McLuhan @100: An “intellectual thug”

“Reading John Dewey for a seminar (it’s a McLuhan/Dewey seminar, and I’m already enjoying McLuhan more by focusing on his ideas as aphorisms and reading more interviews and lectures. He intended most of his writings to be cryptic, full of wordplay, and his basic concepts were fairly simple; the iterations of them were often convoluted and usually aphoristic — he claims that he wrote this way to teach, not to tell — the teaching process was in unraveling smaller bites of info).”
– David Cooper Moore, “Can Rock Criticism Be an Educative Process?,” Skyecaptain Livejournal entry, 2009

McLuhan’s “basic concepts were fairly simple”: perhaps, but only if you think of them as “concepts” rather than as probes or percepts or activities (MM himself was fairly dismissive of terms like “concepts” and “theories”). But otherwise, yeah, this makes a lot of sense to me. One of the least rewarding approaches to understanding McLuhan — it’s certainly the case from my experience — is to limit your intake to his books. Even if you include those “books” of his which can scarcely be called books — i.e., those bound objects on printed paper which come across as deliberate attempts to satirize or explode the book form altogether, like in Cliché to Archetype, the way the introduction to the book shows up halfway through. I’ve probably learned thrice as much about MM reading and listening to interviews with him than I have from reading his texts (though the texts always make a lot more sense when I revisit them). You do McLuhan a great disservice, I think, to label him a “writer” — or anyway, to limit your classification of him as merely a writer. It was but one weapon in his arsenal of social activities. (Back in the fifties, I think, he described himself as an “intellectual thug.”)

(I interviewed David Cooper Moore here a couple years ago, though we were discussing Ashlee rather than Marshall. The podcast version is here; transcript here).)


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