Carpenter on McLuhan’s poetic conversation

All the higher, more penetrating ideals are revolutionary. They present themselves far less in the guise of effects of past experience than in that of probable causes of future experience. (William James)1

I call this the “rear-view mirror” habit of always looking for change in the rear-view mirror; of always carefully inspecting the old situation for evidence of change. (McLuhan, ‘Education in the Electric Age’, 1967)2

He could turn a phrase and it was amazing — the capacity! He was basically a poet and he could simplify things — you’d be stunned by the brevity with which he could summarize something and I used to think, oh my god I’ve got to go write that down, and then he’d go onto the next one and the next one and soon you’d forgotten all of these. It was amazing conversation. (Ted Carpenter on McLuhan)3

Thinking proceeds along the bottom of very deep, very narrow, canyons.  A new idea in one’s own mind, or in someone else’s, may be very close by — but always at the bottom of a different canyon. So some kind of leap is required from one canyon to another over a wall of rock; and the deeper these are, the more difficult the way up, and over, and and down.

McLuhan’s talent lay in accomplishing leaps of this sort in his own mind and in the variety of ways he attempted to communicate his ancient message to others.  Understanding the man implicates the renewal of these attempts at leaping communication to, and so from, the oldest of the old.

  1. ‘The Moral Philosopher and the Moral Life, 1891.
  2. Presented as ‘Education in the Electric Age’ on January 19, 1967 to the Provincial Committee on the Aims and Objectives of Education in the Schools of Ontario. Printed as ‘Education in the Electronic Age’ in Interchange, 1:4, 1-12, 1970; also in The Best of Times/The Worst of Times: Contemporary Issues in Canadian Educationeds, Hugh A. Stevenson, Robert M. Stamp, and J. Donald Wilson, 1970.
  3. ‘Edmund Ted Carpenter 2011 —  On Marshall McLuhan and Explorations’, Interview on YouTube at 6:43ff.