McLuhan’s 1963 Dalhousie book review

McLuhan published his first article (outside of University of Manitoba student publications) in The Dalhousie Review in 1936: ‘Chesterton: A Practical Mystic’. But in 1963 he also published a review1 there of a new translation of Maritain’s Art and Scholasticism.2

Here is McLuhan’s review:

Art and Scholasticism and The Frontiers of Poetry
Jacques Maritain

A new translation by Joseph W. Evans
New York: Charles Scribners’ Sons [Toronto: S. J. Reginald Saunders], 1962. Pp. 234. $5.00

Scholastic philosophy was for Maritain, as for James Joyce, an aesthetic discovery in itself. Maritain first presented his discovery of scholastic precision and inclusiveness to his readers under the title “The Philosophy of Art”. The scholastic definition of the imitative faculty as offering a dramatic enactment of nature itself in sua operatione came most acceptably to the 1920’s. The age of mathematical physics was quite prepared to approach art, not as a visual representation of any recognizable surfaces, but as a live model, as it were, of processes not otherwise to be apprehended or experienced. The rediscovery of scholastic definitions, already familiar to readers of The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, came like the rediscovery of the letters of the alphabet as plastic and sculptural forms by Bracque. Maritain’s rehearsal of scholastic definitions similarly recovered for aesthetic thought and language a kind of sculptural and tactile firmness and richness that was new and exciting. Comparable novelty and relevance today attaches, not to the observations of Aquinas so much as to the archetypal dramas of Ovid’s Metamorphoses as they were assimilated by Dante and Joyce and Eliot and St. Jean Perse.
Maritain’s familiarity with the work of the symbolist poets and the painting of his time provided him with a sensibility that gave him access to scholasticism, not as an historical, but as a contemporary, mode of awareness. The present volume stresses this fact by combining the study of scholastic aesthetic with his essays on contemporary poetry and art.
Professor Evans has made a fine translation that brings a wide range of Maritain’s essays into a unified style.
Marshall McLuhan
St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto 

  1. Dalhousie Review, 42:4, 1963, p 532. A search at the Dalhousie Review website for ‘McLuhan’ as ‘author’ returns only the 1936 article. Apparently book review authors have not been tagged in the otherwise excellent database.
  2. Art and Scholasticism was first published in 1920, translated in 1923, and read by McLuhan at Cambridge.