Eisenstein presents the case of someone McLuhan’s thought tended towards — simply because both Eisenstein and McLuhan were called to think — and someone whom McLuhan read and learned from. To compare, there are many parallels between McLuhan and Plato,1 but these did not derive from a serious engagement with Plato: they derived from the two taking similar paths on the way of thought (subj gen!). With Eisenstein, in contrast, McLuhan was shown ways in which his thought could be developed — and was developed.
This was, however, not a matter of read and thereby learn. Not right away. Confrontation with a thinker on the way of thought (subj gen!) takes a lifetime. Even to begin to understand Eisenstein’s thought took McLuhan a decade. And when he did finally see a way forward — the understanding media project — he probably was not more than vaguely aware (if that) of the importance Eisenstein’s way markers had been to him – and were still.
Most of McLuhan’s learning from Eisenstein was accomplished silently. He did not explicitly consider and digest points from him. Instead, as he made his way along the path of thought after encountering Eisenstein around the age of 40, he took turns in the subsequent decade which he may not have recognized even as turns, and almost certainly didn’t recognize as Eisenstein’s turns, but which had a kind of smell of potential to them deriving from Eisenstein (not without crucial impetus also from other thinkers like Eliot, Pound, Joyce and Mallarmé) and which prompted him to try them out.
The way of thought is necessarily an unknown way along which especially the crucial steps must be taken blindly. That this is native to human beings may be seen in the fact that infants follow this way in learning to speak. But the great majority of humans gradually unlearn this ability as they become bound to the opinions of others in the process of socialization. Advertising and propaganda are wagons hitched to this horse. But especially humour reveals that appreciation of the unexpected never disappears and is able to reassert itself from time to time even in the dullest of beans.
Every thinker must go along the same way of thought (subj gen!), but each must do so in his or her own way. The following posts on Eisenstein will attempt to illuminate how this took place in the case of Marshall McLuhan.