Jacques Ellul (1912 – 1994)

Dear Ellul Society Friend

Our Montreal Conference on The Arts, Culture and the Environment in a Technological Society: Revisiting Jacques Ellul is less than three months away! Location: McGill University, downtown Montreal. We are excited to have a number of arts-related events scheduled in tandem with the conference, including film, art exhibitions and music performances. See below.

As this email has all the latest information and links, please pass it on to others who may want to attend, as well as to relevant university departments (arts, music, media culture, etc.)  For a fuller description of events and program features, you can download this first item:

Montreal Conference Email Promotion PDF
Montreal Conference Poster Flyer PDF
REGISTER for the Conference
Conference Lodging Information Sheet
Main webpage for Montreal Conference

Please register if you can by mid-May. If you can’t make it, please help promote the event by forwarding this email to others.

Keynote speakers are David Lovekin and Samir Younès who jointly prepared the English edition of Ellul’s most sustained reflection on the arts: The Empire of Non-Sense: Art in the Technological Society.  Also, avant-garde filmmaker R. Bruce Elder will be present to show his 1981 expeiremental film “1857 Fools Gold”.  Plus, jazz by Egyptian Cotton Arkestra, Jewish Euro-folk by Black Ox Orchestra, and Korean percussionist Dong-Won Kim. (Tickets.)

On July 7 is a pre-conference symposium, “Music and Antifascism: Reflections on the Past and Possibilities in the Present.”   On Sunday July 10 is a post-conference guided tour of a special exhibition: “Feedback #6: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts” which features elements of McLuhan’s innovative and publishing practices, indeed his “live scholarship” which was roundly scorned by his colleagues.

My goodness, I just set a record for number of links in one update.

Ted
Ted Lewis
IJES Executive Director
Duluth, Minnesota, USA
ellulsociety@gmail.com

“McLuhan was a new type of scholar for the electronic age who saw that art has a unique capacity for comprehending the powers of media. Artists, he believed, acted as radars that allowed the public to grasp the imperceptible psychic, sensory and social effects of technologies.”  (SOURce)
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CURRENT ISSUE

Vol. 2 No. 2 (2022): New Explorations: Studies in Culture and Communication – PUBLISHED: 2022-04-04
ARTICLES

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Source: https://jps.library.utoronto.ca/index.php/nexj


The McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology


WIRED 1.1 – The first issue (March/April 1993)
By Nick Ripatrazoni

Raised Catholic, Kelly had since drifted from religious faith—until that morning. Fourteen years later, Kelly was the founding executive editor of Wired magazine—and Marshall McLuhan was on the masthead as the magazine’s patron saint. Kelly has said that his Easter conversion resulted in, as he puts it, “a logic, comfort, leverage that I have because of that view.” It’s a formulation that feels much like the structuring element of faith for McLuhan.

McLuhan’s appearance on the masthead might be a quirk or a wink of the technology magazine’s staff were it not for the faith of Kelly—and how that faith has influenced his vision of technology. Kelly has argued that “technology is actually a divine phenomenon that is a reflection of God.” Technology, for Kelly, offers us another way to try to understand the impossible: at our best, we might only apprehend God as metaphor; even with all the “artificial intellects we make,” we might only have “the slightest glimmer of who God is.”

God made his way into media theory through McLuhan, whether it was recognized or not.

Kelly had a clear supporter in the Catholic-raised Louis Rossetto, the cofounder of the magazine and the one who recruited Kelly to the editing position. Rossetto rejected the idea that Wired was a magazine about technology. As he wrote in a short manifesto within the first issue, the magazine “is about the most powerful people on the planet today—the Digital Generation. These are the people who not only foresaw how the merger of computers, telecommunications, and the media is transforming life at the cusp of the new millennium, they are making it happen.”

Wired debuted with volume 1, issue 1 in March/April 1993. On the cover, an unfocused close-up of Bruce Sterling is set against a teal background. McLuhan’s name appears on the cover, advertising a conversation between Camille Paglia and Stewart Brand. On the right side of the cover, “The Medium…” trails off to the edge, parallel with a neon-pink tab that, if you follow the page, leads to a spread that quotes McLuhan from The Medium Is the Message: “The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and to re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing you.” The lines languidly stretch across the pages, as if McLuhan were lounging in his office sofa at the Centre for Culture and Technology.

