There is no inevitability, however, where there is a willingness to pay attention. (Marshall McLuhan)
During periods of the Soviet regime's repression, the 'bad old days' in the Soviet Ukraine, there was a dark and ironic quip circulating among scholars. One heard talk of the 'locomotive'. This 'locomotive' designated a reference or citation from the works of the 'founders' - Marx, Engels, Lenin, at times Stalin, or party-approved-whomever - which, appearing near the top of page one, justified one's book or monograph, be it on organic chemistry, mushrooms of the Prypiat' marshes, or folksong. The locomotyv, literally 'dragged' the rest of one's work through the censorship. Innis and McLuhan represent an odd couple of such 'locomotives', they introduce and 'drag in each other', depending on who you are and what your bias. In a fundamental sense, Innis introduced McLuhan to the study of communication, and in another sense, McLuhan introduced Innis to the world. Indeed, the publication of Bias of Communication, 1 in the 1964 edition, through which a whole generation of scholarship first met Innis, appeared with an introduction written by McLuhan. The University of Toronto Press, having recently ejected McLuhan from between the covers of the most recent edition of the classic, has boldly retained on the cover - below the title, almost by way of a subtitle - "The classic Canadian work on communication by the man who inspired Marshall McLuhan".
In noting the 'locomotive' syndrome, I am suggesting that both Innis and McLuhan are each other's 'locomotives', and preference for either discloses the reader's bias. It is no secret that many scholars who take Innis very seriously would prefer that McLuhan's name not come up with respect to him. McLuhan, especially during, and usually as a consequence of his celebrity period (circa 1965-70), lost considerable favour with the academe. On the other hand, for many who have come to McLuhan either through the celebrity period, or more recently through the revival which his work is beginning to enjoy, reading Innis becomes a necessity - if only to better understand McLuhan. Whether one likes it or not, it seems that McLuhan and Innis remain and will remain oddly paired. In what follows, I explore some dimensions of this pairing, intending to show that it is neither odd, nor regrettable, and that the relationship between the works of both men remains vital, dynamic, and intellectually rich in possibility.
Arthur Kroker has argued that Innis and McLuhan's ideas on technology should be understood in the context of another Canadian thinker - George Grant. Taken together, the contributions of Innis, McLuhan and Grant, comprise a "Canadian discourse on technology". Since Grant's thought does not address communication specifically, I will turn to his contributions in my conclusions where his voice will be doubly appropriate. Kroker's unity is based on Innis', McLuhan's and Grant's shared interest in technology - this being a deeply entrenched concern in the Canadian experience. There is a deeper unity, however, which posits the human dimension in the context of the technological, that is the spatialising metaphor - temporality. While all three focus on technology, time and history play a a profound role in their theory and reflection. Since McLuhan's 'system' is ultimately also a theory of time as well as history, I will return to Grant in that context. For the time being I will limit myself to an exploration of the relationship between the two lokomtyvs - McLuhan and Innis.
There are a number of parallels between Innis and McLuhan, and the first consists of a style. The later Innis and McLuhan have been considered 'unreadable', with the later Innis reading more like poetry - granted, epic poetry - rather than prose. Compared to the earlier meticulous research of the economic histories, with their field and archive foundations, the later work on communication juxtaposes facts and ideas while "withholding the connectives" - a "method" that McLuhan lauded for rendering fresh and sometimes startling insights. 3 Of McLuhan's style, several critics commented that it was a product of a "communication specialist who can't communicate". 4 Here too we find a "poetry", but this time much more conscious than in Innis, and with a role model - symbolist aesthetics. Puns, one-liners, well-turned phrases, strange juxtapositions and aphorisms crowd, cascade, and cavort through McLuhan's prose. Anyone preferring the calm, expository tone of scholarly prose is left wondering what to make of such "scholarly" writing and, all too often, dismisses the author as self-indulgent or, as is often the case with Innis, as someone "in a hurry", or worse, "out of his depth".
As a result of the first parallel, we arrive at the second. For many, the later Innis remains unread and unknown; likewise the later McLuhan, for most. Many followers of Innis' earlier works were either embarrassed or scandalised by his later work. 5 McLuhan's prose and "media antics" during his celebrity period, have alienated many who might have brought much to a reading of his work, and this is unfortunate. On the one hand, avoidance of Innis' later work obscures the conclusions he drew from thirty years of research, and deprives the contemporary scholar of an encounter with a truly "dancing intellect". On the other hand, avoidance of McLuhan's later works misses an important conclusion to Innis' project that emerges from the later works and the 'system' that evolved in the context of Innis' communication theory. For, while claiming all his life that he had no theories, by the early 1970s, McLuhan had produced not only a body of theory, but also a 'systematic' one. This system, as McLuhan was first to acknowledge, was deeply indebted to Innis, and this essay will elaborate on the system and demonstrate the role that Innis played in it.
I am pleased to think of my own book Gutenberg Galaxy (University of Toronto Press, 1962) as a footnote to the observations of Innis on the subject of the psychic and social consequences, first of writing and then of printing. Flattered by the attention that Innis had directed to some work of mine, I turned for the first time to his work. It was my good fortune to begin with the first essay in this book: "Minerva's Owl". How exciting it was to encounter a writer whose every phrase invited prolonged meditation and exploration: "Alexandria broke the link between science and philosophy. The library was an imperial instrument to offset the influence of Egyptian priesthood." (McLuhan: from the Introduction to Bias of Communication, 1964 edition). 6
While the later Innis may be unrecognised in some areas of scholarship, in the discipline of communication (especially in Canada), this is much less the case. The pioneering work that he bequeathed to the emerging domain of the study of communication has borne fruit, and continues to do so, perhaps with increased effect. McLuhan was only the first to 'pick up on' Innis, but by no means the last. Nor has the contribution been parochial. Recent studies of communication published in Canada and the United States, have done much to expand the scope of Innis' contribution. One thinks here of writings by Arthur Kroker, Paul Heyer, David Crowley, Ian Angus in Canada, and James Carey, Daniel Czitrom, Joshua Meyrowitz in the USA - to mention only extended studies. Additionally, an increasing awareness of Innis is also emerging as evidenced by the many citations he receives in the work of others. This, along with publications such as this issue of Continuum, suggest that the Innis corpus - in its entirety - is coming to occupy the place in intellectual culture that it deserves.
If Innis has entered the culture and consciousness of communication studies, this can be ascribed in large part to the first of his intellectual inheritors, Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan was a philologist 7 trained at Cambridge where he had encountered the work of I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis. This encounter with "New Criticism" had prepared McLuhan to look at the artifacts of mass culture with a particular kind of critical eye. His indebtedness to Leavis comes through clearly in The Mechanical Bride in which the latter's Culture as Environment resonates, if without acknowledgment. 8 The debt to Leavis is explicitly discharged in the last book to be published during McLuhan's lifetime - City as Classroom. 9 Thus, McLuhan's interest in communication can be traced to his Cambridge years, some half a decade before he was to discover Innis' work, but it was Innis that transformed a critic of popular cultural forms into a broad-ranging communication 'theorist'.
In 1951, shortly after the publication of The Mechanical Bride, Innis included it on a graduate course reading list. 10 This was followed by a few brief meetings and one letter from McLuhan to Innis. The following year, Innis succumbed to cancer. McLuhan, as the epigraph above suggests, turned in earnest to Innis' work, and during the following eight years hatched the core of the ideas that were to propel him into notoriety in the late 60s. That Innis was an enormous influence on McLuhan is indisputable; however, one should not minimise the profound effect on McLuhan that collaborations with anthropologist Ted Carpenter and visual designer Harley Parker would have during the 50s and early 60s. 11 Nor should we underestimate the impact of the independent research that McLuhan conducted for the American National Association of Educational Broadcasters in 1959-60 - research that was to ground and inform Understanding Media (1964) and a great deal of the rest of his life's work.
