out that what impresses North Americans is the fact that MM "predicted" the Internet and that THEREIN lies a particular sensory preference when encountering McLuhan's environment/creation.

MM spent his public life pointing out that the "kinetic, manipulatory" bias of Americans evokes their being seduced by apparent vectors and concepts of Efficient Causality.

Again, the Third Wave of numbskulls (add in Bruce Powe, Mark Federman, and Lance Strate) didn't have a (M)clue-in on how to anticipate and deflect the nano-snow storms of McLuhan 100.

But, WE fulfilled the appointed task/mission on MoM for 22 weeks.

And when we resume in September, look out... as MoM will essentially be renamed "MuM" in effect. -- Bob Dobbs

PROBE: Monopoly

PROBE: The Master Switch

Tim Wu's Scholarly Papers

PROBE: 360 Collider-scope & Charge of the Light Barricade

In the heliotropical noughttime following a fade of transformed Tuff and, pending its viseversion, a metenergic reglow of beaming Batt, the bairdboard bombardment screen, if tastefully taut guranium satin, tends to teleframe and step up to the charge of a light barricade. Down the photoslope in syncopanc pulses, with the bitts bugtwug their teffs, the missledhropes, glitteraglatteraglutt, borne by their carnier walve. Spraygun rakes and splits them from a double focus: grenadite, damnymite, alextronite, nichilite: and the scanning firespot of the sgunners traverses the rutilanced illustred sunksundered lines. Shlossh ! A gaspel truce leaks out over the caeseine coatings. Amid a fluorescence of spectracular mephiticism there caoculates through the inconoscope stealdily a still, the figure of a fellowchap in the wohly ghast, Popey O'Donoshough, the jesuneral of the russuates...

Collider Festival Area Concept
As Rot8ion we expertise in surround music and synchronised surround visuals. Our festival area Collider was born out of the experiences we built up over the past years. Collider is our platform for artists to perform their music and visuals live for a an audience. With the right positioning of speakers and projections all around the dancefloor we create a completely new festival experience.

The artists are positioned in the middle in order to control the surround music and visuals in the best possible way. The projected visuals react live to the music. The musicians and visual artists work closely together in teams of 2 and together they deliver a performance with sound and visuals as a whole experience. An 8.1 PA system (speakers from 8 directions) delivers the sound and an array of 4 to 16 beamers project the full surround visuals. []

PROBE: Operation UnManifest

#Anonymous launches operation to undermine Norway killer's effort to promote murderous & hateful philosophy []

Operation UnManifest []:
As Anders Behring Breivik wants to use the cruel action of killing over 90 young people to promote his 1516-page manifesto, also with the help of the internet, Anonymous suggests following action:

1. Find the Manifest of Anders Behring Breivik : 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence
2. Change it, add stupid stuff, remove parts, shoop his picture, do what you like to.....
3. Republish it everywhere and up vote releases from other peoples, declare that the faked ones are original
4. Let Anders become a joke, such that nobody will take him serious anymore
5. Spread this message around the internet and real life, translate it
6. Have a moment for the victims of his cruel attacks

We all are anonymous,

We all are Legion,

We all do not forgive murder,

We all do not forget the victims.

PROBE: The Superiority of the Meadowlark

[ click to enlarge ]

McLuhan : "I think it has a much longer and melodic phrase. It doesn't merely chirp ;
it has a melody. It talks to you. Besides it is extremely musical. It is not just the

glug glug of a nightengale. By comparison with the birds I've heard in Europe and in
England, it is enormously superior."

See also :

The Western Meadowlark - Sturnella neglecta

Friday, July 29, 2011

PROBE: The Can of Soup in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

PROBE: Tobacco

"Cigarettes are for people who don't like tobacco."

