Giedion to Nef: “a young scholar of English literature”

On August 3, 1943, Sigfried Giedion wrote his friend John Nef at the University of Chicago (where Nef was the foremost of the founders of the Committee on Social Thought 1 and a close aide to UC President Robert Hutchins) about his meeting with a promising young scholar in St Louis: Mr H.M. McLuhan. Giedion in his somewhat stilted English wrote as follows:

One evening at St Louis I met a young scholar of English literature, Mr H M McLuhan.  I had an excellent impression of this young man who seems to live rather isolated at St Louis University. I heard that he made the PhD at Cambridge (England) and that he became there a catholic (as for instance also T.S. Eliot).  I did not read any of his articles, but I shall ask him to send me some fragments of his book on English literature, and when they are all right, I shall try and do my best that they will be published by a good publisher. Perhaps Chicago University may invite him once2 for a lecture. (…) I guess, Mr McLuhan would fit into the Chicago environment and I did not find many youngsters of his kind of approach.

The oral recollections of Giedion by Eduard Sekler are interesting in this context:

When I read Space, Time and Architecture at that time it was a revelation. I wrote a glowing review about it. I understand why, for a while, in every architecture school in this country, that was the book that was lying on the drafting board. Giedion was also a fascinating figure personally, and you could learn from him to have a scent for where the new was that was worth pursuing. He had this intuition that was admirable.3 

  1. The Committee is now named after him as the John U Nef Committee on Social Thought.
  2. ‘Once’: presumably Giedion was thinking of German ‘einmal’, which can mean ‘once’, but here should have been ‘sometime’. Eduard Sekler recalled: “I was among the few people who could follow his (Giedion’s) lectures because I could hear the German under his English”. See the next note for the reference.
  3. Spirit and project : Eduard F. Sekler, Getty Center Art History Oral Documentation Project, 1995.