Monthly Archives: May 2016

Relativity and topology

To be aware of the past as presently useful and of much of the present as already irrelevant — this is to be a contemporary mind. And this mode of awareness is itself based on an analogy derived from relativity physics (…) whose usefulness to a society faced with the problems of world government and international community is as immense as it is as yet unexploited. (McLuhan’s Proposal to Robert Hutchins, 1947)

…”the meaning of meaning” is a relationship: a figure-ground process of perpetual change. The input of data must enter a ground or field or surround of relations that are transformed by the intruder, even as the input is also transformed. Knowledge, old or new, is always a figure that is undergoing perpetual change. (Take Today, 86)

McLuhan’s work applies relativity theory to all human experience to achieve a topological formulation of the entire experiential domain.

In his dialogue, L’Idée Fixe (1932), Valéry considers Einstein‘s relativity as the “physics of physics” or the geometry of geometries:

– it’s a question of disengaging what would be left of our physics if one were to make the observations (…) moving ad libitum in the Universe. It’s supposed that something, some residue of our laws — which were discovered and formulated under local conditions — would subsist in spite of the [arbitrary] motion of the observer (…) Relativity Theory wants to free him completely from all appearances due to local determinants of his measurements and to his [associated] state of motion. This Physics of Physics was conceived and constructed by Einstein as a Geometry (…) [To] take a crude illustration, imagine a flat sheet of rubber (…) Draw a figure on the sheet [like a triangle](…) Your triangle has [certain] properties (…) Now fold your elastic sheet, twist it, pull it any which way. What’s left of those properties? (…) Something remains. If you’d built a geometry on the plane triangle you [first] drew, and if  you make another [geometry] that corresponds to one deformation of the rubber, and another to another—
 What a lot of geometries!
– It’s not absurd to look for axioms or propositions that—
– That won’t be subject to deformation.
– That’s it.1

Einstein himself is cited in Laws of Media from his foreword to Max Jammer’s Concepts of Space:

The victory over the concept of absolute space or over that of the inertial system [fixed frame of reference] became possible only because the concept of the material object was gradually replaced as the fundamental concept of physics by that of the field. Under the influence of the ideas of Faraday and Maxwell the notion developed that the whole of physical reality could perhaps be represented as a field whose components depend on four space-time parameters. If the laws of this field are in general covariant, that is, are not dependent on a particular choice of coordinate system, then the introduction of an independent (absolute) space is no longer necessary. That which constitutes the spatial character of reality is then simply the four-dimensionality of the field.2

Each of the geometries from Valéry’s example might be expressed as a particular application of three-dimensional covariance where, for example, the total surface area of the rubber sheet would be constant but the parameters constituting that total would all be variable.3 Or, rather, co-variable! Stretching the sheet would increase its length but decrease its width and thickness such that its total surface area would remain constant. The different geometries resulting from its deformation could then be defined as expressions of this covariance, as could any particular property of any of its particular geometries.

For Einstein, space-time itself is such a flexible matrix of four-dimensional covariance: an alteration in time results in a corresponding warping of the dimensions of space.  Physical laws can then be reformulated not in relation to “an independent (absolute) space” and time, but in relation to that “four-dimensionality” itself — a “four-dimensionality” which, as the generator of all space-time possibilities, “constitutes the spatial character of reality”.4

McLuhan imagined himself as witnessing the strange spectacle of the generative ground of all the modalities of experience, like Alice:

Lewis Carroll looked through the looking-glass and found a kind of [hyper] space-time which is the normal mode of electronic man. Before Einstein, Carroll had already entered that very sophisticated universe of Einstein. Each moment, for Carroll, had its own space and its own time. (Gerald Stearn Interview)

In comparable fashion to Einstein, McLuhan wanted to know what “won’t be subject to deformation” across all the possible modalities of experience. The goal was to formulate something like experientiality — what it is that “constitutes the [non-deformative] character of [experiential] reality”.

McLuhan’s suggestion was that experience is the product of the co-variance of the visual and the acoustic senses as modulated by touch. “Common sense” or “synesthesia” or the “sensorium” remains constant, but its component “senses” co-vary.  Stretch or twist or amplify one of them and the others change proportionately with it.

As he neared the end of his life, McLuhan became anxious to stress this aspect of his thinking. Apparently he felt that failure to understand it was one of the factors in the general failure to understand him. It is emphasized repeatedly in the posthumous Global Village:

  • In our desire to illumine the differences between visual and acoustic space, we have undoubtedly given a false impression: and that is that the normal brain, in its everyday functioning, cannot reconcile the apparently contradictory perceptions of both sides of the mind. (GV 48)
  • every artifact of man mirrors the shift between these two modes. (GV x)
  • within each of man’s inventions (extensions of himself) left- and right-hemisphere modes of thought struggle for dominance (GV 102)
  • No matter how extreme the dominance of either hemisphere in a particular culture, there is always some degree of interplay between the hemispheres… (GV 62)
  • visual and acoustic space are always present in any human situation, even if Western civilization has (…) tamped down our awareness of the acoustic. (GV 55)5

It is imperative to note that the senses and hemispheres are used here in a technical sense that has little to do with our usual notions of them.6 Hence it is that McLuhan did not consider television a visual medium, but he did consider symphonic music to be visual. A great many critics have laughed up their sleeves at this, of course.  But consider Einstein’s use of ‘space’ and ‘time’. For him, these are not, or are not only, what we see when we look out a window or check our watch. Instead, ‘space’ and ‘time’ for Einstein are co-variable factors in an equation constituting dimensionality. Our usual experience of them is simply one modality of that equation.

So with McLuhan.  The visual and the acoustic and touch (to which he assimilated smell and taste) are not captured in our usual experience of them (although it is important to note that ‘our usual experience’ is very far from being the singular, clear, matter it may thoughlessly be taken to be). Instead, these are co-variable factors in an equation constituting experientiality, ‘Our usual experience’ must be understood in terms of it, not it in terms ‘our usual experience’. As Minkowski specified in his Space and Time lecture from 1908: “three-dimensional geometry becomes a chapter of four-dimensional physics”.7

McLuhan could therefore have reformulated the passage from Einstein’s foreword to Jammer’s Concepts of Space as follows:

The victory over the concept of absolute experience or over that of the inertial system became possible only because the concept of the experiential object was gradually replaced as the fundamental concept of psychology and sociology by that of the field. Under the influence of the ideas of Faraday and Maxwell and Einstein the notion developed that the whole of experiential reality could perhaps be represented as a field whose components depend on three sensual parameters. If the laws of this field are in general covariant, that is, are not dependent on a particular choice of coordinate system, then the introduction of an independent (absolute) experiential space is no longer necessary. That which constitutes the character of reality in experience is then simply the three-dimensionality of the field.