Wired Magazine’s Masthead, Issue 1.1 (1993)
The Brand and Paglia conversation is anchored in McLuhan’s identity as a lost prophet. Paglia talks about how she was influenced by McLuhan. His books were assigned to her at Binghamton University in the mid-1960s. “What’s happened to him,” Paglia wonders. “Why are these people reading Lacan or Foucault who have no awareness at all of mass media? Why would anyone go on about the school of Saussure? In none of that French crap is there any reference to media. Our culture is a pop culture”…
Read the rest of this article at:
https://tinyurl.com/yckzn8k7

On the right side of the cover, “The Medium…” trails off to the edge, parallel with a neon-pink tab that, if you follow the page, leads to a spread that quotes McLuhan from The Medium Is the Message: “The medium, or process, of our time—electric technology—is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and to re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing you.”
WIRED MAGAZINE 4.01 January 1996 


Social media doodles elements

By

Media theorist Marshall McLuhan suggested that each media-related extension of man comes at the expense of another organ. For example, by increasing reliance on visual media, we lose touch with oral communication.

McLuhan also formulated the laws of media which states that all media aim to extend the body, and when they do so some media become obsolete, some get revived and when a new medium is pushed to its limits, it reverts to an early version.

McLuhan’s theories take on a new significance as we witness a reversion of social media, which I refer to as “tribal media.” By this, I mean media that reflects a fragment of a society consisting of like-minded people within specific political, economic, cultural and personal parameters.

Social media has now been around for two decades, and has been treated with ambivalence since its inception. The global COVID-19 pandemic may have pushed social media to its limits, and reverted it to an earlier version: chatrooms.

Until a few years ago, one of the greatest worries about the internet was how addictive it could be. However, when we studied the relationship between screen addiction and stress, we found a silver lining: There was a possibility that addiction to screens helped reduce the emotional burden of other stressors, such as financial worries or relationship problems.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced a different consideration of whether or not social media use produced stress and anxiety. Those who were searching for the potential harms of screen addiction on brain development now had to contend with life and work activities moving online.

Pandemic reversal

In March 2020, our research team used the occasion of the pandemic to explore whether social media causes or relieves stress. We asked respondents about the change in their patterns of different media usage as a result of the pandemic. One year later, we repeated the same question. What we found was a significant change in the nature of people’s interactions with social media — users avoided what was perceived as sensational and political content, but gravitated towards building community.

We observed this trend in another independent analysis of how older adults used social media and communications technology to cope with public health measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We found that, for them, social media and new platforms such as Zoom were important only in as far as they connected them to their own families and communities.

The pandemic made social media and communication platforms the inevitable extension of us. But by bringing us into this forced global embrace, it may have also forced us to split along tribal divisions — what anthropologist Gregory Bateson refers to as schismogenesis. These divisions occur because of, and are exacerbated by, increasing conflict in communications about contentious topics such as lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations…
Read the rest at https://tinyurl.com/4bx7wc3z
Source: https://tinyurl.com/4bx7wc3z

About:
Researcher, Director of Media-Health/Game-Clinic laboratory, Concordia University. Naj is a research associate at McGill University (McGill Centre for Integrative Neuroscience) and Concordia University (engAGE Centre for Studies in Aging). For her research, she has received funding from FRQSC-AUDACE. She is the founding director of Media Health Laboratory and the Game Clinic, which are dedicated to examining the implications of new media technologies in public health.
*****
Twitter Spaces is an example of how a social media platform has reverted to an earlier version of online social communication.


Description:
The Medium is the Massage Side A & B digitally remastered for the 100th Anniversary of Herbert Marshall McLuhan; with Marshall McLuhan Long-playing Record produced by John Simon. Conceived and co-ordinated by Jerome Agel. Written by Marshall McLuhan, Quentin Fiore, and Jerome Agel. Columbia CS 9501, CL2701 (1968). This is the companion LP to McLuhan’s book with the same title.

