S.D. Neill on Innis and McLuhan

S.D. Neill1 provides one more example of mistakenly taking McLuhan at his word regarding how and when he “felt the influence of H. A. Innis”:

The Mechanical Bride (…) was written before McLuhan felt the influence of H. A. Innis (1951), whose Bias of Communication was published the same year as the Bride. (115)

McLuhan claimed in the late 1970’s — almost 30 years after the event — that he became interested in Innis only after Innis put The Mechanical Bride on his communication course reading list in 1951. This then supposedly prompted McLuhan to read The Bias of Communication, published later that same year, and to become interested in Innis through it. But, as detailed in McLuhan on first meeting Innis, McLuhan’s memory of the event was mistaken in multiple ways.

However, most if not all of the Bride was probably indeed written before McLuhan met Innis and certainly before Innis became much of an influence on his work. McLuhan sometimes claimed that the Bride was finished by 1946 and then required five years’ work with publishers to see the light of day early in 1951. Even if this were an exaggeration (as regards when the book was finished), by 1947 McLuhan was able to publish two papers based on the book:

Neill was correct, then, that the great influence of Innis on McLuhan’s work would become evident only after 1951. But, like most researchers, indeed like McLuhan’s own memory, he was mistaken as to how this influence actually arose.

  1. S.D. Neill’s 1993 book, Clarifying McLuhan, was published posthumously — he died in 1992. It incorporated as an appendix an earlier article of his, ‘McLuhan’s Media Charts Related to the Process of Communication’, AV Communication Review, 21:3, 1973, 277-97. The citation from his book comes from that earlier paper.