McLuhan seems to have come clear about these ideas through the writing of Project in Understanding New Media in 1959 and 1960.  Here he is writing to Walter Ong on November 18, 1961 (Letters, 280-281):

My theory is only acceptable to Thomists for whom consciousness as analogical proportion among the senses from moment to moment is quite easy to grasp. But print technology actually smashes that analogical awareness in society and the individual. (…) I can now explain these matters very much better than I did in [The Project in] Understanding [New] Media. But no more evidence is needed of the hypnotic aspect of all media in human history than the absence of awareness among those who underwent [subjection to] them. Each is invested with a cloak of invisibility. I am naturally eager to attract many people to such study as this and see in it the hope of some rational consensus for our externalized senses. A sensus communis for external senses is what I’m trying to build.

With the terms “externalized senses” and “external senses” McLuhan was referring not only to the devices we have learned to build to enhance or mimic human senses like the telephone and television.  He was also indicating that just what the “senses” are is a question and not at all something obvious. The “external senses” are “external” to us not only in a spatial sense; they are  also “external” to our usual ‘sense’ of them. So, as treated above, McLuhan’s “hope of some rational consensus for our externalized senses”, aka of a new sort of exterior “sensus communis”, was predicated upon on the revision of the visual and the acoustic and touch in their covariance.  And the resulting operating system, although it would recall the ‘natural’ physiological sensorium of the individual human being, would be neither individual nor autonomic. Instead, like any hard science (but built just as much on the “orchestral” principles of art), it would turn on an evolving “consensus” achieved through open investigation and would be both social and conscious.8 

Now McLuhan and Ong had known each other for twenty years by this time, ever since McLuhan had directed Ong’s M.A. thesis on Hopkins at St Louis University and suggested to Ong the topic for his later PhD work at Harvard on Ramus.  But McLuhan’s relationship with Bernie Muller-Thym at SLU was even older than this and was more profound both on a personal level (Muller-Thym was the best man for McLuhan’s wedding and the Godfather of both Eric and Mary) and on an intellectual one (for here McLuhan was the student of Muller-Thym’s knowledge rather than Ong’s teacher of his own). And it was with Muller-Thym that McLuhan had deeply considered the analogical proportion among the senses in Aristotle and Thomas.9 So it was to Muller-Thym that McLuhan owed the announcement of his breakthrough to topology:

The break-through in media study has come at last, and it can be stated as the principle of complementarity10: that the structural impact of any situation is subjectively completed as to the cycle of the senses. (McLuhan to Muller-Thym, February 19th, 1960, cited by Gordon, 313.)11

Again to Muller-Thym a few weeks later:

any [increased] intensity in the (…) input (ie. High Definition) completely alters the over-all structure [of the sensorium] as compared with Low Definition. So that, for example, manuscript is low definition for the visual part of writing and the speech within the code, as it were, is in relatively high definition. So that a manuscript is read aloud and in depth. The same materials put in print have the visual (…)  in high definition and the speech goes into very low definition and print is read silently… (McLuhan to Muller-Thym, March 7, 1960, Letters, 262)12

What may be seen in these letters to Muller-Thym is the dis-covery of the “complementarity” or covarience of the senses and of media (conceived as promoting, or even instantiating, specific structural patterns of the senses). Change in any one sense “completely alters the over-all structure” (aka, the sensus communis or sensorium) in a rule-governed way. High Definition and Low Definition of any sense are correlated like a string pulled back and forth around a nail such that the more string on one side of the nail, the less on the other.

The sensory system, in turn, may be imagined on the same model but with multiple strings and multiple nails. Imagine that two strings of equal length are joined together by a knot.  Then imagine 4 nails hammered into a board in a row. Imagine that the knotted string is put over the first nail, under the second, over the third and under the fourth again.  Imagine that the knot joining the two strings is located between the second and third nails and that these nails constitute a kind of gate preventing the knot of the string from being pulled beyond the second nail in the direction of the first or beyond the third nail in the direction of the fourth. McLuhan’s suggestion is simply that the two strings may be taken as the visual and the acoustic senses and touch or tactility as their knot with its gates. The more the string is pulled in the visual direction, the less there will be of it in the acoustic one. McLuhan’s further hypothesis is that the ratio of these two lengths is the atomic structure of experience. But since these correlated distances may simply be read by the place of the knot within the space of the gates (where its location determines the two lengths outwards beyond the second and third nails respectively), experience may be said to be fundamentally structured by those points that the knot can assume along the distance between the second and third nails.  (See here for further elaboration.)

The fundamental importance of such a coded definition of experientiality for McLuhan was that it would allow communication between cultures and the formulation of common values between them without the assertion of some purported absolute experience or accepted inertial system. He could see, on the one hand, that modern media force such relativity on us:

Total global coverage in space, instantaneity in time. Those are the two basic characters that I can detect in a (…) mass medium. (Culture Without Literacy, Explorations 1, 1953)

It is the relativity of all space and all time resulting from the simultaneous co-presence (“allatonceness”) of ‘mass media’ (plural) in their multiple “total global coverage” that forces our recognition of a

need to discover means for translating the experience of one medium or one culture into another, of translating Confucius into Western terms and Kant into Eastern terms. Of seeing our old literary culture in the new plastic terms in order to enable it to become a constitutive part of the new culture created by the orchestral voices and gestures of new media.13 Of seeing that modern physics and painting and poetry speak a common language and of acquiring that language at once in order that our world may possess consciously the coherence that it really has in latency, and which for lack of our recognition has created not new orchestral harmonies but mere noise.14 (Ibid.)

Such a “means for translating” what McLuhan elsewhere called “the entire world of language and consciousness”15 could naturally not be achieved within a single modality of experience. And besides:

Already in the sciences there is recognition of the need for a unified field theory which would enable scientists to use one continuous set of terms by way of relating the various scientific universes. (Ibid.)

