Autobiography – encountering Maritain

My first encounter with your work was at Cambridge University in 1934. Your Art and Scholasticism was on the reading list of the English School. (McLuhan to Jacques Maritain, May 6, 1969, Letters 371)

It was in 1934-6, when I was an undergraduate at Cambridge in England, that I encountered the writings of Jacques Maritain. Art and Scholasticism was featured on the shelves of our English department library, and I had a glorious time discovering that art and the art process were essentially intellectual in character. In those years I was deeply interested in things Catholic, having started in that direction under G.K. Chesterton whose What ‘s Wrong with the World I had read in 19321. From that time I read everything I could get my hands on by Maritain, and have kept fairly well up on all of his works.
Part of the excitement in reading Maritain was the awareness that he was saying something new about something very old, so that there was the excitement of discovery and of sharing this discovery with one’s contemporaries. I discovered Maritain simultaneously with the work of I. A. Richards, and T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, and James Joyce, and Wyndham Lewis. All of these people seem to relate to each other in many different ways, and each seems to enrich the other. Along with the work of contemporary painters and ballet and the world of Sergei Eisenstein and music, one had the experience of a very rich new culture, in which the great intellectual Maritain was a notable ornament. Maritain helped to complete the vortex of significant components in a single luminous logos of our time. (McLuhan to John Dunaway, September 1, 1976, Letters 521)

  1. This should probably be 1931 given McLuhan’s diary entry from July of that year: “Few writers, yes I can say, no other writer, has ever before been able to arouse my enthusiasm for ideas as has G.K.” (Escape, 32)

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