While collaborations and research helped to shape McLuhan's ideas, none offered the historical scope and breadth of thematic that he derived from Innis. 12 To be sure, McLuhan had critical words for Innis, some perhaps unfair. His overall tone toward Innis was, however, that of a grateful student to a teacher who had opened a new and fertile field. McLuhan did not follow Innis into all the directions that the latter pioneered, but he developed some in his own way, and from there he went on to create his own synthesis of the field of communication. It is ironic that Innis' contribution is felt most strongly in McLuhan's later work, the work which, as noted earlier, is so little known. 13
It is unlikely that McLuhan's name will ever leave the discipline of the study of communication, which is a mixed blessing, to be sure. As it turns out, Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media have aged well, perhaps even better than would have been expected. The renewed interest in McLuhan among the 'cutting edge' of cyberculture, 14 suggests that he continues to exercise his spell on the more imaginatively minded of the professional, communication community. Various youth, sub-cultural groups 15 have also begun re-reading his work, especially the recently re-published, popular-appeal The Medium is the Massage and the prescient War and Peace in the Global Village. These texts, along with The Mechanical Bride, continue to show up in courses on communication, as do sections on him in the various compendium 'mass-comm' textbooks. Most of the scholarly discussion of McLuhan, however, ended in the 1970s and today's discussion of McLuhan focuses on his works of the 1960s. 16 Why?
For many scholars of the current generation, two factors seem to cast a pall over anything McLuhan did post 1964. First, and perhaps most significantly, there was his celebrity period and the public persona that he, in 'collaboration' with the mass media of the day, cultivated. McLuhan's celebrity period is one of the great ironies in the history of communication this century. An apparently "obscure English professor from the University of Toronto", as the North American media never tired of saying, suddenly became the "darling" of the professional, communication community, and, by extension, of its various audiences. He was promoted by "names" in the advertising industry, "covered" by Tom Wolfe and interviewed by Playboy. Life did a feature, Penn "shot" him for the feature in Vogue and he made the cover of Newsweek and Saturday Review. He was "appropriated" in a Cosmopolitan ad, and "made" the New York Review of Books. New Yorker nodded approval with cartoons featuring him or his ideas. He could list Stanley Kubrick 17 among his fans and he did a cameo appearance in Woody Allen's Annie Hall. In that cameo he said to a wind-bag professor from Columbia "I heard everything you've said. You don't understand anything of my work. You mean my whole fallacy is wrong" (my emphasis). In terms of a personal style, as far from Innis as is imaginable.
The irony was that while the media courted McLuhan, he thought he was on a mission 18 to "inoculate" himself, those he loved, and anyone who would listen, against the very community and industry that was adulating him. Marchand, McLuhan's biographer, notes that many who sought McLuhan out as a "media-guru" and consultant, would have done otherwise had they really read and understood what McLuhan was saying. 19 Yet, there was another side to McLuhan - the 'Machiavellian' one. While on a "mission", he never seemed to have tried to discourage the media-buzz that continually surrounded him from 1965-70. Nor did he ever turn down an opportunity to be in the limelight, "advise" large media corporations, or sit on boards of directors of advertising agencies. Further research may reveal his role in the early founding of the whole field of "political marketing", that increasingly dominates the North American political process. 20
McLuhan's self-presentation in the media generally smacked of arrogance wed to a naivete, off-handedness and intentional obscurity, a certain insincerity and disingenuity - a groping Guru, "clown prince of the study of communication", 21 as Heyer has dubbed him. Such was this persona that some of the more thoughtful or generous commented that "McLuhan was a serious scholar who for reasons of his own chose to present himself as a charlatan". 22 Long-time friend Edward Hall suggested somewhat ruefully that McLuhan was far too great a man to have been famous. 23 McLuhan's pronouncements that the book was "finished", that advertising and the mass media had displaced traditional education and that the university was full of people staring into the rear-view mirror - "leading the young by marching backward into the future" - did little to endear him to the majority of his colleagues.
Second, and notwithstanding the first, there is the matter of McLuhan's intellectual stutter, as it were. Reading the texts that were published during the celebrity period, it seems that following the Canadian Governor-General's Award-winning Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media, McLuhan basically kept on repeating himself. The same ideas in different packages and forms kept pouring out of him, and seemingly indiscriminately - in press reportage, interviews and features in periodicals, as well as on radio and TV, and in the the articles and books that kept on emerging. Like the stutterer, stuck on the spasm of repeating the beginning of a word, McLuhan never got to the end, never completed the word or sentence. The "probes" that privileged research device and cover, never really coalesced into a coherent or general system of ideas that could contribute to research or advancing understanding.
Throughout his communication studies, McLuhan had insisted that he had no theory and that there was no conceptual apparatus that grounded his scholarly work. He was, he maintained, operating by probe and precept alone - no packages, no concepts. When criticised for an apparent disregard for facts, he responded that "specialists are people who make no little mistakes on the way to making big ones". Details and facts, he argued, had been displaced by the sheer volume and rate of their emergence - at such a volume and speed that they blurred into larger patterns, and it was those patterns that he wanted to understand. When confronted with contradictions in his texts, he either bowed to his texts as records of perceptual process, i.e., "I can be wrong, I'm just working on it". That was on good days; on worse ones McLuhan would go on the offensive suggesting that the critic didn't understand what he was doing and, caught in the "rear-view" mirror (the old literate world), would never be able to grasp his insights on the nature of electronic media culture. 24 The new electronic culture was fragmented, simultaneous, in continuous flux, and rife with disturbing contradictions. McLuhan, like the messenger, was merely reporting, not interpreting. The reportage reflected its object - in a heteroglossic world, whence a homoglossic method of analysis? If not in these terms, this was the thrust of McLuhan's official line throughout the celebrity period, and following it. During that decade, however, following the "Canadian intellectual comet's" meteoric descent into anonymity, a body of theory, indeed a 'system', did emerge. With it, McLuhan generated a conclusion to the work pioneered by Innis.
Harold Innis, the Canadian pioneer historian of economics and communication, imaginatively used the interface, or borderline situation, to present a new world of economic and cultural change by studying the interplay between man's artifacts and environments created by old and new technologies. By investigating social effects as contours of changing technology, Innis did what Plato and Aristotle failed to do. He discovered from the alphabet onward, the great vortices of power at the interface of cultural frontiers. He recovered for the West the world of entelechies and formal causality long buried by the logicians and teachers of applied knowledge; and he did this by looking carefully at the immediate situation created by staples and the action of the Canadian cultural borderline on which he was located. (M. McLuhan and Bruce. R. Powers, 1989). 25
Before turning to McLuhan's system, a few words about the two problematics posed by McLuhan. In response to the first 'problematic' - that of person and persona during the celebrity years and beyond - that both were problematic, perhaps even scandalous for some quarters, is indisputable. The secondary literature is rich in critique to this effect, some trite and based on misreading, other parts incisive and unforgiving where there was no quarter due. The interesting aspect of this is that the role that McLuhan played in the formative years of the modern communications industry remains unexplored, and that exploration may be both overdue and perhaps impossible to conduct. McLuhan's ideas were infectious, even if one had not read his books (could one actually read them?). 26 If these ideas were infectious, this had much to do with his aphoristic style and the many articles and reports on him, by him, and in conversation with him, that appeared in the press and electronic media during the celebrity period. We may never know what direct effect he had on his professional audience, but that his career unfolded in the climate of a burgeoning mass media environment and maturing consumer culture is indisputable. Having spent thirteen years in the broadcasting industry, much of it around or for universities, I can say from experience that well into the 70s, one was more likely to find his books in commercial Canadian radio and TV stations, than on course outlines at Canadian universities. The same cannot be said of the USA or those parts of Europe, such as France and Italy, where he received intellectual attention. 27
McLuhan was, and remains, an interesting phenomenon in the history of communication in general, and in the history of electronic mass communication in particular. Among other perspectives, we can view him as an ironic reflexivity, a historical moment of social meta-communication. Far from being merely a theorist, McLuhan was perhaps one of the first contemporary scholars of a phenomenon of which they themselves are self-consciously a part; in McLuhan's case - a media personality, a public persona, and a performer. Of course, the fact remains, that only traces of the celebrity persona have survived, oddly litera scripta manet, "the written word remains". One's sensibilities with respect to the celebrity period notwithstanding, the period and the persona cannot but be understood as a constitutive moment in the evolution of our contemporary communication ecology. 28 McLuhan has 'inscribed' himself into that history and brought for many the work of his teacher Innis, into the limelight. If, as McLuhan said, the Gutenburg Galaxy was but a footnote to Innis, then surely one had to read this even more "obscure" Canadian scholar.
