Some Notable Letters by Marshall McLuhan


 McLuhan & “Bucky” Fuller

Photo by Robert Fleming taken in the Bahamas

Somebody has posted some of the letters of Marshall McLuhan online, presumably taken from the “Letters of Marshall McLuhan” (1987), published by Oxford University Press. Here are a few of them; follow the link at the end for more……AlexK

September 17th, 1964 – to BUCKMINSTER FULLER

Dear Bucky: I was not at all happy about missing the seminar this summer. There was too much on the plate here.

Have a good deal of luck in analyzing various problems lately. I enclose a note on one of these. If one says that any new technology creates a new environment, that is better than saying the medium is the message. The content of the new environment is always the old one. The content is greatly transformed by the new technology.

Supersonic flight will create a new environment which makes our present cities somewhat useless. In fact, if they are to be approached within any convenient distance at all, they will have to be “roofed over.” Supersonic take-off and landing alike blow the glass out of a city, so your Dymaxion Dome becomes a necessity, just as much as the road is a necessity for the wheel. One environment creates another.

Would appreciate your suggestions about readings in the matter of technology as creator of environment. Today the environment itself becomes the artefact. The consequences for learning are quite extraordinary. The prepared environment separates the old curriculum.

Warm regards,   Marshall McLuhan

Tom Wolfe had written a profile of McLuhan that appeared in New York magazine, entitled, “What If He’s Right?”

November 22nd, 1965   –   to TOM WOLFE

Dear Tom: I am very happy about your portrait of me. Sitters are not supposed to enjoy their portraits. So when I say I am pleased with your portrait of me, I mean that I can recognize its power and fidelity, but like hearing one’s own voice for the first time, or seeing one’s self for the first time on video, or film, there is a considerable mood of disillusionment that is both deserved and salutary.

Corinne, by the way, is convinced that we should send you a sample of my neckties. It was a clip-tie that I was wearing in San Francisco. She feels that you implied that there was some mysterious plastic band that went all the way around the neck! Rhetorically, I understand full well the usefulness of that ploy. Your success in elucidating my approaches to various problems is really considerable. The only serious disadvantage of your article may develop in the internal revenue quarter. They may begin to demand a bank statement!

Corinne is only now getting into your Tangerine book. She is finding it quite exhilarating.

Please advise the circulation department to send a dozen copies of your article, and to bill me for the same. I am sure we will need more copies than that before long. It is sure to prove a major asset to McLuhan Inc.

Lots of new developments here. When our sensory threshold study is completed, it may be possible for you to do a story on it. It is really quite a unique and exciting study that is developing.

Marshall McLuhan

February 9th, 1967   –   to HUBERT HUMPHREY 

Dear Mr. Vice-President: I did much appreciate your sending me that splendid photograph of us both.

When seated with you I had jokingly explained the advantages of living in a backward country like Canada. Now I am to have an opportunity to expand that theme in a series of lectures here that are given annually on a Foundation basis.

One other theme that had risen at that same dinner concerned the difficulty of covering a hot war like Viet on a cool medium like television. Viet is our first TV war. TV creates an audience involvement in depth that automatically creates alienation of the public. The same news covered by the old hot media like press has a very different effect.

While we are Westernizing the East by our old technology, we are Easternizing ourselves by the new technology. TV is an orientalizing force, taking us all on an “inner trip” that blurs the old idea of private identity altogether.

Again, thanks, and very best wishes.

Sincerely yours,   Marshall McLuhan

January 15th, 1969   –   to JAMES TAYLOR

Dear Mr. Taylor: I find myself unable to fill in the questionnaire simply because it calls for much more meditation than I can provide at present. I can say that I do not think of God as a concept, but as an immediate and ever-present fact — an occasion for continuous dialogue.

Yours in Xto,   Marshall McLuhan

November 22th, 1972   –   To Margaret Atwood   

Dear Miss Atwood: It is good to know that you are on the University of Toronto campus as our resident writer this year. Lately, I have had the luck to read Survival where I found at once the answer to a question which I have been asking for some years:

“Why do North Americans, unlike all other people on this planet, go outside to be alone and inside to be with people?” I knew that the answer would be massive, since if it were anything else, it would be easy to spot. You provide the answer in Survival when you indicate the North American crash program for conquering nature. Surely no other continent was ever ripped off so quickly or completely, but then Renaissance man, and afterwards, had unsurpassed technology for doing just that. Less well-equipped cultures were inclined to make a truce with nature quite early. Perhaps Western man was not prepared for the sudden capitulation of nature with Sputnik in 1957. When the planet went inside a man-made environment, nature had to yield to art and ecology.

Sometime I hope we can chat about the ways in which going outside to be alone and inside to be folksy have shaped North American genre. Meantime, congratulations on Survival.

August 25, 1976   –   to WOODY ALLEN 

Dear “Alvy”, It was fun getting into the new (for me) medium. You made me aware of the phenomenal amount of work and skill that is involved in making a film. Naturally it was delightful meeting you and working with you.

The preliminary precaution concerning mention of my being in one of your films just didn’t register adequately with me. Of course, I did not mention the matter to any publication source. One’s friends pass the word quickly among themselves, so that I cannot imagine it remaining a secret. Of course, I would never dream of having an interview about it, or making a statement at any time, so that the most that could possibly come out would be a passing gossip reference. Most probably, however, this will not occur.

With heartiest good wishes for the future of this film.

Marshall McLuhan

Letters of Marshall McLuhan

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