PROBE: Letter to Elsie September 5, 1931

In a letter to Elsie McLuhan, written on September 5, 1931, McLuhan explained why he was converting to Catholicism and why Chesterton was a decisive factor :

The Catholic religion is the only religion - all sects are derivative. Buddhism and similar oriental philosophies and mythologies are not religions in any sense. They have no covenants and no sacraments and no theology... The Catholic Church does not despise or wantonly mortify those members and faculties which Christ deigned to assume. They are henceforth holy and blessed. Catholic culture produced Chaucer and his merry story-telling pilgrims. Licentious enthusiasm produced the lonely despair of Christian in Pilgrim’s Progress - what a different sort of pilgrim! Catholic culture produced Don Quixote and St. Francis and Rabelais.

What I wish to emphasize about them is their various and rich-hearted humanity. I need scarcely indicate that everything that is especially hateful and devilish and inhuman about the conditions and strains of modern industrial society is not only Protestant in origin, but it is their boast(!) to have originated it. You may know a thing by its fruits if you are silly enough or ignorant enough to wait that long. I find the fruits and the theory of our sects very bitter. Had I not encountered Chesterton I would have remained agnostic for many years at least. Chesterton did not convince me of religious faith, but he prevented my despair from becoming a habit or hardening into misanthropy. He opened my eyes to European culture and encouraged me to know it more closely. He taught me the reasons for all that in me was simply blind anger and misery.”

PROMPT: Talking Head

Thursday, July 28, 2011

INVENTORY: “Early Media Prophet Is Now Getting His Due”

OTTAWA — By the time Marshall McLuhan died in 1980, the once provocative voice that had propelled him to international stardom rare for an academic had been silenced by a stroke. In his home country, Canada, he had become something of a national embarrassment, often seen as an eccentric at best, a charlatan at worst.

All seems to have been forgiven. Last week events in Europe, Washington and three Canadian cities honored the centennial of the birth of the man who is now widely credited as the world’s first media theorist and who introduced ideas like “the medium is the message” and “the global village” into everyday use. The festivities have helped renew debate over the meaning of his often dense and cryptic, yet challenging, work.

Instead of being viewed as an academic fraud, McLuhan is now widely celebrated as the man who prophesied both the Internet and its impact on society.

“The resurrection of McLuhan has a lot to do with the eerie prescience of what he said,” said Prof. B. W. Powe, an author and English lecturer at the York University in Toronto and one of the organizers of a weeklong series of events in that city. “We read the 21st-century media through his eyes.”

While Professor Powe, who was a student in the last class McLuhan taught at the University of Toronto, and others never gave up the cause, it was the rise of the Internet during the 1990s that again brought public attention back to McLuhan’s work. His theory that media are essentially interactive — “we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us” — appeared to have been vindicated by the Web. When the magazine Wired made its debut in 1993, it declared McLuhan to be its patron saint.

McLuhan’s profile has yet to regain the level it achieved during the 1960s and ’70s. His 1967 book, “The Medium Is the Massage,” written with Quentin Fiore and whose title was a play on his own aphorism, was a best seller.

He regularly appeared on American television, often delivering remarks that seemed obscure or tangential. On “Today” in 1976 to discuss a presidential campaign debate held the previous evening, McLuhan made no reference to any remarks by either candidate. He did, however, observe that “Ford looks very much better on black and white than on color.” And of course he made a famous cameo in “Annie Hall,” appearing alongside Woody Allen’s character to denounce a pretentious moviegoer.

While much of what McLuhan forecast has apparently come to pass, understanding him has not become any easier. The author Douglas Coupland (“Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture”) recently read all of McLuhan’s books after he was commissioned to write a short biography of him. But Mr. Coupland found the material so difficult that every two to three pages, he had to take a break from reading.

He has no regrets, however. The task, he said, “opened me up.” But he did suggest that because McLuhan preferred talking to writing, many people might find online videos a more accessible way to explore his ideas. Mr. Coupland spoke at an event at the Newseum in Washington last Thursday, McLuhan’s birth date, which relied heavily on videos from the Web site Marshall McLuhan Speaks.

While he may have been the prophet of the Internet, McLuhan was also a convert to Roman Catholicism who attended Mass daily and who was ambivalent about technology, if not hostile toward it. He taught Renaissance rhetoric at the University of Toronto. His unconventional approach to scholarship, however, made his relationship with academia uneasy.

