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HUMANITIES 383 tion. There is a glib raciness and frenetic energy in the narrator's selfrevelations -he is a loquacious rogue, a sort of middle-aged Duddy Kravitz, who is somewhat unsuccessfully trying to make as much as he can with as little effort and as little outright law-breaking as is possible in the booming economy of Toronto and its suburbs. Burke projects a fast-moving, rapidly expanding commercialized environment, and sets Harry Sprockett, his gay, cynical, hilarious hero loose in it to run SOOn enough inevitably into "real trouble-money and women. No man can handle either unless he is in top condition and has developed a good, wide, mean streak in his make-up." It's all good fun, except that gradually the grins turn to grimaces, the laughs grow ironical or hysterical, and the mood darkens and sickens until the rogue's adventures begin to sound like a commentary on the age. HUMANITIES LITERARY STUDIES This review of Marshall McLuhan's latest assault upon the conventional humanist views of our situation ( Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, [New York, London, and Toronto: McGraw-Hill, pp. viii, 359, $8.75]) is written by a technological idiot. McLuhan exactly describes me, on p. 18, when he says that "our conventional response to all media, that it is how they are used that counts, is the numb stance of the technological idiot." This fundamental disqualification noted, I proceed, and not quite ironically either (though I don't like "numb" very much). The subject is too serious, the author too powerful an intellect, for that kind of dismissal. McLuhan and I are, roughly, contemporaries, and since our childhood have been exposed to the same extraordinary speed-up of technological change, but he has (or is it seems to have?) come to terms with it, and I don't think I have, though I suspect that I have listened to more radio and watched more of the telly than he has. Like all communications experts- and he is probably the most influential and certainly the most inventive of them-he tends to insulate himself from the raw stuff, depending on reading books about it, written by revolutionary intellects of his own calibre (though with less muzzle velocity), and, above all, on an eclectic and electric memory of the kind which created Finnegans Wake and the Cantos. McLuhan is a literary gent, not a 384 LEITERS IN CANADA: 1964 sociologist; all things are puns to his mill, or will. Also he is a pre- or post-literate culture man. He writes these books as he talks, and so people tend to misinterpret them Cas I shall probably do here too) because they think of them as books with an Aristotelian shape. They are, deliberately, not that. They are imperfect translations of McLuhan live, cigar, highball , charm and all, turning any subject at all into his own, an anti-disciplinary and wonderfully voluble prophet, for whom adverse criticism is either a harmless buzz or a new direction, and who can tell which? Perhaps not even the man himself. His general position, stated in dizzying centripetal sentences in most of his publications, and re-stated in the first or theoretical part of this book, should by now be clear. T echnology was an explOSion. Did it begin with the wheel, papyrus Cas McLuhan's inspiration, Harold Innis would say: the man who, most typically in this Canadian, interpreted culture in terms of staples), the Graeco-Phoenician alphabet, printing by movable types, or just when? It made an extension of man's equipment, and this made us what we were before the electronic age: linear and abstractive , nationalist and insular, Lockean really, poor confused sods. Then came the implosion. I don't know quite what this means, but it's something like being all mixed up inside our field of awareness, with the circumference collapsing. It's very like my own feeling when reading the morning paper, and it's made the whole world a "global village," is tribalizing us again, so that we can have some meeting of minds with the mysterious East, providing we don't explode them too slowly with foreign aid...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 383-400
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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