Background:
Most characteristic of the interficial mode Higgins supported at SEP is, as Peter Frank suggests, The Medium Is the Massage (1967), which McLuhan coauthored with designer Quentin Fiore. By this point in his career, McLuhan was referring to these texts collectively as his ‘”non-books'” (EU 267), and the function of Fiore’s design is precisely to break down the linearity, sequentiality, and visual space values associated with the book. Fiore’s design of The Medium Is the Massage (and of War and Peace in the Global Village) draws on his training with George Grosz, who was influenced early in his career by Dada, Futurism, and Cubism, moving rapidly in the direction of satire with a number of portfolios whose drawings mocked the ruling classes and the military. Grosz was also among the earliest proponents of photomontage, and it is this element that is most powerfully present in the work of Fiore. As Klaus Honnef has written, montage is ‘a symptomatic formal and structural principle of artistic development since the end of the undisputed supremacy of perspective as “symbolic form.”‘ Montage was the creation not simply of a new space, but of the conditions for the production of new kinds of spaces. These new kinds of space lacked homogeneity, rationality, clarity, and objectivity (Honnef 50). For the fixed eye of perspective, montage substituted the moving eye, thereby introducing temporal elements into spatial representation. In addition to the influence of Grosz, Fiore’s work bears some similarity to that of Grosz’s student and collaborator, John Heartfield. As Heartfield’s work – much of which was devoted to book covers – demonstrates, the development of photomontage was inseparable from the rise of the mass media. In Heartfield’s particular case, it was also inseparable from Dada, and the combination, according to Walter Benjamin, ‘ “made the book cover into a political instrument”‘ (‘The Author as Producer,’ quoted in Kahn 46). In addition to work within the book trade, montage was employed in advertising, and Fiore drew on both of these areas of production in designing “The Medium Is the Massage.” That McLuhan should have been drawn to the book as art form when contemplating The Medium Is the Massage is no surprise, given the trajectory of his career, which consistently focused on the book as object, as medium of communication. Among McLuhan’s earliest intellectual interests were Blake and Mallarme, for both of whom the book was more than the mere container of text. Whereas Blake problematized the boundaries of textuality, Mallarme expanded the notion of the book into its own dissolution, theorizing, in a sense, the end of the book, the concept that has so often been credited to McLuhan. Mallarme’s Un Coup de des (1897) is a poem whose meaning is inextricable from its medium – indeed, it could be said that the material format of the poem was its meaning. Similarly, The Medium Is the Massage1 sought to realize what, in Through the Vanishing Point, McLuhan and Parker call ‘the interfaces of transparency and overlap’ (81). The book was published in two formats: Bantam issued a paperback edition, and Random House produced a hardbound version one-and-one half times the size of the paperback (fig. 5.3). … In that case he manages, as did Apollinaire, Marinetti, the Dadaists, Duchamp, to concatenate the verbal-visual with displacements of typographic energy that resemble architecture, that force the muscles of the body to work, that demand total kinesthetic responses.’
– Cavell, Richard. McLuhan in Space: A Cultural Geography. Toronto, ON, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2003. p 127-8.
(Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6SU6Ef30o4E)

Hardcover – Random House – New York- 1967


Photomontage by Photofurisa.com

It is with great enthusiasm that Fonderie [Foundry] Darling opens this anniversary year with an ambitious program that honours the revolutionary thinking of Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan. Performance, guided tour and an Open Studios event with the artists in residence are planned on the evening of the opening.

OPENING SCHEDULE – https://bit.ly/35KfCU9
5pm / Guided tour by curator Baruch Gottlieb – reserved for press and members
6pm / Speeches
6:30 pm / Performance by artist Colby Richardson
7 – 8:30 pm / Open Studios event

FEEDBACK #6: MARSHALL MCLUHAN AND THE ARTS
https://bit.ly/3tJzkY2
Fonderie Darling is hosting the international group exhibition Feedback #6: Marshall McLuhan and the Arts until mid-August. The sixth iteration of this recursive exhibition brings together the work of twelve artists and important archival materials in a curatorial approach that speaks to the still-vibrant influence of this iconic thinker on art today.

