In Who Has Seen the Wind1, W.O Mitchell’s best-selling novel from 1947, Mr Hislop is the local minister, the “herder of God’s Presbyterian sheep”. Hislop’s thoughts record questions precipitated in Mitchell by his mentor2 at the University of Manitoba, Rupert Lodge:
Self and not-self; what was the relationship?3 He had separated himself from the phenomena of his experience. He could say to himself, “I see the yard — John Hislop sees the yard and the lawn-mower.” But — who was John Hislop? What was seeing? Was the chipped greenness of the mower a quality inherent in the mower, or was it only an element tied up with others that went to make up John Hislop? Was there a lawn-mower independent of his consciousness? And if there were, could
Later Hislop evinces further views that McLuhan, too, found in Lodge:
A gentle wind stirred the leaves on the poplars, setting disks of shadow dancing over Hislop’s earnest face. “They were no different from men today,” he was saying. “Just as imaginative – as sensitive. There hasn’t been any advance in the things that count – not in generalization — it was all there with Plato — with Christ.”
Compare McLuhan in his University of Manitoba M.A. thesis on George Meredith from 1933/34, a time when he was working closely with Lodge:
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.
In his 1943 PhD thesis and 1945 ‘Ancient Quarrel in Modern America’, McLuhan went on to develop the notion further that there were “definite types of temperament displaying consistency of conformation” in human experience “in all times and places”. This implicated the conclusions that the ancients “were no different from men today”; that they were “just as imaginative — as sensitive”; that “there hasn’t been any advance in the things that count”; that “it was all there with Plato — with Christ”.
Later in Who Has Seen the Wind, Hislop’s successor as the local minister, Mr Powelly, is interrogated with questions straight from Lodge:
Is yours the Utilitarian viewpoint —the greatest happiness for the greatest number? Is it Stoic — the smallest? Do you follow Plato? Aristotle? Which side of the fence are you on? The empirical? The ideal? Do you perhaps sit on the top of it as a dualist? [Or] do you [doubt4] that there is a continuous fence at all — pragmatist?
Here, then, we have three typical directions in which philosophers move when they attempt to master experience: the realist, the idealist, and the pragmatist direction. In the nature of the case, these directions are divergent. To take one pathway, of itself precludes taking either of the others. If any one pathway is right, then the others are certainly wrong. So much is clear. But is any pathway right, and, if so, which? How are we to tell?5
After he left Manitoba for Cambridge in 1934, McLuhan began to discount what he considered to be the Platonism of Lodge’s views, especially his view of religion. But McLuhan never gave up the ideas that history is not, or is not only, “lineal”, that human experience is structured by identifiable ever-repeated types and that the Logos was operative “in all times and places” in and across those types.
Could there be an external world if there wasn’t something of the stuff John Hislop was made of, already in that outer world?
- Mitchell’s title came from Christina Rossetti’s poem from Sing-Song: A Nursery Rhyme Book (1872):
Who has seen the wind?
Neither I nor you.
But when the leaves hang trembling,
The wind is passing through.
Who has seen the wind?
Neither you nor I.
But when the trees bow down their heads,
The wind is passing by.
In the novel the last lines of Rossetti’s poem are recited by three of its boys. But instead of ‘But when the trees bow down their heads/The wind is passing by’ the boys give ‘But when the trees bow down their heads/Nobody gives a damn’. ↩
- For documentation and discussion, see W.O. Mitchell on Rupert Lodge. ↩
- McLuhan wrote a paper for Lodge on ‘The Non-Being of Non-Being’ that he submitted to the University of Wisconsin in 1936 as part of his successful application for a teaching assistantship there. It is in his papers in Ottawa. Lodge regarded logic as integral to his comparative method: questions like the relation of self to non-self and of being to non-being served to expose the fundamental differences between irreducible philosophical positions or (as McLuhan put the point in his 1934 M.A. thesis specifically to include art along with philosophy) “definite types of temperament”. ↩
- Mitchell: “feel”. ↩
- See The Comparative Method of Rupert Lodge for discussion and reference. ↩
- Often designated by McLuhan as ‘water’, which we human fish are the last to notice. ↩
- For documentation, see Pre-Christian Logos. ↩