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LOS – Law of the Sit

February 15, 2012

Dear reader:

The following is a transcript of writing on a sheet of paper tucked into a schoolbook from Marshall McLuhan’s days at the University of Manitoba, early 1930’s. The book is A Student’s History of Philosophy, by Arthur Kenyon Rogers (1923, New York: The Macmillan Company). It could be notes for a talk he would have given, in that it is typical of his method of delivering a speech or address: rather than read from a prepared text, Marshall would make notes on a sheet of paper and use those notes as talking points which he would elaborate on in front of an audience.

It could also just be a record of some thoughts he had at the time. According to Eric McLuhan, after Marshall’s first stroke in the late 60’s, Marshall had serious memory problems, and began writing more things down as they occurred to him. To me, the following seems more like talking points, or notes for an article, than a statement by the way he writes “explain…” and “mention…”

Personally, I find it a very interesting note. The reader can feel Marshall McLuhan’s frustration: “Mention McLuhan as difficult!”
“Laws of the Sits” is a reference to ‘The Law of the Situation’, attributed to management consultant Mary Parker Follett, although I’ve found none of her works in Marshall’s library The characters in square brackets are my interpretations of Marshall’s short form, question marks where I am unsure. Do feel free to add your suggestions in the comments section below the post.

P[?] Canetti as Crowds via [?]            [Elias Canetti, author of “Crowds and Power” -a heavily annotated book in the library]
Media as forces as new sit[uation]s
Effects 1st                                                [effects precede causes, formal cause]
EOM                                                         [extensions of man]
Fission followed by SC [?]
Media as subliminal
eg. inflation
Why the obsess[ion] with transport[ation, Weaver]
theory? all various theories
ignore the Laws of the Sit[uation]s
created by each new fission
The systems hang-ups via c/m
Kant and Hegel and Marx
caught in the visual homog[?]
trap: uses vs exchange
The TV sit flip eye as ear
quote Tony Sch.[wartz] Mention Mass and
the reversal of the Am[erican] way Micro[?]
no goals
East-West flip
Mention McLuhan as difficult!
Is he as difficult as the prob[lem]s he tackles
Explain the futility of moral v[iew] p[oin]t as
strategy for prob – rise from [?]
[?] [?] to the tech [?]
[?] – [?]
(cont) to Kant and the Rom[antics]
revenge on 18th [century] rationalism
The need to state all hyp[othesis] in [a] way that
they can be disproved
That is my way. Only Krugman
and Lorion have tested any of
my hypoth[esis] in conventional
quant[itative] ways … etc[etera] Nobody ever
atacks my LOS, only me.
I do not use a p[oin]t of v[iew] in seeing
the laws of the sit[uation] … und[erstanding is?] not a p[oin]t of v[iew]
I do not seek agreement but
awareness and knowledge
Explain origin of moral p[oin]t of v[iew]
I never know what I will find
I don’t claim to be a scientist
ie one who uses quant[itative] methods
in a specialist area of data.
Media as crowds depre[ceates?] private
ident[ity] and increase pub[lic] id[entity] etc[etera]
Watergate as revenge for inflation
one behind every Milhouse


Thanks, as ever, for reading.


Update: a few words on a library catalog

February 15, 2012

Dear reader:


Apologies for not having posted anything yet this new year. Though 2011 is over, some seem to think that Marshall McLuhan’s centenary is also over. It is not! Marshall’s hundred-and-first birthday would have been this coming July 21st. So I will continue, albeit at a slower pace, to post more library finds – in my way, celebrating his life and mind and work.

My posts will be less frequent, mostly because my work cataloging Marshall McLuhan’s working library is pretty much finished – at least, the initial run through. This blog is actually the fruit of my diversion from that task, taking a few moments here and there to exceed my catalog mandate and document a bit further some individual books and their additional contents.

This catalog, with its 5,953 entries, has been an amazing and highly rewarding task. Later on, I might take some time to share with you, dear reader, some of my thoughts on the working library as a whole and its scholarly and biographic implications – which are tremendous.

That said, thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more.


Ex Libris Marshall McLuhan

November 25, 2011

I thought I would share some of Marshall McLuhan’s signatures with you. Marshall signed his name in many of his books. Early on, in his time at the University of Manitoba, and also at Cambridge, he would include more information:

In these photos, you can see several things. Marshall varied his signature from M. McLuhan to H. M. McLuhan, to H M McLuhan, to Marshall McLuhan.

In his university days, he generally included additional information such as school and program, and (more often in England) the place he bought the book. Sometimes a bookseller’s invoice is tucked in between the pages.

I suspect there were several reasons Marshall put his name in the books he purchased. He would lend them out on occasion, so he wanted to make sure people knew whose book it was. I’m sure also some sort of pride of ownership played a role.