FONDERIE DARLING: 20 YEARS + 1
SIÈCLE
https://bit.ly/3hO80Cq 
At the same time, the heritage exhibition Fonderie Darling: 20 Years + 1 Century takes root in the reception area to honour the site’s industrial past. Throughout the year, the public will be invited to discover the rich heritage of the Darling brothers’ company through this three-part exhibition.

The Darling Foundry is a place for the visual arts, located in a factory of old industrial nieghbourhood Griffintown. It presents contemporary exhibitions in three industrial-look spaces and welcomes artists in residencies.
Source: https://tinyurl.com/mpjdrpav



Scott Richmond, shown with his cat Mush, says that Marshall McLuhan saw artists as people who understand the impact technology has on how we experience the world. He often collaborated with people making media.

Richmond wants “to situate the McLuhan Centre as a much-needed community and research hub for scholarship in humanistic media studies at the University of Toronto” and for its programming to “engage what I think of as the ‘aesthetic humanities’—the fields that work on literature, art, cinema, architecture, theatre, music, video games, and so on.”

In doing so, Richmond believes the Centre will be following the legacy of Marshall McLuhan, the renowned communications and media theorist who, for much of his career, taught and hosted discussions in the building now known as the McLuhan Centre. According to Richmond “the central insight of McLuhan’s work—in Understanding Media, but also in his career broadly—is that media technologies ‘alter our sense ratios,’ transforming our ways of encountering the world and of experiencing it.”

McLuhan, Richmond says, also wrote that it is artists who are able to grasp such changes in experience, to bring news of such changes, and to make those changes matters of common concern. “I take the question of aesthetics to be absolutely at the core of what McLuhan taught,” he said. “He collaborated with media and people making media at the time.”

Along with the artist-in-residence program, Richmond also plans to offer a new McLuhan Fellows program. The fellows — one from UofT and the two others from elsewhere — and the artist, who will be local, will each give a public talk related to the Centre’s annual theme, which will also be reflected in the artist’s work. Finally, the lectures and the artist’s work will be collected in an annual publication.

All these activities will promote conversation about and engagement with the artist’s work. The Centre will be promoting Toronto’s “exciting media art scene that often doesn’t get the attention it deserves compared to other settings,” says Richmond, who hopes that the first artist-in-residence will have their art installed in the fall of this year with fellows giving lectures over both the fall 2022 and winter 2023 terms.

The popular Monday Night Seminars, revitalized by Richmond’s predecessor Sarah Sharma — who will take on a new role as Director of UTM’s Institute for Communication, Culture and Technology in September 2022 — will continue, most likely on a monthly basis. Richmond is committed to the Centre being an “interdisciplinary space that fosters conversation between the aesthetic, humanistic, and social scientific iterations of media studies.”
Source: https://tinyurl.com/2ckwwum6

ADDENDUM May 2022: Judging by the new Director of the McLuhan Centre’s description of his planned programming for the 2022 – 2023 academic year, the iSchool at the University of Toronto has once again chosen a Director for the McLuhan Centre who expresses little or no liking for the famous scholar whose name will be on his business card. So, this new Director and the previous one mark a departure from all that came before at the McLuhan Centre, from McLuhan’s establishment of his Centre for Culture & Technology in 1963 to the

The iSchool evidently feels no responsibility for supporting the legacy of Marshall McLuhan

The McLuhan Centre for Culture & Technology

 



The original cover, 1962

The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man (1962) 

Assembled by Robert Sparrow-Downes

 The Good:

“The present work, like much of McLuhan’s utterance, is prophetic in the classical sense of this term. It is the result of a live realization of a truth that at least partially transcends immediate powers of utterance and that, as uttered, will affect hearers diversely. Those whose antennae are as sensitive as McLuhan’s will be overjoyed at this high degree of articulateness about a vast range of mysteriously linked cultural phenomena. Others, completely dominated by the habits of thought incident to the typographical society that McLuhan is standing off from and evaluating, will either be unable to make head or tail of what he is saying or will reject it with some show of hostility.”
Walter Ong
. Review of The Gutenberg Galaxy. America, 15 Sept. 1962. Reprinted in An Ong Reader, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup, Hampton Press, 2002, p. 308.