Only in an analogous “unified field theory” of all human experience could the confounding situation be addressed in which

Are we not still inclined to suppose that our former objectives are still valid even though all of our assumptions and parameters have changed?  (NAEB Project, 1960, ”Materials Developed By Project”)

  1. Translated by Eleanor Wolff. Her abbreviated translation of L’Idée Fixe appeared originally in Meja, Number Two (Autumn 1946), edited by Herbert Steiner. It was reprinted in ETC, ed S.I. Hayakawa, 6:1, 1948. For Hayakawa as a member of the Winnipeg School of Communication see here.
  2. Laws of Media, 41
  3. This example is greatly simplified. The topology of the rubber sheet would. of course, be much more complicated, as would its geometries, once it were considered as, eg, tightly twisted.
  4. ‘Constitutes’ here should be taken in a verbal sense as ‘generates’, not, or not primarily, in the sense of ‘is the stuff of’.
  5. Compare already in 1955: “In examining the historical development of the media of communication it is necessary to consider this type of evolution that occurs in a single visual area, because it is inseparably linked to the auditory and other senses. The peculiarity of language, as Paul Elmer More observed, is that it is the medium ‘by which we undertake to convey experience completely and directly rather than as divided and refracted by a particular organ of perception’ (‘The Drift of Romanticism’, 1913). Words are an orchestral harmony of touch, taste, sight, sound and kinaesthesia” (‘A Historical Approach to the Media’). Compare McLuhan’s close friend and co-author, Barry Nevitt: “whatever the eye receives is modified by the ear” in ‘Pipeline or Grapevine: The Changing Communications Environment’, Technology and CultureVolume 21, 224, 1980. For “orchestral harmony” see note #14 below.
  6. Cf the first sentence of ‘Myth and Mass Media‘ from 1959: “When an attempt is made to bring the relatively articulated concept of “myth” into the area of “media”, a concept to which surprisingly little attention has been given in the past, it is necessary to reconsider both “myth” and “media” in order to get at relevant data.” This follows immediately from ‘the medium is the message’ since every object, including “myth” and “media”, is only what it is taken to be via some medium. To take that medium into consideration is to “reconsider” its contents.
  7. Raum und Zeit:  “Die dreidimensionale Geometrie wird ein Kapitel der vierdimensionalen Physik.”
  8. McLuhan in The Medium Is the Massage: “Joyce could see no advantage in our remaining locked up in each cultural cycle as in a trance or dream. He discovered the means of living simultaneously in all cultural modes while quite conscious” (120). See note #15 below.
  9. In 1940 Muller-Thym published ‘Common Sense, Perfection of the Order of Pure Sensibility’ in The Thomist, 2:315–343. Long before this, at Cambridge, McLuhan had been exposed in the work of I.A. Richards to the idea that the sensorium might supply the structural key for the analysis of language and meaning. (See the concluding ‘Synaesthesis’ chapters of The Foundations Of Aesthetics by Richards, Ogden and Wood from 1921.) And in the work of Maritain, Gilson and Phelan, he had read brief theological treatments of the notion. But with Muller-Thym and his ‘Order of Pure Sensibility’ paper, McLuhan had the unique opportunity to work on this topic with a person who was at once his closest personal friend and one of the leading experts in the world on its history and implications.
  10. ‘Complementarity’, ‘hendiadys’, ‘paradox’, etc do not name particular sorts of relation for McLuhan; they name the topological “principle” that all ‘poles’ exist in a dynamic matrix constituted by co-variance
  11.  A 25 January 1960 letter to Harry Skornia (the president of the NAEB who had secured the US Dept of Education grant for McLuhan’s study of new media, with whom McLuhan was constantly in touch during the study), described the “cycle of the senses” as follows: “The last few days have seen a major breakthrough in media study. Working with the fact that each medium embodies one or more of the human senses, it struck me that we are impelled in perceiving each medium to complete the scale or spectrum of our sensorium. So that, radio impels us to provide a visual world moment by moment, and photography, which is so adequate in visual terms, compels us to complete the tactual and kinesthetic part of the sensorium. Thus the degree of sensuous completion is one way in which the lines of force in any medium are structured.” (Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 399-400, n99)
  12. Emphasis added; the insertions in square brackets have also been added, but the insertion in round brackets stems from McLuhan.
  13. Andrew Chrystall cites from an unpublished and untitled essay preserved in the Ottawa archive beginning “My last three books”: “knowing, as we do, the constituents of both civilized and tribal cultures, of both private, rational, individual and corporate, mystical, tribal man, it becomes our privilege and responsibility alike to mix and harmonize these factors even as the Greeks chose to alter the Dionysian fury with Apollonian detachment.” (Thesis, 187-188)
  14. Of course, “mere noise” is itself an experience and no “unified field theory” of experience is possible that would ignore or exclude it. Indeed, the ability to demonstrate the relative coherence of the experience(s) of “mere noise” is the single most important test such a theory would have to meet. In this way, the prospect of a “unified field theory” would signal, like a cock crow, the coming of light again to the world’s night. McLuhan’s later friendship with artists like Sorel Etrog and John Cage might be considered in this context. And readings of McLuhan, like that (or those) of Arthur Kroker (which are certainly among the best we have) would need to be investigated with the question: has “victory over the concept of absolute experience” been abdicated here in favor of an uncorrelated  series of unaccountably privileged perspectives? For McLuhan on noise, see his letter to Tyrwhitt, December 23, 1960 (Letters 278): “Noise is of course just any kind of irrelevance, and yet irrelevance is a needed margin for any kind of attention or center. In the field of attention, a center without a margin is the formula for hypnosis, stasis and paralysis.” The figure of “not new orchestral harmonies but mere noise” was a tip of the hat to Giedeon’s Space, Time and Architecture: “our culture is like an orchestra where the instruments lie ready tuned, but where every musician is cut off from his follows by a soundproof wall.” 
  15. “Joyce encompasses Einstein but extends his (…) formula to the entire world of language and consciousness” (‘New Media as Political Forms’, Explorations 3, 1954). See note #8 above.

W.O. Mitchell on Rupert Lodge

I wish merely to introduce myself as one of the products of some of the leanest years of the Manitoba English Department. The last year was somewhat relieved by the presence of Dr. Wheeler, but I had directed my energies to philosophy, and did my best work for Professor Lodge. (McLuhan to E.K Brown1, December 12, 1935, Letters 79)

Rupert C Lodge was co-head with Henry Wilkes Wright of the Philosophy and Psychology Department during McLuhan’s time at the University of Manitoba. Marchand (34) reports that Lodge’s recommendation of McLuhan to Cambridge called him his “most outstanding” student.