As for the second critique of McLuhan, the intellectual stutter that begins around the late 1960s and allegedly carries on until his death - this opinion becomes unsupportable once the later books, especially the posthumous publications, are consulted. To elaborate on the series of ideas that emerge in this corpus is beyond the scope here. One can note, however, in passing, that among such ideas, we have a preliminary effort to offer a theoretic account of the structure of "discarnality" that McLuhan believed to characterise communication via electronic media. 29 His observations on the impact of computers proves today to be prescient, 30 as is the case with the recent video revolution and developments in "virtual reality", computer technology. 31 His account of the "drop-out" of competent people from the upper echelons of industry and government invites reconsideration. All of these, among others, pose a series of potentially fruitful avenues for inquiry. Here, however, I will limit myself to some observations on three of the later texts, the last work published during McLuhan's lifetime - City as Classroom, co-authored with Eric McLuhan and Kathryn Hutchon 32 , and the two posthumous publications: Laws of Media: The New Science and The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century, co-authored respectively with Eric McLuhan and Bruce R. Powers.
Does City as Classroom offer new insights or extend the theoretic contributions of McLuhan? As is the case with much of McLuhan, the answer is both a 'yes' and a 'no'. Let us begin with the 'no'. City as Classroom provides few new theoretical advances. The core idea of the book is an elaboration and application of figure/ground analysis to media studies. The concept, which is a refinement of McLuhan's previous discussions of the environment, was adopted from the gestalt psychology approach pioneered by the Danish art critic Edgar Rubin. 33 Figure/ground analysis, as McLuhan adapts it, requires the student to continually shift or reverse focus from areas of normal attention to the surrounding events and phenomena that usually make up a background and are taken for granted. That this approach is useful for surveying the hidden dimensions of the communication ecology is attested to by the work of another Canadian, Erving Goffman. Goffman's work on gender representations in advertising is based on a strategy of flipping "figures" (female representations) with the "grounds" (male representations and gazes), by implementing role and pose reversals. 34 While Goffman does not use figure/ground terminology, the strategy is similar and the results obtained equally good.
If City as Classroom offers little new theoretical material, it yields pedagogical and research veins that can, and may well, be mined for years to come. While the book was intended for Grade Eleven, some of the exercises it proposes could inform graduate research projects and professional scholarly work. Thus, on the 'yes' side, the book opens the actual intellectual and perceptual processes with which, and through which, McLuhan himself approached media, technology and the world. In a sense, the book is an intellectual autobiography and field-guide for would-be McLuhanites as well as serious scholars.
City as Classroom was the culmination of a project that had been born in 1959. As Marchand relates, McLuhan was commissioned by the National Association of Educational Broadcasters (NAEB)
to develop a syllabus for the study of media in the eleventh-grade classroom... The objective of this syllabus, as defined by a research committee of the NAEB in September 1959, was basically to impart to students and teachers "familiarity with the various and often contradictory qualities and effects of media". From the start McLuhan made it clear that the focus would be on the "mutational powers" of the media rather than their "content" - on the effects of television in general for example, regardless of whether it broadcast soap operas or Shakespeare. He wanted, he said, to teach the "grammar" of the new languages of television, radio, and other media. 35
The study portion of the project which was funded by the National Defense Education Act, took a year - McLuhan had taken sabbatical to complete it. During that year, many of the significant theoretical formulations that were to pervade his later work - Understanding Media through to Laws of Media - were developed and articulated. Some of the ideas would remain throughout, others he would work with and reject, yet this was probably the moment when McLuhan found his own 'voice' by bringing his reading of Innis, collaborations and the research of a decade together. At the centre of this synthesis, was an Innisean observation, but taken in a different way: "We change our tools and then our tools change us", as the child voice says on the 1967 CBS recording of The Medium is the Massage. 36
McLuhan was interested in the latter part of the statement, that our tools change us, that our tools are "effectors". While he had not yet chosen the term "entelechy", it was clear that it was the virtually "vital" force of artefacts and technologies and their relationship to perception and mind that fascinated him. For McLuhan, entelechy, form as "the conceptual essence of a thing", 37 was to become essential in understanding the dialectical interplay between people and things, and he ascribed this discovery to Innis. Things made and employed in human affairs were not merely additive, but transformative. 38 Innis had shown McLuhan that changes in form lead to changes in content, and then changes in content lead to mutations of form. The form, in this case any communication form, and by extension any technology, was not posterior to content. Content, that is the human in the technological world, was involved in a dialectic with the form. The technological world in its various media, by facilitating for and advancing certain desires, strategies and groups, was an active force in the social, psychological, cultural, and finally biological, condition of humanity. 39 With this extrapolation of Innis 40 but with an emphasis on relationships between the symbolic and sensory aspects of the communication ecology, rather than with the political ones, McLuhan dove into the NAEB research.
The findings of the study and proposed syllabus were published in 1960 by the NAEB under the title Report on Project in Understanding New Media. The report received mixed reactions. Some in the NAEB were pleased with the results but others, Marchand tells us, thought the study and the report had been a "complete waste of time".
One of the milder criticisms of McLuhan's syllabus from NAEB members was that the text "was immoderate in its demands on a Grade XI level". That was an understatement. When McLuhan showed Lou Forsdale, his friend from Columbia University Teacher's College, his June draft of the report, Forsdale recalls, "I was astonished because in the preface he had stated that this was a high school textbook. That was insane. And that was when I noticed McLuhan had no notion of what a high school student could do." 41
The upshot was that the syllabus was tabled, and tabled it stayed. The NAEB may have put the experience behind itself, but not McLuhan - if only because it was that part of his project that most hinged on the praxis he preached.
Throughout the rest of his working life, McLuhan continued to toy with the idea of a high school curriculum that would give students, and thereby all future citizens of the media society, a set of critical skills for evaluating and judging the play of media forces in their lives and environment. 42 These skills were to be strategic and surgical; their operations aimed at the vivisection of the image-saturated, commercial, media environment. The medical metaphor is consistent with the man who wanted his work to "inoculate" people against the adverse effects of the media - effects that were mostly unexamined, environmental and therefore "subliminal", and often dubious. Thus, with the assistance of Kathryn Hutchon, and his son Eric, and perhaps thanks to their determination to see it completed, McLuhan published City as Classroom in 1977. Marchand notes that the book was not an easy experience for McLuhan because many rewrites were required so that it would be accessible to high school readers. And even more unhappily, he "was forced to eliminate actual examples of advertisements and to make the tone of the book less light-hearted than he originally intended". 43
The book, according to McLuhan, was his full-circle return to his intellectual 'origins' in the New Criticism. This bears up to critical reading - Innis is sparingly applied in this book as are other significant influences such as Carpenter's anthropology, though they do resonate through the text. Notwithstanding, McLuhan considered City as Classroom a very important book and its reception, or actually non-reception, "saddened him". Like most of McLuhan's books of the 1970s, City as Classroom "disappeared from view", having had "no effect whatsoever on school systems". Re-publication in the United States in 1980, under the title Media, Messages & Language: The World as Your Classroom did not revive the book, and Marchand observes that most American educators were unaware of it. 44
Reading the text today remains an intellectually fruitful experience. This, it might be said, is as true for a McLuhan or media scholar, as it is for an educator, a parent, or anyone interested in the communication ecologies in advanced, market-industrial societies. The many re-writes may have been tedious, but not wasted; the text is lucid, the jargon is minimal, but the format and layout typically McLuhanesque, the experiments provocative, and not only still applicable, some are even prescient. City as Classroom deals with nearly all the dominant media - certainly most of those available in the mid-1970s. As might be expected, advertising plays a major role in the book with about a third of all the exercises dedicated to analysis of advertising as an object, an institution and an environment. To be sure, City as Classroom is dated, 45 but as is often the case with McLuhan's work, it dates well. Both as a text in media literacy and as a intellectual resource, this last published work of McLuhan's life continues to challenge our attention, intellectual interest and critical comment.
The book begins with a section entitled "Training the Perceptions". Here McLuhan introduces the "figure/ground approach", placing an emphasis on the interrogation of the significance of hidden grounds to communication. This section is then followed by one in which students systematically study the properties of the various media through conducting hands-on experiments. While McLuhan focuses on a variety of media, my examples centre on the realm of advertising. Consider the following:
Buy eight copies of a single issue of a mass-circulation magazine. Put aside one copy (No. 1) as a master or reference copy. Use the rest for your experiments. Pick another magazine of a different sort, but of the same page size and paste ads from it over every ad in one of the test copy (No. 2). Consider only size when deciding where to paste the ads. Do not obscure the text, but cover every ad in the test copy. You might choose to cover all the ads of Chatelaine or Cosmopolitan with ads from a single issue of Playboy or to pair Vogue and Fortune or Maclean's and Ladies' Home Journal. Make sure all the ads are drawn from a single source.
