“You Know Nothing of My Work”

I knew of Marshall McLuhan as the cultural icon of the 60s. Was familiar with a few of the more popular quotes. But like the subtitle says, I knew nothing of his work. And I probably wouldn’t have read this biography had it been written by anyone else. I’ve read several of Douglas Coupland’s novels and enjoy his style.

Some insight into what we are experiencing now can be found in this slightly depressing story of a brilliant man, waaay ahead of his time.

“The total absence of humor from the Bible is one of the most singular things in all of literature.” – Alfred North Whitehead

“A point of view can be a dangerous luxury when substituted of insight and understanding.” – M.M.

“Art is anything you can get away with.” – M. M.

“I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.” – M.M.

When Marshall McLuhan picked up a new book he turned to page 69, and if the page didn’t impress him, he wouldn’t read the book.

“Mass transportation is doomed to failure in North America because a person’s car is the only place where he can be alone and think.” – M.M.

Marshall began to create what he called probes, a conversational format in which ideas were thrown out into a collective arena without moral judgement and allowed to battle it out, with the goal of generating new ideas. pg 126

Morality often impedes free thinking. Moral indignation is a salve for people unable or unwilling to try to understand. Understand your world and detach from it, or be drowned by it. The world is understandable; too much information makes it feel like it isn’t. pg 126

It was the era of the frontal lobotomy, and in that pre-MRI world, the brain was still an enigmatic beige pudding. pg 131

The narcotic stasis of the Cold War era was beginning to wear off. It was the final few hours of time when men still wore hats. Women celebrated pregnancies with cocktails. Everyone smoked. Legally sanctioned apartheid existed in the United States. Television was only a decade old, only then shifty to the novelty of color — with peacocks and rainbows as network symbols — and had yet to mould society by widening access to information and overcoming the divide between literate and non-literate, high culture and low. Soon to be on the menu: hippies, lunar missions, the Chinese People’s Revolution, Vietnam, African decolonization, Black Panthers, LSD, the Summer of ’68, the pill… and Marshall. pg 133

The printing press was ultimately responsible for the Industrial Revolution, the middle classes, nationalism, and capitalism, ultimately creating a “mechanical culture.” pg 140

The “global village” (is) the world of today created by electrically linked media, a place where humans retribalize through their freedom to bypass time and space. pg 148

“Television brought the brutality of war into the comfort of the living room. Vietnam as lost in the living rooms of America — not on the battlefields of Vietnam.” – M.M.

“The literate man is a sucker for propaganda … you can’t propagandize a native. You can sell him trinkets, but you can’t sell him ideas.” M.M.

“I think of art, at its most basic, as a DEW Line, a Distant Early Warning system that can always be relied on to tell the old culture what is beginning to happen to it.” M.M.

The early 1970s arrived almost as a miniature dark age, pointedly heralded by the 1973 collapse of the Western world’s economy. pg 174

Discarnate man is an electronic human disconnected from his body (a process also called angelism) who is used to speaking to others on the phone continents away while the TV set colonizes his central nervous system. Discarnate man is happy to be asynchronous, as well as everywhere and nowhere — he is a pattern of information, inhabiting a cyberspace world of images and information patterns. pg 176