“Canadians” as McLuhan mirror

Canadians (…) have reached the end of the Gutenberg era of the printed word before (…) they have had anything very important to print. They are, therefore, free to exploit the new media without the exhausting effort of self-extrication from the old. Once Canadians adopt that attitude they will drop their defensive tactics against the “threat” from English and American culture and welcome such contacts. (‘Defrosting Canadian Culture’, 1952)1

At the start of the 1950s McLuhan was coming loose from his own snobbish attachment to book culture and opening himself to the rival possibilities exposed by the new media.

Now I see that I was trying to prop up the standards of book culture when we have passed out of the Gutenberg era. (McLuhan to Wyndham Lewis, December 9, 1953)2

Often enough he portrayed his own evolving sympathies and the self-criticism implicated in that process in terms of criticisms of others.3 What he characterizes here as “defensive tactics against the ‘threat’ from English and American culture” had been his own preoccupation for decades. Against this moralist crusade,4 he had begun, starting in the late 1940s, to undertake an exhausting5 effort of self-extrication from the old”. And his advice to Canadians to realize themselves “free to exploit the new media” is just what he was now attempting himself.

  1. The American MercuryMarch 1952, pp. 91-97, here 97.
  2. Letters 241.
  3. See Bacon in McLuhan 7 (Lewis 2) and Lewis in McLuhan 3 (‘Nihilism Exposed’) for McLuhan critiques of Lewis that were at least as much about himself.
  4. Playboy interview: “For many years, until I wrote my first book, The Mechanical Bride, I adopted an extremely moralistic approach to all environmental technology. I loathed machinery, I abominated cities, I equated the Industrial Revolution with original sin and mass media with the Fall. In short, I rejected almost every element of modern life in favor of a Rousseauvian utopianism. But gradually I perceived how sterile and useless this attitude was (…) I ceased being a moralist and became a student.”
  5. McLuhan in a letter to Ong from January 23, 1953: “After 5 years of miserable health I am suddenly recovered and full of energy again. It was a gall bladder condition. Not serious. Just debilitating.” (Letters, 234)