Then leaf through the magazine. Two 'audiences' have been brought into sudden collision: the 'audience' the ads speaks to, and the 'audience' for the magazine's format and articles. Write a description of the two audiences. 47
Having worked through a variety of media, sixteen in all, and listed in a parallel to the contents table of Understanding Media, McLuhan follows with a section in which he has the students institute "media trials". The students are to organise a classroom situation and put the various media on trial, with the prosecution directed by McLuhan's questions. This section also contains a series of exercises in which students are directed to consider the social effects if a given media were to suddenly vanish - cars, for example. The book begins to reach its conclusions with a section on symbols in society. A typical exercise, again with respect to advertising, is:
What have you already learned from your society about its services and symbols?
5. Select three colour advertisements from different magazines. Make sure that each ad includes a picture of one or more persons. Write a biographical sketch of three of the people in the ads. What is it that tells you about each person's role in life? 48
The final section of the book considers the effects of various media on language. In the discussion of slang, what is to become the "tetradic method" is introduced. The text runs:
There seems, indeed, to be a figure/ground "Law of Situation" governing human artifacts and human language.
1. Man devises a new artifact or a new word, in order to enhance some action or expand awareness.
2. Every new word or artifact that is invented removes older forms from general use.
3. Every new invention retrieves forms that were pushed out much earlier.
4. Every innovation, when pushed to the limit of its acceptance tends to 'flip' or convert into an opposite from.
These four characteristics of human artifacts and language are not connected or sequential, but simultaneous and coexistent. 49
The odd feature of City as Classroom is that the "laws" or tetradic method as I choose to call it, makes only a passing appearance in this tool-kit for media analysis. This is even more mysterious since Eric worked on City as Classroom and is the co-author of Laws of Media: The New Science where the "laws" get their fullest and perhaps most complex articulation and applications. Apparently McLuhan was not yet ready to truly employ the "tetrads". With the exception of this mention of the "Laws of Situation", the text returns to questions such as those preceding them throughout the book; there are no applications of the "laws" in the exercises. In full-blown form, the "laws" would not really see the light of day until nearly a decade following McLuhan's death. 50
During the years dividing City as Classroom from Mechanical Bride, McLuhan's probing was beginning to coalesce or evolve into a system. What had begun as a reading of the rhetorical forms of cultural artefacts and environments, and had been given a grounding through encounters with the work of Innis and Giedion, as well as formative collaborations with Carpenter and Parker, emerged into a full system in 1973. That was the year that McLuhan "discovered" the "laws of media". The laws or tetrads would become a privileged device for the analysis of the "entelechy" dimension of human artefacts and technologies. Beginning with the media and Innis, McLuhan was working backwards toward a general ontology of the material world. McLuhan had begun with advertisements in The Mechanical Bride and ended with all innovations and forms of technique - social and cultural. As Eric McLuhan puts it in the introduction to Laws of Media:
In 1979... we extended the application of laws to the arts and sciences. We found that everything that man [sic] makes and does, every procedure, every style, every artefact, every poem, song, painting, gimmick, gadget, theory, technology - every product of human effort - manifested the same four dimensions. 51
To evoke the term 'system' with respect to McLuhan's work, is to tempt the wrath of the gods, to be sure. How can a man's work, as rife as it is with inconsistency and internal contradiction, be considered systematic? Internal contradiction and inconsistency - the work? The man? The later work? Certain books? All books? Yes on all counts, but systematic. Such it is, and paradoxical it remains, paradoxical and seductive. When a scholar claims that all innovations and new technologies (whenever and wherever) can be understood with respect to four effects - always four, and the reader is challenged to remove one or come up with a fifth - then she or he is laying claim to a system. Such is the case with McLuhan. Thus, the last component of the McLuhan 'system', perhaps the most controversial, shares much with the intellectual personality of its progenitor - paradoxical with respect to scholarly, perhaps even logical, rigorous yet supple, and imaginative as a strategy for inquiry.
As the quote from City as Classroom anticipates, the basic contention is this. Every innovation will render four effects: it will enhance or extend a sense, organ, configuration of both, or set of skills and/or knowledge. Simultaneously, the novelty will obsolesce or antiquate some previous device, practice, set of skills and/or knowledge, sensory configuration or set of preferences. These two effects are common-sensical - that something new makes something else old; that it brings with it new experience. The next two formulations are more unorthodox. When the new is pushed to the limit of its performance, or when it becomes ubiquitous, it "flips" and it will reverse or overload. This "flip" thereby transforms into a new cultural form which occupies a new cultural niche. Here one is reminded of McLuhan's beloved quip that "invention is the mother of necessity" 52 and not the other way around. These reversals which, according to McLuhan, cause great distress and disequilibrium, lead to new inventions whose purpose is to recover or retrieve equilibrium lost to previous innovation. 53 Indeed, the dynamic moment of the tetrad is the fourth - recovery, but it is also deeply tied to the third, reversal.
In 1973, McLuhan discovered the tetrad through a synthesis of four major themes that had been emerging throughout his work. Eric recalls that as he and his father began working on the proposed second edition of Understanding Media, McLuhan began asking: "what statements can we make about media that anyone can test - prove or disprove - for himself. What do all media have in common? What do they do?" Throughout an afternoon of work, he and Eric had identified three such questions - extension and closure (to become obsolescence), and reversal. The first two had emerged earlier as core questions in Understanding Media. The third question, reversal, was the key question explored in Take Today: Executive as Dropout, co-authored with Barrington Nevitt in 1972. The last of the four questions - retrieval - took longer to identify, but it too emerged from a previous publication - this time as the central theme of From Clich to Archetype, a collaborative effort with Wilfred Watson published in 1970. 54
When McLuhan identified this structure, he called it the "laws of media". The representation of all four processes in simultaneity, a representation necessarily graphic, he dubbed the "tetrad". In the posthumous book shepherded through University of Toronto Press by his son Eric, the "Law" aspect of the method is true to its earlier formulation. Laws, science, an advance on Vico with a tad of Joycean metaphysics thrown in for good measure. It is the "tetrad" as a "method" that gets the focus in the other posthumous publication delivered to Oxford University Press by Bruce R. Powers - cautious, no over-emphasis on scientific laws and fewer forays into the darkly exegetical power of Joycean portmanteau. 55 I shall shortly address the significance of the graphic representation of the tetrads. First, let us examine the actual "method".
As an illustration of the method at work, I cite a rather lengthy passage of McLuhan and Power's discussion of the automobile. They first explain the broader functioning of the tetrad in analysis:
The tetrad not only reveals the configurational character of time, but also that the artefact (or founding idea [of any given tetrad, its subject]) is always a product of the user's mentality. The tetrad includes the ground of the user as the utterer; and paradoxically, includes the user as ground. We make ourselves, and what we make is perceived as reality. For example, an analysis of the effects of the printed word on another environment usually engenders quite different results. The tetrads for print in the United States, China, or Africa would have three different grounds. 56
In the above, we can clearly see both the ideas familiar from the great-book-period, as well as an incorporation of these ideas into the figure/ground approach that receives full development in City as Classroom. From this point, and on an "American ground", McLuhan and Powers give their first example of how the four questions of the tetrad can be employed.
The tetrad helps us to see 'and-both', the positive and the negative results of the artefact. For instance, the automobile amplified [my emphasis throughout] one's ability to cover distance more quickly and, to a limited extent, carry cargo. Yet, almost from its beginning, this invention simultaneously affected man's relationship to time and space, obsolescing the forms of social organization rooted in pedestrian and equestrian traditions. The township and the neighbourhood collapsed. The inner city was left to non-human-scale development, while that space in the city that had been set aside as living space was shifted to the suburbs.
The gasoline automobile brought back a sense of private identity and independence which had first manifested itself on the American frontier and, to a lesser extent - as Mark Twain tells us - in the social threads of farm and village. Pushed to an extreme, in urban sprawl, congestion and pollution, the automobile reverses into the electric mini-car and encourages renewed activity in jogging, bicycling, and urban nature preserves.
