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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,


[see the ‘comments’ page below for more information on this post]

Gertrude, the Peg, and a banquet hall: a sort of pilgrimage

July 12, 2011

Dear reader,

If you’ve noticed I have not posted anything for a few weeks, it’s because I was on a road trip west to Calgary, and points on either side of the border along the way.

One of the things I was looking forward to was visiting Winnipeg where Marshall grew up (born in Edmonton, but moved to the Peg at a young age). There were two destinations: the University of Manitoba, where there is a Marshall McLuhan Hall, was one of them. I had imagined this might be a lecture or study hall, perhaps a library. In fact, it is a banquet hall which the person in charge of catering at the university assured me is in high demand as the premier such hall on campus. I don’t know if that was particularly disappointing, but it was a bit of a surprise. In any event, it was nice to see where Marshall began his ‘university experience’.

The other stop was encouraged by my work in cataloging the library. So many books from his university days (as readers of this blog may recall) were inscribed along the lines of “M. McLuhan 507 Gertrude Ave. Arts 32 Locker 66”. I did not have the time to attempt to track down what building on campus may have housed locker 66 (though that would be a cool artifact to seek out) but Gertrude Avenue was not difficult to find at all.

It is a nice little house, in a nice neighbourhood of Winnipeg, near the river. Across the street is the Gladstone School (1898) where Marshall attended – but as they were out for the summer, no one was available to receive my pesky questions. It looks like it’s undergone extensive renovations in the ’50s or ’60s but you can see the cornerstone in the lower left-hand corner of the picture.

The house in Gertrude Avenue is smallish, but it was a bit of a rooming house. At the time, it was common for someone with an extra room or two to rent it out. From what I understand, the house was owned by Marshall’s grandfather and when the family moved from Edmonton, they moved in with them. I also am told by Eric that at one point a room was rented out by none other than Roy Brown, who was credited with shooting down Germany’s infamous scourge of the skies, the Red Baron! (Apparently there is some contention of this fact in recent years). Another known resident of Gertrude Avenue was Canadian cancer hero Terry Fox.

I would have liked to have visited Edmonton, where Marshall was born, and to have had the time to explore more of Winnipeg and the University of Manitoba campus, but our trip was only two weeks and we had a lot to do.

Thanks for reading, and I will return soon with more McLuhan miscellania from the library of Marshall McLuhan.


Did Gutberg help to wed the Estab and the Gospel?

June 8, 2011

In the semiannual journal Alphabet: Number Thirteen

(June, 1967) there are a few pages tucked inside. One of them

is folded in half, and below I’ve transcribed the writing.

It is in pencil, except for one paragraph at the end of page ‘b’

starting ‘the age of electric…’. which is in black ink.

Page ‘d’ is blank.





Why not say:
We are on the edge of a great
religious Renaissance?
a Natural reversal after
centuries of materialism
ie consumer Utopias
ie visual values of super-
ficial non-involv

The image of materialism
never stronger than in
the mirror of the new
elect age of info >
Satellites = super human
env around planet =
end of “Nature”
end of outer world in-
clines of people to inner
trip and mediation

Super human env of info=
planet as teach machine
calls for super natural
programming : Invites
us to recall an
earlier satellite that
announced the re-
programming of Nature:
The star of Beth:
The Incarn. as a new medium
conveyed a new message

The age of electric or all-
at-once ^ is the age of the
breakthro, of depth involv
It retribalizes man in the
image of The FAMILY

old          areas  new
To the ^ backward ^ the ^ electric
env spells POWER, just
as the old Civ. env of visual
detach and specialism
spelt weakness and alienation

In our own cities we see
This process of ^ power for
the weak in the behav of
children. It is the Estab. that
feels helpless.

cf clash bet Press coverage of
Vietnam and TV. The hot
med. leaves us uninvolved?
Literacy leaves The negro cold
not cool

The poor and humble heard our
Lord’s cool message
gladly, The Estab didn’t
get it. Did Gutberg help to
wed the Estab and the Gospel?


Thanks for reading,


Professor Fieldhouse’s Revolution

May 31, 2011

Dear Reader,

In the back of The French Revolution: a History, Volume I [Thomas Carlyle, 1925 Everyman edition, London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.] there is a hand-written biographical note:

Jan 20/32
I have to-day heard Prof Fieldhouse on
the subject of the Revolution and his re-
marks, (to be found in no existing text)
seem to me to be worth noting down:
1st the French were not an oppressed
people. The peasants were not mercilessly
ground under the heels of the aristocrats.
They had in 1789 bought from 1/2 to
2/3 of the land and having tasted
the possibilities that power offered they
were in a mood for more. Moreover
a truly oppressed and miserable nation
never is dangerous in revolt. Louis
the 16th was no despot but a well-
intentioned reformer surrounded by men
of disinterested motives and tidy minds
men who would have found themselves
in complete accord with a group of
Fabians, men suited to make statist-
ical enquiries and to sit on tedious
committees. Louis carried his reforms
as far as he possibly could; but he
shared the influence of the ad-
ministration almost equally with
the Church, the nobles, and the wealthy
middle class. In other words France
was not an Absolute Monarchy or any
thing like it. Louis called his Estates
in ’89 to ask them for the power to carry
out his reforms. The people full of
Rousseauistic material perceived
his weakness and wiped him aside
to make way for men of talent.
What France wanted from the 1st
was a Napoleon. The 2 names most
commonly on the lips of patriots
at this time were Frederick the Great
and Louis 14th if you please.

