How books irrevocably changed culture, according to media philosopher Marshall McLuhan

Explore McLuhan’s theory on print culture and its influential hold over civilization.

  • Marshall McLuhan said the advent of printed books gave way to print culture, of which he believed went on to shape and mold Western culture’s psyche.
  • McLuhan is well known for his coined phrases, such as “the medium is the message” and the “Global Village.”
  • Misunderstood by many at his time, his prescient prediction of the internet and other implications of electronic culture are issues we still need to address and explore today.

For a brief period of time during the ’60s and ’70s, Marshall McLuhan was a household name. He had an incredible sway and extraordinary influence on American culture. McLuhan was also highly influential in many psychedelic and counterculture circles.Much of his influence in any major intellectual sphere died out in the early ’70s, however.

As we’ve settled into digital culture we know today, McLuhan’s theories and ideas tend to pop up — decades since they were first uttered — for renewed debate and exploration. Some of them are more relevant than ever.

Weaned off the prose of James Joyce, McLuhan was a Joycean scholar, literary critic and, in a greater sense, a medievalist scholar before taking the world stage as a media savant. One of McLuhan’s main theories was that the creation of the printing press led to the Industrial Revolution, and subsequent print media would be the ethereal cultural catalyst and guiding force that brought upon the fragmented and alienated world humans exist in today.

McLuhan had believed that the Age of Print Culture was giving way to a new electronic culture. Many years ahead of his time, and well-read to the umpteenth power, McLuhan’s words take a lot of effort to understand.

Gutenberg’s Galaxy & print culture

Running throughout much of McLuhan’s philosophy was a certain kind of technological determinism. This is the idea that certain media technologies can be more important in framing how the public thinks than the content or context they hold.

Media theorist Neil Postman elucidated this concept quite clearly when he stated,

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.

McLuhan’s famed “the medium is the message,” encompasses this ideal when he explained that the printing press, since its inception by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440, immensely shaped and influenced culture, particularly with the advent of books.

When asked about the impact of the invention of the printing press in an interview, McLuhan gave a number of examples of the unexpected consequence of this technology. Of them, was the rise of readerships — audiences.

It created — almost overnight it created — what we call a nationalism, what in effect was a public. The old manuscript forms were not sufficiently powerful instruments of technology to create publics in the sense that print was able to do — unified, homogeneous, reading publics.

Understanding McLuhan’s work has become more important than ever in the dawn of an electronic and interconnected global culture. Through his words we can better acknowledge the influence much older and ancient mediums — in this case, printable type and subsequently books — have had on local and global culture. By this, we can better understand where we are right now. Perhaps even in regard to fake news and widespread misinformation… (Read the rest at https://goo.gl/96M2Rs)

 McLuhan in 1963


 Iain Baxter& (b. 1936)

Iain Baxter& &Information – That famous aphorism ‘the medium is the message’ was spouted by Marshall McLuhan, the Canadian professor, philosopher and public intellectual back 1964, when his book, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, set the stage for my current train journey where I overhear the students discussing their A levels. ‘What are you doing?’ ‘Media Studies.’ ‘Oh, that’s useful.’ Some days I think he has changed everything about the world, one of the few truly influential academics and polemics of the twentieth century.

Also Canadian, and a younger contemporary (by 25 years) of McLuhan, the artist BAXTER& took his writings to heart and reapplied the thought to his field of vision, to his fundamental approach to making. Everything he does, it seems to me, thinks about the approach of McLuhan. The puns. The connections. The world of word and speed and time. He does not believe, as a traditional artist does, regarding representation or symbolism but is unhealthily concerned the medium itself. He reflects the space it creates around itself, together with its social effect. This obsession is what marks him out as a conceptual artist. In his visual art, the medium is thick and opaque, always visible. This approach kills art and long live art.

IAIN BAXTER& &Information Hales London

Art is the new lightbulb. It is electricity, purified by this self-analytical gaze. There’s something religious about this self-reflexion. You must never take your eyes of your medium for a moment. If you do, you become unaware, naive. You must consciously keep your eyes on what you are doing, never be fooled by the illusion of painting, of television, of novels. Keep your eyes on the frame of your own self-portrait.

BAXTER& literally made sure he made himself the message in 2005 when he changed his name to from Ian Baxter to Iain BAXTER& by deed poll. It’s a big statement which turns himself into a self-conscious brand. Call it pretension itself. No, there is no point using pretentious as an insult on someone who can never be embarrassed by this idea. So let himself call himself The &Man, creating images of the ampersand. Is it time to stop cringing yet?