Professor Powe was actively discouraged from taking McLuhan’s class by other members of the English department’s faculty. McLuhan later recommended removing his name from the acknowledgment in a master’s thesis by his former student. Professor Powe did not do this, and spent much of his time defending McLuhan rather than the paper’s contents.

At the university too, all is forgiven. McLuhan’s studies created the foundation for the university’s current McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, which hosted several of the events leading up to last week’s birthday celebration. In November the center will also organize an academic assessment of his work, titled “McLuhan 100, Then, Now, Next.”

Mr. Coupland and others believe that a brain tumor and a series of small strokes harmed the quality of McLuhan’s later work. Now, Mr. Coupland said, McLuhan is increasingly being known for his ideas again, not his celebrity.

“What I find gratifying is there are younger people out there who aren’t sure about what he was saying but know that he was right about something,” Mr. Coupland said.

By I. Austen for The New York Times. Published: July 25, 2011. A version of this article appeared in print on July 26, 2011, on page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Early Media Prophet Is Now Getting His Due.

Marshall McLuhan's Return Party, 1968.09.28

Marshall McLuhan's Return Party, 1968-09-28
Photographer's No. 681157
110 negatives : b&w ; 35 mm
Photographs taken during the University of Toronto's "welcome home" reception given in honour of Professor Marshall McLuhan's return from Fordham University in 1968. The party was held at the President's residence, 93 Highland and was hosted by President and Mrs. Bissell. Decorations were the works of Professor Peter Prangnell and his team from the Faculty of Architecture. The "God-bless-you-Marshall-McLuhan" buttons were worn by all the guests. Some of the guests in attendance were: Robert F. Chisholm and Sydney Hermant of the Board of Governors; Donald Ivey, Principal of New College; Peter Pragnell of the Faculty of Architecture; Frank Shuster and Johnny Wayne; Wynne Plumptre, Principal of Scarborough College; Justice Bora Laskin; Rev. J. M. Kelly, President of St. Michael's College; Dr. Robertson Davies, Master of Massey College; Ernest Sirluck, Morley Callaghan and W.A.C.H. Dobson; Dr. D. Carlton Williams, President of University of Western Ontario; Dr. Floyd Chalmers, Chancellor of York University.

Source : University of Toronto Graduate, December 1968, pp. 61-64.

William Thomas Easterbrook (1907-1985)

McLuhan : We had an absolute agreement between ourselves to disagree on everything and this kept up a very ...

Easterbrook : He's been stubborn always ...

McLuhan : ... hot dialogue from morning til night for years in Winnipeg which carried us on foot across town at night, late at night till three or four in the morning, back and forth across the city.

William Thomas Easterbrook (1907-1985)
Economist, Writer, Professor and 'Winnipigeon'

Born in Winnipeg on 4 December 1907, son of William James Easterbrook and Emily McKerr, he took his early education in Winnipeg, matriculating from Daniel McIntyre High School. He attended the University of Manitoba. During his undergraduate degree he received several Isbister Scholarships, and upon graduation in 1933 he received the Royal Bank’s economics fellowship.

Easterbrook obtained a Master’s degree in Economics from the University of Toronto in 1935. While at the University of Toronto he received the Alexander McKenzie Economic fellowship as well as the Maurice Cody Economic Fellowship. After completing his PhD in 1938, he joined the faculty of Brandon University, then called "Brandon College" of the University of Manitoba.

In 1941 he was among the first Canadians to receive a John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. His project for the fellowship was Studies in the Economic History of the Pacific Northwest. In 1963 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba.

Easterbrook was the first PhD graduate from the Department of Political Economy at the University of Toronto. His PhD thesis was published in a series at the University of Toronto and includes a preface written by his supervisor, Harold Innis (Easterbrook, 1938). A specialist in economic history (Easterbrook & Aitken, 1956; Easterbrook & Watkins, 1967), Easterbrook also had an interest in communications and was responsible for introducing Innis to McLuhan (Cooper, 1989). He chaired the Values Discussion Group meetings,[ For more info on Easterbrook as Chair of the The "Values" Discussion Group at the University of Toronto : ] and was a founding member of the journal EXPLORATIONS.