France desired order in affairs,
symmetry in the constitution and
glory for the nation. The demand
for sympathy was incredibly insist-
ent. (cf Voltaire who said that he
would rather be ruled by a lion than
by 800 rats like himself) Napoleon
was the man who filled the whole
Bill … the rule of the fist at home
and war with Europe to procure
glory and to expend the vast emot-
ional power still pent up in the
people. The failure of Louis 18th
of Orleans of Louis Philippe was
inevitable. No political genius could
have reconciled the opp. ideas of
Fraternity and Liberty (the equality
had been produced simply by center-
ing all power in one hand and
throwing open careers to talent)
Parlimentarianism and wronged arist-
ocrats etc. France was split into
2 distinct societies, Rev. and anti-
Rev. and to this day the distinction
is clear and effective. There was no
possibility of estab. a republic
under such conditions. The period
of quiet that followed 1871 was due
simply to the fact that France
finally defeated Paris and exiled
every adult member of the Rev.
party. But the old party reappeared
in time. The 2 distinct social
groups are then the basic cause for
sudden outbreaks on the political
surface. Out “for which no adequate
reasons can ever be assigned.”

Thanks for reading,


Reviews Renewed + Caveat Utilitor

May 26, 2011

Inscripto 26: Forgotten Reviews #1

Bringing you one of Marshall McLuhan’s reviews this week, found in the subject volume. I don’t think it was ever published. This review is timely as in news recently I found “they’re” trying to have internet access deemed a basic human right. To editorialize briefly, usually rights are accompanied by responsibilities. In this case, I would suggest that the people pushing for universal access to the internet ought to let people know something of the (unalterable?) effects of the medium they wish so righteously to give access to. Eric recently suggested to me (we were talking about recent scientific studies about the changing brain and how use of new media effects brain development) that media should come with warnings as to their effects. Like cigarettes or airbags…. Caution: this medium’s effects have not been completely considered prior to release”. Yeah, that’ll happen…

“Mass Media and National Development: The Role of Information in the Developing Countries. Wilbur Schramm. Stanford University Press. $7.50.

Professor Schramm’s foreward indicates his study to be “part of the continuing effort of the United Nations and Unesco to help develop the mass media of communication.” It was reported to The General Assembly of the United Nations in 1962 that “70 percent of the population of the world lack in adequate information facilities and are thus denied effective enjoyment of the right to information.”

That statement is a far cry from the nineteenth century insistence on the human right to self-expression. So basic was the concept of self-expression that John Ruskin could greet the opening of cable services to India with the derisive query: “ What have we to say to India?” Today it is assumed that the human right to media facilities is on the same plane as the right to nourishment:

“If Unesco’s minimum standards were achieved, it would mean that approximately one out of every two families would have a daily newspaper, and one out of every four families, a radio receiver. There would be one television set and one cinema seat for every ten families. Not too much to ask.”

To a large extent Prof. Schramm’s survey is an inventory of the media resources of the undeveloped countries of the world. Where such resources are lacking Professor Schramm cautiously hints that old-fashioned cultural patterns still persist: [quote p.77 as marked]

It might be thought that in the absence of adequate mass communication, the more traditional means of communication would take over the bridge the urban-rural information gap. And so far as possible, this does happen. Meetings are held by government officials and political spokesmen. Folk plays, puppets, singers are as popular as ever. Bazaars and markets still provide excuse for  exchange of information along with exchange of money or goods. The communication “grapevine” still flourishes. But most of these are slow or limited channels.”

He provides a most useful bibliography of the existing studies and reports on media in undeveloped areas.”

Thanks for reading,


The Medium is the Message

May 20, 2011

The Medium is the Message

I understand that there is some speculation and little evidence for where Marshall McLuhan first used this phrase. This will perhaps put that to rest.

Here, in Marshall’s own hand-written words, is the provenance, if not of when he came up with his best-known aphorism, at least of when he first spoke it in public.

The note is written alongside the title on page 350 of “From Source to Statement” by James M. McCrimmon [1968, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company] where ‘The Medium is the Message’ (chapter 1 of “Understanding Media) is reprinted.

“1st used this phrase in June (?) 1958 at Radio broadcasters conference in Vancouver. Was reassuring them that TV could not end radio”

And so the infamous Heritage Minute ad which shows an inspired Marshall saying ‘the medium is the message’ as if for the first time, in 1961, has it wrong.

There are many other notes in the book, but that one is the most striking – at least, to me.

Thanks for reading,


Wake Collideoroscope

May 17, 2011

Wake Collideoroscope

On page 132, of Continuities in Cultural Evolution [Margaret Mead 1964: Yale University Press] Marshall writes in pencil “she

She Hasn't a Clue

hasn’t a clue about causes of cultural change”. Further on in the volume, there’s a pink page from a memo pad with “write Mead” on it. On that page is written “wake collideoroscope”.

Typically, there are a few newspaper clippings tucked inside. From the August 9, 1964 New York Times Book Review, a review of the book by Sol Tax – Marshall would often include a clipping of a review into the relevant book. Also there is a clipping “A Day of Drums” by Dennis Braithwaite on the one-year anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s death.

Throughout Mead’s book, there are many pencilled notations, many

Write Mead

“c/m” and “c-m”’s in the margins. And in the back of the book, many notes with page references. The above bit about change is also referenced in the back: “132 clueless about change 162” (page 162 has the margin note


Thanks for reading,