Monthly Archives: December 2015

Jackson Knight on “the main question”

McLuhan mentions reading W. F. Jackson Knight on Virgil (‘Vergil’ in Knight’s spelling) in a letter to Ezra Pound, July 24, 1951 (Letters 228).  He was probably referring to Knight’s 1936 Cumaean Gates since he mentions “the question of the Cumaean Gates, the ring Wall cities, and Peripolesis-periplum, the Troy game etc” in the same paragraph.1 The next year, in another letter to Pound on July 16, 1952, he again mentions the Cumaean Gates in the context of “the whole traditional lore on the diverse labyrinths of the Cumaean Gates. Rock labyrinth. Water labyrinth and so on”. (Letters 231)

It may be, however, that McLuhan also read Knight’s ‘New Principles in Vergilian Commentary‘ which appeared in the 1950-1951 issue of Humanitas (161-174). Here Knight concludes with these observations: 

It is hard to write about Vergil without writing about all Humanity, and about the whole question of man on earth, or even more than that. Nothing, according to St. Augustine, is more beautiful and more divine than equality and even, balanced symmetry; and yet in this life (…) symmetry is at its best when it is inexact, but inexact according to appropriate law. That is very like the main question concerning Vergil; or, indeed, concerning Humanity. (174)

Knight’s deep point here is that equality, balance and symmetry cannot be without difference. All require plurality in order to exist at all. There can be no equality, balance and symmetry of one singular thing alone by itself. But supposing these (equality, balance and symmetry) are foundational, supposing Augustine was correct that “nothing (…) is more beautiful and more divine than equality and even, balanced symmetry”, then they themselves must be plural.2 

The pluralizing terms of equality, balance and symmetry are inequality, imbalance and asymmetry. Similarly, the pluralizing terms of justice and harmony are injustice and disharmony.3

Knight’s dictum that “symmetry is at its best [ie, is at its most fundamental] when it is inexact, but inexact according to appropriate law” points to such fundamental uttering-outering4 into plurality.5

The same point is made by Hopkins in regard to “peace” in his poem of that name:

What pure peace allows,
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?

And by the I Ching in regard to “true strength” as cited by McLuhan:

Thus true strength is that strength which, mobile as it is hidden, concentrates on the work without being outwardly visible.

And by Yoko One in regard “giving” in conversation with McLuhan:

Giving is getting too.

And by McLuhan when in the same conversation:

pouring [out] is also fulfillment, is not emptying but filling. There’s a [fundamental] complementarity here.

“Complementarity” here is the same as equality, balance and symmetry above.

The basic law (Knight’s “appropriate law”) in all these formulations is just that put forward by McLuhan at the end of TT 22:

dialogue [aka equality, balance and symmetry, aka complementarity] as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old.

“Came before” = “is more beautiful and more divine” = “goes beyond the exchange of ‘equivalents’ that merely reflect or repeat the old” = “symmetry is at its best when it is inexact, but inexact according to appropriate law”. 

But why is this “very like the main question concerning (…) Humanity”? Because humans cannot relate to truth and goodness through identity with them.  Aside from the fatal circumstance that we lack the timber for this, McLuhan insisted over and over and over again that all human relation to anything at all is made (and not a matter of matching).  Humans cannot escape the fly-bottle of media.  Humans are inescapably finite in a myriad ways and have no purchase on anything infinite that does not trans-late “it” into something finite.6 Taken seriously, a seldom enough occurrence, this reduces to nihilism as Nietzsche tirelessly described.7 Unless, that is, humans are the pluralizing “inexact” finite term of an infinite “symmetry” that “concentrates on the work without being outwardly visible”, a “symmetry” whose “true strength” it is to outer itself into plurality in the unbalanced asymmetry of human beings.  

In this case, the realization of utter finitude would be the condition of a relation beyond ourselves. But since this is something humans can hardly avoid — we do learn to speak and we are going to die and are going to do evil — we exist willy-nilly in a medium of ‘relation beyond ourselves’ that we cannot see and do not acknowledge and certainly do not deserve.  This is the medium that is the message than which there is “nothing (…) more beautiful and more divine”.8

At the turn of the year from 1950 to 1951, in his long letter to Harold Innis, McLuhan wrote. 

Wyndham Lewis’s The Art of Being Ruled (…) is probably the most radical political document since Machiavelli’s Prince. But whereas Machiavelli was concerned with the use of society as raw material for the arts of power, Lewis reverses the perspective and tries to discern the human shape once more in a vast technological landscape which has been ordered on Machiavellian lines. (Letters, 222)

To “reverse (…) perspective” to enable us “to discern the human shape once more in a vast technological landscape which has been ordered on Machiavellian lines” was the goal of McLuhan’s work.  It turned on “the main question concerning (…) Humanity” that is nothing other than the question of “inexact” relation “according to appropriate law”.9


  1. Like his reference to “the Cumaean Gates” in his July 16, 1952, letter to Pound, all these (“the Cumaean Gates, the ring Wall cities, and Peripolesis-periplum, the Troy game etc”) are images and themes used to portray “the diverse labyrinths” of epic exploration, of human wit and witlessness, of life and death, and of life beyond death’s “gates”.
  2. The argument here runs as follows: a) if equality, balance and symmetry are simply singular relations between plural terms, there must be some fundamental possibility of such singularity that is deeper than them; b) but if equality, balance and symmetry are subject to a deeper possibility than themselves, it is not the case that “nothing (…) is more beautiful and more divine than equality and even, balanced symmetry”; c) therefore, if “nothing (…) is more beautiful and more divine than equality and even, balanced symmetry”, equality, balance and symmetry must themselves be plural.
  3. ‘Pluralizing terms’ are terms that are needed if a first term (like equality, balance or symmetry) is to be plural. Equality is not plural if it is related only to equality.  To be plural, it must be related to something other than equality, therefore some variety of inequality. Hence McLuhan’s remark concluding TT22: “dialogue as a process of creating the new came before, and goes beyond, the exchange of “equivalents” that merely reflect or repeat the old.”
  4. Gutenberg Galaxy, 35: “Languages being that form of technology constituted by dilation or uttering (outering) of all of our senses at once….”.
  5. The great question implicated here is when this pluralization occurs. If it is a sequential — diachronic — event, plurality must be secondary and singularity primary. In fundamental contrast, if plurality is original, singularity must be secondary and derivative.  In this event, singularity might be termed plurality’s “inexact” way of being plural.
  6. The Indo-European root of  ‘-late’ in ‘translate’, ‘collate’, ‘dilate’, ‘elate’, ‘oblate’, ‘relate’, etc, all from Latin ‘latus’ (‘carried’, ‘borne’) — is *tlatos. And *tlatos is also the root of ‘tele’ as in telescope, telegraph, telephone, television and telos. Perhaps *tlatos may be taken as the original name of ‘relation beyond ourselves’ aka — ‘communication’.
  7. “With the true world we also have abolished the apparent one!” With this demonstration, Nietzsche revealed that nihilism is self-cancelling and therefore, like everything else, points beyond itself. But to see this, it must be taken seriously — a seldom enough occurrence.
  8. Absent such fundamental ‘relation beyond ourselves’, humans could never have begun to use language in the deep past and could not learn language as children even now. The mystery is that a capacity (for relation beyond itself) can be awakened in a child in a process that could not take place unless this capacity were already operative. Here is McLuhan to John Snyder, Aug 4 1963: “…we are already moving in depth into a situation in which learning becomes a total process (…) from infancy to old-age. The pattern by which one learns one’s mother tongue is now being extended to all learning whatsoever. The human dialogue itself becomes not only the economic, but the political and social, fact.”  (Letters 291)
  9. Mathew 3:13-15 may be read as an illustration of “inexact” relation “according to appropriate law”, namely that of righteousness (δικαιοσύνην): “Then cometh Jesus from Galilee to Jordan unto John, to be baptized of him. But John forbad him, saying, I have need to be baptized of thee, and comest thou to me? And Jesus answering said unto him, Suffer it to be so now: for thus it becometh us to fulfil all righteousness.” Dostoevsky is reported to have cited this passage just before he died. Cf, in this context 1 Corinthians 11:19: “For there must also be factions among you…”