Even before the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries' price squeeze, over-amplification had made the automobile a monster. When the figure (car) is on the verge of swallowing the ground (environment) it becomes grotesque. 57
Is there anything worth pursuing in these laws, or through the tetradic method? Yes, but not without reservations. Let's begin with the reservations. Are the laws, as McLuhan claimed, scientific? From the point of view of rigorous mathematically-based and empirical studies, this hardly seems the case. The mere fact that alternative tetrads can be constructed on the same subjects, seems to subvert "certitude". 58 " Secondly, like semiotic analysis, success with constructing tetrads may have more to do with the researcher's skill and resources, than with the form of inquiry. Thirdly, the tetrads often exhibit a disregard for the discreteness of intellectual or logical fields. But then, so does interdisciplinary inquiry. Just so, from the yes side of the equation. Working with tetrads does reveal them to be a potentially rewarding organisational, analytical, critical and pedagogical tool. From experience in lectures or seminars, I can attest to the speed with which students 'take to them', and the heated debates that ensue as either FAX, CDs or Virtual Reality technology are dealt with tetradically. If the tetrads do not offer a method by which to arrive at final answers, they do generate many questions and enhance the mobility of thought.
According to McLuhan and co-authors, the tetrads offer a dynamic model of the relationship between us and our many things and forms of organisation. They can, and should be, interrogated and tested from the ground of the political economy, as well as from the ground of philology, something McLuhan failed to do. For example, what sort of tetrad can be constructed around a new piece of policy, or in response to a potential corporate merger, or with respect to proposed urban or resource development? Finally, their central claim needs to be examined. Are they an apologia for McLuhan's theories about the simultaneity of the electronic communication ecology? Or, perhaps even more significantly, do they truly resolve the tension between structural or synchronic, and historical or diachronic modes of thought and analysis, which is what McLuhan believed that they could do?
As I noted above, the tetrad is a 'graphic' representation. In a sense, we have the culmination of a life-long claim: McLuhan was concerned with pattern-recognition in the age of electronic media. Pattern is the repetitive and often rhythmical condensation of information, and condensation is critical, as is form. There are three graphic forms taken by the tetrad. The most basic is the simple listing of the four 'processes' as might be penned by an undergraduate student who is confronted by the citation of the car offered above. While this 'works', and the Global Village ends with an appendix of just such 4-point tetrads, the 4-point listing, I believe, misses an essential point. The list is hierarchic, the tetrad is not. There is a dynamic within the tetradic form, but the dynamic is often unconscious, as other processes which the tetrad reveals may be. The point is that the tetrad or tetradic analysis offers a field of condensed information in simultaneity. Hence there are two more formats which come closer to the mark. In Laws of Media, McLuhan & McLuhan engage in true graphic design experimentation - pages of cruciform, and diagonally exploding from the centre, textual fragments and/or aphorisms seek to capture this condensation of simultaneity. Powers, with the assistance of Blair Schrecongost, offers a Moebius quatrefoil worthy of any corporate letterhead. Used sparingly in the book, where it is deployed it dominates; very brief one-liners precariously adhere to its fringes. While neither graphic articulation is finally satisfactory, the latter two reveal something deeper at work near the core of the impetus for developing a method for pattern recognition.
If McLuhan articulated his jealousy for the certitude of science in the "laws", then the necessarily graphic representation of the tetrads reveals another kind of jealousy to which McLuhan, and perhaps Joyce before him, was prone. Jealousy, provoked by "conditions imposed on the intellect by electronic media", as McLuhan might have put it. This object of envy was the Chinese character or ideogram. For what is the Joycean portmanteau, the neologism that is greater than the sum of its parts, if not the phonetic-alphabetical "man's" response to the "simultaneity" of things and the apparent "implosion" of media generated by an electronic communication ecology? In an article subtitled "Synaesthetic Electronic Technologies: It Starts with McLuhan - Then Spins Out of Control", Jas Morgan points out that McLuhan's account of the future of language in the cybernetic environment is consonant with the current efforts to create new communicational forms which are both gestalt-based (again, McLuhan's pattern recognition), and potentially synaesthetic. He predicts a new form of cyber-communication that will be made up of gestalts, portmanteaus combining "neolinguistic, eroticized verb-sculptures and data-clusters". Since Morgan privileges McLuhan's contribution to the field - he writes: "It is my hope that 'McLuhanism' can be forged into a kind of science through which the effects that the media have on perception will be understood". 59
It has been said that McLuhan was jealous of the certitude of hard mathematical science, and that this is what ultimately propelled his 'leap into the arms' of Popper. No doubt, Eric makes much of it, and so does Marchand. But what is missed or repressed here is that McLuhan was first and always a philologist, and specifically a student and teacher of poetry. And, as Bachelard 60 has shown us, it is the very ambiguity of poetic language, its play of potentially open-ended allusion and association, contradiction and paradox, that gives this language its power. McLuhan never tired of jousting with the bugaboo of the phonetic alphabet and its extension in the printing press. An escape route from the structures of perception imposed by both can be found in that wonderful amalgam of aural and visual literacy contained in the Chinese ideogram - the graphic reduction of the 4-point list into tetrad could be experienced in the same way. Much information is delivered, but it is all based on indirection, on association and allusion, and the interplay of all the senses. "Rigidification of thought", as Innis might have put it, is constantly in question.
At the core of it, the tetrad is an exercise in informed and interested juxtaposition. While not as gratuitous as a "sewing machine meeting an umbrella on an operating table", it is impelled by the desire to provoke alternate and creative thought. McLuhan's introduction to Bias of Communication heaps praise on Innis' untutored use of Symbolist aesthetics as a device for coming up with fresh insight - of seeing interactions at margins, at the "resonant interval", as he would later say in Global Village. Most of all, the Chinese ideogram and the tetrad are deliciously like the Symbolist aesthetics that undergirded the modern art that McLuhan always believed best suited the pattern-recognition required of the media literate in the electronic age. In short, a bifurcated jealousy - not out of character with what Frye has so aptly, and in another setting, called the "rhetoric of the divided voice". 61 Frye was using McLuhan's early writing as an archetypal example of this rhetoric, a rhetoric that Frye ascribed to much of Canadian writing. The bifurcation here was the voice of a theorist who, consciously or otherwise, was poetising human science.
But McLuhan's time was short. He was far more shallow and reckless than Freud and far less able to handle criticism. His prophecies did not come true. Television technology did not totally tribalize today's teenagers or the rest of society. Organizations did not collapse. Content mattered. When McLuhan tried to duck his critics by labelling them mere "content men" and falling back on his Delphic, Pound-like style - as a questioner, a prober, a jester, not necessarily to be taken seriously - he stopped being taken seriously.
There are enough alienated intellectuals, technological determinists, Catholic neotribalists, and Can[andian]cult[ural]ists to keep the McLuhanist flame flickering indefinitely. (Michael Bliss) 63
What then of Innis can be traced in McLuhan's "closure"? My original claim was that by ignoring the later work of Innis, we are prone to overlook his own gnomic but potentially fertile conclusion to his life's work. By ignoring McLuhan's later efforts we are missing an important conclusion to Innis' work as offered by a bard-cum-jester. More than this, however, whether one likes it or not, no one has sought to apply Innis in such a sustained way. There have been many applications and the good ones are truly rich in possibility, but no one can claim, as McLuhan could first, that his project is a sustained attempt to bring Innis to even broader conclusions. If for no other reason than this, McLuhan remains essential - the core and 'conclusions' of his system deeply resonating with the provocative poetics of the later Innis.
Can the seeds of either figure/ground approach or the tetrad be extracted from Innis? The figure/ground method that is so crucial to City as Classroom, is an elaboration of one of the central ideas in McLuhan's system - the environment as a dynamic process rather than a container. Essential to this is the idea of the "resonant interval". The resonant interval, the space between wheel and axle, to use one of McLuhan's metaphors, is the area of interface where two processes, environments or forms meet. While Innis never uses any of this language, the idea in its most basic form can be seen clearly and centrally in his work. This "chiasmus" structure, as McLuhan was to call it, appears every time two or more cultures or technologies meet. Whether the relation is mimetic or agonistic, there is an inter-relationship and it is dynamic. For example, in Innis' texts, the fall of Egypt to the Arabs deprives the West of papyrus; parchment replaces it leading to strengthening organisation in peripheral, agricultural areas producing a new dependency by centring on the margin. 64 Figure and ground "flip". In another application, imperial/colonial relations can be considered: for itself, Empire is all figure operating on a ground made up of a small group of like powers. For the colony or those colonised, all is ground as Empire or power render figures fleeting functionaries of its dictates and demands. That the interplay of figures and grounds, if not in this language, can be derived from Innis is clear. Given the significance McLuhan ascribes to this approach, it seems that Innis plays a very important role in its formulation.
