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Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding: The Authorized Biography

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The originator of such widely used phrases as "the global village” and "the medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan—the prescient media guru—is finally, attracting the critical attention he deserves. In the 1960s McLuhan blazed the intellectual territory which we are only coming to grips with today. This couldn’t be a better time for a readable, full-scale treatment of his writings, a book that reflects the range and depth of his thought accurately and accessibly. Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding ...

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Overview

The originator of such widely used phrases as "the global village” and "the medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan—the prescient media guru—is finally, attracting the critical attention he deserves. In the 1960s McLuhan blazed the intellectual territory which we are only coming to grips with today. This couldn’t be a better time for a readable, full-scale treatment of his writings, a book that reflects the range and depth of his thought accurately and accessibly. Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding fills this gap.W. Terrence Gordon traces McLuhan’s beginnings in the prairie city of Edmonton, Alberta, through his education at Cambridge and teaching in America to his startling breakthroughs in communication while at the University of Toronto. McLuhan’s central place in the ferment of the 1960s is evocatively drawn and the formation of his most brilliant insights into the media are clearly explained. This is the first book to mine McLuhan’s extensive personal and public writings—journal entries; correspondence with family and luminaries such as Ezra Pound, Wyndham Lewis, Peter Drucker, and Clare Boothe Luce; manuscript notes and files; and all of his publications—to bring us an authoritative, well-rounded, and passionate portrait of one of the twentieth century’s greatest thinkers.Written in the best tradition of intellectual biography, Marshall McLuhan: Escape into Understanding will infect readers with the vitality of McLuhan’s ideas, drawing them into his mind and leaving them with an indelible image of the warm, whimsical, spiritual man whose playful conceptual explorations revolutionized the way we see the world.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Canadian media critic, best known for coining the phrases "the media is the message" and "global village," was clearly ahead of his time when he suggested, in the 1950s and 1960s, that television was a threat to literacy, "society prefers somnambulism to awareness," and advertising numbs the mind. But he was also prone to convoluted pronouncements that his followers received with the earnest fascination due missives from Sinai. Fellow Canadian Gordon appears to feel the same way, which presents a problem. The facts of McLuhan's life are not terribly exciting: born in Edmonton, he attended the University of Manitoba, then Cambridge (where, tellingly, he became interested in Renaissance rhetoric), after which he taught at a number of universities in the U.S. and Canada, lectured and wrote. With such spare bones, any biographer must primarily serve as an exegete. Unfortunately, Gordon, who has both a bibliography and a history of semantics to his credit, offers detailed, but not necessarily accessible or critical, analyses of McLuhan's thought. He is also quick to defend McLuhan against the criticism that he was difficult to understand, although those leveling the charge make a large and impressive group. Even McLuhan's editor wrote to the author after reading a draft of Understanding Media, "I have rarely read anything that required so many unprepared mental leaps on the part of the reader." It is telling that the editor realized there was no sense lecturing McLuhan on "the standard editorial litany of clarity, brevity, unity." After reading this flabby authorized biography, readers may assume Gordon's editor felt the same way. (Oct.)
Library Journal
In contrast to Phillip Machand's Marshall McLuhan: The Medium and the Messenger (LJ 3/15/89), this authorized life draws heavily on McLuhan's diaries and private papers as well as on interviews with family and friends. Early on, Gordon takes a traditional biographical approach, focusing on McLuhan's childhood, Cambridge years, marriage, and conversion to Catholicism; later he turns to view the man who coined the term global village and became a pop icon with the publication of The Medium Is the Message (LJ 6/1/67) through a detailed analysis of his work. Gordon provides a straightforward and lucid account of McLuhan's life and ideas, at times defending the media guru against detractors. All facts and explanations notwithstanding, McLuhan remains an enigma. For academic and larger public libraries.William Gargan, Brooklyn Coll. Lib., CUNY
Booknews
An authorized biography of the Canadian professor, intellectual, and writer remembered for his sweeping pronouncements about the media and its uneasy relationship to contemporary culture. Gordon, a professor of French who heard McLuhan lecture in the mid-1960s and has maintained a sustained interest in his work, offers a glimpse into the warm, whimsical, and spiritual man, and sheds new light on McLuhan's work itself, reappraising his grounding contribution to the study of the media and its impact. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
A thoughtful study of the life and ideas of the celebrated media philosopher.

Time—unkind to so many visionaries—is proving Marshall McLuhan only more and more prescient. His theories, popularly summed up in his famous phrase "The medium is the message," seem to describe our computerized age with eerie precision. He was able to recognize, for example, that the computer would rapidly become an extension of the central nervous system, allowing individuals to extend the range of their sense perceptions. While computer- friendly, his opinion of television, often misunderstood and rarely enunciated in its full disdain, verged on the alarmist: "If you want to save one shred of Hebrao-Greco-Roman-Medieval-Renaissance-Enlightenment-Modern-West ern civilisation, you'd better get an ax and smash all the sets." Given where his ideas would take him, it is superficially incongruous that McLuhan began his professional career as an English professor. But language has fueled much late-20th-century philosophy, and as Canadian academic Gordon (McLuhan for Beginners, not reviewed, etc.) meticulously demonstrates, much of McLuhan's work was substantively informed by a concern with grammar (in the classical sense of the study of relationships within language). At a time when many intellectuals chose either communism or Catholicism—usually for reasons more similar than opposite—McLuhan chose the Church, and Gordon again carefully illuminates the connections to McLuhan's work. His ideas were dense, complex often to the point of convolution, and thoroughly interwoven. Gordon is not only a user-friendly explicator, he also is a dogged intellectual detective, tracking McLuhan's ideas down to their earliest beginnings.

In more conventional biographical terms, this account suffers from the happily married, academically regimented dullness of its subject's life, conjoined with Gordon's relative lack of interest in all non-idea-related details. But as an intellectual history, it's first-rate.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465044177
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 9/17/1998
  • Pages: 480
  • Product dimensions: 5.31 (w) x 8.02 (h) x 1.29 (d)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Introduction xi
1 Breaking Ground
1. The Fortunes of Family 3
2. Intellectual Seeds 15
3. England's Green and Pleasant Land 38
2 Dagwood's America
4. A Professor in Spite of Himself 69
5. From California to Cambridge Ricorso 81
6. Breaching and Bridging 97
7. Duelogue 114
3 McLuhan's Canada
8. Conversations with Congenial Minds 127
9. A Beachhead in Toronto 159
4 Canada's McLuhan
10. From the Centre Out 193
11. The Good Ground 219
5 Closure
12. To the Four Corners of the Global Village 245
13. The Final Vortex 283
6 McLuhan's Legacy
14. Understanding McLuhan 301
15. Is McLuhan a Linguist? 323
Appendix 1 Feedforward 341
Appendix 2 Recent Works on McLuhan 350
Notes 355
Bibliography 436
Index 455
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