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John Wain’s Hedonistic Pleasures

September 27, 2011

Tucked in the back of ‘Living in the Present’ by John Wain are a couple of letters, and, typically, a few New York Times clippings relevant to the volume. There are many of Wain’s books (most, if not all) in the library, and almost all are signed to McLuhan from Wain. Many also have letters which show a warm relationship between the two based on mutual admiration (I have to assume the admiration was mutual, as I have only seen the letters from Wain to McLuhan). I don’t think any of the letters have been seen by ‘the public’.

The following is a transcript of a letter from Wain to McLuhan postmarked March 23 1955 from Wain / 25 Florida Court / Reading to H. M. McLuhan Esq 29 Wells Hill Ave. Toronto 10 CANADA.

Dear McLuhan,

Very hastily, because I have a lot of other things to do just
now, I send you this to acknowledge having got your parcel. Actually
I have already devoured a lot of the contents, but my brain works
seasonally, as it were – sometimes it seems to welcome critical work,
and do it easily, and at other times it just recoild from it. Just
now, I am deep in a novel, and it seems as if the resources of my
mind are all going into the effort of identifying with the characters,
and I just can’t do critical thinking at all – your simplest article
defeats me, though I get a hedonistic pleasure from reading your
prose. So if you don’t mind, the thing may have to wait a few weeks
before I do anything very strenuous, but if i am, I just can’t do it yet. My
first impression, for what it’s worth, is that you would make a
more unified and more useful initial impact if you wrote out your
basic ideas in the form of a short book, not much longer than a pamph-
let; I say ‘initial’, not that there aren’t a great many people in
England who know and follow your work (I met one only last night,
who it seems used to read you in something called View, a man named
Alloway), but because this would be your first introduction to the
English reading public at large. I do have the impression that the
essays could hardly be grouped in a way that wouldn’t make a bitty
impression; wouldn’t it be best for me to show them to an intelligent
publisher (I think there are some) and use them to engage his
interest so that he will then be the more easily persuaded to
commission a short book from you?
That’s what I think now, anyway. I’ll let you know/developments,

Best wishes, yrs, John Wain

P.S. Would you have any objection to one
of your essays appearing in a magazine
called Mandrake? It doesn’t pay but
is very chic

Thanks, as ever, for reading,


One Comment leave one →
  1. November 1, 2011 3:02 pm

    Good stuff, Andrew! It’s nice to see that passing reference to the impresario Lawrence Alloway (1926-1990)–a member of the Independent Group for whom The Mechanical Bride was essential reading. Given that pop art was invented in England around the time of the writing of that book
    it’s kind of surprising that MM could write to Wain ten years later asking: “Has Pop Art begun to catch on in England?” (McLuhan to Wain, 1 Sept 1965, in Letters, ed, Molinaro et al., p. 323). His own interest in the subject was largely piqued a year before, by the sensational Warhol exhibition at Toronto’s Jerrold Morris Gallery, which he did attend (ibid. p. 297).

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