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By Many Means, Divers Devices: Lost and Pound – a journal, a library, a letter, an Equation

April 28, 2019
EM library Joyce, Eliot, Pound

Eric McLuhan’s Joyce, Eliot, Pound shelves.

Dear reader,

When I started my second McLuhan inventory, the inventory of Eric McLuhan’s library, I thought I would be visiting this old forum more often. That has not been the case.

As it happens, a lot has changed in the almost-decade since I began my inventory and journey of discovery with the ‘working library’ of Marshall McLuhan. Personally, I am married and have two young boys: Ezra and Virgil, who recently turned 5 and 3 years old. Family delights and obligations mean I have fewer spare hours to devote to typing up blog posts about my work with books and libraries McLuhan.

Social media is now a thing – more to the point, smart phones are now a thing.

When I first launched the good ship Inscriptorium, I used a Cannon Powershot digital camera – a handy little thing. Now I’m up to an iPhone 6, and spend more time with it than this, my trusty MacBook Pro.

A blog post used to mean taking photos on the camera, and later connecting it by cord to the computer, and then taking the time to write a supposedly-interesting volume of words to describe this or that find from the inventory process.

I would begin my posts ‘Dear reader,’ with a bit of a laugh that there might be a single person interested and reading. The stats of the site tell me that readers of this blog are few but interested – the typical visitor reads several posts in one go.

So I’ve seen this blog as a place to record for posterity some of the interesting things I came across in the process of exploring, documenting, and inventorying the library of Marshall McLuhan. It was (and is) important to me to share the things I find even if it’s only for a very small audience. I felt slightly vindicated on my feeling of the importance of the library when UNESCO named it (along with the McLuhan papers at Libraries and Archives Canada) part of its ‘Memory of the World’ registry – basically the intellectual equivalent of a World Heritage Site.

In my opinion, Eric McLuhan’s library is no less significant than Marshall’s. I know that no one else is likely to share that opinion – and that’s fine. I think of them a bit like Socrates and Plato, or Plato and Aristotle, teacher and student both. I’m not suggesting they’re the same thing, but I see it that way. I see both Marshall and Eric’s work as being significant and in their own way very valuable. Eric did things Marshall couldn’t – and one thing I’ve learned for sure is that Marshall respected and trusted no colleague more than his son.

But I digress.

The point I was trying to get to was that with life and technology circumstances being what they are, I don’t have occasion to fill this blog very much these days. It is much more convenient, and more effective in terms of reaching people, to take a photo of something and upload it to The McLuhan Institute’s Instagram account, to take a pithy quote or brilliant quote and type it to The McLuhan Institute’s Twitter account, and then when I have slightly more to say I’ve been doing it over at The McLuhan Institute on Facebook, where I’ve managed to build a not-insignificant little following.

It’s on the TMI Facebook where I am now doing a weekly 15-minute (or so) live broadcast from Eric McLuhan’s library aka The Scriptorium aka TMI HQ, and which has really taken over from this blog – it’s just so easy to hit ‘go live’ and talk for a few minutes, hold up a book for examination, throw a few pics onto the Instagram page, and then archive the live session over at The McLuhan Institute’s YouTube page.

When you add it all up, it’s more work than this blog ever was – but the reach is much greater, and this is not simply a vanity project. A core reason for starting The McLuhan Institute was to make McLuhan material available by all possible means with a focus on accessibility and simplicity. Not dumbing anything down, but helping people connect dots.

That was the preamble. Now, what follows I posted last week on TMI FB. If you’ve gotten this far, you might make it even further and note some duplication in what’s said above and below. I’ll just leave it and let you be the editor.

EM journal april 18 2018

“1958, Ezra Pound released from St. Elizabeth’s

1998 d. Betty Trott Cera”

So reads the header for this day (April 18) in years gone by from Eric McLuhan’s 2018 journal. Over the last year I’ve been following his journal to relive his last year on earth, which would end just under a month from this day.

The day’s entry, in his customary green ink-filled fountain pen reads:

“Finished run-through of Book 5 Part 1 — the Parallel lines of McLuhan and Decroux. In all I found only a dozen items that demand attention. As soon as they’re fixed and the layout is whipped into shape we can go after the rest. Began part two, on mime and its relevance.

Andrew remained at home today – not feeling well. Upset stomach, etc.”

Dad’s New Year’s day usually consisted of American college football and transferring information such as dates of important such as births, deaths, and things in between, from the previous year’s journal to the new one at the top of each page.

He told me that he started a daily journal in 1975 when my eldest sister was born, and encouraged me to do the same. I’d tried a couple of times but it never stuck. I’m coming around to giving it another go…

Dad’s note for April 18th 2018 would have been written the following morning, as his habit was to do his journal early the day after.

1/ He’s talking about the final book in The Human Equation (THE) series, which he developed with his friend Wayne Constantineau who was a mime of the old school, trained in Paris. If memory serves, Wayne studied at the school of Marcel Marceau.

THE book 1 cover

I have a lot of memories of Wayne and his former wife Carmen, as he and dad were long-time friends. They were both involved in the circus arts and always joking and pulling gags. Wayne had a bit about the ubiquity and invisibility of seating called ‘Our Affair with the Chair’ (there’s something like an average of 16 seats per person in N. America if you count everywhere one ‘sits’) which I use sometimes when talking about invisible media environments.