“If the human community is to retain meaningful possession of the knowledge it is accumulating, breakthroughs to syntheses of a new order are absolutely essential. McLuhan aids one such breakthrough into a new interiority. . . .”
– Walter Ong. Review of The Gutenberg Galaxy. America, 15 Sept. 1962. Reprinted in An Ong Reader, edited by Thomas J. Farrell and Paul A. Soukup, Hampton Press, 2002, p. 308.

“For McLuhan’s now global reputation as a communications authority credits him with the power to see as few do, to hear a new language and to walk confidently in the strange and frightening world of the electronic age.”
– Kay Kritzwiser. “The McLuhan Galaxy.” The Globe & Mail, 4 Jan. 1964, p. 8.

“This book does rather remind me though of the way a William Blake prophecy is written. There too, in Jerusalem, there is no linear story. The reader has to forget his ‘one thing after another’ approach and instead get his head around and under the symbols, symbols which are meant to be felt all at once. All at once corresponds to ‘unified sensibility.’”
– 
James Reaney. “Change and the Invention of Printing.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 21, no. 4, Dec. 1964, p. 501.

“Part of McLuhan’s stance as a maverick can thus be traced to his decision not to write another book in the conventional format. Therefore, in Gutenberg Galaxy, his farewell to literary criticism, an attempt is made to banish linearity and sequentiality in style and idea from the pages of the book medium . . . . The material is organized only by occasional newspaper-like paragraph headings. In this and other ways, McLuhan attempts to infuse his enormous erudition with some of the flair of journalism and the meter of poetry; the result is striking, but it will not be easily accessible to the average reader.”
– 
David L. Fagen. Review of The Gutenberg Galaxy, Understanding Media, and The Medium is the Massage. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, vol. 8, no. 1, Jan. 1968, p. 83.

“The whole theory is worked out in detail, with a wealth of quotations from primary and secondary authorities. Even those who are immune or antipathetic to McLuhanism may find a great deal of fascinating and out-of-the-way information in the pages of The Gutenberg Galaxy.”
– 
Neil Compton. “The Paradox of Marshall McLuhan.” New American Review, vol. 2, Jan. 1968. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 114.

“Yet most people who have read Galaxy are unable to dismiss it. After every objection has been made, the book still contains a wealth of fascinating and novel material about the culture of the past twenty-five hundred years.”
– 
Neil Compton. “The Paradox of Marshall McLuhan.” New American Review, vol. 2, Jan. 1968. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 117.

“The way in which McLuhan relates and connects ideas from a wide range of sources and people in this book is amazing. It is, of all his writing, perhaps the best example of how his mind works.”
– 
Charles Weingartner. “Marshall McLuhan and What He’s Been Doin’.” ETC: A Review of General Semantics, vol. 34, no. 2, June 1977, p. 229.

The Bad:

“. . . . for all its claims, his book is essentially backward in its vision and method.”
Alvarez. “Evils of Literacy.” New Statesman, 21 Dec. 1962, p. 902.

“The book, however, cannot be trusted, as more than stimulation. The over-simplified view of types of society and character gets facts wrong . . . . The contrast between oral and typographic communication is carried to ludicrous extremes, as a vehicle of cultural criticism and historical explanation. It can no more stand against an adequate view of human history than any other single-minded exegesis known to us.”
– 
Dell Hymes. Review of The Gutenberg Galaxy. American Anthropologist, vol. 65, no. 2, Apr. 1963, p. 479.

“Underneath it all McLuhan plays the history-of-ideas game, and plays it, I am afraid, none too well . . . . Furthermore, McLuhan does not have the encyclopedic learning with which to back up his generalizations . . . . Indeed, this is McLuhan’s worst failing: the wholesale reinterpretation of texts to prove his preconceived argument.”
– 
John Simon. “Pilgrim of the Audile-Tactile.” Acid Test, 1963. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 97.

“The point of difficulty is then almost too simply seen: not only that the substance of the book is embedded in print, but that the normal reaction to it—given our present fields and procedures of advanced learning—will be in print also. Paradoxically, if the book works it to some extent annihilates itself.”
– 
Raymond Williams. “A Structure of Insights.” University of Toronto Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 3, Apr. 1964, p. 338.

