McLuhan in UT President’s Report 1971

Perhaps the high points of the year were the seminars addressed by Dr. Claude Bissell, Professor Lynn White of the University of California at Los Angeles, Walter Starkie of Trinity College, Dublin, and Etienne Gilson. We were able to make video tape recordings of Gilson, Starkie, Fr. Stan Murphy, Dr. Bissell, and Madame Sarraute, the French novelist, interviewed by Mile. Riese.

The general level of dialogue during the year was enhanced by the regular attendance of Professor Eric Jorgensen, Professor Ross Hall (Chairman, Department of Biochemistry, McMaster University), Professor A.P. Bernhart, Department of Engineering, Professor J. Edwards, Centre of Criminology, and Mr. R.A.K. Richards of the University Planning Division. The theme of the 1970-71 seminars was “Obsolescence as the Matrix of Innovation“. This theme involves study of the effects of innovation as themselves rendering many earlier forms of organization merely part of the neutral ground. There was a general consensus that an inventory of effects relating to any innovation reveals a pattern that points to the new processes that supplant antecedent causality.

One of the principal efforts of the Director of the seminars was the completion of a book on Changing Patterns of Power: The Executive as Dropout. This volume (to be published by Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich next spring) was co-authored by McLuhan and Barrington Nevitt. Nevitt is an electrical engineer and management consultant who has been associated with the seminar for the past three years. He has addressed many international bodies on the work of the seminar. Being fluent in several languages, including Russian, he has been able to make available to our discussions experience gathered from working on four continents. The book he has written with McLuhan concerns the training of present perception in an environment of innovation.

The increasing rim-spin of the information environment insures not only the dissolution of the organization chart and the disappearance of all monopolies of knowledge, but also the decentralizing of all human organization. Under these conditions, obsolescence becomes the biggest product next to the abundance of ignorance generated by new knowledge. As Michael Polanyi says in The Tacit Dimension: It is a commonplace that all research must start from a problem. Research can be successful only if the problem is good; it can be original only if the problem is original. In view of the proliferation of exciting problems arising in a period of rapid change, the seminar looks forward to an even more fruitful year in 1971-2.1

Talks given by the McLuhan brothers in 1971:

Professor H.M. McLuhan, on “The switch from dress to costume in the twentieth century” at Webster College, St. Louis University; on “The concept of space in art” to the International Association of Art Critics at the National Gallery of Canada; on “The horse that’s known by touch alone” to the CNIB National Public Relations Conference; on “Television and its effect on the nation” at the University of San Francisco; on “The inner and outer reorganization of current society” to the Certified General Accountants’ Association of Ontario; on “Alternatives in communication media” at Syracuse University and at Auburn Community College; on “Discontinuity and communication in literature” to the colloquium on the Problems of Textual Analysis; on “The software revolution” to the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation; on “Relevant to our Electric Age” at the Christian Culture series at the University of Windsor; on “Patterns of teaching for the wired planet” at Queens College, City University of New York; on “The user as the content of technology” to the American Society of Medical Technologists.

The Reverend M. McLuhan, on “The New Education” to the Grimsby School Conference; on “Megalopolis begins with me” to the Toronto Principals’ Association; on “Humanism and the New Education” at the University of California, Riverside; on “The Medium is the Message” at Glendon College, York University; also to the Department of Political Economy, University of Toronto, and to the Data Processing Management; on “McLuhan Ideas” at Huronia College; on “A leap into the future” to the YMCA National Staff Conference.

Talk by Harley Parker (apparently a co-presentation with McLuhan):

H. Parker on “The horse that’s known by touch alone” to the CNIB National Public Relations Conference.2



  1.  McLuhan reporting as Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology, President’s Report for the Year Ended June 1971, 118.
  2. McLuhan and Parker reporting on “The horse that’s known by touch alone” to the CNIB (Canadian National Institute for the Blind) might be compared to McLuhan presenting on “the gap where the action is” to the Ontario Dental Association. Presumably he asked himself in both instances where he might find people for whom his ideas would seem obvious.