Tuesday, July 12, 2011

You Know Nothing Of My Work

Book Cover: You Know Nothing...Great to see a brief and highly readable account of Marshall McLuhan from Douglas Coupland.

Like many "guru-charlatans" McLoon remains ambiguous, almost paradoxical, often misquoted and misunderstood.

People either co-opt him to their cause, or decide he needs translating, or write endless, solemn analysis of what he 'meant'.

Many people may simply think his time has past - but Coupland indicates how his approach still has much to tell us. Others perhaps think he acted as a cheer-leader for the future, and new technology (far from it!) Yet he does appear to have predicted the future (the way we live now) quite accurately.
Scene from Annie Hall

Still, the title of the book (referring to the great gag in Annie Hall) offers fair warning that I should explain my own take on his work with a fair amount of diffidence. Suffice to say, I considered him a provoker of thought, rather than a man with all the answers.

I often find it hard to agree with a Catholic, a man who hated hippies and acid, etc.

Unlike the evasive or smartass answers to the press (the style adopted by Dylan and then The Beatles), McLuhan bewildered people through his mask of the absent-minded professor, or his use of odd puns, his sudden lucid responses, his own weird perspectives. He remains highly amusing when running rings around people trying to 'understand' him - using the provocative trick of hinting that their own outmoded reality tunnels will prevent them from 'getting it'.

"You mean my whole fallacy is wrong."

One of the reasons I consider him a trickster guru.

"The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communication instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organisation, retrieve the individual’s encyclopaedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind." M.M. 1962

State of the computer art in 1962.


michael said...

It was about time a novelist - and a young, Internet-Age Canadian at that - wrote on McLoon.

The parts about the extra-artery that gave more bloodflow to his brain was interesting.

But what never fails to move me is the almost Greek mythological story of the man who loved to talk about ideas, who loved to talk and talk and be listened to, loved books, but became famous for talking and writing about technology, which personally he detested...was felled by a stroke into speechlessness, and all he could say was "Oh boy!"

Pound had his reason for going silent, which was different from MM's...and Bucky's silence was yet another different one altogether.

Oh yea: it comes through pretty clear in this book - and in different ways in Marchand's and Gordon's bios of MM that the cat was some sort of odd anarchist, albeit a catholic one. He liked Jacques Ellul a lot, another catholic anarchist.

And oh yea: ALL HAIL ERIS!

Bogus Magus said...

Thanks, Michael - a nice mini-review of some of the more intriguing aspects of his story.


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