W.O. Mitchell took courses from Lodge at this same time2 and was greatly taken by him. As described in Mitchell’s son’s biography of him:

Bill (…) had begun to enjoy philosophy and his arts courses more than the sciences. This was largely due to Professor Rupert Lodge, who taught him philosophy. (…) Lodge made a lasting impression on him and was instrumental in altering his career direction [from medicine]: “It was Lodge who introduced me to the excitement of the inquiring mind, who helped me to discover that, philosophically speaking,  I am an idealist.” Lodge was a Platonist who (…) told his students that they had to choose a stance, that they could not (…) adopt more than one [fundamental] philosophy [at a time]: “He [told] them that there were three broad ways to approach life in this universe, that they had their choice of the materialist, the phenomenalist, [and] the [Platonic] realist” (…) [Mitchell] described  himself as a “Lodge boy” in the larger sense of having adopted a passion for philosophical inquiry. (…)
Lodge had definite views on the role of the university in educating the imagination. In the fall of 1931 various people debated in the editorial pages of the Winnipeg Free Press whether or not science and literature were “parallel functions of the human mind”.
Some argued that science was a body of fact to which new information can be added as acquired, but that literature was something else and that new writing did not make older authors obsolete. Another debater argued that literature courses at the university should not deal with older writers but with new writers in the way that science deals only with the newest ideas. Lodge disputed that science was simply a body of fact: “Science thus represents an adventure of the spirit, quite as much as poetry, and has quite as much power to thrill the imagination and liberate the mind from instinctive and local prejudices.” He believed that a student of science should study the history of science in order to “acquire background and culture”.  He did not believe that either Science or Arts departments at universities should turn out technicians, but that “the primary function of our university departments is, surely, to enlighten and liberate the minds of our students so that, whatever their professions or interests in after-life, they may be able to bring an educated and cultured outlook to bear on their problems”.3

Lodge’s contribution to the Free Press debate was titled ‘Science and Literature’ and appeared in the Manitoba Free Press, Oct 10, 1931, p11.4 McLuhan would naturally have followed this debate and doubtless discussed it with his father and with friends of his (and future UT colleagues) like Tom Easterbrook and Carlton Williams.


  1. At this time E.K Brown was the head of the English Department at UM, having come from UT as McLuhan was leaving Winnipeg for Cambridge.  Brown stayed only 2 years at UM before returning to UT. Later, he was the chair of the English Department at Chicago when McLuhan was attempting to land a job there in the middle 1940’s. But McLuhan does not seem to have contacted him then — he was apparently interested in the sort of position at Chicago that only Robert Hutchins and John Nef might have provided.  See Marchand 98-99.
  2. Mitchell attended UM from 1931 to 1934 and his biographers report that he took his first course with Lodge in 1933 and his second in 1934. McLuhan worked with Lodge in this same 1931-1934 period.
  3. The Life of W.O Mitchell 1, 1914-1947, Mitchell and Mitchell, 1999, 161-163. Mitchell’s recollections of Lodge in 1933-1934 were recorded more than 60 years later in 1996, just two years before Mitchell’s death. It is understandable that they were a tad hazy.  But it is also impressive that he remembered Lodge this fondly after such a long time.
  4. Some weeks later, on December 2, 1931, The Manitoba Free Press was renamed as The Winnipeg Free Press.

W.O. Mitchell and the quest to “embody insight”

W.O Mitchell (1914–1998) was at the University of Manitoba, a couple years behind McLuhan, from 1931 to 1934.  The two published together in the short-lived UM literary review ‘toba1 and certainly knew each other at the time.2 Later, Mitchell became one of the few Canadians in McLuhan’s generation whose fame as a writer and observer of the social scene rivaled his, at least in Canada.

Mitchell characterized his writing method as follows:

There is a special kind of truth that is the writer’s truth. It is not so much so much a scientific truth or an economic truth, a sociological or a political one, as it is a human truth. There are actually certain of these human truths which can be communicated in no other way than through the creation of characters, their conflict and their success or failure, because only after the reader has identified himself with them can he receive the particular truths to be communicated. . . . The artist must manipulate the characters, their sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, wonderings, hopes, disappointments in such a way that they embody insight into [particular sorts of] order and significance.3

Elsie McLuhan could easily have maintained the exact same position with the change of only a few words:

There is a special kind of truth that is the elocutionist’s truth.  It is not so much so much a scientific truth or an economic truth, a sociological or a political one, as it is a human truth. There are actually certain of these human truths which can be communicated in no other way than through the creation of characters, their conflict and their success or failure, because only after the listener has identified himself with them can he receive the particular truths to be communicated. . . . The performer must manipulate the characters, their sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, wonderings, hopes, disappointments in such a way that they embody insight into [particular sorts of] order and significance.

Elsie in particular, and by extension all artists in general, supplied McLuhan with what he called in ‘Canadian Poetry’ (1965) “equations for inner mental states”.  The idea (termed by McLuhan “the drama of cognition itself”) is that any mental state results from a (usually unconscious) selection of one “adequation of mind and things”, one “adjustment of the interior acts and dispositions of the mind to the outer world”, from among the rainbow array of them available to us simply  as human beings — an array exposed and illuminated in modern times by literary criticism, anthropology, linguistics, psychology, sociology, etc, as well as by exploration, world commerce and entertainment.4

In an analogous way, language may be conceived as the selection of certain sounds and certain grammatical forms from the array of all possible sounds and forms. In neither case does this ‘action’ take place consciously or in linear clocktime or as performed by an identifiable ‘manager’.  Still, it is natural to humans not only to put onmental states”, but also to take them off and to try on others. This is what happens when a child first learns to speak and what happens continually throughout life (such that McLuhan calls the action “endless”5). But only artists take up (and down) this somersault action as a vocation and only some of them realize what they are up (and down) to.

Everything depends, for McLuhan, on our learning, at last, what it means to be a human being as a maker of culture and value through “the endless adjustment of the interior acts and dispositions of the mind to the outer world”.  But this does not at all mean that humans do this ex nihilo, like little gods (as Nietzsche definitively demonstrated and as Beckett reiterated). Instead, as can be seen only when “the endless adjustment” is at last itself adjusted to reveal what is to be revealed, the possibility and conditions of such making are given.

It is the uttermost gift of this giving that it itself may be overlooked and for the most part is overlooked — “true strength is that strength which, mobile as it is hidden, concentrates on the work without being outwardly visible6. But it is equally an aspect of its uttering-outering that it may be seen!

Lps. The keys to. Given! (Finnegans Wake 628.15)

The giving is like a true kiss/kees7/keys in which there is no ‘I’, so the kiss/keys is given by ‘Lps’ which lack an ‘i’. The absence of the ‘I’ in the kiss/keys of giving is what enables it to express itself “without being outwardly visible”; but also, exactly because this loosing has no ‘I’ and therefore no withholding, this is just as much what enables it to express itself also as “outwardly visible“!

