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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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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,