BAXTER& claims that the ampersand symbolises the continued collaboration with the viewer, always aware of the social space around the medium (himself). The viewer must join in the new religion and keep the frame of the art within his viewpoint. Don’t forget to look at the frame! Readers, remember this is an article! We are not only talking to each other about BAXTER& and his art but also about the rest of art, about technology, ideology and social organisation!

This exhibition &Information is BAXTER& doing what BAXTER& does. Exploring art as information. Coining words that express his inclusive, expansive idea (do we really need these ideas and words?). BAXTER& is never without a camera, but that doesn’t sound so strange these days as we have all become camera carriers with our magic, multipurpose phones. He has documented and documented going about his daily artist business. Photographs, he has said, primarily act as a memory device and a means to understand the world, predicting the age when they lead to validation on social media… (Read the rest of this article at https://goo.gl/kPWqir).

Biographical Information about Iain Baxter& https://goo.gl/y9KCV3

The Hales Gallery, London, UK https://goo.gl/kWLs38

Also, see McLuhan-Inspired Iain Baxter& honoured with exhibition at AGO on this blog https://goo.gl/GLiKC1


The Hudson’s Bay Company crest includes four beavers and the Latin Pro Pelle Cutem, which translates to “skin for leather.”

By Virginia Heffernan  a WIRED contributor

HAVING GNAWED THEIR way across the Bering Land Bridge with their iron-glazed teeth, beavers by the tens of millions straight-up built North America. They worked like rodent Romans, subjugating the deciduous forests with formidable infrastructure: canals, lodges, dams that can last centuries, and deep still-water pools used to float building materials. By clear-cutting trees and blocking streams, the nocturnal, semiaquatic creatures also damaged the environment in some of the same ways humans do. Much later, beavers unexpectedly became the toast of a rarefied academic circle at the University of Toronto, where they inspired, of all things, media theory.

In The Fur Trade in Canada, Harold Innis, a political economist known for originality and intellectual derring-do, chronicled a fierce four-way battle for domination of Canada from the 17th to the 20th centuries. The combatants were beavers, indigenous trappers, European colonizers, and the merciless environment. These observations led to Innis’ later books, Empire and Communications and The Bias of Communications, both about how certain media (paper, radio, television) contain implicit jingoistic values.

The beavers inspired a media theory that oral, print, and digital media are always biased.

Innis discovered a dynamic tension between enduring media (artifacts like inscribed stone meant to memorialize traditions) and imperial media (artifacts like pamphlets meant to monopolize trade). He identified a bias, toward time or space, implicit in the materials a group used. Hard, heavy stuff could be passed down through generations, where light, ephemeral stuff was best used for far and wide proselytizing.

Because the parties to the fur trade mimicked, and pushed, one another forward—beavers imitated the damming styles of humans, humans dressed as beavers, animal and human cultures fought and fused—their ways of communicating evolved rapidly.

Innis’ germinal work inspired the so-called Toronto School, which helped shape the McLuhan Centre for Culture and Technology, named for Innis’ most famous protégé, Marshall McLuhan. The school then developed a media theory with these tenets: 1. Oral, print, and digital media are always biased. (“The medium is the message.”) 2. Psychological and social states are created primarily by media. 3. New media technologies thoroughly change societies and institutions.

As once they bent the waterways of Canada to their will and left humans scrambling to keep up, now the rodents have a fresh ambition: to establish dominion over still colder latitudes…  (Read the rest of this article here: https://goo.gl/b9PUxk)


Brennan Hall, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto

CALL FOR PAPERS – Deadline for submission: extended to JAN 15, 2019

The Media Ecology Association invites paper and panel proposals for presentation at its 20th Annual Convention, taking place on 27-30 June 2019 in Toronto.

We welcome submissions that encompass the broad array of disciplines focusing on the study of media as environments, technology and techniques, modes of information, and symbolic codes of communication that constitute media ecology.

We also invite submissions exploring this year’s theme:Media Ethics. Human Ecology in a Connected World”.

In our current hyper-connected era, information and communication technologies are increasingly forming the infrastructure of a new digital human ecosystem which is larger and quicker to evolve than any prior.
This continually transforming and evolving planetary habitat connects all of humanity into, what Marshall McLuhan’s prescient mind termed, a “Global Village”.