Since this invisible visibility or visible invisibility is “true strength“, it stamps all being with its form.  So it is that humans spend half of life in the “nightworld” of sleep “abced” to themselves; and even when they are supposedly awake they are under-going “the endless adjustment of the interior acts and dispositions of the mind to the outer world” by taking the labyrinthine way to and among the diverse possibilities sleeping in their soul.  

It is a nightworld and, literally, as Joyce reiterates, is “abcedminded”.8

McLuhan was given a model of this synchronic up/down9 action of the human soul first of all by his mother, Elsie. What she presented on the stage, as “a one woman theater” who “played all the parts”, he came to see as what everybody does all the time.10 Through a series of mentors — Rupert Lodge, I.A. Richards, Wyndham Lewis, Étienne Gilson, Sigfried Giedion, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Harold Innis, and James Joyce — he was introduced to ways along which he, practicing this same action himself, sought to articulate it for himself and for others.

  1. McLuhan published in the first two issues of ‘toba in late 1933 and early 1934 (1:1 and 1:2); Mitchell published in these same two issues plus the next one (1:3) later in the spring of 1934. All of Mitchell’s pieces (together comprising ‘Panacea for Panhandlers’) reported on his summer trip to Europe in 1933, while one of McLuhan’s (‘A Grand Tour for $300‘) described his trip to England with Tom Easterbrook in 1932. So McLuhan and Mitchell appeared together in the same issue of ‘toba twice, and in one of these wrote on the same topic.  McLuhan’s other piece in ‘toba was ‘Heavens Above‘.
  2. Mitchell worked in Toronto from 1948 until 1951 (at a time when both he and McLuhan were doing side-work for the CBC) and was later a writer in residence in the English department at the University of Toronto for 6 months in 1973-1974.  Indeed, he was very often in Toronto working for the CBC and for Maclean’s, accepting awards, and giving speeches and lectures. McLuhan must have known about Mitchell’s frequent presence in Toronto, especially (of course) when Mitchell worked in the UT English department. Just as Mitchell must have known of McLuhan’s presence in the department. But there does not seem to be any record of their meeting there. Perhaps McLuhan didn’t know that W.O. Mitchell was the Billy Mitchell he knew from Winnipeg. Or, more likely, there may have been some kind of issue between the two. For one thing, both required most of the oxygen in a room and may not have been able to breathe satisfactorily in the presence of the other.
  3. ‘Grace and Illusion’, in The English Teacher 3.2, June 1963, cited in The Life of W.O Mitchell 1, 1914-1947, Mitchell and Mitchell, 1999, 315.
  4. All quotations in this sentence are taken from McLuhan’s ‘James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial’, 1953.
  5. Ibid.
  6. I Ching, cited by McLuhan, Take Today 22.
  7. ‘Kees’ is the pronunciation of ‘kiss’ in much of Ireland and Scotland.
  8. ‘James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial’, 1953.
  9. Heraclitus, ὁδὸς ἄνω κάτω DK B60. This fragment is one of the epigrams for Eliot’s Four Quartets.
  10. See The put-on.

The put-on

My mother, by the way, was a one woman theater. She travelled from coast to coast from year to year putting on plays and acts. Single. Yes, she put on whole plays single.  Played all the parts, yes. (McLuhan interview with Nina Sutton, 1975)1

McLuhan the entertainer is in fine form — changing viewpoints as often as a quick-change artist changes hats. (‘Change itself has become the main staple.’) McLuhan is an actor — at least that’s my working hypothesis. This is not to devalue philosophy but to raise the currency of acting. In a day when understanding roles is essential and when one must fill several roles oneself, the art of the actor becomes the art of living. (Mavor Moore, 1972)2

A report from The Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 1929-10-18 (Page 4):


Impersonating over twenty characters of varied nationalities, times and places, Elsie McLuhan, reader and impersonator, at Greenwood United Church Wednesday night provided a large audience with a most interesting entertainment.

Comedy predominated throughout [one of her presentations,] the one act play, “The Florist Shop“. Six distinct characterizations were given, the Jewish proprietor; the gum-chewing Henry; the spinster Miss Wells; her fifteen year fiance Mr Jackson, who added a bit of the hurrying-up process; and Maud, the romantic saleslady, who was instrumental in bringing about the usual happy ending.

Elsie McLuhan publicized herself as an “impersonator”.3

This was a skill she demonstrated in her one-woman shows both by playing multiple characters in sketches like The Florist Shop, but also in the readings she did from high and low literature from “varied nationalities, times and places” (as the Trib report has it).  The elocutionist aim was to enunciate the particular point of view evidenced in a poem (or of any literary composition) like the nationality and period of the author or the individual circumstances  displayed in different works. For McLuhan this meant that an elocutionist had to dis-cover, and find the means to present, the sort of effect an author intended via the language he or she had “put on” — as a “put-on”.

The content of these readings was not some message which a poem or story clothed in fancy language for some reason and which an elocutionist then would then ‘read out’ like a living teletype machine.4 Far rather, the content, as McLuhan would later insist, was the user. The particular language of a poem was used, or “put on”, by the poet in “the presentation of self”5 in his or her particular individual and social circumstances — including an estimate of the possible audience and of the means to communicate with it. And then this first level use by the poet or other producer could be used again by an elocutionist in presenting such poems in her “presentation of self” to audiences of users with their complex “assumptions” and “investments”. All were “put ons”.

In sum, Elsie specialized in “putting on” different points of view in a situation where success depended entirely on a related ability to “put on” the role of “impersonator” before people who had “put on” the role of an audience. There is a house of mirrors effect here where points of view are reflected within points of view reflected within yet further points of view.6

McLuhan’s whole career may usefully (not to say exclusively) be understood as the attempt to understand this phantasmagoria — an attempt he himself often likened to Alice’s adventures behind the looking glass and to Joyce’s adventures in that other literary isolate, Finnegans Wake.

This interest in the “put on” and its modalities was already reflected in McLuhan’s M.A. thesis on George Meredith written in 1933-1934:

The poet plants himself upon his instincts and permits his temperament sovereign sway. And he has quite as much right to do this as the philosopher has to trust his thought processes. In his table talk, Coleridge noted that all men (…) are born either Platonists or Aristotelians. There are similarly, in all times and places, definite types of temperament displaying consistency of conformation. The literary or artistic expression of such temperaments has properly the same validity as has the philosophizing of the Idealist and the Realist.7

“The (…) expression of such temperaments”, of such “definite types of temperament displaying consistency of conformation”, is just how McLuhan would come to study literature and, indeed, all experience, individual and social. “The medium is the message.”

