A Sampler of McLuhan Quotes On “America,” From Bill Kuhns’ Forthcoming McLuhan Marshalling Machine: A Dictionary of Quotations


In anticipation of Bill Kuhns’ to-be-published huge compendium of McLuhan quotes in his McLuhan Marshalling Machine: A Dictionary of Quotations, where they will be categorized by the artifact or phenomenon they refer to, I have Bill’s permission to publish samples of original McLuhan quotes from his writings, lectures, and interviews, some of which will have never before been seen in a secondary publication context.
For your information, the publisher is not yet known but the manuscript is near completion and publication is expected to be sometime next year.

Marshall McLuhan on America


Americans have lost their sense of identity because of the speed of information. The American bureaucracy, political and educational, was set up for very slow speeds of the print word and for railways. At electric speeds, nothing in the USA makes sense. The most benign political democracy becomes a police state as soon as you improve the speed of communication. Everybody then becomes under surveillance, everybody is put into a data bank, and there is no freedom left.”
– “The New Majority,” Interview with Ed Fitzgerald, CBC-TV, 1970, transcript p. 6 (11:25 in the video).
“Basic modes of cognition on this continent not linguistic but technological”…
Letter to Ezra Pound, January 5, 1951, in Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 218.
“By the time of the power press in the early 19th century, the newspapers were  rapidly changing the character of politics by creating public opinion. In a new  country like America the new medium of the press created the first instance of a state founded on public opinion. English political forms, predating the press, still depend much less on public opinion, as do those of Canada.

Counterblast (1969), p. 125.
“The American image of itself, American goals, American directions, have been scrapped by electric speeds. I am not making value judgments. I am simply observing that if you accelerate any structure beyond a certain speed it collapses”.
– “The Global Theatre” (1971), p. 182.
“In the same way, the American south has a variety of traditional English dialects and an overriding rhythm that is corporate and oral.”
“Liturgy and Media: Do Americans Go to Church to be Alone?” (1973) in The Medium and the Light (1999), p. 122.
Now an American not only does not like acting or putting on a public, but he does not put on a corporate or standard voice when he speaks. He uses his private voice, and this, of course, enables the Americans to have no class consciousness and no class structure.”

– “TV News as a New Mythic Form” (1970), in Understanding Me, (2003), p. 168.
“As an example of the new relations prevailing in the English-speaking countries, a short time ago, Cyril Connolly suspended the operations of Horizon (England’s leading literary magazine) with the pronouncement that his magazine had ceased to have a function. All the best pieces he published, he said, were being sent from America. True or false, this was a revolutionary view. It amounted to saying that the cultural shadow which for centuries England cast over the arts on this side of the Atlantic has vanished. Instead, American arts are blanketing English intellectual life just as American movies have for two decades been providing English children with new speech habits. There is no longer any excuse for the immigrant humility in artistic matters which for so long pervaded American cultural life.

– “Defrosting Canadian Culture” (1952), American Mercury, Vol. 74, No. 339, p 94.
“Thus the English and American cultures in particular were overwhelmed by print, since in the 16th century they had only rudimentary defences to set up against the new printed word. The rest of Europe, richer in plastic and oral culture, was less blitzed by the printing press. And the Orient has so far had many kinds of resistance to offer”.

– “Culture Without Literacy”, Explorations #1, (1953).
“Since television America came of age, Americans got a lot of trouble, but since television they are not afraid of serious culture. Television trains everyone. It has deepened the American psyche. America is no longer that visually dominated culture. It used to be concerned with the outside appearance and the packaging. Now it does not care. The visual world is no longer dominant in America. You can tell that the moment you see the kids, dressed in their crazy way. They are not dressed for the eye.”
– Interview with J.P.M. van Santen in Toronto, October 25, 1972, Transcript, p. 2.
“America is 100% 18th century. The 18th century had chucked out the principle of metaphor and analogy—the basic fact that as A is to B so is C to D. AB:CD. It can see AB relations. But relations in four terms are still verboten. This amounts to deep occultation of nearly all human thought for the U.S.A.”
– Letter to Ezra Pound, December 21, 1948, in Letters of Marshall McLuhan, 1987, p. 224.
“A common observation of European visitors to America is that life here is more collectivized and stereotyped than communists have ever aimed to achieve. It was always the central theme of Marx that direct political action was unnecessary. The machine was the revolutionary solvent of bourgeois society. Allow the dynamic logic of the machine full play in any kind of society and it will, said Marx, become communist automatically. Certainly America is far more advanced on the road to a collective, centralized, consumer’s paradise than any other part of the world. May not some of the American panic about the communist threat be a dim recognition of this paradox?”
“Revolutionary Conservatism.” Unpublished typescript, 1952.

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