Coupland (Yet Again!) on McLuhan

27Oct11

I’m not sure that we need yet another interview with Douglas Coupland on the subject of Marshall McLuhan. Coupland’s recent book about McLuhan can best be described as a “biographical fiction”. But, because McLuhan respected the percepts of artists, here is another interview FWIW…….AlexK

By Greg Quill – Entertainment Reporter – Oct 26, 2011 

Novelist, film maker, non-fiction author and visual artist Douglas Coupland’s new book, Marshall McLuhan examines the legacy of the great Canadian communications theorist and philosopher in the new millennium and his impact on new media.

Coupland talks about his book (Penguin, $26) and McLuhan’s ideas Wednesday night at the Studio Theatre with writer and broadcaster Nora Young, host of the CBC Radio program Sparks, as part of the International Festival of Author’s contribution to Toronto’s year-long McLuhan 100celebrations. Tickets are available athttp://tickets.harbourfrontcentre.com. [sorry, posting too late for that]

The Star reached Coupland last week while he was in a remote part of China, only infrequently able to access the Internet. The following Q&A is an edited version of that digital conversation:

Q: How has McLuhan’s vision of media most obviously manifested itself in the Internet age?

A: I think the question answers itself … he foresaw the entire Internet, from Google to PayPal to Wikipedia to Facebook. It’s all there, sometimes with aching clarity. Example: “Instead of going out and buying a packaged book, of which there have been 5,000 copies printed, you will go to the telephone, describe your interests, your needs, your problems and say, ‘I’m working now on the history of Egyptian arithmetic, I know a bit of Sanskrit, I’m qualified in German and I am a good mathematician.’ And they say, ‘It will be right over.’ And they at once Xerox, with the help of computers from the libraries of the world, all the latest material just for you personally, not as something put out on a bookshelf. They send you the package as a direct personal service. This is where we’re heading under electronic information conditions — products increasingly are becoming services.”

Q: How do you think his understanding of new media back in the day led him to predict the Internet and its implications?

A: McLuhan lived in an era of TV, film and radio. His ideas about the internet come, however, from his love of Homeric literature, James Joyce and the works of 1930s/40s historian Harold Innis. He was concerned with the way a new medium comes in and messes up the way we see the older ones, as well as the havoc created by the new ones. What could be more apt for 2011?

Q: Given the density of his ideas and language, do you believe his work is adequately understood, even now?

A: Not really. It’s very hard going. His unwillingness to edit and be edited did him a disservice in the end.

Q: Befitting its subject, your biography takes a non-traditional approach … why?

A: It’s just the way the booked turned out. Marshall it brought it out of me. I bailed three times before saying yes. I was nervous.

Q: I understand you knew little about him when you started work on the book. Was there a Eureka moment when you connected with him … if so, what was it?

A: When I realized that my brain was, in its own way, messed up the way his was … but in different ways. Everyone’s brain is a mess. I hate to reduce what we call “personality” to a matrix of neurological dysfunction, but that seems to be the way things are going. Marshall would have hated that. He believed in the soul. But I think you can be medical about the body and the personality and still believe in the soul.

Q: What are the psychological and physiological effects of the unique vascular pattern of his left cerebral cortex? Did this contribute to his ability to see a bigger picture than other communications thinkers of his time?

A: Probably. His brain was very much like his mother’s. She was an elocutionist, which was like being the YouTube of 1911. She’d go from town to town in the prairies and elocute passages from the great works in theatre halls. She and Marshall could memorize anything and recite it with perfect tone. That alone makes them neurologically fascinating.

Q: Given the many Internet tools now at our fingertips, what can “book” biographies offer that can’t be accessed electronically?

A: A single point of view that makes all the images and all of the shadows line up in the same direction.

Q: From my desk in Toronto, to you in the wilds of China, thanks …

A: Likewise. Nee-hau. A very 21st century dialogue.   http://tinyurl.com/6fu2woz

 The American edition

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