From very early on in McLuhan’s life, Elsie’s vocation must have been a topic of intense discussion and, indeed, of controversy within the family. As McLuhan grew, and particularly after he changed his university concentration from Engineering to English at age 18 in 1929, this interest grew with him and exchanges about it on a theoretical level became common between mother and son.  These were conducted orally when both of them were in Winnipeg, and by letter when Elsie was on tour and especially after she left for Toronto in 1933 and McLuhan began his studies in Cambridge in 1934. Indeed, their correspondence in Letters broaches the subject of elocution over and over again. In a letter to his family from Cambridge on November 3, 1934, for example, McLuhan offered Elsie this advice about a talk she was to give to the English-Speaking Union in Toronto:

I would elaborate the theme that elocution has suffered, more than singing, from its seeming proximity to common parlance. Point out that excellence therein is as far removed from the flowers and intonations of rhetorical oratory (with its narrow compass of tones and showy emphasis) as is excellence in poetry (with its organic relation or interdependence between content and tone and material patterns). (Letters, 34)

Such “interdependence between content and tone and material pattern” was just what Elsie strove to present in her readings and would become the basis of McLuhan’s understanding of literature as a wildly heterogeneous collection of “voices”. With his colleague Robert Schoeck, McLuhan would later, three decades in the future, edit a two volume anthology, Voices of Literature (1964/5).

Already in his first month in Cambridge , McLuhan had reported back to his family:

I heard Mr [Mansfield] Forbes [1889-1935] of Clare this morning who lectures (…) on “metre rhyme, rhythm, and the reading (aloud) of poetry with spec. ref. to the ages of Pope and Wordsworth.” It was the biggest intellectual treat of my life. (…) There is great variety in tone and accent among lecturers here [in their ordinary conversation, yet] (…) all of them try to read poetry (…) without any transitions of manner to suit the poem (…) This standard way (….) lags miles behind your [technique of variable elocutionist] interpretation, Mother, and I simply must get a background of [such] technique [myself]. (Oct 16, 1934, Letters 24-25.)8

Again some months later (in another letter to his family from February 7, 1935, Letters 58):

I spoke about Ruth Draper to Forbes (…) her ability to hold an audience for 2 hours he considered very remarkable (…) Forbes was impressed by Ruth D’s capacity to present “two or three different people” (consecutively) …

The duration of McLuhan’s interest in this topic, his continuing intense preoccupation with it, may be seen from a typical passage, almost 40 years later, in Take Today:

When we read a poem or listen to a song, we put on an extension of our language. Such extensions bring into relation to us the experiences of multitudes of lives. These experiences can be the means of enlarging or sharpening and enriching our private perceptions. However, when we “put on” an entire service environment, such as radio or TV, something more seems to happen than in the case of the individual means provided by a poem or song or book. There is a strange character in electric media, which we encounter even in the daily newspaper. The daily paper says in effect: “This is your world for today.” It has been pointed out that by some miracle, just enough happens every day to exactly fill all the newspapers. It is the simultaneity of news coverage that makes possible this mosaic experience of the world for today. No connections are sought or found amidst the innumerable items. Everything is unified under date line rather than story line. (146)

“Relation to (…) the experiences of multitudes of lives” (often put by McLuhan using Yeats’ phrase, “the experience of multitude”) occurs with language not only because language is the incalculably complex product of untold generations.  It also occurs with language because the choice of words requires at the same time a choice of persona: just who will speak the words (which includes an assessment of whom they will be spoken to) is one of the most important considerations in the decision of how to say what is to be said. Some persona must be “put on” both in speaking and in understanding (with each of these experiencing a ping-pong feed-back effect from and to the other).

Now the array of the personae (or points of view) who might be “put on” is just what McLuhan called ‘the unconscious’. And just as a language may be considered as a synchronic pattern of choice of significant sound and significant grammatical marker (among all possible sounds and all possible markers), so may experience be considered in terms of a synchronic pattern of choice of point of view (or human type) among all possible human types. As McLuhan put it already in his MA thesis (in the passage given above):

Coleridge noted that all men (…) are born either Platonists or Aristotelians. There are similarly, in all times and places, definite types of temperament displaying consistency of conformation. The literary or artistic expression of such temperaments has properly the same validity as has the philosophizing of the Idealist and the Realist.

These types and temperaments have to do with the “organization of experience”.9 But, of course, also the experience or understanding of the “organization of experience” must itself be organized in some fashion (aka, according to some further type).  On the one hand, this again introduces the house of mirrors effect where any point of view is reflected endlessly in further points of view. And this endless mirroring, which seems never to come into contact with the objectively real or even with its own subjective reality, is, in turn, exactly what led Nietzsche to nihilism.10 On the other hand, however, these threats to the integrity of experience, which promise to undermine it from within, also supply proof-stones for its rigorous investigation. For if someone like McLuhan claims to have uncovered a scientific way to investigate individual and social experience, proof or disproof of the claim will implicate the question: does the analysis come to an end in such a way that real contact with the real is really achieved?  More particularly, for McLuhan, does his suggestion that investigation focus on “the activity of the exterior and interior senses” fulfill an ontological criterion in such a way as to enable both new sciences in the domain of human experience and thereby reveal, once again, foundation and ground for an age in which “all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned”?11

McLuhan was beginning to come clear about these matters around 1950 (in a labyrinthine search which would culminate in 1958). Here he is (in a passage discussing Joyce which will require detailed examination elsewhere) claiming that the consideration of the modalities of the “adequation of mind and things”, modalities to be specified in terms of “the exterior and interior senses”, can itself uncover/recover relation to the prior “the dance of being” aka “the gestures of being itself” (by finding itself being them):

Whereas the ethical world of Ulysses is presented in terms of well-defined human types the more metaphysical world of the Wake speaks and moves before us with the gestures of being itself. It is a nightworld and, literally, as Joyce reiterates, is “abcedminded”. Letters (“every letter is a godsend”), the frozen, formalized gestures of remote ages of collective experience, move before us in solemn morrice. They are the representatives of age-old adequation of mind and things, enacting the drama of the endless adjustment of the interior acts and dispositions of the mind to the outer world. The drama of cognition itself. For it is in the drama of cognition, the stages of apprehension, that Joyce found the archetype of poetic imitation. He seems to have been the first to see that the dance of being, the nature imitated by the arts, has its primary analogue in the activity of the exterior and interior senses. (James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial, 1953)