Technology and new media’s impact on this ecosystem has a profound effect on every aspect of the human ethos – self-expression, education, values, beliefs, needs, livelihood, enjoyment – and society at large.

Over the past few years, these emerging technologies and unforeseen digital media practices have also given rise to ethical issues, political and societal questions of critical importance to our evolving future.

The countless unintended implications – current or potential – of today’s rapid technological developments have largely come from socio-technical systems and emerging digital, robotic, artificially intelligent, or biomedical technologies. These advances have led to an unprecedented need for new ethical perspectives and frameworks to underpin the building blocks of our new digital ecosystem.

General areas of interest related to this year’s theme include, but are not limited to, the following topics:

  • Artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Internet of things
  • Robotics and automation
  • Bioengineering
  • Virtual/augmented reality
  • Data ethics, privacy, surveillance, cybersecurity, and data protection
  • Big data and cloud computing
  • Social media algorithms
  • Internet policy
  • Misinformation on social media
  • Propaganda, censorship, and free speech
  • Net Neutrality, openness, and digital inclusion
  • Media integrity in journalism, advertising, public relations
  • Digital citizenship, social and political engagement
  • Entertainment media, digital and media arts
  • Digital literacy and media pedagogy
  • Civil discourse, human dignity, diversity, and individual expression in the media ecosystem
  • Wellbeing sustainability and prosperity in the media environment
  • Innovative interpretations and new ethical perspectives emanating from the Media Ecology intellectual tradition
For further information including Guidelines for Submission, MEA award submissions, Registration Information, the Format of Presentations, Venues and Special Events, Important Dates, and contact information for further information download full CFP information by clicking on Download Call-for-Papers
Call for Art
We also invite proposals for art, in partnership with Media(s)cene, a project inspired by Marshall Mcluhan’s landmark book, The Medium is the Massage, and what Mcluhan called “probes”. selected proposals will be invited for the ”Media(s)cene” art exhibit in Toronto.
Information: https://medium.com/mediascene
Media ecology association website https://www.media-ecology.org/
Convention website http://www.mediaethics.ca
Portion of a bas-relief plaque in front of the Kelly Library at St Mike’s that includes the images of James Joyce, Marshall McLuhan, Étienne Gilson and other notable faculty who taught at St. Mike’s.

R.H. Thompson as Marshall McLuhan in The Message, at the Tarragon Theatre, Toronto (Photo by Cylla Von Teidemann) Click on the image for an expanded view.
  • Title: The Message
  • Written by: Jason Sherman
  • Genre: Comedy-Drama
  • Director: Richard Rose
  • Actors: R.H. Thomson, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Sarah Orenstein, Peter Hutt, Patrick McManus
  • Company: Tarragon Theatre
  • Venue: Tarragon Theatre Mainspace
  • City: Toronto
  • Year: Runs until Dec. 16

Review by Simon Houpt

A little over halfway through The Message, playwright Jason Sherman’s dense and searching head trip into the manic mind of Marshall McLuhan, a slick San Francisco ad man named Gerry Feigen who had helped make the Canadian communications guru a household name pays him a mournful visit. McLuhan has suffered a stroke that has left him ailing and mute, and Feigen, formerly bawdy and brazen when they worked together in the mid-1960s, is now regretful. He wonders if he had overpromised the deliverance McLuhan could offer those souls who had grown disenchanted by the rapid changes in society. “We made you out to be The One,” he says. “But you never said you had the answer, Mac. All you ever said you had was the question.”

There may be a similar burden of expectation hovering over The Message, which marks Sherman’s return to playwriting after years in the mines of TV and other electronic media. It has been 15 years, after all, since the threat of a lawsuit by the McLuhan family halted the play’s production mere months before its scheduled world premiere. If it had something to tell us in 2003 – that is, before the iPhone and Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and YouTube were born and then proceeded to swallow us like Jonah’s whale – then surely the message of The Message has grown ever more urgent. By returning to a man who foresaw the pains of our transitional moment, could we claw our way out of this fix?

So: Enter cautiously. Because, sure, McLuhan famously said “time has ceased … we now live in a global village … a simultaneous happening.” But while The Message is chronologically fractured, do not expect specific references to our own era, or social media, or even the existence of the internet. Its focus remains on McLuhan’s life, which ended on Dec. 31, 1980, at age 69.