“….one must confess an increasing incomprehension of McLuhan’s work… Some supporters of McLuhan defend his unique approach by describing him as ‘prophetic.’ He is the intellectual frontiersman who blazes a trail for less sure-footed mortals who will then make a roadbed broad and level enough to carry the freight of civilization’s institutions. The trouble with this defense of McLuhan is that he blazes away at every tree in the forest . . . .”
– 
Patrick D. Hazard. Review of The Gutenberg Galaxy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 356, Nov. 1964, p. 219.

“A mosaic is a way of suggesting, but the only way to ‘reveal’ is still by empirical means, and this implies an appeal to evidence whether the mosaic method is used or not. The mosaic method has no magical value, and only McLuhan’s followers will be impressed with his usual reply that the objection is based on a stuffy, visual, linear concept of cause and effect. He cannot dazzle us into believing that empirical method is merely a fallacy of print-culture.”
– 
Arthur Efron. “Making Peace with the Mechanical Bride.” Paunch, vol. 22, Jan. 1965.

The Ugly:

“One cannot escape the feeling that the book is a deeply felt attempt to intellectualize the obvious.”
– 
Dan M. Davin. Review of The Gutenberg Galaxy. The Globe and Mail, July 1962. Reprinted in McLuhan Hot & Cool, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn, Signet, 1969, p. 187.

“I had always suspected that Finnegans Wake was less a work for the future than the last manic rattling of the bones of scholasticism. The way McLuhan draws it continually from his magician’s hat makes me certain.”
– Alvarez. “Evils of Literacy.” New Statesman, 21 Dec. 1962, p. 902.

“McLuhan claims that if we can understand the nature of this revolution, we can avoid being its victims. Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to describe him not as the apologist, but as the dupe of the new technologies.”
– 
John Simon. “Pilgrim of the Audile-Tactile.” Acid Test, 1963. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 97.

“Since there are no pictures in The Gutenberg Galaxy, and since McLuhan is an outrageously false historian, this is a maddening book.”
– 
Christopher Ricks. “McLuhanism.” The Listener, 28 Sept. 1967. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 101.


The latest edition from the University of Toronto Press, first issued in 2011




York University Associate Professor B.W. Powe has earned a nomination for the prestigious 2022 Medium & Light Award that recognizes the universal dimensions of the life and work of renowned Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan.

The award is given annually by The Marshall McLuhan Initiative that was affiliated for its first decade (2007-17) with St Paul’s College, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg. The University of Manitoba is Marshall McLuhan’s first post-secondary alma mater, where he earned the Gold Medal in Arts for 1933 and an MA in English literature in 1934.

Bruce Powe
B.W. Powe

Powe was nominated by [former] Adjunct Professor at Gonzaga University Alexander Kuskis, publisher of the McLuhan Galaxy blog since 2010 – the official blog of the Marshall McLuhan Estate.

“Indeed, I can think of no one better qualified among the Marshall McLuhan community of interest at this time, because of his numerous published books, several of which directly deal with Marshall McLuhan, with whom he had studied at the University of Toronto; because of his teaching of McLuhan’s visionary commentaries on culture, technology, and media; and because of his contributions to the worldwide McLuhan community through his presentations, writings, participations in conferences, symposia, public presentations, and media appearances,” Kuskis wrote in a letter to nominate Powe. “He follows Marshall McLuhan in being an exemplary public intellectual.”

Powe has been teaching in the English Department at York University since 1995. He is a writer, poet, novelist, essayist and critic. His influential writings on Marshall McLuhan, Northrop Frye and Pierre Trudeau have been widely praised, as have his poetry and novels, including Outage and These Shadows Remain, longlisted for the ReLit Prize. His current research has been into visionary and mystical traditions. He has also been involved in literacy initiatives involving both York University and Frontier College.

Powe is a fellow of the McLuhan Centre at the University of Toronto, as well as an honorary member of the High Table at Massey College.

Kuskis goes on to note he met Powe 25 years ago when he attended a convention Powe organized at York University called “Marshall McLuhan: What If He Was Right?” He notes that by that time, he had read several of Powe’s early published books, and has followed up with every published book of his thereafter to the present day.