  1. Cited by Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 1997,357n10.
  2. Mavor Moore, ‘The Prophet as Performer’ (review of Take Today), Toronto Globe and Mail, June 3, 1972, cited in Gordon, Escape into Understanding, 1997, 260.
  3.  Letters, 89.
  4. Compare McLuhan’s letter to his family (cited in this post) from Cambridge in October 1934, where he writes of the manner in which “lecturers here (…) try to read poetry (…) without any transitions of manner to suit the poem”.
  5. Cf, Erving Goffman, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1956). Goffman has been called the most influential sociologist of the twentieth century. He was born in Mannville, Alberta in 1922, went to high school in Winnipeg and took his first years of undergraduate study at UM (1939-1942). He then graduated from UT before pursuing his further educaton and career in the US at Chicago, Berkeley and the University of Pennsylvania. Now Mannville with its mostly rural population in the early twentieth century barely reaching into the hundreds was the place where, in 1907, McLuhan’s grandfather, James McLuhan, came west to homestead with his family, including McLuhan’s father, Herbert. McLuhan, born in Edmonton in 1911, was conceived in Mannville before his parents, newly married at the end of 1909, moved from there to the provincial capital in early 1911. The chances of two such influential scholars (along with a future Lord Mayor of London) being associated in the same decade with a remote unincorporated hamlet on the prairies are slim to vanishing. That both McLuhan and Goffman should then have gone on from Mannville to high school and university in Manitoba is, of course, even more unlikely. Future posts will consider McLuhan and Goffman as representatives of the Winnipeg school of communication which also included Rupert Lodge and Henry Wright, in the first generation, and S.I. Hayakawa and W.O. Mitchell, along with McLuhan and Goffman, in the next.
  6. See already in the Nashe thesis: “The metaphor of the mirror comes as naturally to Whitehead as to Bonaventure (…) All specialism in knowledge disappears for Whitehead as for Philo or Hugh of St. Victor: ‘We can now see the relation of psychology to physiology and to physics. The private psychological field is merely the event considered from its own standpoint’. (Science and the Modern World, 175). The difference between Whitehead and Bonaventure is that between a man (Whitehead) taking his first uncertain steps into a new world of inexhaustible significance, and a man (Bonaventure) born into that world.” Trivium,144
  7. Compare McLuhan to his family from Cambridge, November 10, 1934: “It is useful broadly to distinguish PI and Arist as tending towards Bhuddism (sic) and Christianity respectively. Plato was an oriental in mind (…) Aristotle heartily accepts the senses” (Letters, 39). McLuhan’s letter is all nonsense, of course, but it does show him beginning to think through the contention of his two philosophy professors at UM, Rupert Lodge and Henry Wright, that all human experience is structured by fundamental types.
  8. The contrast here between a “standard way” of the Cambridge dons and the “great variety” cultivated by elocution looks forward to that later described by McLuhan between the Gutenberg galaxy and the electric universe. Cf, McLuhan to Gerald Stearn in 1967: “Highly literate people speak on one level, in a monotone. ‘Good’ prose is spoken this way.  A (single) level of form, one plane. You cannot discuss multi-relationships on a single plane, in a single form. That’s why the poets of our time have broken all the planes and sequences, forming a cubist prose. ‘I don’t follow you’ — as if that had anything to do with reasoning. It has to do with lineality and visuality. Logical or connected discourse is highly visual and has very little to do with human reasoning.” Note should be made here how McLuhan undermines the easy oral/literate contrast that is often thought to be his topic. His literate forms can just as well describe spoken as written language.
  9. The subtitle of Goffman’s 1974 Frame Analysis is “An Essay on the Organization of Experience.”
  10. “The true world — we have abolished. What world has remained? The apparent one perhaps? But no! With the true world we also have abolished the apparent one!!” Reference and German original here. While McLuhan may or may not have read much of Nietzsche, he certainly did read Eric Havelock’s Crucifixion of Intellectual Man (1950) whose long Introduction rehearses the same argument.
  11. Marx, The Manifesto of the Communist Party. The original reads: “Alles Ständische und Stehende verdampft, alles Heilige wird entweiht…”.

“The main question” in Valéry

In L’Idée Fixe (1932), Paul Valéry observes that

the mind (…) has to be supplied — with disorder! (…) And it takes its disorder where it finds it. Inside itself, outside, everywhere . . . It requires an Order-Disorder difference to function.1

On this view, the crooked timber of human being — the unrivaled source of disorder on the planet (and now beyond it) — may be said to be a prerequisite of mind.  So whereas our 401k nihilists moan about a semantic disorder that threatens to disable the very idea of meaning (or at least their very idea of meaning), in fact disorder and mind are mutually implicating — and are not at all incompatible with meaning.  How have meaning without mind?  And how, asks Valéry, have mind without disorder?

Now McLuhan cited Valéry repeatedly over his career from the 1940s to the 1970s, but especially between 1949 and 1954.2 His friend Allen Tate, whom he visited at home in Sewanee (Tenn) in 1944 and with whom he published many of his early articles in the Sewanee Review, was a leading American champion of Valéry’s work. And Valéry was often discussed by T.S. Eliot, of course, whom McLuhan began studying in Cambridge (if not before) and then intensively read in the late forties with Hugh Kenner when the two were working on a book on Eliot together.

Another source of McLuhan’s interest in Valéry may have been S.I. Hayakawa. Hayakawa was from Winnipeg3 and graduated with a BA in English from the University of Manitoba, six years before McLuhan.  He then preceded McLuhan at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, graduating with his PhD in 1935 — the year before McLuhan arrived. During McLuhan’s one year in Madison, Hayakawa was teaching away from Madison in UW remote locations and it may be that they never renewed their acquaintance there.  But even if they didn’t meet at UW, McLuhan would certainly have heard in the English department of someone he knew from Winnipeg, who had just completed his PhD and had published an interesting article on one of McLuhan’s main interests, T.S. Eliot.4 Later, in the early 1940’s, it may have been Hayakawa who called McLuhan’s attention to Korzybski’s ‘general semantics’ via his popular book, Language in Action (1941).5 Then, in 1943, Hayakawa founded (and edited for decades) a journal for general semantics, ETC, whose fall number for 1948 featured the abbreviated translation of L’Idée Fixe cited above.

