From The Second Storey: Print is now Counterculture


The Next 40 Years Ed Video symposium

Ed Video Guelph Symposium on the Future of Media, October 1
Andrew McLuhan, grandson of 1960s communications guru Marshall McLuhan, will be speaking during the Ed Video tribute on Saturday, Oct. 1

Print is dead? Think again, says McLuhan. That’s Andrew McLuhan, grandson of 1960s communications guru Marshall McLuhan.

“Print’s not dead, it’s just that the role has changed,” says Andrew.

McLuhan is speaking over the phone this past weekend from Prince Edward County, where he lives with his wife and two kids and runs an antique upholstery business – and ponders his next project honouring his grandfather’s legacy.

“Print is counterculture instead of the mainstream culture,” says McLuhan. “Its role has changed but it’s still vital. It has a newly avant-garde status.” 

andrew mcluhanAndrew McLuhan. Photo provided.

That’s a media message that would likely tickle David J. Knight, Guelph-based archeologist, writer and editor.

Late this month, Knight will launch the inaugural issue of an art magazine called XAGGERA. His new project will be released Sept. 30 as part of a two-day event marking the 40th anniversary of Ed Video Media Arts Centre in Guelph.

On Oct. 1, Ed Video will play host to an afternoon symposium about the future of media. That event will include McLuhan, who plans to discuss his recent project of cataloguing his grandfather’s library.

“Fringe” is how Knight describes the mix of fiction, non-fiction, poetry and visual art contained in XAGGERA’s inaugural 54-page issue.

“It’s for anybody who gets really bored with the standard uniformity of arts, writing, festivals, where everything is crystallized, uniform, identifiable,” he says. “I like these areas on the fringe. It’s vaporized, moving.”

The issue is being released by Fenylalanine Publishing, run by Knight.

Formed just over a year ago, Fenylalanine Publishing has released a series of 23 short online works mostly by Guelph-area writers and artists.

Topics have included These Are My Streets, a collection of Guelph neighbourhood reflections by Jeremy Luke Hill; a monograph on sixteenth-century Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe by Knight; Ink and Pen, a collection of drawings and poems by U.K. artist Marsha Robbins; and A Life in Painting, a photo essay about the work of Guelph artist Sona Mincoff.

The new magazine brings together works by 22 contributors, including poet John Nyman, artists Clara Engel and Garth Laidlaw, and writer Bieke Stengos.

20160915 EdVideo roScott McGovern of Ed Video, trying out Google Cardboard. Photo provided.

One essay was written by Scott McGovern, program manager with Ed Video. The media arts centre relocated from downtown to the Ward neighbourhood in 2014.

The centre trains people to use video and multimedia. McGovern says video emerged in the 1970s as the “ultimate democratic art medium.”

Today, he says, video still holds that distinction. Just look at YouTube. “Anyone with a cellphone camera can have an idea today and 20 million fans tomorrow,” he says.

While planning this fall’s event, McGovern asked Andrew McLuhan to be the keynote speaker. Says McGovern, “He’s the embodiment of [Marshall] McLuhan’s ideas in today’s world.”

Now 38, Andrew spent much of 2009-10 cataloguing his grandfather’s personal library of 6,000 volumes. The collection resides at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at the University of Toronto, where Marshall was an English professor.

Google the word “McLuhan” and you find millions of hits for the late communications theorist, along with links to “global village” and “the medium is the message” — both coined by Marshall.

marshall mcluhanMarshall McLuhan.

Marshall died when Andrew was a year old. When circumstance led Andrew to begin poring over Marshall’s library, he began to detect what he calls “the ripples of his grandfather’s presence” through the marginalia scrawled throughout his heavily annotated volumes.

“Here, in between the pages of his books, is the distilled essence of his thought in micro-annotations. It’s a really profound thing,” says Andrew.

“He was a practical guy, and his books were tools. A craftsman doesn’t generally keep around tools that aren’t useful. If he has a book, it’s because it’s important or meaningful to his work. It’s possible to think of some of those authors as his collaborators.”

Andrew detailed some of those “collaborations” in a blog kept during his inventory project. Marshall had so much to say to James Joyce about Finnegan’s Wake that he ended up scribbling marginalia over four copies of the novel.

In an edition of James McCrimmon’s From Source to Statement, Andrew found a handwritten comment by McLuhan about the genesis of “the medium is the message.”

McCrimmon’s volume contained a reprint of the first chapter of McLuhan’s n, his 1964 book about media theory. That chapter, titled The Medium Is the Message, lays out McLuhan’s idea about the importance of the communications medium as well as its content.

Written in that reprinted chapter were McLuhan’s words: “I first uttered this statement at a radio broadcasters’ conference in 1958. I was arguing then that television could not end radio.”

“That was a thrilling find, and an example of one of the various uses of McLuhan’s library,” says Andrew, who also discovered a previously unknown letter from Ezra Pound to his grandfather tucked in a volume of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. “A lot of these annotations were perfect Tweets.”

McLuhan has discussed his grandfather’s work in elementary and high school classrooms. His workshop there focuses on Marshall’s “figure and ground” discussion of the context of media technology.

Ask kids to talk about what’s needed for their smartphones to work, and you’ve got a natural entry into discussing ideas about the media landscape and the ubiquitousness of communications technologies, he says. “It’s amazing to see nine- and 10-year-olds picking up these topics with complete ease.”

During his Guelph talk, Andrew plans to involve his audience in a similar exercise. He will also discuss potential plans for further McLuhan studies, including an idea for a new media studies program.

Cataloguing Marshall’s library was a bittersweet exercise. “It made me wish I had known the guy. It’s like reading somebody’s diary or journal. They’re being frank or genuine.

“There’s a vulnerability and honesty there. It made me miss the guy. What would Marshall think about this or that?”

Andrew McLuhan will speak during the Ed Video tribute Saturday, Oct. 1, noon to 9 p.m, at 404 York Rd.

The release of EXAGGERA – and screenings from the Ed Video archives – will take place Sept. 30 beginning at 9 p.m. at the ANAF building on Gordon St.

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