W. T. .J. Easterbrook was born in Winnipeg on the 4th of December in 1907. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Manitoba in 1933 , an M.A. from the University of Toronto in economics in 1935 and a Ph.D. from Harvard in 1938. After teaching for some years at the University of Manitoba, he joined the University of Toronto in 1947. He succeeded C.A. Ashley as chair of the Department of Political Economy in 1961 and held the position until 1970. His publications included Canadian Economic History, a textbook written with co-author Hugh Aitken in 1956. It was used by students for more than 30 years. Other books included Farm Credit in Canada and, in collaboration with Mel Watkins, Approaches to Canadian Economic History, and The Climate of Enterprise. He died in Toronto on March 27, 1985.

University of Toronto Archives : William Thomas Easterbrook fonds

Scope and content: Correspondence, memoranda, reports, notes, lecture notes, and manuscripts, workshop papers, student essays, articles and offprints documenting the activities of W. T. Easterbrook as a professor in and head of the Department of Political Economy, University of Toronto. Also includes correspondence about the death of Harold Innis including those taken from discussions with Innis during the latter's last months, notes by him on research projects, and typescripts of some of his manuscripts and articles.

Oral history interview conducted by Paul A. Bator. Covers family background and early education through post- retirement activities, ca. 1934-1978. Focusses on his graduate work and career at Brandon College, University of California (Berkley), Harvard University and the University of Toronto's Dept. of Political Economy, its faculty, students and curricula, the effects of the Great Depression and World War II, information theory and the move to unicameralism at the University of Toronto.
In 1931, Easterbrook gave McLuhan a copy of Chesterton’s What’s Wrong with the World ? which delighted and inspired McLuhan. On July 31, 1931, McLuhan was excited enough to declare, “No matter what, G.K. had [something] to say on any subject however irrelevant in such a manner as to make the connection at once obvious and important. Few writers, yes I can say, no other writer, has ever before been able to arouse my enthusiasm for ideas as has G.K.”

Read about McLuhan's European Vacation with Easterbrook : A Grand Tour for $300 (1933)
[first published in The Manitoban]

See also by Mel Watkins :,_William_Thomas_James

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

PROBE: Headlines as Icons

In true McLuhan style the title ‘COUNTERBLAST’ is a play on the word ‘BLAST,’ the name given to a magazine designed by Wyndham Lewis in 1914 and the first publication ever to be set in heavy headline type, albeit in the face of enormous resistance from the London printing establishment who considered it anti-literary. McLuhan never wanted Counterblast to be perceived as literature, but rather a series of headlines as icons.

PROBE: "Seeing Everything in Relationship"

PROBE: McLuhan 100 Post-Mortem

" But Doctor, your diagnosis is different from all the other doctors ... "

" Well, the autopsy will show that I was right."

Michael Darroch : Giedion and Explorations: Transatlantic Influences on the Toronto School


Listen to/download audio only (.mp3)

McLuhan 100 & Douglas Coupland?

MM100: Canadian...Toronto...A Genius
Why? How? What do you mean?
MM100: Well...he discovered that the “medium is the message”
No. He was a satirist ... a Menippean satirist.
MM100: Prophet of the “Global Village”
No. Stolen from Lewis. The phrase is about the radio era.
MM100: Genius!! Copeland says so in his large, auto-biographical, interactive postage stamp in service of Canada's national mythmaking.
F$%king die you f#$ktards! No more McF%*king friendly-giant-genius with easy-read Coupland on the side.

Name mentions/count in McLuhan 100 'Newspaper Articles' [random sample July 14 to 21, 2011]. Research conducted and posted in by "anonymous."