But, what about the "laws" or "tetrads" with respect to the two common-sensical moments: enhancement and obsolescence? Various media and organisational forms empower groups in new ways and contribute to the displacement of other previous media and organisational forms. Again, in Innis, we find the movement to parchment empowering Medieval monastic orders. Their literacy, organisational form and control over the production of both parchment and manuscript book, buttressed their evolving monopoly of knowledge. The coming of paper moved the centre of gravity to towns, and printing with moveable type made obsolete both the parchment manuscript and the monopoly of knowledge that it grounded. The more problematic reversal phenomenon can also be taken from within the Innis text. This is particularly true of Innis' discussions of the impact of "mechanisation" on education and knowledge. Mechanisation, he argued, led to a situation wherein information overload rendered education as the pursuit of the "useless knowledge of useful facts". 65 Reversal can also be seen when, through asymmetrical adoption of media, a monopoly is built up which "invites competition from the margin".
Can the same be said of the moment of retrieval? For McLuhan, recovery or retrieval was the dynamic moment of the tetrad. Each innovation caused disequilibrium and generated the impetus for further technological change whose ultimate goal was recovery of an equilibrium lost into a previous innovation. Can retrieval or recovery be found in Innis? Yes and no. No, because Innis never favours recovery as a 'chiasmus', as an impelling force. He does, however, continuously warn against unreflective adoption of innovations, and he uses history as a critical laboratory which furnishes proof on proof of disequilibria and shocks that follow upon the acceptance of new technological forms. For Innis, balance is crucial. This emphasis on balance contains a more significant dimension in Innis' prose - his favouring the oral tradition and insistence that it must be reclaimed if a socially beneficial balance can be achieved in contemporary society. Having admitted his own bias with the oral tradition, Innis never tires of insisting on its importance. Without the oral tradition, justice is impossible.
While Innisean concern with justice does not appear as a central one for McLuhan, it is shared, along with a critique of the relation between empire and technology, and the concern with time, by George Grant, the other Canadian thinker whom I mentioned at the outset of the discussion. Not only does Grant share Innis' concern with justice, but he too recognises the importance of recovery or retrieval. For Grant however, technology has so permeated our reality that we can no longer even recall what it is that was essential to our humaness of which we have been deprived, deprived by the "coming to be" of technology. 68 This is reminiscent of Innis' deep concern that the spatial bias has so grounded technological society that it has done away with the potential balance that could be drawn from a vigorous temporal bias. For Innis, recovery is centred on the "just balance" possible through recovering the oral; and for Grant, the challenge of living in the technological society - the "dynamo", 69 as he calls it - can only be met through recovering a ground for justice by listening to the intimations of deprival. Grant's "recovery" resonates with Benjamin's "angel of history", wings caught in the storm from out of paradise, unable to withstand the draft of "progress". 70 Innis' dialectic of forms and institutions is perhaps Hegelian, if tempered with a Nietzschean scepticism about the credibility of all that would call itself progress. 71
Innis and Grant are both highly ethical thinkers - McLuhan, mythopoetic. If for Grant and Innis recovery was quite literally a political and/or philosophical task, for McLuhan, recovery was an inevitable product and point of all technological innovation. Indeed, McLuhan's fresh smooth face of the future looks out at us with ever older eyes. But, like Innis and Grant, retrieval plays a praxis role in his thinking also. In response to critics who accused him of technological determinism, McLuhan continually pointed out that "nothing is inevitable as long there is a willingness to pay attention", or "so long as people are maladjusted", or "awake". Presumably, such an ability was once possible - in this case, and ironically enough, it rested in the inheritance of phonetic literacy and the printing press, for it was these technologies that fractured the "unity of the West". If the new structures of electronic communication ushered in a "new orality", 72 then the critical retrieval would be, at one tetrad's removal, a return to literacy. We are increasingly surrounded by cellular phones, to be sure, but FAX and modem-based computer forms of communication usher in new forms and formats of literacy. The main difference between McLuhan and his 'colleagues' Innis and Grant, is that whereas retrieval for them is almost a kind of nostalgia, for him it is an inevitability - protestations about not being a technological determinist notwithstanding. For McLuhan, the past truly, continuously and inevitably, comes to meet us out of the future.
Again, the McLuhan paradox - only if we entertain a limited sense of retrieval. Throughout this discussion, I have alluded to the influence of Joyce on McLuhan. Joyce had been an avid reader of Giambatistta Vico. From Vico Joyce took the idea of recovery or recorso and used it to ground much of Finnegans Wake, but with a difference. Each recovery or return, never nostalgic, would be different. Finn-again, was not himself but the hero/anti-hero of that Dublin night, Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. The One, ever returning, contained many. Only the end of history, something dreamt of by Joyce, could reveal the enormity and poly-dimensionality of this One. These ideas, via Joyce, Kenner and the exegesis and condensation offered by Campbell and Robinson, 73 were in the background of McLuhan's thinking. Thus return, recovery, recorso, would be at the core of the system but within a dynamic paradox - recovery, but never of the same; retrieval, but always of the different. The old, once again, anew!
The last sentence of Finnegans Wake is an operational metaphor for the idea of recorso. As the reader arrives at the last words of the novel, the sentence ends in an interruption. The final sentence of the novel is completed however, by the ending of the first sentence - a sentence which begins after a breakage. Should the reader allow the logic of that sentence to carry her/him forward, then the route is through the Wake again. Having arrived at that sentence and having completed it, neither novel nor reader are the same, yet both are. The reader is still the 'same person', insofar as the person is an embodied unity, but that unity is somewhat changed by both time and presumably what has been read. The novel, which originally appeared as a hurdle, has now been read and the reader has a cognitive map of the course traversed. Here we encounter, in the recorso, what appears as McLuhan's mythic, and perhaps curiously a-Christian conception of time. Yet oddly enough, the recorso is liturgic, for recorso can be found in the liturgic calendar: each Christmas, Epiphany, Easter and Pentacost again, anew. Each return changed by the biographical, that is the temporal dimensions of any given life. 74
Taken against a backdrop of religious thought, the recorso certainly smacks of media metaphysics, and McLuhan was no stranger to that. 75 There are more mundane forms in which the idea of recorso can also be seen at work - fashion being certainly one. Here we may have something of McLuhan's advance on Innis. Innis, beginning with economics, evolved a theory of the explicit media - that is those forms of materiality that are explicitly carriers of information: paper, stone, the book, radio broadcasting equipment, and so on. McLuhan in effect expanded the model to include all media, i.e. all human artefacts, clothing among them. The recorso process describes something of the dynamics of the fashion system. More broadly however, this idea rings true in the domain of popular culture, particularly in the area of cultural productions. As Dean MacCannell puts it, once a cultural production or fashion has been dead for a period of time, it can be brought back. 76
If McLuhan expanded the scope of Innis' inquiry to the totality of material culture, media explicit and implicit, there is also a contraction of that scope within McLuhan's system. While most of the central ideas pioneered by Innis occupy key roles in the system, the idea of "monopolies of knowledge" does not. McLuhan's blind-spot, the political economy of epistemology and culture carried through to the final metaphysics and general ontology that he crafted from out of Innis' inheritance. Future scholarship, perhaps through venues such as the recently published first issue of the journal McLuhan Studies, 77 will reveal if the system can be completed, no doubt through a recorso of the Innis corpus.
At the outset I had argued that there is an intimate connection between Innis and McLuhan, that they are like a pair of locomotives that 'drag each other' through the pages of the history and theory of communication. Innis is deeply inscribed in McLuhan's system. Innis, through his later work, introduced the possibility of a new discipline; McLuhan, in his conclusions, introduced the first systematic closure to Innis' work. Both were conceived in language that I have called poetic. Poetry is a kind of clarification by metaphor and association. Metaphor can be understood as a lie, in the sense that metaphor is not that to which it alludes. Or, metaphor can be understood as a kind of 'holding pattern', a description of something that is not yet completely understood. Against the background of the transformations of global culture by new media, both Innis and McLuhan tried to name what was ever more quickly emerging - changes more radical than any two generations before theirs could ever imagine. 78 Innis saw the poetics of the relations between power and form in civilisation. McLuhan saw the poetics of the relation between form and culture. Our task remains to extract from those poetics a system that, while remaining flexible, will better equip us to understand and anticipate the changes that await us, and those that we can create.
1. Harold Adams Innis, The Bias of Communication, Introduction by Marshall McLuhan (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951: 1964 Edition) and see the 1991 edition with the introduction by Paul Heyer and David Crowley.
2. Arthur Kroker, Technology and the Canadian Mind: Innis/McLuhan/Grant (Montreal: New World Perspectives, 1984).
3. See "Introduction" in the 1964-1984 editions of Bias pp.vii-ix.
4. In the late 1960s, as he was falling out of favour with the media, McLuhan became embroiled in a public debate with Jerry Goodis, a noted Toronto-based Canadian advertising executive. The debate ran into the press. Goodis described McLuhan as "a menace to the communication industry" to which McLuhan responded by saying that Goodis was the kind of man "who gave jerks a bad name". See Martin Knelman, "Advertising is the greatest art form of the 20th Century, McLuhan Claims", Toronto Daily Star, April 24, 1969; in the same paper, by mid-May, an entertainment dateline announcing "McLuhan vs. Adman TV debate is really off". The affair is capped off by Wynne Thomas, still in the Toronto Daily Star, in an advertising feature piece "Ad Agencies lose their love for McLuhan". For the relationship between McLuhan and the communication industry, see Roland Marchand & Marshall McLuhan, The Medium and the Messenger (Toronto: Random House, 1989) passim, especially pp.171-211.
5. See the treatment given the later work by Donald Creighton in his memoir Harold Adams Innis: Portrait of a Scholar (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1978).
6. Marshall McLuhan, "Introduction" to Bias, p.ix.
7. For the sake of economy, I use the term "philologist" in the European sense as pertaining to scholars of literatures and languages.
8. Particularly relevant are Leavis' discussions and readings of popular culture and advertising. See F.R. Leavis and Denys Thompson, Culture and Environment: the Training of Critical Awareness (Chatto & Windus, 1933), pp.11,14,32-33.
9. Marshall McLuhan, Eric McLuhan and Kathryn Hutchon, City as Classroom: Understanding Language and Media (Agincourt, Ont.: Book Society of Canada 1977).
10. Unfortunately we know very little about what Innis thought of McLuhan. In the Letters of Marshall McLuhan, one letter from McLuhan to Innis is included. However, there is no response. The fact that we know little of Innis' ideas about McLuhan underscores the need for a fully researched biography of Innis. See The Letters of Marshall McLuhan, Matie Molinaro, Corinne McLuhan and William Toye (eds.) (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1987), pp.220-3. It should be noted that the letter to Innis dated March 14, 1951, tells us two things about McLuhan at this time, as well as about the currents that would shape his future "system". On the one hand, it is clear that Innis' work implied an entirely new discipline for McLuhan - Empire and Communication he says suggests "the possibility of organizing an entire school of studies". On the other, we can clearly see that Innis' contributions would be wed to an inheritance of aesthetic analysis focussing on the "magical notions of language" which McLuhan derived from the art movements of the late Nineteenth and early Twentieth centuries. In this combination, McLuhan projects his whole life work in the three page letter to Innis.
11. Marchand, pp.111-135.
12. There is one possible exception - McLuhan was also quite clear about his indebtedness to Siegfried Giedeion, particularly the latter's Space Time and Architecture.
13. A review of the critical literature on McLuhan clearly indicates that nearly all discussions focus mainly on two texts: Gutenberg Galaxy or Understanding Media, with occasional reference to War and Peace and the Global Village and The Medium is the Massage, as well as the occasional article or media report.
14. Here examples can be drawn from publications such as the magazine Mondo 2000, particularly the issue cited below.
15. Popular culture keeps rediscovering McLuhan as evidenced by the off-beat reading of his life and times offered by Steve Beard and Jim McClellan in "Marshall McLuhan: Media Guru" Arena (London: September/October 1990), pp.144-148.
16. For example, see Daniel Czitrom, Media and the American Mind: From Morse to McLuhan (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982). Czitrom, in his chapter on Innis and McLuhan, articulates one of the greatest ironies of the "Canadian School" in Communication Studies. He suggest that to find a truly American study of communication, one must turn to the work of two Canadians - Innis and McLuhan.
17. Marchand, p.200.
18. As McLuhan said to James R. Dickenson at the Laurentian Conference on Corporate Strategy, "That's my motive for studying the media. They're fascinating, colossal, and my instinct is to tell them to go away. But I can take pride, get satisfaction in understanding them". National Observer (May 30, 1966), p.20.
19. For example, as reported by Marchand, Time and Life both consulted with McLuhan while blithely unaware that he had savaged both in the Mechanical Bride, Explorations and elsewhere. Indeed, and again with some prescience, McLuhan actually foretold the demise of Life. See New York Times February 3, 1963, "Life Folds, Blame TV, 1,500 Left Unemployed" and Explorations, n.7 (March 1957), p.5. For a flavour of McLuhan's attitude towards these magazines, see "The Ballet Luce" in The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (New York: Vanguard, 1951), pp.9-11.
20. For a particularly provocative discussion of McLuhan's role in the evolution of political advertising and/or marketing, see Marchand, pp.207-8, 222-4, and 228.
21. Paul Heyer, Communications and History: Theories of Media, Knowledge, and Civilization (Greenwood Press: New York 1988), p.140.
22. Arthur Schlesinger Jr. in "A McLuhan Forum" in Marshall McLuhan: the Man and His Message. George Sanderson and Frank Macdonald (eds.) (Golden, Co: Fulcrum, 1989), p.112.
23. Ibid, p.117.
24. For example, see the letter to James Carey, one which his publisher used in excerpt and approvingly quotes. Letters pp.419-20, and James Carey "Series Editor's Introduction" Communication as Culture: Essays on Media and Society. Series Editor David Thronburn (Boston: Unwin Hyman, 1989), p.ix.
25. Marshall McLuhan and Bruce R.Powers, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), p.155.
26. The biograpy, as well as various letters and comments McLuhan made in the mass media, make it clear that McLuhan himself doubted the success and readability of many of his publications. This is underscored by the following observation in one of his later journals: "Toiled on Future of Book. Years of dictating have deprived me of the habit of penning my thoughts. Very slow to recover, but it is necessary if thinking is to be done as well as sheer break through [sic] throughout". Journal entry, March 25, 1973. As an interesting counterpoint to this, see Innis' discussion of the significance of oral dialectic in the creation of ideas and learning. "A Critical Review", pp.191-2, and "Adult Education and the University", pp.211. Both in Bias of Communcation.
27. In the case of France, McLuhan was an important influence on Jean Baudrillard, and in Italy, Umberto Eco. Both had a number of published reflections on, and criticisms of McLuhan. See extensive discussion of McLuhan's role in Baudrillard's development in Douglas Kellner Jean Baudrillard: From Modernism to Postmodernism and Beyond (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989), pp.60-92, and Eco's Travels in Hyperreality Translated by William Weaver, (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1986).
28. There is no doubt that McLuhan's ideas did get to the media, if indirectly. For example, the highly influential producer of radio and TV ads Tony Schwartz reworked many of McLuhan's ideas and disseminated them in his widely read The Responsive Chord (Garden City: Doubleday Anchor, 1973).
29. See discussions of "discarnality"or "angelism" in War and Peace in the Global Village (New York: Touchstone, 1989); with Powers in Global Village (the index is useful in this book); with Eric McLuhan Laws of Media: The New Science (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988), p. 63, as well as in Letters, pp.478-9,528, and 543.
30. Texts listed above also address these themes as do Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt in Take Today: Executive as Drop Out. As the title of this book suggests, McLuhan was trying to explain the factors which he believed to be causing a "drop-out" of competent people from public and private administration and political office - the speed up and intensification of the media ecology and the computer playing no small role in this. See Marshall McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt, Take Today: Executive as Drop Out (Don Mills, Ontario: Longman, 1972.)
31. Marchand reports that in the 1950s McLuhan, by way of efforts to augment his earnings, struck on the idea of films in cassettes that could be shown on a home-based projector. Later, at the Centre for Technology and Culture, which McLuhan ran and used as his base at the University of Toronto, as Marchand relates, there were plans afoot to create a room which through lights, images, and sound was to be used to study sensory configurations - a precursor of virtual reality experiments with environments. See Marchand, pp.165.
