Marshall McLuhan (July 21, 1911-Dec. 31, 1980) by Judith Fitzgerald
JUDITH FITZGERALD – Globe & Mail Blog – July 22, 2011
Exactly two decades ago, literary journalist and cultural commentarian extraordinaire Philip Marchand and yours truly met for an unforgettable lunch at The Coyote, a cosy Harbourfront café dishing up delicious Tex-Mex feasts with a lovely view of Lake Ontario in all its glittering glory. I’m not sure if he even remembers our meeting; but, for me, it was one of those miraculously rare life-changing occasions that would both confirm my beliefs and colour my own literary pursuits to this very day:
“So,” began I, “how does it feel to be sitting on what I am firmly convinced will soon become one of the most important works in this (or any other) world?”
I rummage around in my packsack, pull the precious gem out and place one dog-eared copy of The Medium and the Messenger on the table we share. He stares at me, incapable of uttering a word, totally taken aback, stunned by my question yet clearly pleased I had what he thought might well be the last hard-cover copy of his seminal work in existence.
“This,” I insist, “this amazing biography of Marshall McLuhan, this brill beaut that had me rowing off some of its pages in deluges of tears and tearing into others with post-midnight hellarious howlings so loud and unrestrained, I’m sure I woke all the occupants of the entire Mimico sky-highrise where I lived at the time.”
“Har,” goes he. “It’s about to be remaindered, I think, it’s doing so poorly; but, I appreciate your incredible faith in the book’s future. Thank you.”
“No, thank you! I love your biography; that’s why I asked you to lunch. Could you inscribe it for me before it becomes as well-known as its subject?”
He bursts into fresh peals of laughter, crossing and uncrossing his legs, looking out over the lake at the breathcatchingly perfect summer-day view of sailboats and the Toronto Islands, breaking up into spasms of giggly guffaws over and over before his gaze returns to meet mine. “I think you’re crazy, Judith, at least when it comes to McLuhan’s relevance; but, sure, I’ll sign it for you.”
By the way, the University of Windsor’s offered me its writer-in-rez position come September ’93. I know his papers are in the vault there, at Assumption College. I really hope I can poke around in them.”
When I arrived to take up the writer-in-rez post, I did spend at least a hundred hours among McLuhan’s papers and reel-to-reel recordings. By November, I knew I wanted to organize a colloquium on the communications genius (which I did with the generous help of several slightly indulgent but wholly supportive individuals, Philip Marchand foremost among same). Makin’ McLuhan — the celebratory event held March 24th in 1994 — exceeded everyone’s expectations, my own included.
Next, literally out of nowhere, I began work on my own biography of Dr. Herbert Marshall McLuhan, one intended for senior high-school students or newbie college and university students, Wise Guy (XYZ, 2001); the following year, Hélène Rioux’s exquisitely and keenly sensitive translation, «Un visionnaire» (Les Éditions XYZ), appeared in Canada’s other official language. To honour what would have been the good doctor’s 100th birthday, we at “In Other Words” happily share “Critical Mass,” the Introduction to the English edition, with both our regulars (especially leo bloom, Paul I, Sally Forth, Essex, Poetry Lover and SoLoDiVo) as well as our esteemed visitors (including Canada’s first officially designated poet laureate, all-round utility-infielder genius author and “bullshit artist” George Bowering, divinely accomplished versifier Margaret Christakos, celebrated novelist Cathy Marie Buchanan and occasional contributors too numerous to I.D. (but to whom we shall always remain willingly indebted).
[From the Introduction to Judith Fitzgerald’s “Marshall McLuhan: Wise Guy”; follow the link at bottom for the rest of both the article above and excerpt. Critical Mass can also be read in its entirety at: http://www.judithfitzgerald.ca/criticalmass.html }.
The better part of my work on media is actually somewhat like a safe-cracker’s. I don’t know what’s inside; maybe it’s nothing. I just sit down and start to work. I grope, I listen, I test, I accept and discard; I try out different sequences — until the tumblers fall and the doors spring open. — Marshall McLuhan
What Sigmund Freud is to psychoanalysis, Dr. Herbert Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) is to communication theory and cultural anthropology. One of the most influential intellectual mavericks of twentieth-century thought, McLuhan began his career working within the relatively obscure confines of the ivory tower where he toiled away polishing essays analyzing literature and creating lectures on how to appreciate its merits and values.
Canada Day 2001 (The Beautiful Downtown Middle of Nowhere). Full versions of the above can be read at: http://tinyurl.com/3sjlwrj
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