Coupland posing as "cog" in myth-making wheel/industry
Douglas Coupland = 11
WIRED Magazine = 6
Terrence Gordon = 6
Philip Marchand = 5
Andy Warhol = 5
Mark Zuckerberg = 4
twitter = 4
YouTube = 3
Peter Drucker = 3
Tom Wolfe = 3
Eric McLuhan = 3
Elsie McLuhan = 3
Edgar Allan Poe = 3
Bob Logan = 2
Bruce Powe = 2
Bob Dylan = 2
Ted Carpenter = 2
Harold Innis = 2
Northrup Frye = 2
G.K. Chesterton = 2
Alfred Tennyson = 1
Walter Ong = 1
Quentin Fiore = 1
T.S. Eliot = 1
I.A. Richards = 1
Finnegans Wake = 1
James Joyce = 1
Thomas Nashe = 0
Sigfried Giedion = 0
Gyorgi Kepes = 0
László Moholy-Nagy = 0
Stéphane Mallarmé = 0
French Symbolists = 0
Salavdor Dali = 0
Jean Baudrillard = 0
Don Theall = 0
Arthur Kroker = 0
John Cage = 0
InterMedia/fluxus = 0
Radical Software = 0
"The Put On" = 0
Nam June Paik = 0
Edward Hall = 0
Ernst Gombrich = 0
Eric Havelock = 0
Marcel Duchamp = 0
F.R. Leavis = 0

St. Augustine = 0
St. Thomas Aquinas = 0
Menippean Satire = 0
Barrington Nevitt = 0
Buckminster Fuller = 0
Wyndham Lewis = 0

Um Meio de Comunicacao Modifica Outro, Assim Como um Idioma e Alterado Por Seu contato Com Outro

O Século McLuhan

Decorum and Social Media FAIL

...not to mention a case of mistaken identity. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

MoMday Night Seminar 22: Available for FREE Download

McLuhan on Maui 2011 MoMday night seminar 22. July 25, 2011. For free download here.

MoMday night seminars are now on hold. Seminars will resume again in September with a new series of guests and a new attitude. In the interim, please feel enjoy the 100+ hours of MoMday seminars to date. You can download them for free here:

Monday Night Colloquia 01, Feb. 28, 2011
Guest: Michel Moos

Monday Night Colloquia 02, March 7, 2011
Guests: George Thompson (former assistant to McLuhan) and Gerd Stern

 Part 02 (aka "Tailgate"):  

Monday Night Colloquia 03, March 14, 2011
Guests: BuzzCoastin' and 8-Bit

Monday Night Colloquia 04, March 21, 2011
Guest: Michael Edmunds

Monday Night Colloquia 05, March 28, 2011
No Guests: Free-for-all

Guest: Scott Taylor

Monday Night Colloquia 07, April 11, 2011
Guests: Mary McLuhan & David Greenberg
Guest: Dave Newfeld

Monday Night Colloquia 08, April 18, 2011

Monday Night Colloquia 09, April 25, 2011
No Guests: Free-for-all with Dave Newfeld, Michael Edmunds, and Mary McLuhan dropping in

Monday Night Colloquia 10, May 2, 2011
Guests: Yana Grushina (Rutgers) and New York painter, Carol LoPresto
Guest: The new Environment - the first to actually speak of its effects

Monday Night Colloquia 12, May 16, 2011
No Guests: Free-for-all with Sheila Cole and Richard Altman dropping in

Monday Night Colloquia 13, May 23, 2011
Guests: Former hypnotist MJ and the return of the new Environment - the first to actually speak of its effects

Monday Night Colloquia 14, May 30, 2011
No Guests: Free-for-all with Michael Edmunds and David Worcester dropping in

Monday Night Colloquia 15, June 6, 2011
Guests: Nick Cascino, Scott Norris, and Foo Fighter.