“B.W. deserves to be better-known, as at present he is one of the best unheralded Canadian authors in this country,” wrote Kuskis. Recognition with this award would reflect Powe’s total body of work, and not just for writing books and articles but also for his teaching, scholarly activity, McLuhan community engagement, public appearances, presentations and book readings, he said.

“I sincerely hope that this year’s Medium and the Light Award can reward him for his lifetime of hard work, commitment, and considerable achievements,” said Kuskis.

The award winner will be announced during the 23rd Annual Convention of the Media Ecology Association (MEA) this summer.

(Source: York University’s YFile – tinyurl.com/2p93a5h7



Assembled by Robert Sparrow-Downes

Publisher’s Note: This is the first of a series of approximately 15 posts, one for every published book by Marshall McLuhan, whether written by him independently or in collaboration with one or more others. These will be published here, approximately one per week, though not necessarily every week, until completion. The quotes selected from different reviews have been categorized according to their overall positive view (the Good), overall negative view (the Bad), or total dismissal (the Ugly), often derogatory in their tone and language. Taken together, they give an impression of each book’s overall reception, without having to read the more than dozen sampled reviews in full. – Alexander Kuskis

Editor’s Note: In the spring of 2021, I asked York student volunteer Robert Sparrow-Downes if he could help with a new feature I wanted to work into the script of my in-progress work, The Bio-GRAPHIC Marshall McLuhan, a graphic novelization of McLuhan’s life and thought.  The idea: after the publication of each of his books, to repeat the motif of Marshall in the robes of Lady Justice, holding scales on which sit the most positive and negative lines from reviews. The reviews for The Mechanical Bride (1951) were not uniformly for and against. Some found a middle ground. But later reviews proved so decisively for or against the work at hand that Robert’s assembly struck me as striking a nerve which still resonates. Is McLuhan’s reputation destined forever to be the subject of strong contention? – William Kuhns


The cover of the first edition (1951), published by the Vanguard Press, New York; Published simultaneously in Canada by the Copp Clark Company, Toronto. The same image of a green-coloured cylindrical gear that is on the cover of the first edition became red-coloured in a later reprint of the book in the late ’60s or early ’70s.  

1. The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man (1951)

 The Good:

“Several writers have recently tried to bring out the meaning and trend of modern mass society through a universal survey. But no one has done it with so much verve and in so original a way as Herbert Marshall McLuhan.”
– Rudolph E. Morris. Review of The Mechanical Bride. Renascence, vol. 4, no. 2, Spring 1952, p. 217.

“It is to the author’s credit that we are thunderstruck and overwhelmed by his presentation of things we ‘know.’ His ingenious method produces this effect which may make us stop and think before it is too late . . . . he guides the reader through the nightmarish thicket of advertisements, comic strips, newspaper front pages which impress themselves upon us daily and hourly. He shows us what they mean and brings to light correlations and connections between them and other currents of thought, sentiment, and ideas we would never dream of.”
– Rudolph E. Morris. Review of The Mechanical Bride. Renascence, vol. 4, no. 2, Spring 1952, p. 217.

“We would not realize the full implication of industrialization on the human person and the life of mind and spirit if the author did not force us into seeing the paradoxical contradictions of our present ways of life.”
– Rudolph E. Morris. Review of The Mechanical Bride. Renascence, vol. 4, no. 2, Spring 1952, p. 218.

“How refreshing to see a critique of a period and of its morals avoiding moral indignation!”
– Rudolph E. Morris. Review of The Mechanical Bride. Renascence, vol. 4, no. 2, Spring 1952, p. 218.

“The Mechanical Bride, published in 1951, was his first book on media and his most bizarre. I will not dwell on it more than to say it is a collector’s item fetching upward of fifty dollars in mint condition.”
 Howard Luck Gossage. “Understanding Marshall McLuhan.” Ramparts, Apr. 1966. Reprinted in McLuhan Hot & Cool, edited by Gerald Emanuel Stearn, Signet, 1969, p. 25.

“McLuhan is here a groundbreaking folklorist of his own times, tutoring a somnambulant audience in the myths of consumer populism.”
– 
Mark Kingwell. Review of The Mechanical Bride. Saturday Night, vol. 114, no. 8, Oct. 1999, p. 22.