  1. Translated by Eleanor Wolff. Her abbreviated translation of L’Idée Fixe appeared originally in Meja, Number Two (Autumn 1946), edited by Herbert Steiner. It was reprinted in ETC, ed Hayakawa, 6:1, 1948.
  2. McLuhan mentions Valéry in all of: Mr. Eliot’s Historical Decorum (1949), T.S. Eliot (1950), Tennyson and Picturesque Poetry (1951), Review of Ruskin and the Landscape Feeling (1952), Network No 2 (1953), James Joyce: Trivial and Quadrivial (1953), Poetry and Society (1954), Catholic Humanism and Modern Letters (1954) and Joyce, Mallarmé and the Press (1954). In the last essay, McLuhan cites a passage from Valéry which might be thought to characterize his (McLuhan’s) career: “Chacun dit son nom. . . . O langage confus, langage qui t’agites, je veux foudre toutes tes voix / Cent mille feuilles mues font ce que le reveur murmure aux puissances du songe.” (Dialogue de I’Arbre)
  3. Like McLuhan, Hayakawa was born in the far west (in his case, in Vancouver) and moved with his family to Winnipeg when he was in primary school. When Hayakawa’s parents moved back to Japan and he decided to remain in Winnipeg to finish his undergraduate university degree, he was able to board with one of his English professors, William T Allison. Now Allison lived just down the block from the McLuhans on Gertrude Avenue. So McLuhan and Hack, as Hayakawa was known to his Winnipeg friends,  must have known each other from this time in the mid 1920’s.
  4. S.I. Hayakawa, ‘Mr Eliot’s Auto da Fe’, Sewanee Review, 42: 3 (1934), 365-371.
  5. Hayakawa’s book became an academic sensation when it was selected for the Book of the Month Club. McLuhan would certainly have heard of it and thought it fully compatible with his view of the social function of criticism. Further, he would have been intrigued by the authors cited at the start of the book as having contributed to its stance — including William Empson, Ezra Pound, C. K. Ogden, I. A. Richards and Q.D. Leavis, all of whom were intensely studied by McLuhan and sometimes known to him personally from Cambridge. (Hayakawa’s acknowledgements included Thurman Arnold’s 1937 The Folklore of Capitalism and may thereby have suggested the subtitle of The Mechanical Bride: Folklore of Industrial Man.) Hayakawa concluded his credits as follows: “My greatest indebtedness, however, is to Alfred Korzybski. Without his system of General Semantics, it appears to me difficult if not impossible to systematize and make usable the array of linguistic information, much of it new, now available from all quarters, scientific, philosophical, and literary.” McLuhan repeatedly referred positively to Korzybski in this early 1940s period, including in his PhD thesis and his 1944 programmatic essay ‘Rhetorical Exegesis: The Case for Leavis against Richards and Empson’.

Henry Wright on Winnipeg in 1920

In 1920, the following announcement appeared in The Philosophical Review (vol xxix):

Professors Henry W. Wright of Lake Forest University and Rupert C. Lodge of the University of Minnesota have been appointed to professorships in philosophy at the University of Manitoba. (508)

Shortly after his arrival in Winnipeg to begin teaching in the fall of 1920, Wright described his new situation for a former colleague at Lake Forest as follows:

H. W. Wright
University of Manitoba
Winnipeg, Canada

October 3, 1920

Dear Allee, [Warder Clyde Allee]

My thoughts have turned Lake Forest-wards very often during the past few weeks. I have wondered how the year has opened with you and speculated concerning the general situation at Lake Forest this year. But rather than engage in surmises regarding what I know nothing about, it will be more profitable for me to take this chance of telling you about the situation in which I have found myself here.

If I professed enthusiastic satisfaction over every feature of the situation here I should be overstating matters. Houses are scarce, very high [in rent] and poorly equipped. Prices are on the whole higher than in the U. S. and show less indication of yielding. If ever as a good Republican I have lauded the protective tariff, may the Lord forgive me. Then the winters here will doubtless prove a great trial, intensely cold, windy and long drawn out.

But having said that much, I can give free rein to my enthusiasm. Really, I think I was over-ripe for a change away and I greet nearly every detail of this new country and great growing city and promising young University, with a keen, refreshing enthusiasm.

Winnipeg has a population of nearly 300,000. Like most western Canadian cities, as I am told, its public buildings and conveniences far surpass its residential facilities. The stores are finely housed, main streets wide, street car service excellent and new public buildings really splendid. The new capitol building is a veritable dream of beauty, architecturally. In general, business is transacted with greater courtesy than in the average American city.

Of course my interests here center around the promising young University and you may be sure that I entered my work with every faculty alert to new impressions. I had heard how the University of Manitoba was established like Toronto in organic relation with four denominational colleges, as far as Arts and Sciences were concerned, primarily as an examining and degree giving body. I knew that gradually a faculty had been assembled, but knew that the old system of affiliated colleges was in existence. But I have found, rather to my relief, that this system is regarded in university circles as pretty much a thing of the past and the university is developing along independent lines. The University now compares best with some of the American institutions of a municipal type. It is the provincial university, of course, but since Winnipeg contains more than half the people of the province it is in a special sense a Winnipeg institution. It has about 2200 students 600 in Arts and Sciences and the rest divided among Engineering, Law, Medicine, Pharmacy, and Agriculture. The students are predominantly Canadian of English and Scotch derivation, with a goodly number of Jewish boys from the city here. A very likeable lot and pleasant to work with. The Arts and Sciences faculty seem to me, in a surprisingly large proportion, alert and scholarly men free from narrow prejudice and sectional near-sightedness.

All apologize for the present housing of the University. A site has been purchased for the university three miles west of the city, but they do not propose to start until they can appropriate ten millions. This fall the government gave us the old parliament building and here for the present political and social science, economics, philosophy, and architecture will be quartered. I and my junior colleague have offices very generously equipped by the government, seminar room with library shelving, and classroom. The atmosphere is curiously Canadian in many respects — the door-keepers are crippled Canadian soldiers evidently being provided for by the government. The Saturday cleaning is done by files of convicts under charge of a warder. The postman knocks and puts the mail quietly on my desk, acting as if he was a public servant and not a government official as in good old U. S.

The political situation is such as to create uneasiness in propertied circles here. The general strike of 1918 leading as it did to the imprisonment of labor has produced great bitterness in labor circles. Naturally the University keeps out of provincial politics. The labor people profess great friendliness for the university and tell what grand things they would do for it, were they in power. But I presume it would be a university after their own liking that they would support. As far as freedom of teaching is concerned, I imagine it is more secure under the present liberal administration which is well disposed toward the university, supports it moderately well, and leaves it alone.

I have been asked to deliver a course of ten lectures on “Evolution and Religion” at a Sunday afternoon Forum in a downtown Methodist church. I mention this not because it is any particular honor or of great importance, but as an illustration of the kind of connection I believe should exist between university department and community, and of the kind of work which I have always wanted a chance to try.

Well, this letter has spun out to a dreadful length and so I close with best regards to Mrs. Allee and to all Lake Forest.

Sincerely, H. W. Wright

Wright’s letter was published in the weekly Lake Forest College student newspaper, The Stentor, for Oct 22, 1920, p 5: