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More McLuhan

I’m not sure about McLu’s connecting Mary with Wisdom here (“playing before God in the beginning” — Prov 8?). But good stuff re. “faith comes from hearing” and his own conversion. “You have to knock pretty hard.”

McLuhan on Faith

Remember what I said about Facebook and heaven? Remember how you rent your garments? Marshall McLuhan said the same thing about the telephone in 1965.

I’ve been surf-boarding a McLuhan wave of late and mostly sucking up salt water, but having a good time. Got tubular here:

Stoked, dude.

Heermeneutic of Suspicion

Tweet-er Jeet Heer, incidentally, though not himself a Catholic (see the last paragraph of his article on Hugh Kenner), wrote an interesting examination — and appreciation — of the centrality of Catholicism to Marshall McLuhan’s work for the July/August 2011 issue of The Walrus magazine.

See also?

What The Korrektiv Did for Its October Vacation

Perhaps Percy’s most intriguing work, Lost in the Cosmos is a weird yet satisfying book – a hybrid of philosophical inquiry, satire, cultural analysis, multiple choice questions, thought experiments and (“What the hell, why not?” you can hear Percy say) even fiction. Perhaps the book most closely resembles Melville’s own loose but not-so-baggy monster, Moby Dick. But Lost in the Cosmos stands well on its own. The quality and quantity of presenters at the conference attested to its enduring worth—with more than 40 papers covering everything from liturgy to pornography to interstellar exploration to mimetic theory to Marshall McLuhan.

Thought Experiment

Imagine Walker Percy in place of Norman Mailer here.

That’s sort of what my Still Lost in the Cosmos paper (co-authored with Read Schuchardt) will aim to do.

Rumor has it, McLuhan’s library (now in his son’s possession) contains several heavily annotated Percy titles.

See Also.

See you in New Orleans.

What Came in the Mail


It’s been awhile since I’ve held a paperback that exudes this particular mid-1960s bouquet.  The last one I can recall that gave off this distinctive compact pulpish effervescence was my first copy of The Last Gentleman, published in 1966 and purchased by me in a used bookstore in Walla Walla, WA in 1986.  There was a near-pornographic image of a woman doing some sort of postmodern dance of the seven veils on the cover and in the air the smell of acidic pages destined to crumble as the 20th Century unwound. Now I turn to McLuhan for help in healing that wound Percy put his finger on, or at least in furthering the diagnosis.

Another Curious Convert

Marshall McLuhan’s birthday is noted in today’s Writer’s Almanac. I knew he was a Catholic but I didn’t know, as is pointed out here, that he converted after getting knocked upside the head by the writings of G.K. Chesterton. He also qualifies for our “So Many Children” file.

It’s the birthday of Canadian media theorist and educator Marshall McLuhan (1911) (books by this author), born Herbert Marshall McLuhan in Edmonton, Alberta. He coined the phrases “the global village” and “the medium is the message.” He studied at Cambridge University, and while there, he encountered the writings of G.K. Chesterton, which influenced his conversion to Catholicism; he’d previously been agnostic. He spent most of his professional life working in academia, although he did work in advertising from time to time to support his wife and six children. In the early 1960s, he predicted the eventual decline of the print culture and the rise of “electronic interdependence,” which would bring the world toward a more collective, less fragmented identity. He was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor in the late 1960s; it was treated successfully. Ten years later, he suffered a stroke, from which he never fully recovered, and he died in 1980.

He wrote: “The printing press, the computer, and television are not therefore simply machines which convey information. They are metaphors through which we conceptualize reality in one way or another. They will classify the world for us, sequence it, frame it, enlarge it, reduce it, argue a case for what it is like. Through these media metaphors, we do not see the world as it is. We see it as our coding systems are. Such is the power of the form of information.”

I Read a Book!

Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers

And I read it on my phone. Reading Hamlet’s Blackberry was my first excursion into the realm of Kindle — via the Android app — and I found it pretty handy: great for reading at times when you usually wouldn’t have the book at hand, very handy for bathroom breaks and reading in the dark without need of a lamp, at stoplights or during boring homilies. Or in the dark during a mid-homily bathroom break. All of the above, really, and in various and sundry other multi-tasking combinations which I need not go into here. (Sorry, honey.)

I expected to be bothered more by eyestrain from staring for long periods at a small backlit screen. For the most part, the screen didn’t bother me, however, and I found it to be physically comparable to reading a small paperback. The major exception might be those rare occasions when I did a little reading in full sunlight. From what I’ve heard, the Android device itself — with it’s non-backlit screen and e-ink — is better suited to such conditions. (And that’s why the i-Pad isn’t really a Kindle-killer.) But even on those rare occasions of reading on the beach in the glare of the midday sun, the screen was readable enough and I managed a few pages without too much trouble.

There is an irony about reading this particular book on a screen, because the book itself is all about examining ways to manage and curtail the encroachment of “the crowd” — via all our little screens — into our personal space. The book is not by any means anti-technology but it does cast a cold eye on the potential of this technology to oppress us and kill our souls if we don’t get the upper hand. Powers would say my experience reading it on my phone is more fraught with the hazards of distraction and clutteredness than would be the case for someone reading it on paper sewn and bound between two covers. An example he gives from his own experience:

Not long ago, I began using my computer in a new way. Late at night, when the dishes were done and the bedtime stories over, I’d hole up in my home office for a half hour and watch music videos. I’m into jazz from the late 1950s and early ’60s, a period one might not expect to be well represented online. Yet there’s a rich trove of vintage clips out there from old television shows, films, and other sources, which ardent fans have taken the trouble to find and upload.

Hello? From the YouTube Music Video Archives, anyone? Powers goes on to describe how “the video sessions fell short of the stroll outside the city walls I’d hoped for, because they were hooked up live to the digital grid, with its never-ending buzz of distractions.” (Cf. Walker Percy’s essay, “Loss of Creature.” The packaging intrudes on the experience.) Similarly, my experience reading the book itself on my phone was often interrupted by the myriad things the phone does or is capable of doing all the time. If an email lands and I hear it chime or see the little icon indicating something in my inbox, it’s hard to resist the quick little jump out of the Kindle app and into the email app. On the other hand, reading the book on the phone created, once I got into it, a sort of center of gravity, that made my experience of the phone more focused and less prone to flights of distraction and fiddling with app upon app. There were even times when I ignored the siren chime of the email.

Powers’ approach to the problem of information overload and gadget insanity is refreshing. Rather than flying by the seat of his pop-psychology pants, he digs deeper into the problem by looking at seven big-time thinkers from across the span of human history — and their responses to similar episodes of information stress brought on by the human need to know and to communicate which goes back to the garden of Eden. Powers steers the vehicle of our current epistemological and time-management problems through a sort of philosophical car wash attended by Plato, Seneca, Gutenberg, Shakespeare, Benjamin Franklin, Thoreau, and Marshall McLuhan. Each of these thinkers addressed issues of their own eras that shed light on the contemporary predicament of info gone wild and point to strategies we can employ to gain control and balance.