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First things

December 21, 2010

Herbert Marshall McLuhan: born in Edmonton, Alberta, July 21 1911

Thomas Eric Marshall McLuhan: born in St. Louis, Missouri, January 19 1942

Andrew Ellis Marshall McLuhan: born in Toronto, Ontario, July 9 1978

In the late 1960s, fresh out of the United States Air Force, Eric began working with his father Marshall. Thus started a working relationship which would see Eric move from research assistant to co-author and many roles in-between. The story of their collaboration and its depth and importance to the work of Marshall McLuhan is largely unknown.

In around 2008, fresh out of sufficient employment, I went to work with my father Eric as assistant and odd-jobber. I began the task of fact-checking his compiled comprehensive bibliography of the works of Marshall McLuhan, from his University of Manitoba days to his death in 1980, and beyond to include posthumous publications and works about him.

Since beginning work in The Scriptorium (as his converted barn near Bloomfield, Ontario is known) I have taken on many other projects and tasks which include traveling around the world when he (sadly, too rarely) is asked to speak at some school or conference; rides to and from the Belleville train station as he continues to teach English (a cross between remedial English and business writing) at Toronto’s Harris Institute; general grounds maintenance around the farm.

Most recently I have put other projects aside as I have begun a long-overdue task: the cataloging of the working library of Marshall McLuhan. This library is a many-thousand volume collection of books which represent in a sense the tools of Marshall’s (and Eric’s) trade. Between these pages are contained evidence of Marshall’s intellectual development, relationships with his peers, friends, and family, the genesis of his discoveries in so many subjects. Eric was given it in Marshall’s will. It is less a task then a fascinating journey which it is my privilege to take.

‘Privilege’ is an apt word for how I feel about this work.

Not many have such an opportunity to get to know their family this way. Being only two years old when Marshall died, I am able to get to know him in such interesting ways – a huge privilege.

Working with my father Eric – a great man; a giant of a scholar of a rare kind; a humble man who is so undervalued as to be a tragic figure. Only a few people in the world truly realise what a resource he is: no one worked as closely with Marshall, no one understood (or understands) him and his work as intimately.

When I hear about all the events being planned for the centenary of Marshall’s birth next year, literally hundreds of events around the world, knowing that only a couple have approached my father to participate, it honestly saddens me. People, it seems, are ignorant of the fact that Marshall McLuhan’s work did not end with his death, but continues daily through Eric McLuhan. There is no one alive who is more knowledgable or more qualified to talk about Marshall McLuhan or his work.

This is not a surprise, really, but a tragedy. At his peak of fame, few really wanted to hear what Marshall had to say, they just wanted to hear him say it.

I digress and offer my apologies. My father more than filled his father’s shoes, and I know I will never be able to do the same. What I can do is pay attention and learn as much as possible, drawing out my father with questions, learning about the history of an intellectual collaboration of father and son such as the world has never, to my knowledge, seen – to be able to add, if not scholarship of the same caliber, at least some context, texture and intimate detail.

I hope that my observations are less tedious than interesting, more informative than restated. It is my honour to be able to share them.

I will add that I make mistakes: typographical errors, sometimes get dates (and other numbers) slightly wrong. These, and other errors are mine, and I apologise for any confusion they may cause.

Thanks for reading,

Andrew

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sue Hierlihy permalink
    December 31, 2010 4:33 pm

    Well written Andrew, and I admire your sentiments. I hope to read more.

  2. February 8, 2011 8:52 pm

    The whole blog is excellent, Andrew. It’s great to be reminded of the old stuff, and to run into new that I didn’t know about. I look forward to doing a closer browse as time allows.

    Best wishes,
    Peter

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