32. Kathryn Hutchon, a teacher by the time City as Classroom was written and published, worked for McLuhan when his secretary was away while an undergraduate.
33. McLuhan and Powers, p.5.
34. Erving Goffman, Gender Advertisements (New York: Harper and Row, 1979).
35. Marchand, p.137.
36. This record appeared at around the time that the book War and Peace in the Global Village was published. In the same period a one hour documentary on McLuhan was produced and aired by NBC. See Marchand, p.193.
37. See a discussion of this concept in aesthetics by Wladislaw Tatarkiewicz in "Form in the History of Aesthetics" in Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Philip P. Wiener (ed.) (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1973), pp.222-223.
38. See gloss in Laws of Media, p.99.
39. This idea receives its fullest articulation and serves as the central thesis of both Laws of Media and Global Village.
40. Innis, so far as I know, never uses the term entelechy.
41. Marchand, p.146.
42. Here again, one can note a resonance with The Mechanical Bride. As McLuhan often stated, The Mechanical Bride was born out of his efforts to "reach his students" during his early years of University teaching. To do this, and here following on F.R. Leavis' trail, McLuhan turned his pedagogical praxis and philological attention on the ephemera of pop-cult. Additionally, this suggests that pedagogy, again sharing with Innis and Grant, was a central concern for McLuhan. See Marchand, p.43.
43. Marchand, p.263. One cannot help but think here of the approach that informed Culture is Our Business (New York: Ballantine, 1970), full of McLuhan puns, one-liners, sometimes precise insights, bad jokes. There is barely a glimmer of this effervescent style in City as Classroom though some results of the exercises can easily lead to hilarity.
44. Marchand, pp. 263-64.
45. Since the book was written in the early 1970s it does not include exercises with such media as personal computers, FAX and cellular phones. While this is the case, experiments with these media can easily be devised based on the exercises given - in this sense, City as Classroom dates very well.
46. A Canadian news weekly
47. City as Classroom, p.49.
48. City as Classroom, p.149
49. City as Classroom, pp.166-7.
50. The "laws" made their first public appearance in January, 1975, when McLuhan published a brief article entitled "McLuhan's Laws of Media" in Technology and Culture. See Marchand, p.242.
51. Marshall McLuhan and Eric McLuhan. Laws of Media, p.ix.
52. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964), p.67.
53. This idea is an extension of McLuhan's appropriation of Selye's thesis about the central nervous system "auto-amputating" a seriously injured or otherwise offending organ or limb. At the centre here lies the idea that the body seeks the state of homeostasis which trauma destroys. McLuhan adapted this idea to the history of technological evolution, suggesting that new technologies are severe cultural and social traumas which our senses and cognition, at least at first, fail to grasp in their enormity. At this point of the discussion, one is reminded of McLuhan's observation in Gutenberg Galaxy that the distinction between literate and oral societies can be expressed by their attitudes to novelty. We embrace the new and then ask what effect it is having on us; a pre-literate society considers what effect the new will have on them and then chooses not to try it. The point of the tetrads was to create a predictive tool whereby we could evaluate the effects of novelty before embracing it.
54. See Laws of Media, p.viii.
55. The term pormanteau in French conveys the sense of a mechanism to suspend clothing such as a free-standing coat-hanger, or a large travelling bag if manteau is understood as a mantle. When applied to language, a portmanteau word is a blend of two others. The "blended word", as is the case with a gestalt, conveys meanings greater than the sum of its parts. Joyce's employed pormanteaux along with puns throughout his Finnegans Wake. An extreme example of this device, the "ten thunders", words running to over 100 letters in length, were quoted with interpretations by McLuhan in War and Peace in the Global Village, pp.46-8. McLuhan and his son Eric firmly believed that the "ten thunders" encapsulated the history of communication.
56. Global Village, pp.10-11.
57. Global Village, p.viii.
58. Laws of Media dedicates an entire section to alternate tetrads drawn on same subjects. The Global Village avoids the issue of alternative tetrads, but then does not present the tetrads as "scientific", or at least does not rely on Popper's definition of scientific articulation.
59. See Jas Morgan, "Digits Run Riot: Synaesthetic Electronic Technologies", Mondo 2000, issue 2 (Summer 1990), pp.140-4. In the same article, Morgan reports that Randy Walser, chief hacker at Autodesk Inc.. Cyberspace Initiative, one of the companies most advanced in virtual reality technology development, told him that McLuhan had articulated Walser's job description some 25 years ago.
60. See Gaston Bachelard, On The Poetics of Space, translated by Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1969), pp.xi-xiv, xx-xxviii.
61. The specific context of Frye's discussion, following Frye's wry observation that "there was much to misunderstand in McLuhan, was based on McLuhan's apparent ambivalence as media critic/media supporter that appeared in McLuhan's public persona and prose. See Northrop Frye, Divisions on a Ground: Essays on Canadian Culture (Toronto: Anansi, 1982), pp. 36-38.
62. For an interesting elaboration of this idea in another context see Gregory Bateson's "Experiments in Thinking About Observed Ethnological Material" in Steps to an Ecology of Mind (New York: Ballantine, 1972), pp. 73-82, particularly p.75.
63. Michael Bliss, "False Prophet: Once exalted as oracular, Marshall McLuhan's theories now seem laughably inadequate as an intellectual guide to our times". Saturday Night (May, 1988), p.60.
64. Harold Innis, "Minerva's Owl" in Bias of Communication (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1951), pp.12-3
65. Harold Innis, "Adult Education and the Universities" in Bias of Communication, p.205.
66. "Minerva's Owl", p.4.
67. It should be noted at this juncture, that in Innis there seem to be two oral traditions. One, less emphasised, would be more akin to the sense of this term in folkloristics and ethnography. The other - and the one privileged by Innis - would be closer to his reading of the history of the Golden Age of Greece. This is the oral agonisitics of the agora, Socratic disputation and the political-judicial processes of ancient Athens.
68. George Grant, "A Platitude" in Technology and Empire (Toronto: Anansi, 1969), pp.137-43.
69. Ibid, p.143.
70. See Walter Benjamin, "Theses on the Philosophy of History" in Illuminations Hannah Arendt (ed.), translated by Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken, 1969), pp.257-8.
71. See particularly the Nietzschean brackets to "A Plea for Time", Bias, pp.61-91.
72. The electronic media which ushered in the "new orality" may have been central to the discovery of the oral dimension by social science. See Eric Havelock's discussion of McLuhan in this context in The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity to the Present (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), pp. 30-3.
73. Referring here to the fruitful teacher-student relationship between Pound-scholar Hugh Kenner and McLuhan - as Marchand points out, it was Kenner who brought the importance of Finnegans Wake to McLuhan's attention. McLuhan's ongoing reading of Joseph E. Campbell and H.M. Robinson's Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (New York: Penguin, 1944), selective readings of the actual book as well as increasing collaborations with his son Eric who was becoming a Joyce scholar, were to serve him as a basis for his theoretical debt to Joyce. See Marchand p. 58.
74. The role that McLuhan's conversion to Catholicism in his later media theory has been alluded to or occasionally discussed by his critics. The regrettable fact however, is that this aspect, perhaps with the exception of Marchand, has never been thoroughly studied. See Marchand, passim and particularly, pp.131 and 206.
75. See the "Playboy Interview" in Canadian Journal of Communication (Calgary: University of Calgary Press, December 1989), pp. 134-7.
76. Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Schocken, 1976), pp. 21-9.
77. McLuhan Studies: Explorations in Culture and Communication (Toronto: Department of Italian Studies, University of Toronto, 1991).
78. For the historical life-world contexts of Innis and McLuhan, particularly the impact of the scope and rate of technological and social change see Carolyn Marvin's When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century (New York: Oxford University Press, 1988) as well as Stephen Kern's The Culture of Time and Space: 1880-1918 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983). See also Modris Eksteins' Rites of Spring: The Great War and the Birth of the Modern Age (London: Bantam, 1989) and Paul Fussell's Wartime: Understanding and Behavior in the Second World War (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). For the broader setting of material culture see William Leiss, Stephen Kline and Sut Jhally Social Communication in Advertising: Persons, Products and Images of Well-Being 2nd Edition (Toronto: Nelson Canada, 1990).
New: 24 November, 1995 | Now: 23 March, 2015