We open 15 months earlier, in the hours after McLuhan’s stroke in September, 1979. In an extended blackout scene, a woman calling herself Mary explains that “Father” is angry with McLuhan – who converted to Catholicism at age 26 – for failing to deliver a message to the world. “That’s why he’s done this, Professor – taken your words.” She adds: “Father says you can’t come unless you deliver the message.”

Read the rest of this review at https://goo.gl/vFQmtK.


R.H. Thomson performs the role of Marshall McLuhan during his time of decline & aphasia

I attended a pre-opening performance of The Message last week. I was not impressed by either the play or production I witnessed, indeed I was disappointed. I know R.H. Thomson to be a highly regarded and skilled actor, but he could only work with the script that he was presented with by playwright, Jason Sherman. I found his depiction to be sadly lacking in that his play showed McLuhan during only two stages of his life, shifting back and forth between these two phases: first, there was the period after 1967-68 when he had been on sabbatical at Fordham University in New York, during which time he was afflicted by a benign but large brain tumor that required an overnight many-hour operation (see https://goo.gl/Mjs8pg); second, we are also presented McLuhan in an aphasic state during his final year, at which time his most common verbalization was “Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy”. In other words, we never see a depiction of the brilliant genius who was foundational for the new academic field of media studies, was hailed as “Canada’s intellectual comet” by Richard Schickel of Harper’s Magazine (1965), and who author Tom Wolfe compared to Newton, Darwin, Freud and Einstein. Therefore, uninformed theatre audiences without knowledge of McLuhan might be left with the impression that even before the major stroke that left him speechless, McLuhan was little more than an absent-minded professor who even his secretary, Margaret Stewart couldn’t understand. That is utterly misleading and an unfortunate misrepresentation. No wonder Corinne McLuhan, McLuhan’s wife and the McLuhan Estate, objected to the play in the first place. I could say much more but, maybe I will write a full separate review of this disappointing play and production. – Alex Kuskis

By Brad Wheeler, Toronto Globe & Mail – November 12, 20018

How big was Marshall McLuhan in the late 1960s? The San Francisco Chronicle dubbed the University of Toronto professor “the hottest academic property around,” and the line “Marshall McLuhan, whatcha doin’?” was featured on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, delivered by a giggling Goldie Hawn.

Here’s the thing about McLuhan that nobody likes to talk about, though: In 1967, at age 56, he underwent surgery for the removal of a benign growth in his head. The operation – described by McLuhan biographer Douglas Coupland as a “gross insult to the brain” – extended his life, but may have cost him some of his genius.

Recently I came across a story about the time McLuhan met John Lennon and Yoko Ono in Canada in 1969. For an interview organized by the CBC, the eccentric communications theorist talked to the rock-star couple about their “War is Over” media campaign. He was intrigued not by the duo’s peace message but the medium that carried it: Billboards.

McLuhan seemed a bit off his game. “I just sort of wonder how the ‘War is Over,’ the wording, the whole thinking,” McLuhan began the interview, stumbling from the get-go. “What happened?” Lennon answered that the basic idea was Ono’s, and that they had an idea for Christmas that was a “bit too vast,” but that something would happen, “maybe,” in the following year.

And so it went – a real egghead fandango. McLuhan, the darling of the elbow-patch-and-turtleneck set, wasn’t going to get to the bottom of the ideas held by Lennon and Ono. In his absent-minded state, he sometimes had a tough enough time getting to the bottom of his own. “I don’t necessarily agree with everything that I say,” McLuhan once said. He was, jokes a character in a curious new play by Jason Sherman, “a man of a thousand ideas, three of them completed.”

The Message – the title is taken from McLuhan’s oft-quoted maxim, “the medium is the message” – opens on Nov. 14 at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre. The play has a long and controversial history. Fifteen years ago, The Message was scheduled to kick off Tarragon’s 2003-04 season. But after reading a draft of the play, McLuhan’s eldest son Eric and the estate’s literary agent, Matie Molinaro, objected to some of the content and threatened to sue Sherman.

As a result, The Message was put on the shelf. Sherman, a Governor-General’s Literary Award winner, busied himself with other projects. For the last decade, he’s concentrated on writing for radio and television. But, earlier this year, out of the blue, it was announced that Sherman had returned to Tarragon as its playwright-in-residence and that The Message was being dusted off for its long-awaited world premiere. Questions abounded: What took so long? Why now? What about the lawsuit? In short, whatcha doin’, Jason Sherman?