Monday Night Colloquia 16, June 13, 2011
Guests: Gerry Fialka and mathematician Robin Carter

Monday Night Colloquia 17, June 20, 2011
Guests: Paul Farrelly, Scott Taylor, and Michael Shields

Monday Night Colloquia 18, June 27, 2011
Guest: Virginia Gunther

Monday Night Colloquia 19, July 4, 2011
Guest: Cassie McCullagh, Producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)

Monday Night Colloquia 20, July 11, 2011
Guest: Scott Woods, editor of
Part 01:

INVENTORY: "McLuhan, Much Cited, But Little Known" in L'Osservatore Romano

McLuhan? In the beginning he was snubbed by many, but this year for the 100th anniversary of his birth (July 21, 1911), the world is celebrating with over 250 conferences on him, even in China and Korea.” When the mass-media expert, Derrick de Kerckhove speaks of his teacher – the acute analyst who understood the influence of technology on daily life long before the Internet – he emphasizes an element which is often overlooked by those who like to cite, but not read, the works of the Canadian professor – his “very strong Catholic component.” His conversion came after a dinner with Chesterton, in Cambridge, in 1936; upon meeting the author of Orthodoxy, McLuhan changed the tone of his faith and, even more importantly, his public persona. “He was an anthropological type,” writes Guido Vitiello in Italian daily, Il Foglio, June 5th – “of the Catholic ridens, of happy Thomism, all humor, chivalric disdain and marvel for the things of this world.”

McLuhan was misunderstood from the beginning, even in Italy. Umberto Eco, continues Vitiello, in his classification between apocalyptics and integralists, prophets of misfortune and apologists of the society of consumption, elected McLuhan as “a model of Pentecostal hyper-integration, affected by the syndrome of the Fourth Eclogue, megaphone of the golden age. A real blunder.” The Canadian professor, in reality, “detested those gloomy Christians who mixed Spengler and Adorno with John of Patmos and tell us that everything is going downhill.”

McLuhan, one of the great erudite scholars of his time, was also the animator of a permanent “intellectual cabaret;” seen even in Annie Hall, by Woody Allen, where he suddenly appears in the queue for the cinema to unmask the presumptuous mass media scholar. Vitiello, attempting to explain the apparent contradiction of the scholar who is paradoxically infected by love for Chesterton writes, “Who knows if the key is not found in Maritain’s old idea that a Catholic must be anti-modern and ultra-modern at the same time, combining the two contradictory exhortations of St. Paul: that of not conforming to the mentality of this world, and that of being “all things to all men,” becoming Jewish with the Jews, Gentile with the Gentiles, television-friendly with those who watch television.”

Perhaps McLuhan would have liked the “McLuhan Salon,” last May in Bologna, during the discussion, “What have you done, Marshall?”, a Trivial Pursuit-like game in which selections of his quotes were extracted for comment. “The idea of the Salon is not accidental,” explains Elena Lamberti, who organized the event, “McLuhan considered games a fundamental function. He said that, ‘in play, man uses all of his faculties; when he works, he specializes.’ McLuhan: much cited, but little known. by Silvia Guidi.

The original version of this article can be found here.

PROBE: Medienprophet

Medienprophet Marshall McLuhan (1966) : Das Medium ist die Botschaft

Monday, July 25, 2011

McLuhan The Manitoban

Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) is widely recognized as the pioneer of contemporary media studies, including media literacy. He was brought up in the Fort Rouge area of Winnipeg and received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the University of Manitoba. McLuhan eventually earned a PhD from Cambridge University, and became a professor of English literature, prophetic poet, satirist, and renowned communications visionary & media commentator. Virtually everything for which Marshall McLuhan became internationally renowned was already evident in his public writings as a young man living in Winnipeg and studying at the University of Manitoba. Several articles written for The Manitoban between 1930 and 1934 have been digitized here by The University of Manitoba Archives & Special Collections with the permission of the Estate of Marshall McLuhan.

Note : McLuhan's Tomorrow and Tomorrow, The Manitoban, 16 May 1934 could not be located at The Manitoban Archives and may be lost forever making it, by default, the rarest McLuhan essay.

PROBE: Detachment [Actually, Winnipeg 'Gets It'!]

"Obviously, it's unimportant... In the time it takes to get a 1,000 people to agree on anything, conditions will have changed. With the conditions changed the conversation will be pointless. They'll be meeting for the wrong reasons on the wrong questions. Under electronic conditions of high speed change, this is inevitable."

- Marshall McLuhan