It is very convenient for me, and future researchers, that Marshall McLuhan’s handwriting changed over the years. Because of that, we can ballpark-date much of his annotation/marginalia; because of that we can track his changing interests, his intellectual development.

For example, we can look at a book which he purchased in England in 1935 and made notes in over the years. Marshall’s was a Working Library. He went back to his books, and made new insights each time. So we can see what was notable to him in the 1930’s, 1940’s, 1950’s, etcetera.

Indeed, sometimes he would write a note about this change. In one volume, he wrote in the early 1930’s a few short sentences on morality, and added a postscript a few years later with some embarrassment for his earlier thought.

As I am almost at the end of my initial catalog of the library, and have a fairly good sense of the artifact as a whole, so many implications are becoming clear which I would not have imagined, such as being able to get a sense of intellectual development – and many other things which I hope to post about and share in the future.

Thanks for reading,


As a post-script, last week I was in Porto Alegro, Brasil, for a conference with Eric McLuhan, and was asked to give a small presentation on the work I’ve been doing with Marshall’s library. Though I had to throw it together last-minute, I spoke for over an hour about the experience and implications for scholarship. It was very satisfying for me personally, and I’d like to thank the amazing people at PUCRS: Eduardo Campos Pellanda, Carlos Gerbase, Magda, Julliana – all the other staff and students who welcomed us and were so accommodating.

I am hoping to make more presentations in the future to share this resource, and to fund further my research. If your institution would be interested in having me present, do get in touch.

Thanks again,


Dr. McLuhan – You’ve Hurt My Feelings, Sir:

October 13, 2011

Dr. McLuhan – You’ve Hurt My Feelings, Sir.

In The Demanding Age: An Anthology of Assorted Contemporary Literature (1970 Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company of Canada Limited), edited by Ronald Side and Ralph Greenfield, there is a letter to Marshall McLuhan with curious notes on the back. In the volume is reprinted The Reversal of the Overheated Image.

The letter is from Irma Coucill, of Toronto, who was apparently connected with the Arts and Letters Club of Toronto, according to Eric McLuhan, and reads:

Dr. Marshall McLuhan
Communications Expert
3 Wychwood Park

Dr. McLuhan:

I am not a cyclops, nor a one-eyed
You’ve hurt my feelings, sir.

Yours truly,
Irma Coucill

391 Broadway Ave
Toronto 12

The notes on the reverse are a bit hard to read, but here’s my interpretation:

Turd that turned hairy in idend (identity?) quest

(?) Mrs. Smog-butz went into retrograde (?) and turned turtle

(?) for somatic somnabules in dumpest mud of
quadrangular miasma

The sesquapalan bog of the labyrinth

New grammar for new garbage

Thanks for reading,


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,


Andrew Marvell, Attacked by a Tough

August 3, 2011

Dear reader,

I am now approaching my four thousandth entry into my catalog of the personal library of Marshall McLuhan. More than a task, this journey has been filled with excitement and discovery with every box I open – I never know what I will come across, and some of what I have come across has been truly astonishing. I’ve found a typed letter from Ezra Pound tucked in a book; pictures of Marshall and his family from years gone by; postcards and mementos from trips abroad; notations which speak to intellectual progress from the University of Manitoba to the last years of the Centre for Culture and Technology; name tags and folders from conferences; strange, incomprehensible things mailed from admirers. In the process I have learned much about so many subjects; seen a bit into the way a brilliant mind worked; began to have an understanding of McLuhan’s work; and had the amazing opportunity to learn all this about my grandfather, an opportunity which few ever have. In short, it’s been an honour which I will never forget.

My only regret with this project is that I don’t have the time or the resources to thoroughly document each volume of interest (perhaps 90 percent of them), but that would be more of a lifetime’s work. I estimate that I have maybe another thousand books to catalogue, and when I get to the end, so will this weblog reach its end. In the meantime, there’s more to share with you, faithful reader:

The volume is “Andrew Marvell” by M.C. Bradbrook and M.G. Lloyd Thomas and it contains the invoice from Cambridge University Press to Marshall McLuhan, Esq, Dept. of English, University of St. Louis, Missouri, U.S.A. dated 29 October 1940.

Tucked between pages 46-47 is an ‘air letter’ addressed to Professor H.M. McLuhan and originally c/o The Vanguard Press Inc., 424 Madison Avenue, New York 17 N.Y., but that’s crossed out and it’s been re-addressed to 81 St. Mary’s Street, Toronto, Canada and has a postmark from Cambridge, and a New York postmark dated May 19 1952.

The letter is typed with some pen corrections and begins:

16.5.52   Girton College, Cambridge

Dear McLuhan.

