Tuesday, July 26, 2011

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.

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