Marshall McLihan: Escape to Understanding

W. Terrence Gordon, Author
W. Terrence Gordon, Author HarperCollins Publishers $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-465-00549-9
Reviewed on: 09/01/1997
Release date: 09/01/1997
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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.)
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