Thank you so much for The Mechanical Bride. I enjoyed it immensely and so did my students. Didn’t the Advertisers mind their stuff being used in this manner?
Yesterday I had a letter from a firm which does duplicating which began without any preamble “a negro was walking along a Chicago street when he was attacked by a tough. He prayed ‘O Gawd, don’ let dis tough get me’ and a piece of cornice at once fell off a roof and brained the tough: whereat the grateful negro exclaimed ‘Lawd, dats what I call Service’
Just like that: and then they go to their avertising matter. I have never seen anything so shocking.
You seem to be managing to put in quite an incredible amount of work: how is it done? I find myself getting slower and slower: and this year a couple of articles have gone near to squeeze all the energy out of me: one for the year’s work in English studies and one for Shakespeare Survey. In 1950 over 300 books, articles and notes on Shakespeare saw the light. He is overstudied. Academics should be allowed to publish only under license, when he is their subject (this of course is Envy).
I believe Basil Willey is going back to the U.S.A. for a short visit next year, and Tom Henn is also going over. The Bennetts have been in Chicago for six months and I think they have greatly enjoyed it.
What are the chances of your coming to England? We are flooded with Fullbrights but see so few Canadians.

Yours ever,

Muriel Bradbrook

Also included in the volume are a card “With the author’s compliments (Miss M. C. Bradbrook) and a postcard, which on the reverse Marshall wrote “Back of Girton College from Miss Bradbrook who also gave us our copy of Bayes’ Rehearsal”.

There is only one notation inside the back dust-jacket: “p17 Parker’s attack on Camb Platonists”.

Thanks for reading,


“… the simple conclusion suggests words are utterly inadequate.”

July 24, 2011

In the back of ‘The Priest & A Priest To The Temple’ by George Herbert (1927, Everyman’s Library 309, London: J. M. Dents & Sons Ltd.) is a short essay.

In the front is:
H. M. McLuhan
Cambridge Nov/34

Marshall McLuhan seems to have acquired many books during his stay in England, as evidenced by the above notation. When I’ve completed my inventory of his library, perhaps I will publish a list of the books I’ve found which are so-dated… it would be a perhaps valuable list of what he was interested enough in at the time to buy, and ship home at some expense.

Here’s the essay:

“Herbert’s poems are each independent – even though
they are spiritual autobiography – because he states
his premise clearly, usually by means of an
image, in the form of a prose argument. The reader
is never befogged; the words represent clear-cut ideas
[rather than rousing vague emotions – they are isolated
and swift-] through which the poet’s emotion is
conveyed. The emotion is not less than that of
more nebulous poets but is presented in closer
association with thought. His feelings take shape
in the imagery of the poem and is articulated
with logical precision. There is a fusion of thought
and feeling at considerable heat:
Death thou wast once an uncouth hideous thing
c.f. p. 195
(The fourth line the fourth stanza contain
a serious wit which is yet humour – the
romantics derive wit and humour from poetry)

Contrast the statement of immortality in the above
poem with any stanza from In Memoriam
What art thou then? I cannot guess;
stars and
But tho I seem in ^ flowers and star
to feel the same diffusive power
I do not therefore love thee less:

My love involves the love before
my love is vaster passion now;
tho mixed with God and nature thou,
I seem to live thee more and more

“Seem” dominates the poem. There are hosts of
hopeless abstractions “vaster passions” etc.
Tennyson may have know what he felt – we may
doubt if he sincerely tells us – but he certainly
didn’t know what he thought.

Herbert is a master of tone and tension. As
in “The Collar” he can create a great crescendo and
then suddenly release the whole tension in a phrase. Or
as in “Love” the climax is in the middle and the
simple conclusion suggests words are utterly inadequate.

Grierson makes an interesting comparison
with Cranshaw: In Cranshaw neither
spiritual conflict controlled and directed
by Christian inhibitions and aspirations, nor
mystical yearning for a closer communion with the
divine, is the burden of his religious song, but
love, tenderness, and joy. In Cranshaw’s poetry as in
the later poetry of the Dutch Vondel, a note is
heard which is struck for the 1st time in the 17th
century, the accent of the convert to Romanism,
the joy of the troubled soul who has found rest and
a full expansion of heart in the rediscovery of a
ritual and a faith and order which give entire
justification to the imagination and the affections.
The Catholic poet is set free from the painful
diagnosis of his own emotions and spiritual
condition which so preoccupies the Anglican
Herbert. The Catholic poet loses this anxious
sense of his own moods in he consciousness
of the opus operatum calling on him only
for faith, and thankfulness and adoration.
Faith can believe
As fast as love new laws doth give.
Faith is my force, faith strength affords
To keep pace with those powerful words
and words more sure more sweet than they
Love could not think, truth could not say.”

I’ve included photographs of the pages so readers may look over the writing for themselves and, if so inclined, find any errors with my transcript. The number ’28’ at the bottom corner of the second page is a note indicating where in the library the book belongs (shelf 28).

Thanks for reading,


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