The Catholic who led me to Orthodoxy
I was reminded by The Western Confucian: Simone Weil and Marshall McLuhan that next month is the centenary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan, whom the web site commemorating that event describes as
One of the most charismatic, controversial and original thinkers of our time whose remarkable perception propelled him onto the international stage, Marshall McLuhan is universally regarded as the father of communications and media studies and prophet of the information age.
The Western Confucian points to an article, “Divine Inspiration” by Jeet Heer | The Walrus | July 2011, which says:
McLuhan has strong claims to being the most important thinker Canada has ever produced. In his first book, The Mechanical Bride, published in 1951, he established himself in the emerging field of cultural studies by offering a caustic survey of the dehumanizing impact of popular magazines, advertising, and comic strips. By the 1960s, he had widened his lens to examine the power of media as a whole. In The Gutenberg Galaxy, he offered a map of modern history by highlighting the hitherto-unexplored effect of print in shaping how we think. This was followed by Understanding Media, which prophesied that new electronic media would rewire human consciousness just as effectively as print once did, giving birth to a “global village” where people all over the world would be linked via communication technology.
I first heard of Marshall McLuhan when I was a student at Durham University in the UK, and Durham was host to an experimental drama festival, which attracted university drama groups from all over Britain. Exams were over, the long summar vacation was about to begin, and the term was winding down with punting and parties. On Sunday 18 June 1967
In the evening another party, this time in Grads House garden. Afterwards went down to the Chinese restaurant for some food, Sarah’s being closed, and then returned to college and sat on the pavement outside the main college, talking. Along came Mark Powell, bringing some people who were in Durham for the experimental theatre thing, and they wanted ten people dressed as priests to walk across their scene in the middle, so some of us there agreed to do this. One of the experimental theatre people, John Baldwin, came down to have coffee with us in Bow Cottage. He was doing fine arts at Leeds Art College, and seems to go a bundle on the destructive art kick. He kept dropping names none of us had ever heard of, including a cat called McLuhan who is apparently the high priest of the iconoclasts who proved to him (John Baldwin) that painting doesn’t mean anything and that electronics are tactile media of art. He seems a trifle mixed-up, though.
I can’t remember the other names he dropped, but the name of Marshall McLuhan stuck with me, and I bought his books on understanding media, which helped as a kind of interpretive framework for my first real encounter with Orthodox Christianity, which took place about 9 months later, in Holy Week and Easter 1968, and which I have described quite fully in Notes from underground: The ikon in an age of neo-tribalism.
So I have good reason to remember Marshall McLuhan and his message that the medium is the massage.