Eliot’s ‘From Poe to Valéry’

…the poetic process as revealed by Poe and the symbolists was the unexpected and unintentional means of reestablishing the basis of Catholic humanism.
(Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters, 1954)

It was the symbolist poets who began the study of effects minus causes. This is a technique indispensable to the developing of perception and the by-passing of concepts. (McLuhan to Jim Davey, March 22, 1971)

T.S. Eliot’s 1948 lecture, ‘From Poe to Valéry’, was published in print in The Hudson Review in 1949 (Vol. 2, No. 3). McLuhan paid close attention to it, of course. He had been intensely interested in Eliot since his first months in Cambridge in 1934. A letter to his family from Dec 6, 1934 records:

Of late I have been wayfaring among the work of T.S. Eliot. He is easily the greatest modern poet, and just how great he is remains to be seen, because he has not produced his best yet. However the poems I am reading [Poems 1909-1925] have the unmistakable character of greatness. They transform, and diffuse and recoalesce the commonest every day occurrences of 20th cent. city life till one begins to see double indeed — the extremely unthinkable character, the glory and the horror of the reality in life yet, to all save the seer, [obscured] behind [the surface of] life, is miraculously suggested. (Eliot is an anglo-Catholic, a theologian and philosopher and one of the best critics who ever wrote in English.) Now there is something ineffably exciting in reading a man, a genius and a poet, who has by the same stages, in face of the same  circumstances (he is an American), come to the same point of view concerning the nature of religion and Christianity, the interpretation of history, and the value of industrialism. (Letters 41)

Fifteen years later, when ‘From Poe to Valéry’ was published, McLuhan was still preoccupied with Eliot. As Hugh Kenner later recalled:

Marshall, at that time pretty much a New Critic, believed with F. R. Leavis that the one major poet of our time was Eliot. (…) The passion (…) with which we two (…) studied Eliot! We penciled notes on the yellow postwar paper of a Faber Four Quartets1

McLuhan also had an established interest in Poe. He had published two early papers on him,2 the second after he had his notice directed to Poe’s Maelstrom in 1946 by his friend, Cleanth Brooks, in a way that would continue to fascinate him for the rest of his life.3

Furthermore, in just this 1948-1949 period when Eliot’s ‘Poe to Valéry’ lecture was delivered and then published, McLuhan and Kenner were working on a book on Eliot. Indeed, Kenner published an essay on Eliot, ‘Eliot’s Moral Dialectic’, in the same issue of The Hudson Review that featured Eliot’s lecture.4 And on his side, McLuhan published an essay on Eliot, and a review of eleven books on Eliot, in Renascence magazine in 1949 and 1950.5

Eliot’s lecture played an important role in McLuhan’s second conversion by reinforcing his attention to two issues: (1) the relationship of the modern English-American tradition in letters (especially Yeats, Pound, Joyce, Eliot and Lewis) to the French symbolist tradition from Baudelaire to Valéry; (2) the critical importance of the process of composition to modern art and science (indeed to all perception of any kind).6

Eliot’s essay highlighted the second of these points and in doing so illustrated also the first:

in the course of an introduction [to his translation of Poe’s tales and essays] (…) Baudelaire lets fall one remark indicative of an aesthetic that brings us to Valéry: “[Poe] believed, (…) true poet that he was, that the goal of poetry is of the same nature as its principle, and that it should have nothing in view but itself. A poem does not say something — it is something.”

That “poetry (…) should have nothing in view but itself” is repeated in the dictum that “a poem does not say something” — something, that is, beyond itself. “A poem (…) is something”, then, that already includes both a composing act and a composed something and understanding the poem means understanding the relation, internal to it, between these. Exactly this is — “its principle”.

McLuhan formulated the point as follows (in what amounts to a close rephrasing of the Baudelaire/Eliot passage):

the symbolist poet makes of the poem not a vehicle for views, ideas, feelings, but a situation which involves the reader directly in the poetic process.7 That is why he [the symbolist poet] will always say that the poem is not about anything; it is something. It doesn’t say anything, it does something. (Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters, 1954)

Such understanding was not something that poetry could simply ‘say’.  Instead it was something that poetry could only attempt to activate by motivating the repetition of what had already taken place in its composition.  As McLuhan observed in paradoxical fashion:

We have to repeat what we were about to say. 8

At Cambridge McLuhan had encountered the work of Eliot along with that of Pound, Joyce and Lewis. Now he was working his way through all these figures once again with Kenner, reflecting not only the stimulus of Kenner’s exceptional mind, but also the combined influence of his meeting with Pound in June 1948, his exposure to the cybernetics of Wiener and Deutsch via Sigfried Giedion and his renewed appreciation (seeded already at the University of Manitoba) for communications via Havelock, Innis and Richards. The key point he began to find everywhere (not least in modern management theory introduced to him already in St Louis by Bernard Muller-Thym) was the central importance of the subjective act of perception qua composition. As Eliot translated Baudelaire: “the goal of poetry is of the same nature as its principle” — its “principle” being what has brought it into being, what has eventuated in the fact that “it is something”.