Initially, Sherman wasn’t interested in giving answers. The Message had undergone significant alterations since its contentious beginnings 15 years earlier, I was told by Tarragon Theatre, and Sherman didn’t want to talk about the play just yet. Fair enough. I interviewed him for a short feature about his return to writing for the stage with the understanding that we’d talk about The Message closer to its premiere.

A couple of weeks before The Message was set to open, however, I was informed by Tarragon that Sherman was game to talk about the play… (Read the rest of this article here https://goo.gl/QS1ZFP)

Read the previous announcement of this production on this blog here – Play about Marshall McLuhan to premiere after long and controversial history – https://goo.gl/3emM6k

 Jason Sherman, playwright


ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs’ Jeff Canoy with Canada Ambassador H.E. John AHolmes.

Reporting from the Margins: The role of journalism in covering crises and conflict situations

Join us on Thursday November 15th, 6:00 PM at the Basilian Common Room, Brennan Hall (2nd floor, east side entrance) [map] at St. Michael’s College (81 St Mary Street, Toronto).

Jeff Canoy, broadcast journalist for ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp and winner of the 2018 McLuhan Fellowship Award, will present the topic: “Reporting from the Margins:  The role of journalism in covering crises and conflict situations” in which he discusses his experiences in covering the war in Marawi last year, including challenges, gaps, best practices, and efforts to underline the significant role media play as a watchdog to strengthen democracy and rule of law. 

This event is presented as part of the McLuhan Salons series, in collaboration with the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines  and the Estate of Marshall McLuhan .

The McLuhan Salon series is generously supported by the William and Nona Heaslip Foundation.

The event is free and open to the public. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Introduction: Carlo Figueroa, Public Affairs Officer, Embassy of Canada in the Philippines. Special Guest: Michael McLuhan, Michael McLuhan, Executor Marshall McLuhan Estate. Moderator: Paolo Granata, St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto.

Jeff Canoy – The 2018 Marshall McLuhan Fellow – Philippines

This year’s McLuhan Fellow is Jeff Canoy, broadcast journalist for ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp.  Mr. Canoy is known to have covered major conflicts, humanitarian and natural disasters in the Philippines including volcanic eruptions, landslides, and Category 5 Super Typhoons that hit the country. He has also worked on stories on the Maguindanao massacre, the botched police operation in Mamasapano, and investigative reports on extrajudicial killings and torture linked to police.  He currently covers the Philippine National Police and the government’s war on drugs and is an anchor of the public affairs program Red Alert, focusing on risk reduction and disaster preparedness. 

Mr. Canoy’s work  – “Never Shall be Conquered” – a TV documentary about the Islamic State-inspired siege of Marawi, the Philippines’ only Islamic city,  recently won a Gold Dolphin trophy for Best Documentary under the Current Affairs, Human Concerns, and Social Issues Category at the 9th Cannes Corporate Media and TV Awards in France.  This documentary also won a gold medal last year in the New York Festivals – World’s Best for TV.  His stories on disaster response have previously won him several awards from the local broadcasters’ guild.  Most recently, he was an international fellow for the Malaysian Press Institute and has completed journalism programs at the Lauder School of Government in Tel Aviv, Israel and Columbia University in New York, USA.

See related earlier post on this blog Jeff Canoy Named as the 2018 Marshall McLuhan Fellow in the Philippines at https://goo.gl/26HQj9


For Media Literacy Week

Is fake news really the problem? 

While the term appears in the headlines and on the lips of everyday internet users, is ‘fake news’ really the problem? Or are we facing something much more complex? Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Mozilla Foundation, takes us on a winding journey through misinformation, filter bubbles, content sorting algorithms, shady political ads and cyber warfare in an attempt to show what’s really going on. At the end he asks: what role can media literacy play in rebuilding our democracies? And where should companies and governments do more?

Program Partners: Media Literacy Week, McLuhan Salons

DATE & TIME: Friday, November 9, 2018 – 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm

LOCATION: Royal Ontario Museum, Signy and Cléophée Eaton Theatre, Level 1B – See Map – President’s Choice School Entrance 

RSVP is Required. GET TICKETS here https://goo.gl/EA5Xxj

 Speaker: Mark Surman

The internet is one of our most valuable public resources — it’s Mark Surman’s job to keep it healthy.  
Mark is Executive Director of Mozilla, the global nonprofit that does everything from making Firefox to standing up for issues like online privacy. Mark is focused on fueling the broader internet health movement by working with citizens, technologists and civic leaders around the world. Mark is also part of the team that develops Mozilla’s annual Internet Health Report. Before Mozilla, Mark was the Managing Director of telecentre.org and President of social tech consulting firm Commons Group. In 2007, Mark was awarded the prestigious Shuttleworth Fellowship, where he explored how to apply open source approaches to philanthropy. Mark lives in Toronto with his sons, Tristan and Ethan.


Hugh Kenner (1923-2003)

“Questioning Minds: The Letters of Guy Davenport and Hugh Kenner” has been for me, and will be for many others, the most intellectually exhilarating work published in 2018. In roughly 1,000 letters, mainly from the 1960s and ’70s, two of the great literary polymaths of the second half of the last century converse about art and literature, scholarship, translation, the follies of academe, and the life of the mind. As a bonus, the book’s redoubtable editor, Edward M. Burns, identifies every name, reference and allusion, elevating his sometimes essaylike notes into an integral, invaluable part of the correspondence itself.

Nearly all of Hugh Kenner’s work can be viewed as an extended commentary on 20th-century modernism or, as his 1971 magnum opus called it, “The Pound Era.”Not only did Kenner (1923-2003) produce groundbreaking studies of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, Ezra Pound and Samuel Beckett, but his own darting prose, abounding in surprising factoids and anecdotes, also makes his writing vastly entertaining; Guy Davenport once compared reading his friend’s work to the thrill of opening presents on Christmas morning. As one might expect from a star student of Marshall McLuhan, Kenner regularly probes the effect of new technologies, such as the typewriter and telephone, on early modernist literature. This McLuhanesque bent eventually led him to bring out entire books about R. Buckminster Fuller, the inventor of geodesic domes, and cartoon legend Chuck Jones, the genius behind Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote. (Source where you can read the rest: https://goo.gl/NTH6AQ)

A Short Biography of Hugh Kenner

[William Hugh Kenner]; b. 7 Jan., 1923 at Peterborough, Ontario; son of Henry Rowe Hocking [K], a Catholic headmaster and teacher of classical languages; grandson of a mathematician after whom the local school was named; born with speech defect, and presumed deaf; became an early reader and a childhood polymath; studied under Marshall McLuhan at Toronto Univ.; grad. BA 1945 and MA 1946, with Gold Medal in English; introduced by McLuhan to Ezra Pound, who told him it was his duty to meet all the great men of his age; published Paradox in Chesterton (1948), intro. by McLuhan; undertook his PhD at Yale, supervised by Cleanth Brooks, and grad. 1950; visited Ezra Pound in St Elizabeth’s with McLuhan, 1948; his “The Portrait in Perspective” appeared in Seon Givens, ed. James Joyce: Two Decades of Criticism (1948);
issued The Poetry of Ezra Pound (1951), composed in six weeks and intended ‘to help as many people as possible to read Pound for themselves’ at the time of the Bollingen award, and won the Porter Prize; taught at Santa Barbara 1950-73; issued Dublin’s Joyce (1955), Samuel Beckett (1965), and The Pound Era (1971), a monumental study of Anglo-American Modernism; resigned from American Academy of Arts and Sciences, at committee’s repudiation of the Emerson-Thoreau Award to Ezra Pound; appt. Andrew Mellon Professor of Humanities at Johns Hopkins University, 1973-1990; issued Joyce’s Voices (1978), and Ulysses (1982) -a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel; castigated Richard Ellmann in a review of the revised edition of James Joyce (orig. 1959; rev. 1982) for accepting what Kenner called ‘Irish Facts’ LS, 17 Dec. 1982); issued A Colder Eye: The Modern Irish Writers (1983), a work that made him enemies among Irish critics leading to disputations in print with Thomas Kinsella and others… (Read the rest at https://goo.gl/4dwGy5)

See Hugh Kenner and Marshall McLuhan previously published on this blog: https://goo.gl/cGUuUN


Click on image for enlarged view

R. Bruce Elder’s Cubism and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect

Filmmaker, writer and professor Elder’s new book traces the rise of a new scientific theory, which changed our conception of time, space, objecthood and personhood and demanded revolutionary, new art forms.