“. . . . it was the first major example of a critical anthropology of advertising that is now ubiquitous . . . . It’s also the best book the future guru of media ever wrote.”
– Mark Kingwell. Review of The Mechanical Bride. Saturday Night, vol. 114, no. 8, Oct. 1999, p. 22.

“Like any great critic, McLuhan here makes the reader feel as if he or she has embarked with the author on a great adventure . . . . Whether merely sententious or as gripping as a thriller, hectoring or satiric, the book never reads as dated. And that’s partly because McLuhan, gearing up to slay the dragon of brainwashing, propaganda, and fascist-capitalist mind control, is having so much fun.”
– 
Greil Marcus. “Twentieth-Century Vox.” Artforum, vol. 51, no. 1, Sept. 2012, p. 462.

“It is clear that this trained person, who appears throughout the book in different descriptions, the one who can crack the code, break the spell, and begin the climb from media slavery to human liberation, is McLuhan himself.”
– 
Greil Marcus. “Twentieth-Century Vox.” Artforum, vol. 51, no. 1, Sept. 2012, p. 466.

“Joyce is not only the greatest modern artist . . . . he is also the great liberator of the twentieth century—and what Joyce did in the first half of the century, McLuhan will do for the last.”
– 
Greil Marcus. “Twentieth-Century Vox.” Artforum, vol. 51, no. 1, Sept. 2012, p. 466.

The Bad:

“Righteous anger has its uses, but it is here often abused to the detriment of the author’s thesis that we are wallowing in vulgarity and shabbiness of values. A passionate no-sayer, he is sometimes carried away by his anger.”
– 
David L. Cohn. “A Touch of Humor Wouldn’t Hurt.” New York Times Book Review, 21 Oct. 1951, p. 26.

“Too often, however, his own voice is lost amid his voice shouting to be heard.”
– 
David L. Cohn. “A Touch of Humor Wouldn’t Hurt.” New York Times Book Review, 21 Oct. 1951, p. 26.

“The idea of the book is excellent, its purpose admirable; unfortunately the effectiveness of the work is all but destroyed by an inflated and professorial style and by the author’s predilection for positively blood-curdling puns.”
– 
Unnamed Author. Review of The Mechanical Bride. The New Republic, 26 Nov. 1951, p. 21.

“The Mechanical Bride is very like Mrs. Leavis’ Fiction and the Reading Public, another book which doesn’t argue well and is in the end historically false, but one which looks incisively at popular culture and which did precipitate some thinking. And yet the most important point against McLuhan is precisely that his antics are enough to give media studies a bad name.”
– 
Christopher Ricks. “McLuhanism.” The Listener, 28 Sept. 1967. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 103.

“Can we escape or not? Is the Mechanical Bride as transfixing as the Iron Maiden? McLuhan makes a lot of play with Perseus’ mirror (‘the mirror of conscious reflection’) as the only protection against Medusa—but Perseus’ mirror wouldn’t have been very much use if he’d forgotten to bring along his sword.”
– 
Christopher Ricks. “McLuhanism.” The Listener, 28 Sept. 1967. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 105.

“The maelstrom of commercial culture is wittily charted, but there are no very convincing hints about how to escape from it. On the contrary, the idealization of twelfth-century philosophy, the sneers at coeducation, feminism, and working mothers, the dubious assertion that the rich were once more socially responsible than they are now, and the rather Victorian attitude toward corsets, brief skirts, and high heels would depress the Bride to the level of silly Tory propaganda if they were anything more than digressions from the main concern of the book.”
– 
Neil Compton. “The Paradox of Marshall McLuhan.” New American Review, vol. 2, Jan. 1968. Reprinted in McLuhan: Pro & Con, edited by Raymond Rosenthal, Pelican, 1969, p. 112.

The Ugly

“As it is he is nearly always as solemn as Nazi propagandists who told Germans that we were a decadent people because we had tree-sitters, marathon dances and jazz bands: that our young men, ‘drugstore cowboys,’ were too soft to fight”
– David L. Cohn. “A Touch of Humor Wouldn’t Hurt.” New York Times Book Review, 21 Oct. 1951, p. 26.


The Gingko Press Edition, 2001