To take a concrete example, Pound’s Cantos manifestly9 requires the participatory work of their readers in order to be understood. But this achieved understanding is exactly of this work as informed by it. By working to understand Pound’s verses, his audience was to come to understand what it was doing as a species of what Pound also was doing in putting them together in the first (“principle”) place —  putting them together as a certain “something”. Readers would “retrace” the labyrinth of the work of composition in order to understand the poetry via what Pound had done in creating it.  As McLuhan would insist for the rest of his life, creation (eg, what Pound had done) and perception (eg, of what he had done) could be understood only together. Communication took place, he saw, only when these unite in some mysterious, magical, way. As he repeatedly cited Blake (although usually negatively): “They became what they beheld”. 10

So the learning of language by a child, for instance, at once socializes the child’s perception by restricting it to a set of particular parameters (this language, this dialect, this place, this time, this family, etc) and initiates it into a transformed and greatly enlarged world.  Similarly with, say, a telegram.  A telegraphic message is subject to a very particular set of parameters  — but the message is delivered and just this is the great mystery.

The great mystery of communication is that what closes — the bound circle of understanding, “they became what they beheld” taken negatively  — is also what opens — “they became what they beheld” taken positively.

Eliot notes this effect in his 1948 lecture:

Poe had, to an exceptional degree, the feeling for the incantatory element in poetry, of that which may, in the most nearly literal sense, be called ‘the magic of verse’. (…) It has the effect of an incantation which (…) stirs the feelings at a deep and almost primitive level.

As very frequently noted by McLuhan, Eliot had described this “magic” as the work of the “auditory imagination” in his Norton lectures at Harvard in 1932-1933:

What I call this “auditory imagination” is the feeling for syllable and rhythm, penetrating far below the conscious levels of thought and feeling, invigorating every word; sinking to the most primitive and forgotten, returning to the origin and bringing something back, seeking the beginning and the end. It works through meanings, certainly, or not without meanings in the ordinary sense, and fuses the old and obliterated and the trite, the current, and the new and surprising, the most ancient and the most civilized mentality. (The Use of Poetry and The Use of Criticism, 111)11

But how does this actually work?  How is this actually done when something is created and when that something is understood by others?

This is the Road to Xanadu, described by Lowes (1927) and Havelock (1946-1947) and then taken up by McLuhan around 1950 when he underwent his second conversion.

  1. 1985 ‘Preface’ to the reprinting of Kenner’s The Poetry of Ezra Pound from 1951.
  2. ‘Edgar Poe’s Tradition’ (Sewanee Review, 52(1), 1944); ‘Footsteps in the Sands of Crime’ (Sewanee Review, 54(4), 1946)
  3. For documentation, see McLuhan on Poe’s Maelstrom.
  4. Around the time of Eliot’s 1948 lecture and its publication in 1949, McLuhan published two reviews in the same journal himself: ‘Tradition and the Academic Talent’ (a title taking-off on Eliot’s 1919 essay ‘Tradition and the Individual Talent’) in The Hudson Review, Vol. 1, No. 3 (1948) and ‘Encyclopaedic Unities’ in The Hudson Review, Vol. 1, No. 4 (1949). In addition, Cleanth Brooks, a  frequent correspondent with McLuhan and one of Kenner’s teachers in the PhD program at Yale, also published several pieces in these initial volumes of The Hudson Review. Allen Tate, another of McLuhan’s friends and correspondents, did so as well.
  5. Mr. Eliot’s Historical Decorum’, Renascence 2(1), 1949, 9-15; ‘T. S. Eliot’, Review of eleven books about Eliot, Renascence 3(1), 1950, 43-48.
  6. McLuhan’s Playboy Interview: “I began to realize (around 1950) that the greatest artists of the 20th Century — Yeats, Pound. Joyce, Eliot — had discovered a totally different approach, based on the identity of the processes of cognition and creation. I realized that artistic creation is the playback of ordinary experience…
  7. Cf, McLuhan to Innis, March 14, 1951: “The whole tendency of modern communication whether in the press, in advertising, or in the high arts is toward participation in a process, rather than apprehension of concepts. And this major revolution, intimately linked to technology, is one whose consequences have not begun to be studied although they have begun to be felt.” (Letters, 221)
  8. ‘The Be-Spoke Tailor’, Explorations 8, 1957, #4
  9. Any understanding of anything requires the work of subjective perception.  What particularly characterizes modern art and science (like the theory of relativity) is their fundamental emphasis on this necessity.
  10. McLuhan cites Blake’s line in all of the following: ‘The Electronic Age – The Age of Implosion’ 1962; GG 1962, 265, 272; ‘We need a new picture of knowledge’ 1963; UM 1964, 45; McLuhan to Frank Kermode, March 4, 1971, Letters 426.
  11. Leaving aside McLuhan’s many bare references to “auditory imagination”, this passage from Eliot is cited in full in all of the following essays and books: ‘Coleridge As Artist’ (1957), ‘The Alchemy of Social Change’, Explorations 8 (1957), ‘Environment As Programmed Happening’ (1968), From Cliche to Archetype (1970), Culture is Our Business (1970), Take Today (1972), ‘Media Ad-vice: An Introduction’ (1973), ‘Liturgy and Media’ (1973), ‘The Medieval Environment’ (1974), ’English Literature as Control Tower in Communication Study’ (1974), ‘At the Flip Point of Time’ (1975), ‘Empedocles and T. S. Eliot’ (1976), ’Pound, Eliot, and the Rhetoric of The Waste Land’ (1979). In her thesis (59), Liss Jeffrey cites it from McLuhan’s unpublished note ‘My Last Three Books’.

Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and Poe’s Maelstrom

Without static you have no continuity. (Theatre and the Visual Arts, 1971)

In a succinct note in the (since defunct) Poe Newsletter, Margaret J. Yonce detailed many of the parallels between Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Poe’s Descent into the Maelstrom. Both are epyllia which unfold as tales told within a tale. Both are accounts of harrowing events at sea. In both only a single individual of an original ship’s crew survives the experience, or series of experiences, to which their crafts are exposed. Both mariners are rendered unrecognizable by their ordeal. And both are delivered from it by an unlikely mode of conveyance that is super-natural (in Coleridge) or seemingly contra-natural (in Poe).

The ultimate homecoming of Coleridge’s mariner is depicted in a way which could have served as an outline for Poe’s tale:

…a sound was heard.
Under the water it rumbled on,
Still louder and more dread :
It reach’d the ship, it split the bay;
The ship went down like lead.
Stunned by that loud and dreadful sound,
Which sky and ocean smote,
Like one that hath been seven days drown’d
My body lay afloat;
But swift as dreams, myself I found
Within the Pilot’s boat.
Upon the whirl, where sank the ship,
The boat spun round and round;
And all was still…

John Livingston Lowes‘ Road to Xanadu (1927) is an investigation of Coleridge’s imagination as it worked to compose The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. In it, a further highly important relationship of Poe’s Maelstrom to Coleridge’s Mariner, one not noted by Yonce, may be seen. As Lowes points out:

The [ancient mariner’s] ship is at the Equator twice. It crosses it in the Atlantic sailing south, and the equatorial calms of the Pacific are the stage for half the action of the story (…) the course [is] from Equator to Equator round the Horn (115, 122)

If ‘south’ is conceived as ‘down’, as it is on our usual maps and globes, Coleridge’s mariner descends from the Equator in the Atlantic and then ascends again back to the Equator in the Pacific.  This he does in a linear movement on the surface of the sea, horizontally. What Poe does is to present the same figure in the depths of the sea, vertically,  His mariner also descends and ascends, but he does so in place — within the vortex of the Maelstrom

Both tales describe complications of space. Both describe utterly differing regions which are yet accessible to each other — although only with life-threatening difficulty. The ancient mariner faces extreme cold and too much wind, and then extreme heat and too little wind.  Poe’s mariner encounters the strange physics of the whirlpool. These conditions are remarkable both in themselves and in their terrible proximity to the normal conditions at sea from which both set out and to which both finally return.

But what about time? In his poem about the Maelstrom, McLuhan’s close friend Cleanth Brooks described the whirlpool as a kind of clock and suggested that its central protagonist is “time’s enterprise”:

Geared to the whirlpool now, destruction’s dial,
The fool can read (…)
On the dial’s hurrying face, knows what’s o’clock,
Himself the second hand, at first hand reads
The timepiece Braille-wise1

These are a clock and a time which are, however, utterly different from what we know as clock-time. Brooks’ poem begins:

Then when the terror is at its height, you hurl
The useless watch away, fling time away,
Having no more to do with time

The first word, “then” is key. As seen in the next word “when”, the great question is: just when is this then?

Who knows the whirlpool’s season or the hour
That ripens it to peace? Who thinks to catch
Time’s phoenix on her nest?

Brooks describes a situation defined by multiple times. But unlike different regions in space, the relation of times (plural) to each other cannot be one-after-the-other. For this is just what time singular is. Times plural, in contrast, must be simultaneous, two times at once.  And these two times at once must be arrayed vertically, not horizontally, since the latter is ultimately not time at all, but space.

The relationship of The Ancient Mariner to The Maelstrom might thus be put, in McLuhan’s terms, as the movement from the horizontal “diachronique” to the vertical “synchronique”2:

Chronological time yields to time as [simultanious] spaced-out moments of intensity” (Spiral — Man as the Medium’, 1976, 127).

Plurality-of-times succeeds uniformity-of-time. (UM, 1964, 152)3

It is not the case, however, that the horizontal or diachronic dimension is simply negated or lost in this movement from the one to the two. It remains as an irreducible pole of the crossed figure of times, plural. Instead of subtraction, a new dimension is added to the horizontal, complicating it, which is both radically incommensurate with it and yet functions as its strange ground. As such, this new dimension is the very condition of explanation.4

For McLuhan this diachronic/synchronic or figure/ground structure is the heart of all insight and explanation: it is the

principle of a continuous5 dual structure for achieving order. (Spiral — Man as the Medium, 1976, 126)

Structuralism as a term (…) [designates] inclusive synesthesia, an interplay of many levels and facets in a two-dimensional mosaic. (GG, 230, emphasis added)

Adding ground flips the concept approach into percepts… (LM, 10)6

Explanation is therefore characterized, according to McLuhan, by the simultaneous vertical relation of two fundamentally different, but linked, terms7.  This simultaneous vertical relation he called ‘symbol’ or ‘metaphor’. At its heart, he said, is a gap which at once holds the two terms apart as fundamentally different and yet links them together in meaning or significance or explanation. The differentiating-uniting force working across this gap he called ‘resonance’ or ‘echo’ or ‘touch’ or ‘synaesthesia’ or ‘logos’ or — ‘communication’.

Symbolism is the art of the missing link, as the word implies: sym-ballein, to throw together. It is the art of syncopation. It is the basis of electricity and quantum mechanics, as Lewis Carroll under­stood via Lobachevski, and non-Euclidean geometries. The chem­ical bond, as understood by Heisenberg and Linus Pauling, is RESONANCE. Echoland. (From Cliché to Archetype, 39)

the basic mode of metaphor is resonance and interval — the audile-tactile  (LM, 120)

the Stoic (…) logos spermatikos is the uttered logos  (…) embedded in things animate or inanimate that structures and informs them and provides the formal principles of their being and growth (…). This (…) logos is the root of grammar (…) with its twin concerns of etymology and multiple-level exegesis, the ground-search for structure and roots. All of the sciences of the later quadrivium (of music, arithmetic, geometry, and astronomy) were subdivisions of grammar, as forms of exegesis of the Book of Nature.  (LM, 124)

Passages like these might, of course, be supplied in endless number from McLuhan’s works. These few may be taken simply as illustrative. The central point in regard to his second conversion is that Brooks brought the Maelstrom to his attention not only as the synchronic labyrinthine form of all human perception and creation, but also as an image of the twofold vertical structure of times plural implicated in that form. He began to understand these matters around 1950 and the rest of his life would be spent in further consideration of them. 

  1. McLuhan does not seem to have commented on Brooks’ poem.  Had he done so, he would have appreciated the fact that Brooks’ mariner comes to understand the maelstrom by touch, “Braille-wise”, and not by sight.
  2. “The structural theme of (the film) Spiral presents (…) the synchronique worlds of birth and death. Spiral is not (…) diachronique or lineal (…) but a synchronique and contrapuntal interplay in a resonating structure” (Spiral — Man as the Medium’, 1976, 125).
  3. “Succeeds” here does not mean ‘comes after’ since “plurality-of-times” also precedes “uniformity-of-time”. “Succeeds” in this context means ‘comes to be seen as more fundamental than’.
  4. At the same time, as we say, the horizontal or diachronic dimension is equally necessary such that it, too, can be considered a condition of explanation — without it there would be nothing to explain.
  5. “Continuous” here does not mean ‘diachronic’ in ordinary time, but ‘repetitive’ at the level of principial explanation’.
  6. Explanation or understanding or communication takes place when an initial subjective take (‘concept’) is given up in favor of the reception of an objective meaning that is already there (‘percept’).
  7. ‘Terms’ not as words, or not only as words, but as terms of relation — like two times

The Road to Xanadu

As described in the early history of Eric Havelock and I.A. Richards, Havelock’s 1939 monograph The Lyric Genius of Catullus offers this remarkable observation on Virgil:

Virgil responded to [the novi poetae] readily, not only in his occasional pieces, but in his Ecologues and above all in the great episode of Orpheus and Eurydice which closes the Fourth Georgic. This tale of romantic regions under the sea, of passionate love and tragic separation, is too rarely recognized for what it is — an example of what the epyllion could become in Latin when handled with emotional sincerity and sure taste. Constructed on the sort of mechanical plan perfected by Callimachus, of a plot within a plot, (…), it yet manages to combine romantic mystery, prettiness, passion and pathos in a kind of literary tapestry. (172)

This passage is of great interest to readers of McLuhan in at least three respects.  In the first place, it broaches the topic of the epyllion in a monograph published by a University of Toronto classicist only a few years before McLuhan came to teach there in 1946. (And Havelock would follow this 1939 remark with a detailed study of epyllia in a UT publication in 1946, the very year of McLuhan’s arrival in Toronto.) This was a topic which would come to obsess McLuhan shortly thereafter.  As Marchand describes:

McLuhan’s conversational agenda was based on the themes that obsessed him. In 1948-49 Mallarmé and the Symbolists were such a theme. Shortly thereafter and throughout the early fifties, he became fascinated with the epyllion, the little epic. McLuhan considered the essence of this literary form to consist of the interplay between plot and subplot and was convinced that in that interplay lay the secret to interpreting Western literature. He started, of course, to write a book on the subject — a book he was still working on a dozen or so years later. In the meantime, he began to spread the word about the epyllion through his personal network. (The Medium and the Messenger, 111)

Secondly, the epyllion form, the plot within a plot, is broached in the Catullus passage in specific regard to Virgil. Here again McLuhan would become fascinated and over the first decade of his career in Toronto would record in letters and essays his impressions from a series of Virgil and Virgil-related studies, all of which have to do with labyrinthine journeys in, variously, myth, dream, afterlife, initiation, caves, the underworld — and in artistic creation:

W.F. Jackson KnightCumaean Gates (1936) (mentioned by McLuhan in a letter to Ezra Pound, July 24, 1951, Letters 2281)

R.W. CruttwellVirgil’s Mind at Work (1947) (letter to Pound, July 24, 1951, Letters 228)

G.R. LevyThe Gate of Horn (1948), (mentioned in ‘Maritain on Art’, 1953; ‘Wyndham Lewis’, 1953; ‘Joyce, Mallarmé and the Press’, 1954; ‘The God-Making Machines of the Modern World’, 1954)

G.R. Levy, The Sword from the Rock (1953) (mentioned in ‘Introduction’ to Alfred Lord Tennyson: Selected Poetry, 1955)

Thirdly, Havelock specifies that this epyllion in Virgil concerns actions unfolding in “regions under the sea” — like Poe’s Maelstrom.

McLuhan’s second conversion brought him to a combination of these concerns with his contemporaneous discovery of communications through the work of Innis and, once again, Havelock2. It is the business of these Maelstrom posts to trace how this occurred. But this theme must also be threaded in the writings of Havelock, indeed even of I.A. Richards, because McLuhan’s awareness of the complex — the epyllion, Virgil, the labyrinth, Poe’s maelstrom, communications media — did not stem from The Lyric Genius of Catullus, but from Havelock’s subsequent development of it. And this development, it seems, transpired in interchange with Richards at Harvard.

That Havelock was continuing to consider the matter after his 1939 monograph was demonstrated in 1943 by a short contribution he made to The Classical Weekly (Vol. 36, No. 21, pp. 248-249), ‘Homer, Catullus and Poe’. Significantly, this piece begins:

Readers of [John Livingston] Lowes’ Road to Xanadu are aware that poets sometimes build highly imaginative structures out of miscellaneous materials recollected from the books they have read. Poe’s famous address To Helen seems to be a poem of this order.3

One particular reader of Lowes’ Road to Xanadu was either already in communication with Havelock at that time or very soon would be. This was I.A. Richards at Harvard. And it may be, indeed, that Havelock’s notice of Lowes was brought about through Richards.  For Richards had dealt at length with Lowes’ study in his 1934 Coleridge on Imagination and had been a colleague of Lowes in the Harvard english department since Richards’ arrival there in 1939.

In 1946 Havelock became a guest lecturer at Harvard which would then lead to a full-time appointment in 1947.  The arrangements for this guest lectureship would have been started a year or two earlier, of course, so in 1944, perhaps, conceivably even in 1943. It could be that Havelock had made an appeal to Richards (whom he may have met or even come to know in England at Cambridge in the twenties) because he was increasingly unhappy with his lack of advancement at Toronto and with the resulting financial situation this entailed for him and his wife and their family of three children.4 Or the impetus may have come from the Harvard side and Richards may have had a role in the recruitment process.

In any case, the known facts are these:

a) Richards, who was 10 years older than Havelock, was an influential lecturer in Cambridge while Havelock was a student there between 1922 and 1926

b) Havelock’s 1943 note in the Classical Weekly begins “Readers of Lowes’ Road to Xanadu are aware…”

c) Lowes had been an emeritus colleague of Richards in the English department at Harvard since Richards’s arrival in 1939

d) Richards had treated Lowes‘ 1927 Road to Xanadu at length (in a discussion taking more than 10% of the book) in his 1934 Coleridge on Imagination

e) Havelock would further develop his analysis of the epyllion in a considerable 3-part 1946/1947 essay, ‘Virgil’s Road to Xanadu‘, for which Lowes was the explicit inspiration and in which Havelock would cite Richards

f) Havelock would join Richards at Harvard in 1946 as a guest-lecturer and in 1947 in a full-time appointment

g) Richards would cite Havelock by name and discuss his orality/literacy work in a BBC broadcast in 1947

h) Harold Innis, in a letter to Frank Knight from May 21, 1951, discussing the problem of “understanding other cultures” would mention in successive sentences Richards’ Mencius on Mind and Havelock’s work on the Greeks — presumably Havelock had suggested Richards’ work to Innis

i) Havelock’s family would become close with Richards and his wife during their common time at Harvard, 1947-1961 

j) Havelock would contribute to the 1973 Festschrift for Richards with a lecture first given in Toronto in 1946 and would dedicate it to “Ivor Richards, revered friend and former colleague, who in all that he has taught and written has held a lamp for us to see by”.

Research in the records of the Harvard classics department and in the Eric Havelock papers at Yale might be able to specify the exact sequence of events here. For the purpose of understanding McLuhan’s second conversion, however, the important point is only that he seems to have started reading Richards again — more than a decade after initially reading him and hearing his lectures in Cambridge (UK) — about the time that he was coming under the influence of Innis and Havelock (who was then in close contact with Richards) and at the same time that McLuhan was coming loose from Leavis. His second conversion might be thought of, then, as a reversion via Havelock from Leavis to Richards, if not in the answers he was to find, at least in the questions he would investigate.

By the time of his 1957 essay ‘Coleridge As Artist’, at any rate, McLuhan had certainly reread Richards’ Coleridge on Imagination and, along with it, Lowes’ Road to Xanadu (which is cited twice in the essay).  But although seemingly never mentioned by McLuhan5 (always pending further findings, of course), the great likelihood (as will be detailed in further posts) is that he was put on this path that would be his life’s work, sometime around 1950, by Havelock’s essay ‘Virgil’s Road to Xanadu’6, perhaps in combination with Havelock’s unpublished 1949 lecture, ‘The Journey of Aeneas through the Waste Land‘.

  1. The editorial notes to this letter mistakenly refer to Knight’s 1939 Accentual Symmetry in Vergil. McLuhan mentions the cumaean gates again in another letter to Pound on July 16, 1952, Letters 231.
  2. It is very much of an understatement to call Havelock in regard to McLuhan ‘a University of Toronto classicist’ who happened to be active there for almost two decades up to the time of McLuhan’s arrival. Nor is it correct to limit Havelock’s direct or indirect influence on McLuhan to his work on media. Instead, Havelock (along with Eliot, Pound and Richards) may have shown McLuhan how to study literary works as a multilevel compositions in which horizontal and vertical labyrinths were of critical note.
  3. McLuhan, still in St Louis, was also working on Poe at just this same time.  His essay ‘Edgar Poe’s Tradition’ was published in The Sewanee Review in 1944.
  4. A remarkable letter in the UT archives from Havelock to Innis, dated April 26, 1946, asks for Innis’ help in dealing with a “crippling” problem with the Canadian income tax authorities.
  5. Even Havelock seems to have felt that McLuhan went overboard in crediting the importance of Preface to Plato for his work. But this might have been a sign of an earlier and more profound unacknowledged debt?
  6. ‘Virgil’s Road to Xanadu’: (1) The poet of the Orpheus-fantasy, Phoenix, Vol. 1, No. 1 pp. 3-8, 1946; (2) The Laboratory of a Poet’s Mind, Phoenix, Vol. 1, No. 2, pp. 2-7, 1946; (3) The Waters of the Great World, Phoenix, Supplement to Volume One, pp. 9-18, 1947.

Autobiography – the experience of the second conversion

McLuhan’s portrait of Tennyson in his  ‘Introduction’ to Alfred Lord Tennyson Selected Poetry is in many respects a self-portrait.1 For example, he says of Tennyson what he himself learned via his exposure to the Maelstrom in the late 1940s:

the way of escape from the dangers of excessive spiritual isolation was through wholehearted participation in the great stream of human experience and endeavor. (‘Introduction’, Tennyson: Selected Poetry, 1955, vii, emphasis added)2  

McLuhan’s description of Tennyson’s “In Memoriam” in this ‘Introduction’ captures one aspect of the ‘second conversion’ he experienced in the late 1940’s as he approached his fortieth birthday:

“In Memoriam” (…) Tennyson himself described (…) as a “Way of the Soul”, which locates it in the company of the literature of spiritual quests — a record of separate moments of growth and illumination, moving from the early astonishment and confusion of grief through a gradual affirmation mediating between pain and acceptance to the finale of peace and joy. (xi-xii, emphasis added)

But “pain” (our own, but especially what we have caused in others) cannot be forgotten or in any way overcome in some “finale of (…) joy”. These are “separate moments”3 such that the pain is not subject to ‘continuous’ improvement or ablation, but is always simultaneously there  — 

in the uncertainty of the interval between the pram and the coffin, between birth and death. (‘Spiral — Man as the Medium’)4

The crucial question concerns the nature of time — is it chronologically (or diachronically) continuous or simultaneously (or synchronically) contrapuntal?

The structural theme of [the film] Spiral presents (…) the synchronique  worlds of birth and death. Spiral is not (…) diachronique or lineal (…) but a synchronique and contrapuntal interplay in a resonating structure (Ibid, 125)

Chronological time yields to time as spaced-out moments of intensity. (Ibid, 127)

The conversion, then, is between “Way[s] of the Soul”5 — one of them aspiring to be “moving (…) from the  (…) confusion of grief through a gradual affirmation  (…) to the finale“, where the confusion and grief would in some way be brought to conclusion; the other of them finding itself already situated “in a resonating structure” that includes confusion and grief and all other human possibilities of perception and emotion — even joy. Even a painful joy.

The “astonishment and confusion of grief” which McLuhan must have experienced as he found he had to give up his fiercely held literary values — values he had melded with his religious persuasion — would in this case need to be cherished, both as having instigated his awareness of this “resonating structure” and as an ineradicable aspect of its fullness. As McLuhan cited Heidegger in his Man and Media’ lecture from 1975, the pain and confusion and grief and joy are all swept up (and down) in a dynamic vortex of

the wordless joy of having once more withstood want, the trembling before the impending childbed and shivering at the surrounding menace of death. (‘Man and Media’, Understanding Me, 278-298, here 291)

So it was, to repeat, that

the way of escape from the dangers of excessive spiritual isolation was through wholehearted participation in the great stream of human experience and endeavor.

This is what McLuhan so often called, following Yeats in 1903, “the emotion of multitude”.6 Or, as ‘Spiral — Man as the Medium’ specified — this “multitude” could be designated simply as ‘man’.

  1. See also Autobiography – the experience of Cambridge.
  2. This ‘Introduction’ was written years earlier than its publication date of 1955, probably in 1951.
  3. “In art as in physics fission preceded fusion.” ‘The Aesthetic Moment in Landscape’,1951.
  4. In Etrog & McLuhan, Images from the Film Spiral, 1987, 125-127.  McLuhan’s piece was written in 1976.
  5. This is a conversion from one way of the soul to another, a conversion whose possibility lies in the fact that both are situated in the labyrinthine spiral of the Maelstrom. “In the interval between time the preserver, and time the destroyer, is the creative interval which constitutes both continuity and arrest…” (‘Spiral — Man as the Medium’, emphasis added).
  6. See Lévi-Strauss on method in anthropology. In a 1970 lecture, ‘Discontinuity and Communication in Literature’, McLuhan read the complete 2-page text of ‘Emotion of Multitude’ by way of saying, ‘Here is the font — consider it well’: “I (Yeats) have been thinking a good deal about plays lately, and I have been wondering why I dislike the clear and logical construction which seems necessary it one is to succeed on the modern stage. It came into my head the other day that this construction, which all the world has learnt from France, has everything of high literature except the emotion of multitude. The Greek drama has got the emotion of the multitude from its chorus, which called up famous sorrows, even all the gods and all heroes, to witness as it were, some well-ordered fable, some action separated but for this from all but itself. The French play delights in the well-ordered fable, but by leaving out the chorus, it has created an art where poetry and imagination, always the children of far-off multitudinous things, must of necessity grow less important than the mere will. This is why, I said to myself, French dramatic poetry is so often a little rhetorical, for rhetoric is the will trying to do the work of the imagination. The Shakespearian drama gets the emotion of multitude out of the sub-plot which copies the main plot, much as a shadow upon the wall copies one’s body in the firelight. We think of KING LEAR less as the history of one man and his sorrows than as the history of a whole evil time. Lear’s shadow is in Gloucester, who also has ungrateful children and the mind goes on imagining other shadows, shadow beyond shadow, till it has pictured the world. In Hamlet, one hardly notices, so subtly is the web woven, that the murder of Hamlet’s father and the sorrow of Hamlet are shadowed in the lives of Fortinbras and Ophelia and Laertes, whose fathers, too, have been killed. It is so in all the plays, or in all but all, and very commonly the subplot is the main plot working itself out in more ordinary men and women and so doubly calling up before us the image of multitude.  Ibsen and Maeterlinck have on the other hand created a new form, for they get multitude from the Wild Duck in the Attic, or from the Crown at the bottom of the Fountain, vague symbols that set the mind wandering from idea to idea, emotion to emotion. Indeed all the great masters have understood that there cannot be great art without the little limited life of the fable, which is always the better the simpler it is, and the rich far-wandering many imaged life of the half-seen world beyond it. There are some who understand that the simple unmysterious things living as in a clear noonlight are of the nature of the sun, and that vague, many-imaged things have in them the strength of the moon. Did not the Egyptian carve it on emerald that all living things have the sun for father and the moon for mother, and has it not been said that a man of genius takes the most after his mother?”

Autobiography – the experience of Cambridge

Describing Tennyson’s experience at Cambridge in his 1955 ‘Introduction’ to Alfred Lord Tennyson Selected Poetry, McLuhan characterizes also his own:

After the rural isolation of Somersby [viz, Manitoba], Trinity College [viz, Trinity Hall], Cambridge, was a tremendous experience, and Tennyson wrote:

For I could burst into a psalm of praise

Seeing the heart so wondrous in her ways.

Would I could pile fresh life on life and dull

The sharp desire of knowledge still with knowing.

Art, Science, Nature, everything is full

As my own soul is full to overflowing. (x)

Golden on Innis and Havelock

In ‘The Literate Revolution in Greece and its Canadian Causes: Eric Havelock and Harold Innis1, Mark Golden (University of Winnipeg) presents an extreme2 version of the theory of the Innis-Havelock relation elsewhere urged by Watson, Babe and Carey:   

… there is no denying the similarities [between Innis and Havelock]. What is more, the two men not only overlapped at Toronto for almost 20 years, they even knew each other. Havelock’s reminiscences about his days in Canada (…) came in a pair of memorial lectures  [in October 1978] at Innis College long after the economist’s death [in 1952]. His appreciation of Innis’s achievement remains among the most compelling. Yet he denies any close association (…) and downplays any influence of Innis’s interests on his own work. (…) Havelock, however, is not content merely to assert his independence of Innis. He implies that the current of influence ran the other way: he delivered public lectures at Toronto on orality in Homer in the early 1940s — perhaps Innis heard them. Communication that passed between the two men after he had left Toronto for Harvard leads him to infer that this was so. He sums up the intellectual relationship — “more slight than some may have supposed” (403) — in this way: “In reading Innis, I discover (…) the contiguity between Innis and myself seems to have been, as much as anything, else, a matter of happy coincidence” (424). I [Mark Golden] am reminded of that old classicist’s ploy, anticipatory plagiarism: “I find my conjecture anticipated in the work of so and so.” Curiously coy as it is, Havelock’s account has adherents. For example, Andy Wernick5 regards Havelock’s ideas on Plato as Innis’s starting point [for his late work on communications]. It is true that these ideas [of Havelock] did not see print until 1963 [in Preface to Plato], more than a decade after Innis’s death.  But Innis knew them long before: a letter from Innis to a friend6 in May 1951 mentions a manuscript of Havelock’s “on the question of the shift from the oral to the written in Greek culture.”7 But all this letter really shows, it seems to me, is that even a scholar as gifted and energetic as Havelock didn’t always get his work out as soon as he hoped. Many (…) passages from Innis’s own publications (…) predate this letter. Indeed, his working papers, the so-called “idea file”, include references to the relationship of oral and written language as early as 1944 or 19458; one of the earliest notes, inspired by Ernst Cassirer, asks “how far the clash of written language with oral creates [the abstract] symbolism [needed for algebra]?”9 (…) He was aware of Plato’s relevance to the topic by at least 1946, and speculated, in 1946 or 1947, that civilization is at its peak as the oral tradition shifts to the written. (…) [Such a] mix of literacy and orality seems to have been a crucial element of Innis’s ideas from the start. Havelock, however, came to an appreciation of its importance only late. In his Preface to Plato (1963), Homer represents primary orality and the eventual prevalence of literacy is a triumph of progress. But some 25 years later, in The Muse Learns to Write (1986), “the epics as we know them are the result of some interlock between the oral and the literate”10, “the Muse … learned to write and read while still continuing to sing”11, “the masterpieces we now read as literate texts are an interwoven texture of oral and written”12. This seems to me to be conclusive proof that Innis did not derive his ideas from Havelock… (151-154)

Golden’s “conclusive proof” turns on timing.  If “the mix of literacy and orality seems to have been a crucial element of Innis’s ideas from the start” of his communications work, in 1946 or 1947, and if “Havelock (…) came to an appreciation of its importance only late”, in 1986 or 1987 — a gap of forty years — then it could not be that the former ideas originally derived from the latter.  

However, Golden was apparently not aware that Havelock’s essay in the 1973 Festschrift for his friend and former colleague, I.A. Richards, ‘The Sophistication of Homer’, had already been given as a lecture on January 31, 1946 in Toronto13 and may well have been in circulation there and at Harvard in typescript. Nor that the crucial element of that lecture had been reiterated in a review by Havelock in January 1948 in the University of Toronto Quarterly:

[Owen] plays down the total effect of that enormous weight of tribal baggage, of lore, precept, genealogy, custom, which the [oral] poet has to drag along in his epic. To Owen, Homer the artist is everything; but Homer the encyclopaedist, the didactic recorder of oral tradition, freighted with catalogues and memories, does not exist. This, it seems to me, actually minimizes Homer’s genius, as though he were able to work within the narrower, more controllable limits of a literate method, a Virgil or Dante or Milton armed with pen, picking his themes with nicety, not a bard operating within the great straggling medium of the [oral] saga. If the Iliad is not only astonishing but unique, it is precisely because a controlling perspective, a single point of view, has been imposed upon the most intractable materials. (E.A. Havelock, review of E.T. Owen, The Story of the IliadUTQ, January 1948, 17:2, 211.)

Then, in his 1950 The Crucifixion of Intellectual Man, Havelock put his appreciation of the “mix of literacy and orality” explicitly:

There was a golden age in Athens, when men as they walked the streets lived in two minds at once, guided by the unconscious heroisms of an epic tradition, yet roused to vivid thought by the science of an awakening intellect. (13-14)

So it is not the case “that these ideas [on orality and literacy] did not see print until 1963” or that Havelock “came to an appreciation of [the] importance [of the mix of the two] only late” . More, Havelock’s general thesis was clearly abroad in both Toronto and Harvard at just this crucial time of the middle 1940s through his lectures, earlier publications14 and typescripts. Hence the anecdote told to John Watson by Ernest Sirluck, later Dean of Graduate Studies at UT and the President of the University of Manitoba15:

At this period there was much discussion among classicists concerning the use of epic poetry as a technique for inter-generational communication of the ‘cultural baggage’ of a non-literate people. Sirluck recalls a stimulating conversation with [E.T.] Owen on this subject, with Innis as a quiet, note-taking witness.  Since Innis had contributed little to the conversation, Sirluck was taken aback to see him that same afternoon borrowing from the library all the authorities Owen had cited. When Sirluck expressed his surprise that Innis should be interested in this area, Innis replied emphatically that he thought the subject was of fundamental importance. (Watson, Marginal Man, 297)

And here is Richards in a BBC Third Programme broadcast in October 1947:16

Professor Havelock has suggested that we may see in Plato’s rejections of Homer the revolt of the writing mind’s mode of apprehension against the pre-literate mind’s other, less abstract and intellectual, ways of ordering itself.

While the staple theory of Innis (followed by Havelock at least since 1930)17 illuminated the concrete dynamics of any society (and therefore also of pre-literate Greece), the notion that information storage performs a central (or staple) organizing role in the formation of psychological and social functions certainly came from Havelock.18


  1. In Daimonopylai: essays in classics and the classical tradition presented to Edmund G. Berry, ed Egan and Joyal, 2004, 143-154.
  2. Golden even suggests Havelock may have committed what Golden calls “anticipatory plagiarism”.
  3. Page reference to Harold Innis: A Memoir, 1982
  4. Ibid
  5. Golden references Wernick’s ‘The Post-Innisian Significance of Innis’,  Canadian Journal of Political and Social Theory, 10:1-2, 1986, 128-150, esp 141.
  6. This was Frank Knight, the distinguished economist who was a young instructor at the University of Chicago when Innis and his wife were studying there just after WW1.  Knight and Innis became friends then and remained friends until Innis’ death 35 years later. As he reported to Innis, Knight was asked to play a role in the attempt in the 1940s to lure Innis from Toronto back to Chicago. Knight declined to do so, other than telling Innis that he would certainly welcome him if he decided on the move.
  7. Quoted from a letter of Innis from May 21, 1951 to Knight, as cited in Graeme Patterson, History and Communications (1990), 65.
  8. Golden plainly takes the dates assigned to the ‘idea file’ as reliable.  But their editor, William Christian, specifically warns against this.  He notes: “The advantage of this form (= chronological order) was that it would allow the reader to see development in Innis’s ideas and concerns. However, and this is a very important reservation, the reader is warned that this chronological ordering is tentative at best. There are some clues such as internal dates, publication dates of books Innis used, and (the date of the) use of the material (by Innis). Indeed some of the sections cannot be dated with any certainty at all. In the absence of more information about the original form of the notes, when they were typed and how they were assembled, the present arrangement must stand as one order among many, though I hope it is a broadly reliable one.” (The Idea File of Harold Innis, 1980, xx)
  9. Golden refers here to William Christian, The Idea File of Harold Innis, 1980, 1.8, p 4.
  10. The Muse Learns to Write, 13
  11. Ibid, 23
  12. Ibid, 101, cf. 124, 126
  13. While there were certainly additions to the lecture as published in 1973, like the allusion to the 1969 moon landing, it is remarkable that the examples of ‘the sophistication of Homer’ detailed in it are also cited in Havelock’s 1948 Owen review.
  14. See Sirluck on Innis, Owen and Havelock.
  15. Sirluck was in the military until 1945 and then left UT for the University of Chicago in 1947. E.T. (Eric Trevor) Owen, longtime professor of Greek in Toronto, died in 1948. This anecdote may therefore be dated with confidence to the 20 or so months between the fall of 1945 and the summer of 1947.
  16. For discussion, see Havelock, Innis and Richards in 1947.
  17. For discussion, see Innis and Havelock – 1930 and beyond.
  18. As Havelock was the first to emphasize, his ideas were, of course, importantly influenced by the earlier work of Martin Nilsson, Milman Parry and his teacher at Cambridge, F.M. Cornford. He came to his ideas, he explained, “after encountering the work of Milman Parry, guided also by a reading of Martin Nilsson’s Homer and Mycenae (1933; for me — EAH — still the classic work on the subject), and following (…) intuitions born of (my early) pre-Socratic studies (with Cornford at Cambridge)…” (The Muse Learns to Write: Reflections on Orality and Literacy from Antiquity, 1986, 17)