ABOUT THE BOOK

Cubism and Futurism were closely related movements that vied with each other in the economy of renown. Perception, dynamism, and the dynamism of perception—these were the issues that passed back and forth between the two. Cubism and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect shows how movement became, in the traditional visual arts. Further, it explores the role of the cinema in amplifying this interest, by demonstrating that with the advent of the cinema the time was over when an artwork strived to lift experience out the realm of flux and into the realm of the changeless eternal.

The cinema at this time was understood as an electric art, akin to X-rays, Lumia, and sonic energy. In this book, celebrated filmmaker and author R. Bruce Elder connects the dynamism that the cinema made an essential feature of the new artwork to the new science of electromagnetism.

Cubism he portrays as a movement on the cusp of the transition from the Cartesian world of standardized Cartesian coordinates and interchangeable machine parts to a Galvanic world of continuities and flows. Drawing on the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, Elder shows that Futurism, by way of contrast, embraced completely the emerging electromagnetic view of reality.

Cubism, and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect examines the similarities and differences between the two movements’ engagement with the new science of energy and shows that the notion of energy made central to the new artwork by the cinema assumed a spiritual dimension, as the cinema itself came to be seen as a pneumatic machine.

REVIEWS

“This volume establishes R. Bruce Elder’s writing as belonging among works of rare analytical depth, and probably unique within the panorama of film theorists. I know of no cineaste more attentive to esthetical and philosophical issues. The tissues of his thought processes manifest constantly in the deluge of original commentary, opening innovative avenues of meaning. Reading this volume is like entering into a fascinating territory of futurist and cubist poetics, with the view of a boundless horizon. Elder, in a systematic way, gathers the boundaries of various theoretical matrixes and melts them to enrich the architecture of cinematographic thinking.” – Antonio Bisaccia, Director, “Mario Sironi” Academy of Fine Arts – Sassari, Italy

“This very important essay by Bruce Elder clarifies perfectly the difference between two great phases in Western Culture. The former, modernity, was dominated by the conceptions of a Newtonian and Cartesian space, based on ancient Euclidean geometry, whereas the latter, beginning at the end of the eighteenth century, conceived the first intuitions about electromagnetism. In contemporary art, the consequence is that Cubism remained “between the two,” liberating forms from Euclid but leaving them to the immobility of a surface, whereas Futurism understood that the moment had arrived to conquer movement, time, and real existence through new technological tools like cinema and X-rays.” – Renato Barilli, University of Bologna, Italy

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bruce Elder is an award-winning filmmaker who received a Governor-General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts: the citation stated that Elder’s film cycle “The Book of All the Dead, inspired by Dante Alighieri’s Commedia and Ezra Pound’s Cantos, grew out of his preoccupation with the horrors of modernity, its faith in progress and the loss of a sense of what is good and evil. His current film cycle, The Book of Praise, makes extensive use of computer-image generation, highlighting his fascination with mathematics and digital technology. Elder has been a guest lecturer at institutions across North America and around the world and has written books and articles on film, music, poetry and the visual arts. The jury described him as ‘highly innovative,’ ‘influential’ and ‘acutely intelligent,’ noting the enormous span of his practice and the demanding nature of his films.” Elder 7.5-hour long film, Lamentations: A Monument to a Dead World was selected as one of the 150 best Canadian moving image works on the occasion of Canada’s sesquicentennial in 2017.

Elder’s earlier book Harmony & Dissent (WLU Press, 2008) received the prestigious Robert Motherwell Book Prize and was named a Choice Outstanding Academic Book. Rudolf Kuenzli described DADA, Surrealism, and the Cinematic Effect (WLU Press, 2013) as “that rare book that casts the early twentieth-century avant-garde in a very new light.”

INVITATION TO ATTEND THE BOOK LAUNCH

Pages Unbound and Ryerson University’s School of Image Arts are pleased to announce their presentation of a book launch celebrating R. Bruce Elder’s recent Wilfrid Laurier University Press publication Cubism and Futurism: Spiritual Machines and the Cinematic Effect. The event will be held on Friday, Nov. 2, 2018, at the School of Image Arts, 122 Bond St., Toronto. Author’s remarks will begin at 7:00 pm and shortly thereafter Elder will be interviewed by Jim Shedden, arts critic, and programmer, and Director of Publications at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The School of Image Arts, Ryerson University, Toronto