Wayne died in 2006, four years before the first book of THE came out. THE was the result of a team effort of about a dozen people, funding crabbed together from various generous sources, edited and published by Don Bastian who was, I believe, dad’s editor from Stoddart.

At the time of Eric’s death last May, he/they were working on the final fifth installment of THE. I haven’t had word yet on whether it’s done so I presume it’s not but I hope it will eventually be published. The series runs:

1/ The Human Equation: The Constant in Human Development and Culture from Pre-Literacy to Post-Literacy

2/The Science of Investigation: Working with Equations

3/Know Thyself: Action and Perception

4/Posture and Theories of Everything

5/ Mime and Media

In the dedication to the first book, Eric writes:

“This work represents, I feel, an important development of the living legacy of media studies left by my father, Marshall McLuhan.”

THE book 1 dedication

He told me that it’s “Understanding Media as told by the body.”

If I’m being honest, I haven’t given the books a fair go. They seemed a little … I don’t know … hokey to me. People put a lot of work into them, so I don’t want to talk them down. Maybe I should get over it and put my feelings aside and read them – if dad says they’re an important development, he wasn’t one to exaggerate that sort of thing.

One of the last things dad was working on was a tetrad (the application of the four ‘laws of media’ to a human innovation by way of a sort of diagram) which also incorporated THE (an adaptation of the tetrad principle using the ‘modes of action’ from THE) on the same problem, in the same illustration. This was new, something he’d never done before. He showed it to me the night before he died.

2/ Betty (Trott) Cera was a long-time friend of the McLuhans. Her husband, Rene, was the painter who did the large ‘Pied Pipers All’ mural for Marshall McLuhan and the Centre for Culture and Technology which now hangs in a cafeteria at St. Michael’s College.

I’m not aware of any extensive look at the relationship between the McLuhans and the Ceras, though it’s warranted. The McLuhans owned many of Rene Cera’s paintings, and it would be interesting to gather what material there is which would shed some light on why Marshall thought Rene’s paintings were so interesting.

There is plenty of correspondence between Betty Cera and Corinne McLuhan in our archive, but I have as yet not had the time to go through it in much detail except to note its presence. Betty and Corinne remained friends long after their husbands died.

Pound letter 1

3/ About Ezra Pound there is much to say, though I am neither an expert in Pound or ‘the moderns’, not having had the time to dive deep into that universe yet, so I can only relate what I know from experience and stories.

The note above recalls the date of his release from the mental hospital in which he was confined for about a dozen years following his detention in Italy after WWII. He had been charged with treason for his activities over there and only escaped prosecution by being found not competent to stand trial and confined to St. Elizabeth’s in Washington, D. C.

Marshall McLuhan, who was an expert as well as a devotee of modernist poetry, was a big fan of Pound’s work, if not his politics. He visited Pound at St. Elizabeth’s along with, I believe, Hugh Kenner, and he and Pound exchanged letters.

Marshall said: “Nobody could pretend serious interest in my work who is not completely familiar with all of the works of James Joyce and the French symbolists,” and you could probably throw in Eliot, Lewis, and Pound to that, among others. (I try not to pretend.)

As you can see in the photo of Eric McLuhan’s library, Pound (as well as James Joyce and T. S. Eliot and Wyndam Lewis whose work is just out of frame) features prominently in his collection.

Pound also features prominently in Marshall McLuhan’s library, as I found when I was making an inventory of it almost a decade ago.

In 2010 I was doing my first run-through of Eric McLuhan’s library before going through the 200 boxes of Marshall’s books which were in storage at Eric and Sabina McLuhan’s place in Prince Edward County when I came across a book on Pound titled ‘Ezra Pound and the Cantos.’

Eric had inherited his father Marshall’s library as they were not just books but tools they worked with. Prior to the library being relocated (it rests at the Fisher Rare Book Library in Toronto where Eric’s library may also one day go) I did an inventory of it, much as I am doing now with Eric’s.

Eric had many of Marshall’s books on his shelves, so my first job was to pull the books which were more Marshall’s than Eric’s. This was a bit tricky, as they both used the books, but it was pretty obvious which were from Marshall’s original collection, and should remain with it when it moved.

Back then, I kept a WordPress blog called ‘Inscriptorium’ (we called dad’s office/barn ‘the Scriptorium’) where I did posts on some of the more interesting things I found while exploring and documenting Marshall McLuhan’s ‘working library.’

Now, I use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube to document and share because it’s much simpler and less time-consuming than a ‘traditional’ blog. (This post is an exception, as well as case-in-point because I’ve been working on it for several days).

Here is the blog post I did on the discovery of a typewritten letter/poem from Ezra Pound to Marshall McLuhan from 1953.

Looking back on the blog, I can see how far I’ve come in a decade. My work on Marshall’s library really marks my descent into the McLuhanstrom, where I was hooked. I learned so much about Marshall and his work and his process, as well as him personally. I wasn’t expecting that. (My writing style has also changed and hopefully improved.)

Now, as I go through my father’s library, I am learning more about him and his work and his process. I am surprised by a lot of what I find.

I’ve given several presentations about Marshall’s library. When I finish this latest inventory, I hope to have opportunity to talk about Eric’s library as well as the relationship between father and son and their libraries.

Pound letter 2

Thanks for being here,


Andrew McLuhan.


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